In the gaming portion of our revisit to 1994, we talk about the original 16-bit Griffey title, and break down the references used for the game’s fake player names. Then we take a brief look at the other games of that year. In part 1, we went through the events of the MLB season, and Michael Jordan’s time in the minors. In part 3, we revisit baseball cards and Major League II. You can also check out our look at gaming in 1988.
Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball
by Alex Crisafulli
(video) It was the summer of ’94. I was 15. I mowed lawns to make ends meet. I had a bike – I even had a girlfriend – I could have been on the outside livin’, but instead I spent that summer holed up in my bedroom playing Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball for Super Nintendo all day and eating garbage. (Luckily, I was one of those skinny wimpy kids incapable of gaining weight.) If memory serves, I completed three full 162-game seasons (there were also 24, and 78-game season options), plus full postseasons over the course of about an 80-day summer. You do the math.
This was possible because I had the time and the game-play was so smooth that if you liked baseball it was near-impossible to dislike this game. A quick mastery of the controls meant the fielding – the most important part of any baseball video game, I say – became simple and true enough to form. What would be routine double-plays in real life were double plays in this game, a ball to the gap was a double (maybe a triple with an extra-fast player), and so on.
Also great for baseball fans in their teens: If you purchased this game you got a limited edition Ken Griffey, Jr. baseball card. I did a shoebox dive and found mine (seen here with a framed picture of David Eckstein in the background for proper authentication that it is, in fact, mine).
The intro was good and did a solid job of capturing a 16-bit Griffey and his iconic swing. Let’s soak it in:
If you look closely around the 00:17 mark, Griffey’s shirt isn’t tucked in. Don’t tell Buck Showalter.
Some fun well-known and not as well-known tidbits about this game:
Certain batters would turn around and yell, “Oh, come on!” at the ump following a strikeout… even when they struck out swinging (apparently it’s taken from a Jim Belushi line). Other players, usually the sluggers, would break their bat over their knee like Bo Jackson. And the lesser hitters would just lower their head in shame.
You could climb the wall in an attempt to rob a home run. The timing had to be damn near perfect to pull it off and if you did this at a park with a smaller wall – like Dodger Stadium down the lines – the fielder would often fall into the stands.
There were home plate collisions although the catcher never dropped the ball.
Each home run got a tape measure call, which maxed out at 575-feet. In fact, the 575-foot shots happened way more often that they probably should have and I’m fine with that. Home run distance truthers can get lost.
After circling the bases following a home run, the player would stand directly on home plate and turn to the crowd and flex and hold the pose. If this were to happen in a real game it probably wouldn’t go over well. Some would even stop about five feet out and strut in like Deion Sanders. Bless this game.
Each MLB team was present but the game lacked an MLBPA license and therefore, other than Griffey, the game lacked real player names. Most of the teams’ rosters were named after a theme. For instance, the Cardinals were all named after comedians (Luis Alicea was “S. Laurel” and Ozzie Smith was “O. Hardy”), the Indians were actresses (Reggie Jefferson was “M. Monroe”), etc. But the game also came with the option of changing the players’ names so you only had to tolerate the lack of MLBPA license as much as you wanted to.
I played with the Cardinals for every season and believe I once went 126-36, and that was with a strict “no hitting reset” policy. Won the World Series each time, too, so all this work was not without its rewards. Below is the ending you were treated to after beating the game. It features highlights from the game, including the home run pose I was talking about earlier, the home run strut, as well as the home plate collision. And as you’ll see at the 01:43 mark, the umpire was voiced by real-life ump Steve Palermo.
This game was simple to play and fun – as all sports video games should be – and it was a good substitute to fill in the blanks of the lost season of ’94. These players couldn’t strike. The only time there was ever a work stoppage was when my dad came home from work and glared at me because he could tell I had done nothing but played that game all day and I had to let Griffey lay dormant for a few hours until he went to bed.
The Griffey Players Association
by Ken Maeda
As previously mentioned, the original Griffey had no MLBPA license, so creative dummy names were used instead. Still, gamers could ascertain which real-life player was represented — based on jersey numbers, 1993 stats, and 16-bit likenesses of varying accuracy.
Unlike most games with the same limitation, these names were inspired by a wide, impressive range of familiar and obscure sources. Reading them now is like watching an old episode of the Simpsons or Mystery Science Theater 3000 and thinking “Now I get that reference!” The idea of trying to research those references in the pre-internet age is almost laughable.
Each team’s 25-man roster had a general theme, to different extents. Some players deviated from the theme to fill out the roster, like Fred McGriff’s “D Crime.” Thanks largely to tireless work by “ilovethisgame” (whose blog matches every single player’s counterpart) and Wikipedians, here’s a breakdown of each roster. Clicking on division names takes you to full lists of its players. You’re sure to have favorite themes:
ATL – Apparently, the Braves are named after DJs and producers, like Sasha & Digweed.
FLA – Some of the names match those that appear in the credits for other games, often as testers or as a special thanks.
MON – UK rock/new wave musicians (particularly Manchester), like members of Joy Division and the Smiths.
NY – New York punk/new wave: Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Joey (presumably) Ramone. The top four starters were named after Blondie members.
PHI – Phil(ly?) Spector-related musicians: Darlene Love, Bill Medley, and “R Ronnette.” Also featured are R Balboa and A Creed.
CHI – A proverbial mystery team, except for Griffey‘s director, Brian Ullrich (Ryne Sandberg). Some of the more unique names include Q Trombone, E Crash, B Bambam. Perhaps more people related to the game makers.
CIN – Horror/mystery/sci-fi writers: Ian Fleming, Bram Stoker, Philip K Dick, Raymond Chandler.
HOU – Cartoonists: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (Jeff Bagwell), Gary Larson, Don Martin.
PIT – Characters from a long-running British soap called Coronation Street, shot in Manchester.
StL – Comic actors and comedians: four of the Stooges, the Marx Bros, Buster Keaton, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce.
COL – Horror actors/directors/writers: Bela Lugosi, Wes Craven, Stephen King
LA – LA punk/new wave: Henry Rollins (Pedro), John Doe (Piazza), Darby Crash, the Go-Go’s.
SD – UK punk/new wave: Elvis Costello, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, and an “M Lemmy.”
SF – Ostensibly, members of the game’s developer, Software Creations.
BAL – Films and characters of Baltimorean John Waters: Tracy Turnblad, “H Spray,” “P Flamingo” (Mike Mussina), and Waters himself as Cal Ripken.
BOS – All things Bostonian: Benjamin Franklin, Sam Malone, “B Common,” “T Party.”
DET – Motown and soul greats: Diana Ross, James Brown, “J Five,” “G Knight,” and “T Pips.”
NY – New York locales and legends: S Island, R Hudson, T Bambino, Y Clipper.
TOR – Members of the Wigan Warriors rugby team in Greater Manchester, England.
CHI – At least some are NBAers who went to St John’s (in NYC): Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, Bill Wennington.
CLE – Classic actresses: Greta Garbo and Monroe (but no Dietrich or DiMaggio). Audrey Hepburn got the nod over Katharine Hepburn.
KC – Not-so-royal US Presidents: The rotation was named after the most recent presidents of the time, with B Clinton as the ace. G Wash and R Teddy appear, as do R Nixon and A Johnson.
MIL – Pitchers are superhero aliases: C Kent, B Wayne, P Parker. Hitters are spies/detectives: J Bond, P Marlowe, P Magnum.
MIN – Perhaps the most random roster, with apparent homages to Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly, Adam West, George Lazenby, Nick Nolte, Jimi Hendrix (but no Prince or Dylan).
CAL – Old-time Hollywood: Huston, Welles, Stewart, Bogey, Brando, Dean.
OAK – Classic authors: Kerouac, Twain, Tolstoy, “H Thompson,” and “H Ernest.”
SEA – Nintendo employees, including the game’s “design consultant”: Ken Griffey Jr. Bubble-blowing Bret Boone bore the name of current Mariners chairman Howard Lincoln. Everyone probably assumed “J Hutt” (Jay Buhner) referred to a certain vile gangster, but the end credits reveal that it’s actually “NOA Producer Jeff Hutt.”
TEX – Old west legends and figures: “B Kidd,” “B Hickock,” “L Ranger,” and Angels owner Gene Autry.
The Rest of the Field
by Ken Maeda
Unlike now, where the only real MLB game available is The Show, with alternatives like RBI and Out of the Park, there was a glut of console/computer games in 1994 — with about a dozen for the SNES and/or Genesis (click on titles for gameplay footage):
One of the most memorable was probably World Series Baseball (pictured) for Genesis. It had real teams and players, more of a refined sim feel and look compared to Griffey, and primitive play-by-play that announced players by their jersey numbers.
A game fitting for a site called Banished to the Pen was Relief Pitcher, a port of an arcade game release two years earlier (a recent sighting of which at a bar led to some amusement in the Effectively Wild Facebook group). You picked from one of four generic teams. There was a standard season mode, and also a sort of relief sim mode where you would come in to random late-game situations.
In the ’90s, branding and endorsements could make an otherwise bland sports title more appealing, particularly to young kids who weren’t savvy enough to read every possible review before begging their poor parents for a $50 game (I won’t say if I was one of those kids). One example was ESPN Baseball Tonight, on the SNES, Genesis, and PC. The cover sported Chris Berman, and play-by-play was handled by Dan Patrick, who of course never actually did play-by-play. While the console version seems decent for the time, one review of the PC version described it as “the shoddiest baseball simulation” he ever played, with “a static interface that makes live baseball seem like the invasion of Normandy.”
Sports Illustrated also got into the act that year, with not only a baseball game, but a football one in the same cartridge.The 2016 Saberseminar
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