Once again, I don't know what I'm doing here. Baseball must be heaven for hardcore stats nerds, but only ones that care about baseball to begin with, and I don't. I do, at least, have a better grasp on the ball game rules than of football, but I have no idea what all the stats mean, or how to form a team or strategize ingame.
Computer Baseball was SSI's best selling title in its early years, and the Mobygames votes measure reflects this, coming closest to the whale threshold of every SSI game from before 1985. So, I'm going to play ball, or at least give it a try.
There are a few options on the title screen but the only one that interests me is to play against the computer. Computer Quarterback was designed as a multiplayer game, with an AI opponent only added in begrudgingly, but most, if not all of SSI's in-house games were meant to be played solo. There are also options to create new teams or view/edit data of existing ones, which must have made sports stats geeks very happy.
You can decide whether the computer should play visitors, home, or both, if you can't be bothered with the "game" aspect of baseball and just want to watch a simulated ballgame without having to play it. The difference between this and the demonstration game option is that the latter jumps right into the action with a fixed scenario, while this option still lets you pick the teams and other options.
There's an unusual (I think) design choice in the team selection. Instead of offering a roster of current teams, the choices are mostly historical, and if I'm not mistaken, these are all teams that played each other in the World Series. SSI also sold team data disks with complete MLB rosters for 1980 through 1985, though you could probably just make them yourself by using the ingame team editor.
I went with White Sox '06 vs. Cubs '06.
There are a few more game options.
- To use designated hitters or not. I opted not to, as that would be anachronistic in 1906. This choice affects both teams.
be able to enter the number of days since each pitcher has pitched,
which affects their fatigue levels. This seems like an odd option to
include - why would this be within the manager's control?
- Whether or not the computer should set the starting lineup for its own teams. Which also seems like a weird thing to give me the option to decide. I figure the computer's starting lineup is its business.
The first real decision is to pick the starting pitcher. Most of these numbers' meaning is a complete mystery to me, but I assume T is handedness and W/L is wins/losses, so I went with T. Brown, my most experienced pitcher.
The game then asks me if I want to designate any pitchers on the other team as unavailable. Computer Baseball sure is generous when it comes to giving me flexibility in making choices for the other team! But I opted not to, and the computer chose F Owen, who is also that team's most experienced pitcher.
Next I have to pick player positions, but I don't get as much choice as it seems here. For instance, J. Evers can play second or third base, but nobody else can play second base, so he has to.
This screen tripped me up for a little while too, because if you pick an invalid set of positions, the game will error out and make you repeat the selection without telling you exactly what you did wrong. And the pitcher you select must be assigned to the role of pitcher - the game doesn't just do that automatically. Sometimes these SSI games just feel hostile to the player.
|My lineup. If you did something illegal you'll find out soon.|
|The White Sox' roster of hitless wonders. Note the option to disable players.|
This is a game of stats and strategy, not skill, and victory is determined by your decisions and luck. The manual says that the most important aspect of defense is managing your pitcher's fatigue. You must anticipate when your pitcher will start to tire and warm up a relief pitcher in the bullpen before this happens. Leave him in too long and he'll tire out faster. Swap him out too soon and he won't be warmed up and will underperform for a few pitches.
There are five infield positions, which can be changed between pitches:
- Normal infield - The default, optimal for empty first and third bases. Maximum odds of stopping the batter from reaching first.
- Double play - Optimal for a full first base. Better odds of a double play, but worse odds of stopping the batter.
- Guarding the lines - Lower odds of a double or triple, but worse odds of stopping the batter.
- In at the corners - Guards from bunts, and better odds of stopping a run from third,
- Infield in - Optimal for bases loaded. Greatly worse odds of stopping the batter.
There are also two outfield positions:
- Normal outfield - The default.
- Shallow outfield - Typically used against a very weak hitter, or on the bottom of the ninth when someone's on third and you desperately need a home play.
Base runners can be held normal, loose, or tight, but I don't really understand the manual's notes on what this all means.
Finally there are three pitching strategies:
- Pitch. Default strategy.
- Pitch around. Gives the batter poorer hits, but significantly raises the odds of walking.
- Intentional walk. Walks the batter, possibly useful against a strong one especially if a weak batter follows.
None of the options make sense for empty bases, so I just pitched. Simple graphics animate the results.
Computer Baseball does not simulate each individual pitch, but rather the outcome of all pitches until a hit, strikeout, or walk occurs. You'll never be in a situation where there's two outs, two strikes, and you just need one more strike to change over, as if baseball needed less excitement and drama.
The next pitch was a strikeout, and the third was a groundout. Now I got to bat.
Offense options are less extensive than defense. First there are running strategies:
- Normal. The default. Strong runners may attempt to steal second, or attempt an extra base if the chances are better than 50%.
- Aggressive. Runners will attempt steals and extra bases more often. Typically used when there are two outs, or when a weak hitter is up.
- Conservative. Runners take no chances unless the odds are very good, and never attempt steals.
- Steal. Forces runners who are not weaker than average to attempt a steal. Combined with aggressive running, this makes double steals more common.
And hitting strategies, which are executed when entered:
- Hit. The default.
- Hit and run. Increases the odds of a successful second base steal, if it hits. If he misses, a regular second base steal will be attempted.
My first batter hit to left field and made it safe on first base. Next I tried a hit and run, which hit a ground ball to the shortstop, outing my batter at first, but the runner advanced. A third batter hit a shallow fly out. With two outs I ran aggressively and hit, but it was a flyout to left field.
Top of the second. The first batter made it to first, followed by a flyball to right field. I went for a double play, but the first batter stole second. I changed to guarding the lines, but the next batter walked. Next the runner on second scored. Two line drives were caught by the shortstop and left field, ending the inning half, scores 1-0.
Bottom of the second. My first batter made it to first, and then second as the next one grounded out. Third batter walked, and fourth grounded out as the others advanced to second and third.
|Two outs, men on second and third.|
I changed tactics to an aggressive running, and it paid off - I hit a double to left field. After this play, the opposing team had a bull pen change. Then I hit a flyout to left field. Score: 1-2.
And then it rained, postponing the game, but the program said it was really cancelling the game, as this wasn't an official one. That was fine by me.
GAB rating: N/A. This was completely uninteresting to me, but I'm not the intended audience.