Real, actual Major League Baseball may be back soon after a COVID delay… or it may not. But video games? They’re always around! Hell, a bunch of Major Leaguers played in a video game tournament in the spring on MLB The Show 20 (the latest and greatest baseball video game release), since they couldn’t play the real thing. It’s the only way, for now, to literally Let The Kids Play (and bat flip, and talk shit, and OMG wear their hat backward).
So, with or without real baseball, what are the best baseball video games of all time? We asked a bunch of people — a Major Leaguer, a professional scout, a Little League coach, a streamer, a game reviewer and a video game historian — for their picks and favorites. If you’re not tossing a ball back and forth this Father’s Day, try one of these instead.
Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001
Trevor May, Minnesota Twins pitcher and e-sports entrepreneur: Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001 is my favorite of all time. It had a player edit feature that made the game so fun for me. You could literally edit dozens of stats and make the players as good or bad as you wanted, and I loved that. I probably had over 1,000 hours in that game, and it really helped me develop my love for baseball.
Josh Labandeira, Boston Red Sox scout: I’ve seen The Show — it looks pretty cool, and I’m probably going to purchase it for my son. But growing up, my favorite was R.B.I. Baseball: You couldn’t beat it, man. That was where it all started with having real players’ names in games. If you were a baseball kid, you knew a lot of them: Cardinals like Vince Coleman and Willie McGee, or the Mets wit Howard Johnson and Darryl Strawberry. It was just cool.
The other one I liked was Baseball Stars. It had that one team with all the former big-league dudes on it [the American Dreams]. That game was pretty sweet as well. I’m actually in a game: MVP Baseball 2005 — that’s probably the most recent one I’ve played. I played as myself in the home run derby. Being in a video game is pretty cool, it’s something you can show your son someday: That’s dad, in his previous life.
Oscar Lopez, Little League coach: My favorites were R.B.I. Baseball, which was awesome because you got to be the Mark McGwires of the day. Bases Loaded was, I felt, a little more realistic than R.B.I. Also Baseball Stars, because if you won games, you could build your player to make it so that pretty much every time you hit it, it was a home run. So that was kind of cool, but it also got old once you had everyone at full power!
When kids play video games, they get a little bit better understanding of what’s going on when they get out on the field — how to run the bases, where to throw the ball to. You learn and you put it onto the field, and that’s a big takeaway that people probably don’t understand. I’m not saying your kid’s going to be a Major Leaguer by playing video games and watching baseball all day! But they’ll understand the game better when they get to next season.
In college, some of my teammates actually had the old Nintendo, and we still played that. We’d have home run derby contests in Baseball Stars most of the time, with multiple players. I still have my old Nintendo. I’m trying to get it fixed so my boy can play it.
Jacob Kleinman, entertainment/video game journalist/editor: I’m admittedly not much of a baseball fan (either IRL or in video games) but there’s a special place in my heart for Backyard Baseball. I played that game a ton as a kid and really enjoyed reflecting on it when The Ringer published a deep-dive retrospective a few years back. It was the perfect balance of sports game and goofy video game. Also, Pablo is the GOAT.
MVP Baseball 2005
Chris Alaimo, Classic Gaming Quarterly: When thinking about the “best baseball game of all time,” it would be easy for me to fall back on games that I fondly remember playing growing up: Bases Loaded, R.B.I. Baseball 2 and Baseball Stars, along with its sequel, all on the NES. I’ve spent countless hours playing Baseball Stars 2 on the Neo-Geo, as it’s certainly the best two-player arcade style baseball game.
Honorable mentions have to go to Sports Talk Baseball and the World Series Baseball titles on the Sega Genesis, Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball on the Super Nintendo and the outstanding but little-known-in-the-West Power League series on the PC Engine. But to the question, “what is the greatest baseball game ever made?” there can be only one real answer: EA Sports’ MVP Baseball 2005 for the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox and PC.
The MVP Baseball series began in 2003 as a replacement for EA’s Triple Play series, and had earlier introduced features such as variable-speed fielders’ throws, zone-based hitting and the pitch meter, which turned pitching from a simple exercise in button-pushing to a more skill-based system that added a hint of realism by making pitching less consistent. For-the-time realistic graphics and incredible player animations made the game look and sound like real baseball, punctuated by the inclusion of San Francisco Giants broadcast duo Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, generally considered to be the best in Major League baseball.
MVP Baseball 2005 added a “hitter’s eye” feature, which color-codes pitches in such a way as to give hitters an indication of what kind of pitch is coming, which was one of the most innovative improvements yet seen in the genre. A franchise mode allows players to compete in up to 120 consecutive seasons, and an “owner” mode layered on top of that gave players control of the franchise all the way down to things like the price of hot dogs. A scenario editor even allows players to relive baseball’s greatest moments by re-creating them in the game. Mini-games allowed players to hone particular skills, such as precision hitting, and the inclusion of Single-, Double- and Triple-A teams allows players to compete in the minor leagues, as well as adding depth to the game’s franchise modes.
While all of this sounds great, none of it would matter if not for the fact that MVP Baseball 2005 pulls it off flawlessly. Prior installments of the series were solid, but the 2005 edition elevated the franchise to near perfection, and as a result, the game is often heralded as not just the best baseball game, but possibly the greatest sports game of all time.
Sadly, EA lost the MLB license after the 2005 season and as a result, MVP Baseball 2005 was the last simulation baseball game released to date by Electronic Arts. But as a testament to both the game’s greatness as well as its staying power, the PC version enjoys a strong following to this day — rivaled perhaps only by NHL 94, with both receiving regular community-created mods and roster updates, so that, 15 years after its initial release, MVP Baseball 2005 remains the de facto video baseball game.