Every once in a while, an athlete comes along who is honestly just too talented. Remember the NBA in the ’90s? When Michael Jordan was on the court, the other team might as well have been gerbils. He was so dominant that for the two years he spent letting other players have a chance, it became clear that another team, Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets, would have been a dynasty in their own right if Chicago didn’t have the basketball equivalent of…actually, Michael Jordan’s about as good an example as there is of how absurdly unfair something can be.
Yet if a truly dominant athlete is created once in a generation through years of toil, self-sacrifice and supporting roles to Bugs Bunny, a dominant video game athlete is created the opposite way.
No, video game Hall of Famers are made by laziness. Laziness on the part of whoever at EA Sports decided, on some no doubt Mountain Dew fueled, shame ridden all-nighter, that fuck it, Michael Vick is at least five times faster than any defensive player who ever lived.
It is with this in mind and with Spring Training in full motion that I begin a journey not unlike that taken by the Baseball Hall of Fame voters every year, assuming they, too, subsist primarily off of Fritos and generic-brand Diet Cola: I want to make an All Century team for the video game generation of baseball fans, a roster of the most rage-quittingly powerful, pixelated baseball players to ever take the field. I am basing my selections on one simple metric: how furious you were when your friend chose the player in question’s team, multiplied by the number of controllers broken in your ensuing rage over pi. And so, without any further ado, a team for the ages:
Pitcher: Nolan Ryan, Nolan Ryan’s Baseball
Let’s get real for a minute. Who do you think is going to be the player to beat in Nolan Ryan’s Baseball? Someone other than Nolan Ryan? You: Robin Ventura. Whoever picked Nolan Ryan’s team: Nolan Ryan.
Did I mention there’s only one real baseball player in Nolan Ryan’s Baseball? Because there is. It’s Nolan Ryan. Everyone else is a generic, fictitious bitch, begging to be put out of their unlicensed misery by what I can only assume is a pitch, but is indistinguishable based on player reaction from a tequila enema. I am prepared to guarantee that everyone else in the game has randomly generated statistics below 80, while Ryan was just given whatever the fastest stuff an SNES could register was.
Catcher: Mike Piazza, Mike Piazza’s Strike Zone
Alright, I know, if a game is named after a player, that player’s going to dominate. It just makes sense. But Mike Piazza jumps into this discussion because, quite frankly, catchers don’t usually get the glory ordinarily reserved for outfielders. Mike Piazza is one of the best hitting catchers to ever play the game and had a head of hair to make angels cry. In Strike Zone, Piazza could make whoever picked Griffey’s Mariners feel like they actually had a game on their hands, and while I hate to put baby in the corner, as anyone who ever faced down video game Griffey knows, that’s a helluva compliment.
First Base: Will Clark, RBI Baseball
Will Clark was to NES baseball what Will Clark probably should have been to baseball in the early ’90s. Clark is a member of the College Baseball and Mississippi Sports halls of fame, but Will the Thrill always showed the potential to land in Cooperstown one day. While that wasn’t meant to be, he lives on in the memories of anyone brave enough to play as someone other than Reggie Jackson in RBI Baseball. Clark was a monster. He was slow, but it didn’t matter. Stick Clark in the heart of your lineup and he’ll hit it somewhere where they don’t need foot speed.
Second Base: Ron Gant, MLBPA Baseball
Okay, Ron Gant’s a bit of a cheat here. He played much of his career as an outfielder, and while that may be where he shines in MLBPA Baseball, he played second base at the major league level, and as such his sheer broken-ness in MLBPA Baseball puts him on my team. As a kid playing Sega Genesis, I remember wondering why this Ron Gant character wasn’t hitting for the triple crown every year. Because every time Ron Gant came up to the plate, the only truly viable option to get out of the inning without bloodshed was to walk him. Flip a coin. If it lands heads or tails, Ron Gant got a base hit. If it stands on edge, Ron Gant probably still got a base hit.
Short Stop: Cal Ripken Jr., Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball
Video game short stops are weak. That’s a fact of life. While their fielding and consistency are all fine and good, I would happily move legendary NES ballplayer Paste over from first base and trade a few fielding errors for a handful of grand slams. With that said, Cal Ripken Jr., the only real player in Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball, was powerful enough to throw his real world “Mr. Consistent” reputation out the window. Cal Ripken made the Orioles look like a baseball team and played the way the real Mr. Ripken tended to save exclusively for All Star games.
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez, Any Game Since Alex Rodriguez Moved to Third Base
I know I’m cheating. Really, I do. But the hot corner has probably never had a better player on paper than Alex Rodriguez, and video game baseball is essentially a simulation of how players look on paper. A-Rod has been worth intentionally walking since his Yankee debut in the MVP Baseball series, and continues to be with every game that gets put out. So he can’t buy a hit in October; baseball video games come out when A-Rod has always shined: in early March.
Left Field: Jon Dowd, MVP Baseball 2005
Here’s where it gets interesting; if you don’t recognize the name Jon Dowd, it’s because you never played as or against the San Francisco Giants in MVP Baseball 2005. If you remember Barry Bonds in 2005, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he didn’t want any part of anything that would make people other than himself happy, like, say, joining the MLBPA and appearing in video games. But Jon Dowd wasn’t like that. Whereas Bonds was left-handed, black, and an asshole, Dowd was right-handed, pale as a sheet and possibly the Messiah. I played more of MVP Baseball 2005 than any of the other games on this list, and as something of an expert on the matter, I can definitively say that Jon Dowd was discontinued in future games owing to the likelihood that his sheer awesomeness would create a black hole, with a Nintendo Gamecube at the Event Horizon. For the sake of the all time team, I’d move Dowd over to left field. If I had to, I’d start him at all nine positions. Jon Dowd is to baseball games what the Scottie Pippen shell they imbued with Michael Jordan talent was to ’90s NBA games: fear incarnate.
Center Field: Ken Griffey Jr., Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball
It’s no secret that Ken Griffey Jr. would play center field on my real life all-time team; I truly believe, without the thinnest veneer of naivete or nostalgia, that a more gifted, explosive, complete, hell, genius player has never picked set foot on the diamond. Injuries did to him what they did to Mickey Mantle and then some; he’ll be a first ballot hall of famer, but his name should go down next to Babe Ruth’s. I and those like me can take some solace, however, in the fact that if there were a video game athlete hall of fame, Griffey would be the first inductee, if maybe a vote or two behind Tecmo Super Bowl Bo Jackson. While the list of games that A) were licensed behind Griffey’s image and B) featured a Seattle center fielder capable of demolishing the King Dome just by looking at it funny goes on and on, on the SNES, the first system where baseball games really started to shine, Griffey was king. To put it into perspective: to prove to you the dominance of most of these players, I’d suggest trying to pitch to them and get them out. Not Griffey. Try stepping up to the plate as Griffey and not hitting a home run. Go ahead. It ain’t gonna happen. The Natural, indeed.
Right Field: Reggie Jackson, RBI Baseball
Reggie Jackson always had a way of dominating when it counted most. After all, you don’t get the christened Mr. October without coming up big a time or two (or, famously, three.) But in RBI Baseball, Reggie Jackson was not a baseball player. He was a machine. He was as close as the NES could come to just throwing up the ’80s most powerful hitting algorithm without seeming too insensitive to teams other than the California Angels to even warrant making a whole video game. Every other at bat looked like the all-star game where he broke Tiger Stadium.
DH: David Ortiz, MLB 06 The Show
David Ortiz is so slow, he’s even slow in video games with him on the cover. I wouldn’t put Papi at first, and I honestly would rather not put him on base, but the simple reality is that, more often or not, he wouldn’t have to be on base. He would either hit a monstrous home run, or drive in all the runners and get gunned down like a pig sliding into second. And for a DH, I can accept that.
That’s my list. I defy anyone to proffer a team more likely to make middle school best friends throw your favorite controller out the window. With that said, any suggestions would be welcome. If you’ll excuse me, I have a date with discount cola and Bases Loaded.