Many sports video games, especially for the consoles like the Xbox or PlayStation, are action-oriented. In such bestselling series as MLB: The Show (baseball), Madden NFL (football), and NBA2K (basketball), players have to go onto the diamond, field, or court to do cyber-battle with the best professional athletes in the league. That is great for those who like to experience sports from the players’ perspective, but what about baseball fans who are Billy Beane wannabes?
For those who aspire to manage a team — or just fantasize about making calls to the bullpen, or think they can do a better job than the bums in the front office– the choice is clear: Baseball Mogul 2014, the 16th version of the game introduced in 1997. Baseball Mogul isn’t about the flashy graphics. It’s about the stats, the numbers, going all the way back to 1901. Each version of the game, it seems, is more realistic than the last. With admirable transparency, designer Clay Dreslough outlines many of the new features on his blog.
The game is more challenging in 2014 than in previous versions. It’s harder to win a series even after you’ve assembled a rotation of ace pitchers and a lineup full of elite hitters.
Perhaps the biggest change in 2014 is that strategies are tailored to individual players. Earlier versions took an across-the-board approach that applied to the entire team. If the manager wanted to let Paul Molitor try to steal a lot more bases than the 33 he stole in 1979, then Gorman Thomas, Sixto Lezcano, and Sal Bando would also have to try to steal more often, with the odds that they would get caught being pretty high. In 2014, though, the manager can limit the hit-and-run to players like Molitor, Robin Yount, and Cecil Cooper and not have to have to call it when the batter is a player like Thomas, who has the potential to lead the league in home runs but also in strikeouts.
As for pitching strategy, do you as the manager of the 1979 Brewers keep Mike Caldwell in the game, hoping that the starter who won 22 games the year before can give you a complete game? Or do you bring in a fresh pitcher — Bill Castro, Bob McClure, Reggie Cleveland — from the Milwaukee bullpen, which is bereft of big names?
The database needed to accurately simulate the past 112 major-league seasons is immense. In 2014, minor-league stats have been added, in an attempt to raise the level of accuracy, which was already extremely high. While the minor-league stats appear to have been successfully integrated, the implementation has created an issue: A number of pitchers — some obscure (Dave Rucker), others fairly well known (Richard Dotson, Dave Stieb, and John Tudor) — are listed as outfielders. Usually, one or two pitchers on a team have had some experience as a position player in high school or college, but in 2014 the California Angels of 1979 had five pitchers misplaced as center fielders, despite their never having played a game in the outfield in the minors. A brief check of the 1994 season in 2014 reveals that this bug affects that year as well; in more recent seasons, it’s less noticeable. Dreslough said that the bug would be fixed via a free patch, and it was absent in the unofficial 16.04 and 16.05 patches posted during the past week. I was able to fix it myself in the 16.03 version I tested, but expect it to take three hours or so to check and correct a season. The user with an earlier version of Baseball Mogul can cross-reference pitchers from that to 2014 and thereby reconstruct the pitches that the misplaced pitchers threw. In any event, free updates will ensure that every user with an Internet connection gets a fix. Though annoying, this bug is an anomaly, and the game company responded quickly once the error was noted.
For those who enjoy the role of GM, trades are now more interesting — and tougher to pull off. It used to be fairly easy for this reviewer to get the Brewers to trade Larry Hisle to the Atlanta Braves for Dale Murphy and Steve Bedrosian, or to acquire Rickey Henderson in exchange for Bando at the start of the 1979 season. It was not hard even to send a slew of unknown players (Ricky Keeton, Fred Holdsworth, and Lenn Sakata) to Baltimore for Cal Ripken as a minor-league prospect. Now, though, the GMs are more skeptical. You can still trade for the player you want, but you just might have to hand over another valuable player you want to keep.
Then there is the draft. In 1979, first base for the Brewers is covered through 1981 which is when Cecil Cooper becomes a free agent, and relievers are needed, but Don Mattingly and Andres Galarraga are both available, and one of those three players will lock down first for years to come. At the same time, Rick Aguilera could bolster the bullpen. It’s a tough call, since in each round you only have one pick, which will affect your team for years (directly and indirectly, too, because of the players your rival teams draft). In some early seasons (1979, for example), there are not enough historical rookies to fill out a draft, but you have the option to add fictional rookies.
The decisions you have to make can lead to hours of game play without your realizing it. This year’s version of the game is as addictive as its predecessors. Baseball Mogul 2014 is the latest grand slam from SportsMogul.com. Other games may be far more flashy, but Baseball Mogul remains the best baseball simulation on the market, and at only $34.99 it’s a superb value as well.
— Harold Hutchison is a long-suffering Brewers fan. His first novel, Strike Group Reagan, is forthcoming .