Much like the way football has seemingly overtaken baseball as America’s pastime, football videogames have followed suit and become the most popular sports game genre by far. It wasn’t that long ago though that baseball videogames were sitting atop the sports gaming world, and it all goes back to a little game developed by Namco, R.B.I. Baseball. So let’s set T.J.’s Time Machine back to 1988. Curtis Strange was the PGA’s leading money winner at $1.1 million. Mike Tyson was still semi-normal in his title defense against Michael Spinks in what was dubbed Super Fight ’88, and we were all getting our first taste of playing a baseball video game with real players with R.B.I. Baseball.
Unlike other baseball games of its time, R.B.I. Baseball featured eight real teams with real players, thanks to the MLBPA license. Nobody seemed to mind that there was no MLB license, forcing the game to simply refer to these teams by their city name. We were all just so enamored with the fact that for the first time in our lives, we were able to use the real players.
R.B.I.’s formula for deciding which eight teams were included was quite simple. They gave us the eight playoff teams from the 1986 and 1987 season. They are California, Boston, Detroit, Minnesota, Houston, New York (Mets), St. Louis, and San Francisco.
Also included were the NL and AL All-Star teams which for me and my friends, was always the popular choice when sitting down to go nine innings. Through research, I was able to determine that the stats for most of the players in this game came from the 1986 and 1987 seasons, but there are a few errors on each team. Of course, we were all too young and dumb to care about stuff like that back then.
Much like the other sports games of its generation, there was no formal season mode in R.B.I. The fun in this title, much like others in its generation, was playing against your friends.
Many debates were started by me and my friends at the time about who the dominant players in the game actually were. The fastest guy was by far Vince Coleman of St. Louis; it was almost considered cheese to steal bases with him because it was darn near impossible to throw him out. As far as power was concerned, Mark McGwire (AL All-Star) and Andre Dawson (NL All-Star) were easily the two guys you didn’t want to get behind in the count on.
And of course there was Roger Clemens. The Rocket was a member of the Boston squad and was easily the toughest pitcher in the game. His fastball caused that little pixilated baseball to fly across your screen, leaving you virtually no time to decide whether or not to swing at it. Nolan Ryan and Doc Gooden were perhaps just as tough, but the fanfare that Clemens was generating in real life back in ’88 made us look nowhere else when we wanted to use a team with a pitcher we felt could shut the opposing hitters down.
R.B.I. Baseball did have its flaws, however. The bugs it had would be considered game killers to today’s sports gamer. Back then, we didn’t mind it so much though. Anyone reaching base by error got credited with a hit. Also, if you got thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, the game ending box score would indicate you did not get a hit in that at bat. Again, because of our age and the pure satisfaction of actually having a baseball videogame with real players, we just didn’t care about that stuff.
Several versions of R.B.I. Baseball were released but the NES’s only other version was R.B.I. Baseball 2. Because of licensing issues, it’s highly doubtful that we’ll ever see the original R.B.I. Baseball appear on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console in its original form. Perhaps eventually it’ll be released with fake players, ala Tecmo Bowl.
R.B.I. Baseball was the original baseball sim to 20 and 30 somethings all over the country. So next time you younger guys are complaining about the stitching being the wrong color on your favorite team’s jersey in MLB2K8 or MLB 08: The Show, maybe you’ll realize why us older guys simply laugh and shake our heads at such a notion. If only you grew up in our generation, you’d appreciate how far baseball videogames have come in the past two decades.