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HARRY’S BASEBALL: BEHIND THE SCENES or “THE LITTLE GAME THAT COULD”

by Paul Sauberer

 

I am not a game designer, publisher, or developer. Now, however, I am a “Game Historian”. What unlikely series of events led to the creation of this term, much less my actually becoming one?

Let’s start by turning the clock back to circa 1979-1980. Disco is dying and polyester leisure suits are mercifully falling out of fashion. Yet amid this cultural upheaval, the seeds of a game’s rebirth are being sown. I was living in Maryland, a high schooler and big fan of games (an Avalon Hill addict) and sports games in particular (Statis-Pro Baseball being a favorite.) The parents of my girlfriend knew of my interest and one day gave me a small game. It was called “Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game” (copyright 1962) and came in a little box that listed it as being produced by the Olympic Card Company of Silver Spring, Maryland. I thanked them and looked through it briefly. Inside was a deck of cards with different baseball results (such as “Single,” “Fly Out,” “Double Play,” “Home Run,” etc.) on each one. I didn’t bother to read the rules, as I thought the game was probably one of pure luck, where you just flipped over the top card and read the result. The game was stashed away with others in my collection.

Fast forward over 20 years, to 2002. I was looking through the game shelves in my basement and came across “Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game.” This little game had stayed with me through college, marriage (to a different girl), moves from Maryland to Texas to New York, births of two children, and all this time I had never played it. I had recently gotten back into gaming in a big way and so I really took a look at the rules for the first time to see if it was something I might actually enjoy. As I read them, I thought, “This looks like it might be interesting.” I took the game upstairs and played it with my 10-year-old son. Then we played it again. It was a lot of fun, an excellent short game with the right balance of strategy and luck for what it was.

The next step was to take the game with me to a session of the fabled LI Gamenite gaming group, at the house of the legendary Kban. When I brought it out to fill a few minutes between other games, it became a hit. Several members wanted to play and it hit the table on a regular basis.

Now I decided to see if, just on the off chance, I could find out anything further about Harry Obst, listed as the designer of “Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game.” I realized that the odds of finding him after 40 years were pretty slim. Still, as a firm believer that “Google is your friend,” I set out on a web search. The only Harry Obst I could find reference to was a very accomplished linguist who had served as an interpreter for seven US presidents. Obst had retired from a distinguished State Department career to design an interpreter training program for a language school in the DC suburb of Arlington, Virginia. He then went on to become the director and principal instructor of the Inlingua School of Interpretation there.

I figured that there would be no way that this gentleman, who had emigrated to the United States in 1957 and had such an important role would be the same person who had designed a little baseball game in 1962. Still, I sent an e-mail to the address on the web site for the linguistics school, asking if by any chance there was a connection. Much to my surprise, Harry Obst the renowned interpreter was also “Harry” of “Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game.”

He shared with me the story of the rise and fall of Harry’s Grand Slam, as well as his personal life story, which is fascinating and deserves its own telling. He also mentioned that he still had about 48 copies of the game in a storage room. Since some of the LI Gamenite crew had expressed interest in getting their own copies, I made arrangements for them to buy some from Obst.

One of the copies went to K-ban, who took it with him to Gulf Games. There, it also got a warm reception, and others wanted copies. I took care of those as well, connecting the games between Obst and the eager buyers. Now “Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game” was in the hands of a few dozen gamers across the country and getting some positive notice on Board Game Geek.

K-ban took it one step farther and showed the game to Mark Osterhaus of Out of the Box. Osterhaus thought that “Harry’s Grand Slam” would make a great addition to Out of the Box’s Heirloom Series. Between K-ban and I, we connected Obst and Osterhaus. After some secret, intense negotiations occurred in the wilds of Wisconsin, we found out that a reprint of “Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game” would become part of the Out of the Box lineup.

Now the game has been re-released and is available to the gaming public at large. I have continued to show it to gamers in various groups and tell them what my son refers to as “The Story” (which you have just read.) I am pleased to be part of resurrecting a very worthy game and to have made contact with a very fascinating man like Harry Obst.


 

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