Take Me Into the Ballgame
As a guy who grew up loving baseball and – in particular – the numbers associated with it, I’ve been trying to find a decent baseball simulator/manager game ever since I graduated to a computer that wouldn’t play my well-worn (as in bought in 1992) copy of Tony Larussa Baseball II. How have I spent my time in the last few years? Well, I got married (suspiciously around the time TLB2 became obsolete) and had children (the result of nights spent NOT playing TLB2). But enough of the depressing talk of domestication - because when I walked into the Game Revolution headquarters the other day and Duke had nothing for me to review other than a copy of Baseball Mogul 2008, I nearly fell over. Could this be the game I’ve been trying to find … and my wife has nightmares about?
[image1]The first thing that needs be said about Baseball Mogul 2008 is that it’s not an arcade style baseball game, so if you’re looking for the thrill of breaking off a nasty slider or getting a hold of a 98mph fastball and depositing it in the upper deck …well, look elsewhere. This game isn’t played using an analogue stick to swing at pitches or to control a pitch thrown, it’s played using spreadsheets, and tons of stats. So, given the simulator nature of the game, its merits are based on the numbers and the validity thereof and, while not perfect, this is where BM08 shines.
For starters there’s no shortage of statistics as the game is linked to a baseball encyclopedia. You can play as any team using the full rosters of every team from 1901-2007 (!!!), take it from there, and control your team’s destiny in perpetuity. And by ‘”control you team’s destiny,” I mean deciding everything from prices of tickets, concessions (beer, ice cream, pretzels), and TV deals - to setting lineups, signing players, and conducting the annual draft.
All this is done using spreadsheets that utilize just about every baseball statistic you can think of. And, in case you were thinking you know baseball history well enough to draft just the right players every year, do not expect your favorite player IRL to necessarily become that same player in the game because it’s not always so. For instance, if you trade for Pedro Martinez in 1994 expecting he’ll become PEDRO MARTINEZ don’t be surprised if he ends up being merely mediocre while some other no-name player becomes the superstar ace pitcher. This lends a nice sense of variation to the game, and keeps you from using historical knowledge to rape the league.
Aside from the plethora of statistical goodness, the game also offers tons of versatility. You can change game conditions to match your favorite era in baseball history. You loved the pitcher dominated late-60’s? Change the settings to reflect those conditions. You loved seeing balls fly out of the park in the 30’s (holler, granddad) or 90’s? Ditto. You can even simulate one season multiple times. Basically, if you want to do it, it’s probably in there.
But here’s where Baseball Mogul’s true genius shines through: it allows you to Sheppard your favorite team’s fate starting at any point in their history! I started by using the 1976 Red Sox, loaded with young talent, and fresh off of losing the greatest World Series in history and in my first year (1976) was able to win a World Championship, thus bringing the greatest moment in the history of mankind to fruition twenty-eight years earlier than in real life, albeit – and sadly – less the second greatest moment in the history of mankind. From there I managed my squad to an additional 25 years of excellence.
[image2]Alas, all is not brilliant in Mudville as there are some problems with the simulated numbers and game conditions. For starters, injuries are an issue when simulating seasons, and the longer period you simulate (say a whole year versus one week) the more it becomes a problem.
As you advance in level (there are four in BM08: Fan, Coach, Manager, and Mogul) you can expect your team to miss hundreds (and sometimes well over a thousand!!!) of games to injuries. At one point, my team had its top five outfielders out for at least 30 days, which – to say the least – can cripple a roster. Worse yet, it’s not very realistic because I can’t remember even the most snake bitten team I’ve followed having the number of injuries your team will suffer in just about every season you sim. For example, I just ran a season sim for the 2007 Boston Red Sox and the number of games missed per starting player was 55 games, meaning my starting nine averaged a third of a season missed. That’s absurd… to the point of being broken. I mean, who’s the team physician, Jack Kevorkian?
And on top of the ridiculous proliferation of injuries, the nature of said injuries is also completely unrealistic. This game hands out catastrophic calamities such as broken legs, collarbones, and vertebra like candy on Halloween. For instance, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player break his hip, but it happened to two of my players over the course of a season more than once. Lets just say I don’t think having your team get injured more often is a good way to raise the difficulty level of the game.
There’s also a problem with the number of games teams win, namely there’s too many super teams. Since this game is based on numbers and (one would hope) realistic numbers, it’s an issue when just about every season sees a team win over 110 games, something that has happened infrequently (to say the least) over the course of baseball history.
Aside from that, there are some minor issues with certain statistical categories, like stolen base success rates and a decided lack of strikeout numbers for my pitchers, but those are just minor quibbles. Overall, the simulated numbers are very pleasing to this baseball nerd.
[image3]While the game is essentially a baseball simulator, it does offer you the ability to manage games and view the results as they happen on the field. This is a cool element because it allows you control your team’s actions pitch-by-pitch or in one pitch (per batter) mode, and to see some action rather than just reading a text scroll. Plus, in-game, you can decide when to switch pitchers, hit and run, steal, pitch out, etc. It’s a very comprehensive management system that works really well.
The one issue with the managing interface is the fielding perspective. When you’re batting, the action is dynamic: the pitcher throws the ball the batter hits it and the ball is put on play. However, the defense is static, represented by a photograph of a generic ballpark (not even the actual stadium you’re playing in), you see where the ball travels, but the defensive players' movement is left to our imaginations. This takes away the sense of a player having defensive value. Let's say you have a shortstop with Ozzie Smith-like range, it would be nice to see the player get to a ball in the hole and throw the runner out at first base. Even some rudimentary animation of the fielding perspective would add a lot to the game.
In the end, Baseball Mogul 2008 is a very satisfying baseball experience, just not on the field but rather from a general manager’s perspective. The lack of action isn't for everyone, but for the baseball nerd, it offers hours and hours (and hours and hours …) of engrossing simulation style gaming. So, if you’re like me and pored over the baseball encyclopedia as a kid, or just want to play Theo Epstein for a few hours, then grab it post haste. It may not be perfect, but it’s a lot of fun, and with a few tweaks could be a perfect game. Call it a triple that’s begging to be an inside the park homerun.