Posts Tagged ‘wayne gretzky’

By: Matthew Kohl
Email: virtualsportsman@gmail.com
Twitter: @virtuallymatt

The baseball off-season can be fraught with peril for some. Especially if you don’t care for many,
or any, of the winter sports. Baseball fans who aren’t content to follow the free agent game or the trade rumors have a few options to scratch the baseball itch. For example, I like to take a trip through my childhood baseball card collection. My card binder is one of very few things I have left from my youth and it’s the oldest thing I own that I purchased with my own money. It’s interesting to see who I thought was worth putting in the book versus who got clipped into the bike spokes since I only collected cards from players and teams I liked. I didn’t care if they were stars, though many were, and I didn’t care if they played for a rival team. Sometimes a card would get promoted from the box to the binder and sometimes they would get demoted, a practice which accounts for entire pages with only a single card on them in some instances. I don’t change it these days even though the order of cards and grouping of players is ramshackle at best and absolutely maddening when I’m looking for something specific.

Whenever I go through the book, I’m reminded of cards I had that would be worth having today or in the future had I kept them. I didn’t care enough about the players at the time to do so. Allusions of monetary gain be damned as I firmly stand by those edicts that decided what or whom was worth keeping, mysterious as they were. Mariano Rivera’s 1992 Bowman rookie card may disagree with me tossing it aside, but what kid keeps a baseball card featuring some twit standing in khakis and a polo shirt in his collection? Besides, he played for the evil empire. Sometimes though, I get confused as to why I kept something in the book.

WHO THE HELL?

“Who in the hell is Mariano Duncan?” That’s usually the first question I ask myself whenever I peruse the book. He’s on the first page. He was a 2B/SS and career .267 hitter who is currently the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs AA affiliate Tennessee Smokies by the way. I learned that from Wikipedia just today! Even though his career may have been a bit underwhelming, I don’t dare take the card out. For one reason or another an eight year old me thought it belonged in the book and I don’t doubt that reason was a good one. Its placement on the bottom right corner leads me to believe it’s one of the first nine cards I ever put in there. It’s possible it could even be from my very first pack of cards.

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I probably kept him because he had good fundamentals.

Another player who I have several cards from that also has a Cubs connection is Pat Listach, though I know why I kept his cards. He was second place to only Kenny Lofton in stolen bases and won Rookie of the Year honors in 1992. All but one of the cards I have from him are from that season. Coincidentally, he didn’t do much else the rest of his playing career. He’s currently the Cubs third base coach and was voted Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2008 for leading the Iowa Cubs to the postseason. So he has that.

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These are great looking cards though.

THE WEIRDNESS

There are also some strange phenomena that permeate my card binder. One of which I call the “Doc Strawberry Page.” It’s weird that two players who got famous in two different decades that both practically ruined their respective careers through drug use ended up grouped together. I knew about the drug problems they had even as a kid. Maybe I thought if I kept them together, but segregated from the other cards, the other players couldn’t do drugs with them. I really loved Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. I was disappointed to see their careers go downhill for such stupid reasons when they both had such great natural talent. I never really gave up on either of them though. That’s probably why I’m so unforgiving of players today.

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Another bit of weirdness is what I like to call the Eric Karros Quartet. I’ve grown to dislike him even more as an adult due to his lackluster commentary but I absolutely hated Karros as a kid. Why I kept any of his crap let alone four of the same card is completely unexplainable. In hindsight though, he looks a lot like my cousin Gary. Maybe I thought he was just moonlighting as a police officer.

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Fuck you Eric!

I don’t have a name for this one but probably the strangest thing that appears in my collection is the random presence of a Damon Berryhill card every other page or so. It begins on the tenth page mysteriously adjacent to Mike Scioscia. Then he appears again on the very next sheet next to Gary Gaeti, another player whose inclusion I have no explanation for. This continues on for another 15 pages until the second to last one where a wall dedicated to Ryne Sandberg ends the curse. I don’t really think I liked him as a player and I can’t imagine I would have liked anything about him other than the fact that he was a catcher, but even that’s a sketchy theory. I didn’t even really care for the Cubs too much until later in 1998 or 1999 so it’s weird that I would have so many of his cards let alone put them in my binder. I can’t figure out why they’re so scattered either. Unless somebody else can come up with a reason, I’ll just have to leave this mystery to future generations.

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A selection of Berryhills. Maybe I liked his name?

THE HEROES

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One of the heroes of my youth.

Still, there are some cards that really do deserve to be in my collection. In fact, one of my favorite pages in the book is the Bo Jackson page. I loved everything about Bo Jackson when I was young. I loved him so much I even picked up a Raiders hat when I had no connection whatsoever with football. In fact, Bo Jackson was the reason I began watching football. If it wasn’t for Bo, I would have entirely missed the final years of Joe Montana’s amazing career (another player I idolized as a child) and the best days of Steve Young’s. I was excited as all hell when he came to the White Sox, and now that I really think about it, he was the reason I started paying any attention at all to my local sports teams. Well, he and Mark Grace, who I was never lucky enough to get a card of…

…but whatever.

One of the stranger memories of Bo Jackson was the cartoon with him, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan. It was called Pro Stars and it was ridiculous.

Of the stranger memories regarding Bo Jackson was the cartoon with him, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan. It was called Pro Stars and it was ridiculous.

Video games and sports have been close partners since their inception. Throughout the turbulent 80′s and the death of the arcade, the grand times and great triumphs of the game industry, sports games have been there. They entertain the wishes of would be NBA stars who can’t play at a professional level. They fill the void for baseball fans during the off-season who itch for the first pitch thrown in April. Most importantly, they offer hours of entertainment for gamers and casual players alike, and every so often change the nature of the industry. There has not been one single home video game console released that did not have at least one sports title in it’s library of games, if not in it’s launch lineup. Sports games have proven time after time that they can both sell systems and destroy them, introduce new heroes to gamers and bring new markets to the gaming industry, and if not for one specific sports title and the man who created it, video games as we know them may never have existed at all.

These are the next five in my list of ten sports games that have made a huge impact on the video game world.

# 6 Madden NFL ’94 

From it’s roots, Madden NFL was created to be a realistic sports simulation. Since most sports titles at the time of its first release were of the arcade variety, Madden made an impact for being a true simulation. Once gamers got a taste of that level of detail, every company making sports games had to take notice and compete. Yeah NBA Jam was a break out hit, and NFL Blitz made a splash a few years later, but who plays those games now? Sports gamers want realism these days and there’s no room for an arcade football game in the eyes of the industry thanks to Madden NFL Football.

I know. Madden NFL ’94 is a simple little child’s toy compared to the complexity of current entries in the series but ’94 was the first in the series to bear its current nomenclature as well as several other features that made it stand out from other arcade style football games of the day (I’m talking about you Tecmo Super Bowl!). It was the first in the series to have the NFL teams license. ’94 was the first in the series to include Flip Plays, which let you to mirror your selected play to throw off your opponent, making multi-player games more fun, and the first entry to allow full season play, albeit, through means of a password system. Upwards of 80 teams (including all NFL teams that existed at the time, 30 years of Super Bowl teams, and several all star versions of various teams) gave the title great replay value and even though the players on those teams weren’t included in the game, their stats were accurately recreated. Even with the accidental switching of the entire Jets and Giants rosters (Hey! They’re both New York teams so who cares right?) it shined as a modern example of what a great sports simulation could be. We all know the rest of this story and are more than likely playing Madden NFL 12 right now, but this was the one that paved the way for the extensive simulation we now know and love. Oh yeah, this was also the first EA sports game to have the, now iconic, “It’s in the game” voice at the beginning. Neat huh?

# 5 Gran Turismo

I’m a huge fan of arcade racing games. I would give my nuts and future life savings for a Rad Mobile arcade machine, but there is a place in my heart for games like Gran Turismo. It took a lot of guts for Sony to release this title. At the time, people like me were either drifting through whole tracks in Ridge Racer or pretending that Cruisin’ USA was a good game. There was no place in video games for a true racing simulation. License tests? Who do they think they are? Braking, gear ratios, and proper cornering? What the hell are they talking about? Who are they to tell me how to play my racing game? Fortunately the visual presentation hooked a lot of early adopters and many more fell into the groove of actually driving well in a video game not to mention racking up wins and cash to upgrade their 92 Mitsubishi GTO Twin Turbo. This is another case of one title changing the industry. Before Gran Tourismo, the racing simulation was the oddity. Now, it’s pretty difficult to find a true arcade racing game that isn’t some Mario Kart clone or doesn’t include crashing to score points. Every developer that wanted to get into the video game racing business suddenly had to compete with a deep, engrossing, visual powerhouse that presented a challenge and feeling of victory no other racing title could provide. Without the original Gran Turismo, there would be no Project Gotham Racing, no Need for Speed in it’s current iterations, and probably no Drag Racing on your iPhone. Respect.

#4 NHL ’94

Damn 1993 was a good year for EA sports! (Both Madden NFL ’94 and NHL ’94 were actually released in 1993.) While this entry in the series has been made famous for basically allowing its players to kill Wayne Gretzky (and who wouldn’t have wanted to back then?)there is another reason the ’94 iteration was the one that made hockey games popular. What could EA have added to such a great series to make it better and take it head and shoulders above every other hockey game that existed at that point? The answer is devastatingly simple.

One Timers.

NHL ’94 was the first hockey title to include one timers. Sure, it didn’t have fights, but now you could actually execute plays in a hockey game! Sure, the sprites skated around like crap but now you could actually execute plays in a hockey game! 1993 was, and will remain the year that the simulated hockey experience got real and it never looked back. EA was the first company to take hockey seriously and try to make their game as realistic as possible and  NHL ’94 was their first real success as far as I’m concerned. Hockey fans, be grateful.

Oh Chelios...

#3 MLB ’09: The Show

The Show franchise has been top notch since its early days in ought-6 but 2009 was the year they really got it right. The series’ “Road to the Show” mode is still the best career mode in all of video game history in the eyes of this writer and much of what the past 3 years’ entries have built upon first took shape in ’09. It introduced “Road to the Show 2.0” to the series which included better base running and stealing mechanics as well as more in-depth coach and management interaction with your created star. Fielding mechanics were improved, catcher AI was beefed up to react to each pitcher and hitter’s strengths, and so many other tweaks were implemented that strengthened overall game play that it felt like a new game over 2008’s entry.

I’ve heard people say that year over year improvement in the series since is too minimal for their tastes, and I tend to agree, but the lack of change begs a question. Is there a need to improve such a fine system?

If it ain’t broke…

Seriously, The Show has been the best baseball game available for 7 years running and it shows no sign of breaking that streak. If you haven’t played any of the entries in the series, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend grabbing the ’09 entry simply for the fact that the rosters are old old old and, as far as I know, you can no longer update them. It is, however, important to know where the greatness began and 2009 was the year baseball video games finally got the champion they deserved.

#2 NFL 2K1

This is going to seem like the “game nerd/fanboy” entry on the list but trust me, NFL 2K1 is number 2 for a reason. Allow me to give some detail.

Madden NFL 2001 did not appear on the Dreamcast. This was due to EA’s decision to not support the system, for better or worse. This move ended up being great for EA but absolutely devastating to SEGA as many developers followed suit, siting the Playstation 2 as the better option for monetary gain. So what do you do when one of the largest game publishers in existence pulls support of your console, thus depriving your user base of some of the most robust sports franchises that tend to sell systems? You hire the guys who made Madden NFL ’94 to make some completely new games, that’s what! With its superb football mechanics and a polished presentation, NFL 2K1 was the first real competition the Madden franchise had seen since NFL Gameday ’98. 2K1 took a great step forward from the previous year’s version by tweaking the gameplay and really stuck it to EA. Check out this video comparison of NFL 2K1 and Madden NFL 2001 if you want proof of how close they were in quality.

That’s all fine and good, but the icing on the cake was the inclusion of a feature that changed the nature of console sports forever.

Online Multi-player

That’s right NFL 2K1 was the first console sports game to feature online multi-player capabilities. Can you imagine playing Madden today without the option to school some jerk from New England and hate on Tom Brady while sitting on your couch in Pilsen? Be honest. No! You can’t! It’s become such a huge part of sports games, and so many people have never even played the game that started it all. The wildly successful NBA 2K series being the exception, all of the meaningful 2K Sports titles are either gone or on their way to their respective graves.  At least this one will live on in spirit, even if it’s just because of a brave new feature implemented by a desperate company that was on its way out of the console market.

That wraps up part 2. You know you want to check back next week to see which game is number one. It’s going to be a huge surprise!