I eat, sleep, and breathe baseball. It doesn’t matter if it’s the dog days of August, where teams are starting to wear down, teams who were active during the non-waiver trading deadline begin their run towards October glory, or if it’s the middle of winter, and the MLB Network shares what I believe, is the greatest baseball history documentary ever created in Ken Burns’ Baseball, I’m on it.
I purchase MLB: The Show every single season. Aside from the occasional edition of Madden, it’s all about baseball, all the time. It drives my wife and children crazy. I use Burns’ documentary as punishment for my 5 and 4 year old if they don’t behave. It’s gotten to the point, where they often ask to watch the 10-inning epic. So now, it just drives my wife, who is a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, crazy. I coach little league and American Legion baseball. I serve on both boards in an advisory role. So when Brad Cook of OOTP Development approached me for the second year in a row to review the latest edition of Out of the Park Baseball franchise, I gladly accepted.
Being a fan of the New York Yankees, I had my pick of great eras in team history to simulate. It would be easy to relive the Mantle/Maris era of the 1960s, the Bronx Zoo of the late 1970s, or the Murderers Row era of the 1920s. Instead, I went back to what was safe. What was enjoyable, and an era that I remember like it was yesterday: the 1980s Mattingly/Henderson/Randolph/Winfield era of my childhood. I’ll break down the review by the pros and cons, and then present my overall view of this year’s baseball simulator program.
The fact that I can choose from any era of our game’s long and great history will always be a solid selling point with me. I like that that I bounce around from era to era, simulate with an accurate roster, make changes as I see fit, and let it play out. The first era I simulated began with the 1920 Yankees. I made a few changes, attempting to improve a roster for a Yankees’ franchise that wasn’t quite the Yankees that we all know today. During my first simulation, the Yankees had yet to win their first World Series title. Instead, powerhouses like the Boston Red Sox remained the elite of the American League. Of course, the team to beat during this early twentieth-century era of baseball was John McGraw‘s New York Giants.
I simulated the first two seasons of the decade, and much to my dismay, the Yankees were not a good franchise to own. The detail, the projected improvement, etc., was right on par with what historically occurred during that time period. Players such as “Big Train” Walter Johnson were as dominant as they were in real life. The ability to control every single aspect of the franchise, from winter meetings, to contract extensions, to trades, developing a minor league system–are all pluses for the baseball addict that wishes to relive or experience a specific era of the game for the first time.
After my first two simulations with the early ’20s Yankees, I moved on to my childhood era of Yankees’ baseball, the 1980s. Being a huge fan of Billy Martin, I wasn’t going to play George Steinbrenner, and hire and fire Martin every other year. I made up my mind that Martin was going to be my guy, come hell or high water. I started with what many consider the start of the end for the competitive Yankees’ teams of the 1980s: the 1988 season. Rickey Henderson was looking for more money, Don Mattingly was coming off of what should have been a second MVP season, and the Bronx Bombers had just signed free agent slugger, Jack Clark.
Knowing how the season played out in reality, the first thing I did was deal Clark away. Also knowing what dominant players were on the horizon in the late 1980s, I traded for “future stars” that hadn’t quite become elite yet in players such as John Smoltz and Randy Johnson. I figured this was my simulation to make, and I was going to suffer with the growing pains of young players, knowing what the future would hold. Only if it were that easy! But rather than just build a team of all-stars, I tried to keep some of the players from that era in pinstripes, such as Randy Velarde, Bob Geren, Mike Pagliarulo and the like, intact.
One of the biggest thrills for me as a GM of the 1980s Yankees, was when the season would end, and I could use Yankee dollars to jump into free agency. Rather than live with poorly constructed pitching staffs, I used the money wisely to augment a solid rotation, by signing guys to make the staff better. My first big name free agent pitching signing, was Bert Blyleven (who would win 17 games for me during the ’89 simulated season.)
My Yankees of the ’88 season were worse than the historic version, losing 98 games, and having a multitude of players requesting to be traded (including Henderson, Dave Righetti, and Dave Winfield). Instead, I dealt Righetti for Paul O’Neill, and signed Winfield to an extension, only to DFA him a year later (he was picked up by Toronto).
I had my work cut out for me entering the ’89 season, but the great thing about having the worst record in baseball, is that I was able to obtain the #1 pick in the next season’s draft (I selected Ken Griffey, Jr., and signed his father to improve Junior’s opinion of playing in the Bronx.)
That winter, I signed away Darryl Strawberry from the Mets, Tom Henke away from the Blue Jays, and Alejandro Pena from the Dodgers. The ’89 Yankees went from worst to first, winning 101 games, and winning the American League pennant, before being swept by the Cincinnati Reds. The following winter, I signed Jack Morris from the Tigers, Danny Tartabull of the Royals, and drafted Carlos Baerga. I’m in the middle of August, and hold a two-game lead on the Red Sox. Addicting is the best word to describe how much I’ve enjoyed this era of Yankees’ baseball redux.
There are plenty, but it didn’t keep me from enjoying the game. For example, during my simulation of the 1920s, when the first season ended, OOTP ’16 held a first year player’s draft. As we all know, there wasn’t a draft during that era, and there was no opt-out for that. Why should I not have a shot at uniting Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, if the Yankees had the money at the time to sign him? Instead, the Iron Horse ended up “drafted” by the Philadelphia A’s, and history would be forever changed.
Another con of OOTP ’16, is the length of time it takes to simulate a week or month of the season. Multiple stoppages for various things such as “Personal Messages” from the owner slow down and already time-consuming game. With the game being licensed for the first time ever with Major League Baseball, “fake owners” rather than the real figures was somewhat irritating.
Trading for prospects or serviceable big league players became somewhat of a hassle as well. For example, I attempted to trade for an end of the road Pedro Guerrero (who was hitting all of .171 through 70 games) became next to impossible. There is an option to build trades (up to five players) and to add cash to the deal. Would be trading partners would come back with answers like “Are you kidding me? This deal is a very bad deal for us.” There is a button that says “Make this deal work”, which analyzes both rosters from MLB to Rookie-A ball, and comes back with a deal that works for that team to be able to part with the requested player. More often than not, teams would come back, demanding one, if not more of the best players off of your roster.
Finally frustrated in trying to make a deal, I abandoned the deal, only to see the same team, deal the same player, to another organization for a pair of poorly-projected, no name minor leaguers. It was as if every team I tried to deal with, asked for the world from me, but would part with the player I wanted: star, middle of the road, or end of the line type guy for garbage from other teams. Developers could improve this function by making it more realistic across the board.
The other highly-irritating issue with OOTP ’16, were some of the demands put on me as the GM by the owner. They would demand that I give an extension to a player that I didn’t see being a part of the team’s future. My first encounter with this, was during the 1988 season, when one of the season goals handed down by the owner, was to extend pitcher John Candelaria. I had no intention of doing so, and instead dealt him away for a pair of low-level minor leaguers. At the end of that first simulated season, the owner scolded me for ignoring his wishes. Was I in this to win or make the owner happy?
There are some difficulties that I continue to struggle with using OOTP ’16. For example, one of my team goals is to build a top-five minor league system. That’s hard to do, without gutting the big league roster, which is in a heated pennant race, and when you win 101 games, you’re drafting at or near the bottom. Unrealistic to say the least.
I love Out of the Park Baseball ’16. It’s that simple. I could and have spent hours simulating, building my dynasty (cutting some corners by knowing the real future of course), and enjoying how things play out. The artificial intelligence of the game, keeps greedy GMs such as myself in check, by adding the “clubhouse chemistry is poor”, and “XYZ player is injured for 10 weeks from burning his hand in his kitchen at home” options. You can try and assemble the greatest team in history on paper, but the computer still has to play the games out, and they don’t always come out as one would think.
The game is priced better than a PS3 or PS4 game ($30.00), and possesses some many more dimensions that a normal video game platform does not, it’s worth every penny. You can even purchase the game right here on Baseball Magazine by clicking the link to the right of this story!
If you are a hardcore baseball fan, lover of the history of the game, by all means, make the purchase. Last night while building my team for the 1990 season, I had Bull Durham and Major League running on the Blu Ray player, and enjoying every single second of total baseball consumption.