It was November 2003, and the EA Sports gaming team responsible for creating MVP Baseball had run into a problem.
Barry Bonds, the reigning MVP and best player in the sport, just announced that he would pursue licensing opportunities on his own, meaning MVP Baseball could no longer use his likeness. The creative group huddled together in their Vancouver office, trying to figure out what to do.
An MVP game without the MVP? How could it ever be successful? EA's baseball series had been one of the most popular video game franchises of all time, but now what?
"We were kind of discussing what to do and one of my bosses said, 'Well, we'll just create a fake Bonds and give him someone else's name,'" Jon Dowd, a 31-year-old assistant game producer at the time, tells MLB.com. "We threw around some ideas and then my boss said, 'Hey, we'll just give him your name.'"
No matter which "all-time sports video games list" you look at, MVP Baseball 2005 almost always ranks near the very top.
Reddit threads rave about its gameplay. There've been ten-minute long YouTube retrospectives. The soundtrack is a Spotify hit. EA Sports has even talked about bringing back the franchise because of the game's cult status. But one of the major reasons why it's stuck around in players' minds was a fictional character who first appeared in the 2004 edition. He's up there with Tecmo Bowl's Bo Jackson and Tiger Woods (from Tiger Woods PGA Tour) as one of the greatest sports video game characters ever created. He is the man who stood in as Barry Bonds: the great and powerful Jon Dowd.
To avoid any issues with Bonds' legal team, Dowd was made white and right-handed (you could easily edit his features to make him Black and left-handed). But he was still put on the Giants roster and was given the same attributes and ratings as the home run champion. Dowd, of course, became a dominant force.
His games were mythical.
His off nights were great nights for regular human beings.
He'd crush ball after ball into McCovey Cove.
That's why millions of kids and adults who played the game 15 years ago will likely recall his name, but not many know that Jon Dowd was an actual person who helped produce the game.
"I don't think EA ever talked about it," Dowd, who worked at EA until 2006, tells me. "If you looked at the credits, you would see my name in there. But I don't think anybody at EA thought [Jon Dowd] would become such a thing."
Nobody really thought to ask if the player was named after somebody real, so EA never said anything. Living in Vancouver -- not an area of the world so obsessed with baseball -- Dowd and his team were also sheltered from the hysteria the Dowd character created in the U.S. in '05 and for years afterward. Dowd never really told anybody in the area because "it wasn't NHL 2005," and nobody would've cared. And it's not like anybody would've recognized the real Dowd from the video game version.
"The player creation wasn't super robust back in those days," Dowd says. "You had 15 generic fits to pick from, maybe four white guy heads. It kinda looked like me, but it kinda looked like several million other guys. 51 (Dowd's number) is my favorite number, so that was the reason for that. And I am right-handed, but we were gonna make him right-handed anyway."
Dowd knows all of this because his job was to create the player database. He designed the players' looks and gave them their attributes. Jon Dowd designed Jon Dowd.
The real Dowd did have one famous moment of recognition. Weirdly enough, it was while traveling abroad.
"I was on vacation in Europe in 2016," Dowd says. "I was staying at a hostel in Madrid and, you know, there's people from various places there and there are these two guys from New York. From Queens. They were probably 10 or 12 years younger than me. We started talking about what we do and I told them I used to work at EA Sports. They said, 'Oh, what games did you work on?' And I said, 'The baseball MVP games.' And they said, 'Oh, we used to play those all the time. What'd you do?' I said, 'Well, if you played with the Giants at all, you might even know my name.' One of the guy's eyes bugged out and he said, 'You're Jon Dowd?!'"
The two guys thought this was the greatest thing ever, while Dowd found it incredibly bizarre.
"I was in Spain, it was 10 years later," Dowd says, laughing. "They're texting their buddies back home in New York and they bought me beer until like 3 in the morning in Madrid bars. Just swapping baseball stories. It was pretty awesome."
But for the most part, Dowd exists solely as a video game character. He'll pop up jokingly on Twitter during the season when people make rankings of the greatest baseball players in history. Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams even gave him a shoutout after a start against the Giants in 2018.
"Yeah that got a lot of people talking on Twitter," Dowd says, chuckling. "People sent it to me because I'm not on Twitter. It was pretty funny."
But how would the real Jon Dowd do against someone like Williams or any big league pitcher? Apparently, not so well.
"No, no. I know a lot about sports. I know a lot of sports trivia, but I am not much of an athlete," Dowd admits. "I did play ping-pong and street hockey!"
And what about the MLB player Dowd stood in for -- Barry Bonds? What did he think of it all?
Dowd doubts that Bonds knew anything about the legendary fictional character that took his place and there's no real evidence that Bonds has talked or been asked about it, but Giants broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper -- who also lent their voices for MVP '05 -- had some fun with it all.
"One of my colleagues at the time was in a recording session with them and they joked that I should give something to Barry," Dowd remembers. "So, I actually signed a baseball and they put it in Bonds' locker. I don't know what the response was, but I know Krukow and Kuiper thought it was funny."
Anybody would probably admit: The entire situation is an odd claim to fame. And talking to him about it, you get the idea that Dowd feels the same way. He says he guesses he could've toured the U.S. telling people he was Jon Dowd from the MVP franchise, but, like, how weird is that? How long would something like that last? What would he really say?
He seems fairly satisfied with the Twitter jokes and chance encounters he's had, and is more just proud of the legacy the game has carried all these years.
"I'm happy MVP Baseball 2005 has endured in people's imaginations," Dowd says. "Not too many sports titles have a reputation for that long. There were a lot of very talented people who worked on that title. ... I'd been there since Triple Play 2000, so [MVP 2005] was like my sixth or seventh baseball game and it was finally the baseball game we wanted to make all along."
And a generation of gamers is grateful he was there to help create it, even though he probably broke some hearts with his massive walk-off dingers along the way.
Matt Monagan is a writer for MLB.com. In his spare time, he travels and searches Twitter for Wily Mo Peña news.