There’s a sketch in “Portlandia” in which two characters become so obsessed with Battlestar Galactica that they forget about everything else in life. Out of the Park Baseball 17 has a similar effect. It is crack for baseball nerds.
I don’t game nowadays as much as I once did, but I’ve played plenty of baseball simulations over the decades, of both the tabletop and computer variety. I cut my teeth on Cadaco All Star Baseball (the one with discs and a spinner), then moved on to Avalon Hill Statis Pro and Pennant Race, and later Pursue the Pennant, ABPA, and Earl Weaver, before discovering Baseball Mogul some years ago and finally returning to cards and dice with the venerable Strat-o-Matic.
When I game, I prefer strategy over hand-eye coordination. Getting beat by some four-year-old with crazy reflexes before I’ve even figured out the controls is not my idea of a good time. I like games that not only are fun to play but also serve to instruct (e.g., Microsoft Flight Simulator, Sim City), and I’m also predisposed to campaign type games (e.g., Dungeons and Dragons) that last as long as you’d like and have virtually limitless possibilities.
With those as my biases, and acknowledging that I haven’t yet played the game as much as I intend to, I’m very impressed by OOTP17. It is completely immersive and lets you take as much or as little control as you want. It provides a window into in-game managerial and behind-the-scenes front-office decision processes. If you’re interested in better understanding how real baseball works, simulations are a great way to teach yourself while having fun. If you’re looking for a great simulation, OOTP17 fits the bill.
When starting a new game, you can choose to populate your universe with players from MLB, as well as several other professional leagues from around the world. You can then play as manager of a team, general manager, or both.
Want to set a scouting budget, hire and fire front-office personnel, draft and make trades, and slam through actual games without getting involved in the details? You can do that. Want to set lineups and focus on managerial strategy on a batter-by-batter or pitch-by-pitch basis? You can do that. Want to do both of these and more? Yep, you can do that.
I’ve started playing the Oakland A’s as both manager and GM. My directives from ownership are to not completely suck this season, sign Josh Reddick to an extension (despite there being no room in the budget for extensions—hooray, a challenge!), and reach the World Series within five years.
I’m only seven games in, but gameplay has been realistic. The A’s got off to a 4-1 start before losing in the most A’s ways possible (jumping on Felix Hernandez early and then blowing a 5-0 lead to lose 6-5, getting demolished 11-2 while the bullpen coughed up homers like a cat coughs up fur balls).
Although I haven’t tested the GM side as much, what I’ve seen seems reasonable. For example, I tried to trade Billy Butler, and found him literally and figuratively unmovable. As in real life, we’re stuck with his contract, which will probably keep me from signing Reddick and eventually get me fired. Thanks, Billy Butler!
Despite the AI’s keen grasp of bad contracts, I’ve enjoyed the actual game experience. I play with headphones on and enjoy the ballpark sounds. The buzz of the crowd is punctuated by occasional lone voices that make it feel real. There’s even piped in PA music (is that Billy Squier I hear?). These are small details that might seem insignificant, but they add to the overall feeling of immersion.
In batter-by-batter mode, players choose whether to swing away, take a pitch, bunt, steal, or hit-and run at the plate; whether to pitch, pitch to contact, hold the runner, or even hit a batter (in that 11-2 laugher Dae-ho Lee knocked two homers off us, so yeah, I had my pitcher plunk him; it was satisfying, although maybe something other than an 84 mph curve would’ve sent a stronger message—not that we here at Crooked Scoreboard are condoning violence beyond the realm of computer simulations). The defensive options are numerous as well: shift left, shift right, infield in, double-play depth, guard lines, outfield deep, whipped cream, maraschino cherry.
My complaints with OOTP17 are few. In fact, I have only two. The first, the penchant for bad contracts I mentioned at the top, can be viewed as a feature or a bug: This game is crack for baseball nerds. I can easily see myself becoming unhealthily engrossed.
The other problem is that the program takes forever to load. Fortunately, there’s a simple workaround: Fire up the game, make a sandwich, eat the sandwich, then come back and play. This way you don’t sit around waiting and you feed yourself before diving into a world where you’re likely to forget what food is and that you need it to survive.
Geoff Young has been a writer for several decades and a game critic for several hours. You should follow him on Twitter.