During the 1990s, it was commonplace for video game developers to seek a player endorsement for their baseball video games since the name on the cover of the box was heavily relied upon for product differentiation in the age before internet-based review sites were readily available. The biggest names in Major League Baseball would lend their name and likeness to the game developer, hopefully eliciting a positive emotional response from consumers. The quality of these sports games did not always correspond to the quality of the player on the box, but in some cases these player-endorsed games actually advanced the baseball video game genre.
Bo Jackson Baseball – Nintendo Entertainment System – 1991
The dual threat of Bo Jackson on the football and baseball field made him an undeniable sports celebrity at the time of this game’s release. Bo Jackson Baseball was clearly designed to appeal to the more casual sporting fans as the control scheme for pitching and batting was overly simplistic even when compared to other classic ’90s baseball video games. The game did offer responsive controls and a solid game engine so it was not a money grab by any means. It was, however, a game designed for casual sports video gamers. Bo Jackson baseball, like many player-endorsed baseball video games of the day, lacked licensing from MLB and the MLBPA .
Cal Ripken, Jr. Baseball – Sega Genesis & Super NES – 1992
Cal Ripken, Jr. Baseball was another unlicensed ’90s baseball video game that relied on the star appeal of its namesake. All of the teams and players were fictional, but Cal Ripken, Jr.’s likeness was real and his stats were stellar in this game, meaning that his fans received much joy when playing this classic sports game. The title left players and critics largely unimpressed due to clumsy fielding mechanics.
Frank Thomas’ Big Hurt Baseball – Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, Super NES – 1995
Frank Thomas’ Big Hurt Baseball came out during that period when 16-bit game consoles were at their peak potential in terms of the software maximizing hardware power and at the dawn of the 32-bit ‘next generation’ consoles’ dominance of the video game industry. The game utilized real player stats and featured the full array of Major League Baseball teams. Frank Thomas’ Big Hurt Baseball even allowed you to rename your team, reflecting that of your hometown. Ever dream of playing for the New Orleans Astros or the Tulsa Angels? This classic sports video game made it possible before such options were commonplace. Advanced pitching and batting dynamics added to the realism.
Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League Baseball – Super NES – 1994
This player-endorsed baseball video game simply knocked it out of the park. Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League Baseball was one of the most complete sports video games of its time. The Super NES-exclusive did not feature real player names due the lack of a MLBPA license, but the team names and stadiums were all intact. The stadiums closely emulated the nuances of the real stadiums they depicted, adding valued realism to this classic baseball video game. While the player names were fictional with the exception of the game’s namesake, Nintendo provided some worthy substitutes. The game’s players were given names of historical icons reflecting their team’s hometown. The Angels team was composed of players like H. Bogart and J. Wayne, while the Boston Red Sox roster was made up of players whose names were references to Cheers and Boston landmarks. The thought that Nintendo put into its games in the ’90s was on full display in this stellar sports video game.
Ken Griffey, Jr.’s Winning Run – Super NES – 1996
Nintendo developed a successor to the original Ken Griffey, Jr. baseball video game in 1996 and the game served as a swan song of sorts to the classic 16-bit video game console. Ken Griffey, Jr.’s Winning Run largely built upon the blueprint of the 1994 original while allowing players to unlock the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Rare-developed baseball game utilized pre-rendered graphics to offer more realistic graphics than its predecessor and competing sports titles for the Super NES console. The graphics were similar to those featured in other Rare-developed games from the ’90s like Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct.
Nolan Ryan’s Baseball – Super NES – 1992
Nolan Ryan’s Baseball was released early in the Super NES lifecycle, but the game still did little to use the full processing potential of the 16-bit video game system. However, that is not a knock on the game as it seems that the title was targeted at the youth market. Nolan Ryan’s Baseball did not feature real teams or real players and the season mode was based around a simple one league structure with no playoff system. The game’s cartoonish graphics were vivid but lacked visual details, detracting from the sports experience. Controls were characterized by a simple system for batting, pitching and fielding.
Roger Clemens’ MVP Baseball – Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, Super NES – 1991
Roger Clemens’ MVP Baseball hit the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991 and 16-bit consoles in 1992. The game lacked the MLB and MLBPA licenses, but that was the least of concerns about this sports video game. The gameplay was largely wonky with awkward controls and an indifference to the laws of physics. Fans of sports video games would be wise to choose R.B.I. Baseball if they are feeling nostalgic for the “good ole days” of baseball video games.
More from this contributor:
Retro Video Games: Player Endorsed Football Games from the Pixel Ages
The Top 5 Cult-Classic Video Game Consoles of All-Time
Top 10 Cars from ’90s Video Games