First of all, in case you’re wondering why this article has such a special graphic, it’s because the wonderful man who is the head of our incredible graphic design department is the writer of the Baseball Stars portion of this piece, so he gets special treatment. With that out of the way, this is the heavy-hitter matchup I think we all expected to see in the Final 4. Baseball Stars was revolutionary, adding an incredible amount of depth to what had previously been just a genre of arcade games, with an unmatched franchise mode that honestly still holds up thirty years later. MVP Baseball 2005 may not have been as revolutionary, but it still holds the crown for many baseball video game players as the best baseball game on the market, some 15 years after its release. There are few games that have had the longevity that MVP Baseball 2005 has (it still has an active modding community), and there’s good reason for that. Both of these games have done so much to advance baseball video gaming, to allow gamers to express their love of baseball, and to keep people coming back for more no matter how old the game becomes. Now we’re asking you to determine which of these beloved games should move on to the championship.
Considering these final four games clearly hold a special place in all of your hearts, as you’ve voted them to move on to this point, we decided to change it up for these articles. We won’t be reviewing the games or comparing them anymore, I’ve just asked a few of our writers to tell us why they love these games. Why these games are special. And hopefully you can share in that love too and tell us below why you love these games.
When I was originally approached to write something for this baseball video game tournament, it was for Bases Loaded 4. That was the game that I played the most as a kid. Then I was asked if I could write about both Bases Loaded 4 and Baseball Stars. Resistant at first, I realized that was the only writer at Pitcher List who had experience playing Baseball Stars in my everyday life. Otherwise, it would have been someone who had just jumped into an emulator or watched some YouTube videos to get the general feel of what the game was like. That was not a viable option in my opinion. So I agreed to write both.
And then I was asked which game was better. As much as I WANTED it to be Bases Loaded 4, it just wasn’t. Baseball Stars was the superior game. After some reflection as to why I felt obligated to betray my first love in a baseball game, I came to a realization. Perhaps the reason that I loved Baseball Stars so much was because I didn’t own it.
That’s right, I did not own Baseball Stars.
Then why do I have such vivid memories of playing this game? Well, I borrowed that game relentlessly, from a pre-cursor to the long since defunct Blockbuster Video, at our local video store called Video Galaxy. It was in the corner of a liquor store, buried in a side door a few steps down a brick wall facade. The liquor store has persisted while the Video Galaxy has long since been replaced.
Once inside, it smelled of plastic and damp carpet. Resembling a maze, there were rows and rows of shelves ascending from the floor stock full of videotapes. One row had the latest top movies featuring fedora-adorned archeologists and terminators, an oldies section for your Gone with the Wind fans, a section for independent films (Ohh la la!), and that seedy back room that I never aged into. And then there was the video game row. That row seemed to have a soft glow when you approached. All of what we now consider classics were there. You had Super Mario Brothers, Contra, Zelda and its golden cartridge, and Metroid, to name a few. But I wasn’t interested in those games. I was looking for the shelf. My shelf. The sports shelf. That glorious shelf. And it was oh so glorious. Video Galaxy had it all: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, Blades of Steel, Double Dribble, Tecmo Super Bowl, and of course Baseball Stars.
Now, there was nothing worse than going to Video Galaxy with a plan in mind of the game you wanted to rent. The store would buy several copies, if you were lucky. The original empty case would sit in front and behind it sat a number of generic plastic cases tattooed with Video Galaxy across the front. As you approached the sports row, your stomach became uneasy. You wanted to see spare copies. But then the stomach dropped when that original box was all that you saw. So, you then looked for a second choice and waited to try again in a few days.
That was the experience of trying to get my hands on Baseball Stars. When you did score, it was wondrous few days until you had to take it back to Video Galaxy and try your hand again.
Time with that game was short, and efficiency was paramount. The fun of the game was being a General Manager. Making your own team with its own unique name. You got to select the logo (with 13 different logo choices. THIRTEEN!). There was a choice of the type of team you wanted to be. Perhaps you wanted to be a balanced team, a bunch of speedsters, or just a group of grizzled veterans with chewing tobacco smeared all over their lips. The choice was yours. But who’s kidding who, we all wanted the team of power sluggers. From that point on you could fully customize that team by naming the players, making trades, firing (not the more humane term of releasing) players, and signing free agents. It was the first experience in creating a unique team identity.
Baseball Stars allowed up to six custom teams to be made. There were times where you got lucky and your video store rental team was still there. If you were extra lucky, your season that you thought was a lost cause upon drop off was there too! You could squeeze in just a couple of more games and watch those stats accumulate.
But it wasn’t just about the stats. This was the first game that allowed you to start with a rag-tag group of schlubs and build it into a powerhouse, spare the Rocky training montage. The players that you named and signed as rookies slowly gained prestige and improved their performance with every game you played. Homerun after homerun hit, dollar after dollar earned. We became attached to these fictional players as they grew into legitimate baseball stars. The backstories we assigned to them, their record-breaking accomplishments, the wins… it all meant something. It was a game that provided a whole experience when all others were giving us halves.
It’s true that other games in this tournament have better graphics, gameplay, soundtracks, and all the bells and whistles. They should be better because they had a lot more to work with. But Baseball Stars was the first game to show what was possible in a sports video game. It set a standard for how franchises should be created before that word became a household name in sports video games.
Baseball Stars shouldn’t be content to win its bracket. It’s deserving to win this entire tournament. Be a champ, make it so.
MVP Baseball 2005
Dear MVP Baseball 2005,
It’s been almost 15 years since we last talked. Yet despite the distance between us that expands with the passing of time, I still warmly remember that special connection we shared.
In reflecting upon my love of baseball, I tend to ask myself, “Well, where did it start?” I have some memories from when I was very young, like when I was three years old and told a reporter during the 1999 playoffs that if the Yankees and Mets made it to the World Series, I wanted Sammy Sosa to win it all (the Cubs had finished last in the NL Central that season and were nowhere near the playoffs). While moments like these helped begin my love of baseball, I realized that my in-depth knowledge of the sport really began around 2005. For example, when I look back at every team’s roster from that year, I can recall almost every single player. I wondered why that is; was the 2004 ALCS so painful for me (a Yankees fan) that my pre-2005 memory had been completely wiped? No, that’s silly. It’s just because I spent way too many hours playing MVP Baseball 2005.
I also think about how my love for baseball really started with “READY? ONE TWO THREE FOUR!”
This game possessed a huge level of detail and playability that hasn’t been matched by any baseball game since. Personally, MVP Baseball 2005 also represents a significant moment frozen in time: The Yankees had just suffered a traumatic postseason at the hands of the Red Sox, who finally overcame the Curse of the Bambino. Nine-year-old me used this game as a way to avenge that loss and turn the Yankees, who suffered from chronic mediocrity in the playoffs during the 2000s, into the dynasty that never was (besides from 1996 to 2000).
I remember those nostalgic days when the Yankees had an elite starter in Randy Johnson and Bubba Crosby appeared to be their future outfield star. I also remember how I bought a gaming magazine from GameStop (because I didn’t really know how to use the Internet) and I learned a cheat that I could create a custom player named, “Jacob Paterson,” who would come with a huge bat that could hit 800+ foot home runs. With this wonder bat, I made the Yankees an unstoppable team. It didn’t hurt that I also created another custom player, Jacob’s brother “Luis Paterson,” who was a 6’11” closer that also happened to be the second-best hitter in the game. With this dynamic duo, the Red Sox stood idly by as the Yankees won five straight World Series.
But MVP Baseball 2005’s level of creativity extended much further beyond those cheats that allowed you to create the best hitter who ever lived. In dynasty mode, you could build your ideal baseball franchise from the ground up. I traded for all my favorite players, from the underrated Roy Oswalt to the otherworldly Vladimir Guerrero. I could dominate with Jon Dowd and Anthony Friese (a Kevin Millar stand-in) if I wanted to. I even designed my dream stadium, from the price of concessions sold in the stands, to the various promotional nights, to the giant outfield wall with sections decorated in the ivy of Wrigley Field.
Beyond dynasty mode, this game had a ton of other features that appealed to a variety of fans. As a lover of baseball history, I was drawn to the ability to play as Hall of Fame players whose careers happened decades before I was born. In one moment, I could experience dream matchups that never happened, like Satchel Paige vs. Babe Ruth. In the next, I could use Harmon Killebrew to try and hit a 483 foot home run out to center field in the Polo Grounds. I could even use Walter Johnson’s gorgeous slurves to strike out Reggie Jackson, Jimmie Foxx, and Jackie Robinson in order.
There are other unique aspects of the game that I remember even though I haven’t played the game in 15 years. The game modes like batting target practice and the pitching version of candy crush were fun ways to practice your skills. However, the home run derby was easy pickings for Jacob Paterson, for no baseball stadium (not even the Polo Grounds) could hold his bat back. You’ll also hear people rave about the soundtrack, and for good reason. Even though, at the time, I didn’t listen to much modern rock music, I still listen to songs like “Funny Little Feeling” by Rock n Roll Soldiers or “You Owe Me An IOU” by Hot Hot Heat because they transport me back in time to 2005. I feel brought back to the days when I would come home from school and immediately go to my GameCube to play video games until dinner time. I also had a ~5 inch portable screen that attached to the top of my console, which allowed me to play games for countless hours on long road trips. As I carried my GameCube wherever I went, I also always had my favorite baseball game with me. MVP Baseball 2005 not only represents a big part of my childhood, but it also helped me become the huge baseball fan I am today.
These memories leave me feeling nostalgic, reminiscing about my own childhood. Perhaps that is why I write this letter to you, MVP Baseball 2005. In the slow days that accompany the offseason, and as the nighttime snowfall blankets the earth with a glistening white aura, I think back to how I fell so in love with baseball. And I always come back to you. It’s always you, MVP Baseball 2005. It’s because of you.
Featured image and accompanying media by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)