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The Monday Flyby : Play Ball!

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We had a couple of responses to this past weekend’s prompt, asking what our favorite games were. What were they?

Division Series - Cleveland Indians v Boston Red Sox - Game Four
It’s actually pretty hard to find a good picture of a baseball video game that is licensed for use! Here’s a picture of David Ortiz, which is relevant, because in video games you don’t have to say goodbye, all the time.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

So, this past weekend, we asked you what your favorite baseball games were. I was disappointed by the lack of love for MLB the Show, clearly the best game ever, but more on that later. What responses we did get varied greatly, proving there’s no wrong way to make a baseball game (unless you are MLB 2k, in which case, it’s very easy to do a baseball game wrong).

Our first post was this weekend’s choice for front page material (if you haven’t been noticing the pattern, often times one FanPost gets elevated to the front page). “Realism vs. Arcade: A Sabremetrician’s Nightmare” by steel43, kind of cheats, in that it doesn’t list one game as the be-all-end-all favorite. Instead, he compares two of his favorites, and discerns why each has a place in his heart.

With his search for realism, he comes across Out of the Park Baseball (the newest game is available now), a game that some might have trouble considering a game. I love OOTP, but there is a lack of any actual gameplay, unless you are super into micromanaging and consider that entertaining. The game is basically a glorified spreadsheet, with thousands of stats inundating you with the knowledge you may already know on a base level.

With all of that said, OOTP does one thing well, and that is portray an accurate picture of the league. Additionally, it does something no other baseball game can, and can boast the deepest possible historical roster base, including players from the late 1800’s, Negro Leagues, and foreign leagues. And with the new version boasting the inclusion of a World Baseball Classic clone, if what you seek is a deep experience with every player possible, you have it.

World Baseball Classic - Pool F - Game 6 - United States v Dominican Republic
In OOTP, you can relive the USA winning the World Baseball Classic! Actually, that’s not terribly likely, the USA winning was not exactly the most likely outcome.
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

With his desire for a fun arcade experience, however, he picks Mario Superstar Baseball, a game that doesn’t feature any MLB talents, but does feature a couple so-called plumbers who do not plumb, a mutant dinosaur, and talking mushrooms. Somehow, against all odds, these characters can play baseball with each other, and the weirdest part is, it isn’t just playable, it even approaches being fun.

There are two games in the main series (though I debate whether the inclusion of baseball in Mario Sports Superstars is enough to say there is a third worthy Mario baseball title), but the title on the Gamecube is far superior. While not for someone looking to play as Mike Trout, or Manny Ramirez, or any baseball player who has ever existed, there’s a certain appeal in watching some fictional characters play America’s Greatest Past-time.

In “An Ode to Randy Ready”, Scarecrow13 composes an ode, to who else, Randy Ready. Now, Ready was never a terrific player. In his career, he amassed 10.9 bWAR in 777 games. But per 650 plate appearances (or roughly a season’s worth), his average was 3.3 bWAR, indicating that he might have been a tad underrated, and not given as much a chance as he possibly deserved (for comparison’s sake, LeMahieu has averaged 3.4 bWAR per 650 PA for his career, and he has the benefit of playing in Colorado).

What does any of this have to do with games? Randy Ready was one of his talents in APBA (American Professional Baseball Association). I think almost all of us have played with baseball cards in some way, shape, or form. I myself have as well. When I was a teenager, my favorite thing to do, when I had time, was to take my complete set of 2005 Topps MLB cards, put them into a pile, and draft teams based on everything from need, position, talent, and a desire to have the hometown guy. I ended up with some interesting rosters, with players like Eric Chavez on the Red Sox, or Manny Ramirez with the Dodgers (3 years before it actually happened!).

Los Angeles Dodgers v St. Louis Cardinals
Manny Ramirez with the Dodgers. One re-draft I ran ended up with him on the Dodgers 3 years before it actually happened.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

One Red Sox team I had constructed looked nothing like the team that had won the WS the season before. I still remember it pretty clearly:

C - Javy Lopez

1B - Todd Helton

2B - Junior Spivey

3B - Alex Rodriguez (who was the Red Sox first pick)

SS - David Eckstein

OF - Manny Ramirez/Ichiro/Shawn Green

SP - Pedro Martinez/Randy Johnson/Matt Morris/Mark Prior/Zack Greinke

CP - Billy Wagner

There were obviously bench players, but I don’t remember those. These Fake Sox would have a lot of salary room in Free Agency, from what I remember, and would be able to shore up their weaknesses at 2B and in the middle of the rotation, but the team was far from perfect.

APBA seems to function similarly, allowing you to build a roster and see how they play. Except instead of my method, which was based on absolutely nothing, APBA functions based off die rolls, it sounds like a baseball version of Dungeons and Dragons.

In any case, it sounds like a fun game, and it appears the site is still active.

Much like last week, I sought the opinions of the other staff writers. I wasn’t disappointed.

Mike Carlucci

Baseball has been around for over a century as a game we immediately recognize and as a predecessor to that game for decades more. Fenway Park is over a hundred years old. Baseball will last far into the future, if Deep Space Nine is any indication. But one possible outcome, in our increasingly AI-powered world is a game of baseball played by machines.

Legendary games developer Konami brought that vision to the original NES in 1991 with Base Wars. In this version of the future robots of different builds and specifications pitch, hit, and field like humans.

You can move the ball up, down, left, or right at any time after release, making it furiously difficult for the opposing player to make contact at all. And the twist: close plays on the bases are settled though robot-on-robot battles. Your power in the batter's box is the same as your power meter in combat. Stronger robots can hit the ball further and can better withstand a fight. Lose too many fights and you can't get hits. Win a fight though, and maybe the next time that ball clears the fence.

Seeing a tank robot fight a Gizmoduck-styled robot or a hovering robot without legs pitch to a cyborg is entertaining and bizarre. Upgrading your team after a game with your winnings: is this cheating or strategy? You decide!

Is this mechanized future we envisioned in 1991 likely? Will chiptune music rule land? Maybe not. Is it a fun alternative to the typical baseball video game: heck yes.

Bryan Joiner

My favorite baseball game of all time is All-Star Baseball for Nintendo 64. My college roommates and I had the 1998 and 1999 versions, and we drafted our own teams and played seasons with these teams -- we played the game a lot. I'd play my own games three at a time (you could play the week's worth of the schedule before everyone had to be caught up), and since we never lost the computer and rarely played each other, we were really battling for the best averages and home run totals. Given that we played the game constantly, we were very, very good at it, which is why I liked it.

We all played the game on the difficult setting, too, which is important for my favorite story about all this. A pitched ball would have a little target where it was going, and the target would be either large (on easy mode) or tiny (on difficult mode). On top of that, you could guess what pitch was coming, and if you were right, your batter's target would get much larger. If you were wrong, it would get smaller. On difficult, it would be almost insignificant. It wasn't really a problem for us, and it wasn't until I played someone besides my roommates that I realized how good we were.

Another friend of mine owned the game and boasted he could beat me. I knew he couldn't, because he spent all his time playing GoldenEye like a sane person, but I didn't know just how much better I was until I sat down to play him. I tried to even the score by letting him be the World Series champion Yankees, playing on easy mode, whereas I chose the hapless Expos, and put myself on difficult. I was up 18-0 in the second inning when he called it quits. So yeah. I liked that game.

Matt Collins

I had a few different options I wanted to write about. Ken Griffey Jr.’s Nintendo 64 game was my first sports video game love and was the biggest reason I started following baseball as a whole outside of just the Red Sox. MLB Showdown, the card game, was one of the ways I passed summer days as a kid. Out of the Park Baseball is my favorite current game and really the only video game made in the last 15 years that I still play. Despite all of those, though, there is objectively no baseball game better than MVP 2005. There’s an argument it’s the greatest sports video game ever made, though with a gun to my head I’d probably admit that honor goes to NHL 2009.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Seattle Mariners
Before “The Kid” was a Hall of Famer, he was the cover athlete of a video game. The game was even named after him. Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey Jr. was a very fun game, even if it has aged greatly.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Still, MVP 05 was perfect in just about every way. The gameplay was incredible, with the highlight that separated it from their previous installments was the hitter’s eye. With this, the ball would flash different colors depending on what type of pitch you were about to see. As someone who could never hit in these games, this was a huge improvement for me. The dynasty mode was my favorite part of the game, as managing an entire organization over the course of decades gave my infinite amounts of fun. It also led to my eventual love of OOTP. The cover was perfect, with Manny standing at the plate staring right into your eyes. Even the soundtrack was perfect. Plus, there’s a special place in my heart for those who know the name “Jon Dowd” right away. EA would lose its MLB licensing after this game, never giving them a chance to top the 2005 version. I’d bet that they wouldn’t have been able to do so regardless.

As for my personal favorite, it should be obvious by now, but I love to beat the MLB the Show drum.

It’s not that it’s the most realistic experience, nor the most arcadey, nor even is it that I like the graphics the most (although the graphics in the newest game look insane). No, for me, it’s just the best of all worlds. You get a little bit of everything, and get a good mix between an actual baseball game, a great in-depth experience, and a great community that helps emphasize both of these things.

Let’s rewind a bit, and explain why each of these things are important.

For all of its greatness in fabricating a similar world state, I’ll never say OOTP is the best game ever, because it isn’t actually a game. It’s a management simulator, and I’ve spent multiple hours between each game I’ve played in the series (Steam says around 360 or so hours, which is ok, I suppose). If I didn’t enjoy it, there’s no way I’d put that much time into it. OOTP is the gold standard when it comes to realism in baseball games, and I believe that will be true for at least the next decade. Despite this, it just isn’t enough of a game for me to think it is the best.

While I want a game I want it to be involve actual MLB players, so Super Mega Baseball? Even though it’s a ton of fun, and definitely worth playing, I can’t say it’s my favorite game. It’s up there, like OOTP, because it does something incredible, and it takes an aspect of baseball, and amps it up to 11. But unfortunately, it’s like OOTP in more than that respect. It also fails in providing an adequate amount of a secondary thing I desire. Thus, it’s great in one thing, it specializes in game-play. However, it takes more than good game-play to win me over.

I’m also not fond of anything that isn’t a video game, at this point. I don’t have a ton of free time these days, so I don’t have the time to run a setup, find friends who are free, and do all the work that a card game or anything else would require. I have a complete set of baseball cards from last season that I haven’t opened to use like I did when I was a kid, simply because I don’t have the time or space. A video game keeps everything compact, and easy to boot up, and nearly impossible to lose progress in as long as I am diligent. So goodbye to most baseball games that are good, you just aren’t a fit for me.

My favorite baseball game is MLB the Show, because it combines the realism I’m looking for (I’d like more than 90 roster spots per team, but I’ll live), with the excellence of solid gameplay (which gets better with every passing year).

Additionally, the good people of Operation Sports run this roster called OSFM (Operation Sports Full Minors), which seeks to populate the otherwise fictional minor league world of MLB the Show with actual minor leaguers. They do this by looking at pictures, adjusting created characters until they look like their real life counterparts, adding stats, and information, and doing this for every player until they have completed a full AAA roster, a mostly complete AA roster, and a few players in lower levels of intrigue (Anderson Espinoza is an example of a player who wasn’t in at least AA who was created last year). This is entirely done by the players of the game (the creators of the Show cannot legally make factual minor league rosters) for a more immersive experience in Franchise and Road to the Show.

Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros
Sam Travis won’t be in MLB 17 the Show... at least not on launch. He will, however, be in the OSFM roster set that gets launched. The one thing “The Show” has is a fantastic community that picks up what it can.
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

You could argue that a lot of the game’s value is in the community, and I wouldn’t disagree with that, if you aren’t someone who wants to have community assets in your game, this probably isn’t the game for you. For me, however, it’s incredible, because year after year, the dev team tries to get the community involved in seeing what they want in the game. And year after year, they deliver, within reason.

There may be a lot of things wrong with MLB the Show. None of those are going to matter once I get Noah Syndergaard in a Red Sox uniform, and build a farm system that Dave Dombrowski can’t trade away.

And that is it for this week’s fly-by. Join us in the last FanPost Friday before the regular season begins, as we ask you the most obvious of obvious questions.