10 greatest baseball video games ever made

Video games are a way to live out glorious victories or agonizing defeats

March 15th, 2020
Tom Forget / MLB.com

Note: A version of this story first ran on Jan. 8, 2020

There's never been a better time to play video games. With every major sporting league in the United States suspending play, a video game is arguably your best bet to live out your dreams without ever leaving your home. You could be a marauding adventurer, a plumber trying to save a princess, or you could even play an entire baseball season -- all done while you sink further into the couch.

With MLB: The Show 20 being released on Tuesday, you can even get a head start on the season in just a few days. If you can't wait that long, though: You're in luck. There are lots of older video games that hold a special place in people's hearts.

Often, your favorite is the first you ever played -- whether it was the original Atari Baseball, a game that more closely resembles a cave painting; Bases Loaded, the original Nintendo video game that was the first to look like modern games, or even something of a more recent vintage.

But for all the warm and fuzzy memories people may have, those are not the best games ever made. Today we are going to determine, with 100 percent accuracy, which is the best one ever created.

Before we dive in, a note: The modern reboot of R.B.I. Baseball will not be considered as MLB.com is a partner in its production.

1. MVP Baseball 2005

A game so good, it can never die. Despite coming out nearly 15 years ago and multiple gaming systems ago, there is still a modding community dedicated to updating rosters so that players can continue playing this every year.

While gameplay is smooth, with some of the best mechanics any sports game has ever featured, MVP Baseball's greatest strength lies in its franchise mode that allows players to build dynasties over 120 years. With two levels of the Minor Leagues, including real MiLB logos, players could finally undertake realistic rebuilding efforts or create unstoppable powerhouses with fresh rookies supplanting the roster.

EA Sports lost the MLB license the next year, so it replaced the game with a college version that fans still adore that included pinging metal bats and the ability to design your own stadium. But no game has yet to match MVP Baseball for player popularity.

2. Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball

It's only fitting that the most iconic player of the last generation is also the namesake of its most iconic video game as well. Players know the game by the very soundtrack. They know its pixelated players, with the large burly forearms and tiny, stick-like legs. And they know the hilarious names that littered the rosters.

While later versions would gain the MLB license, the earliest featured some truly inspired names as stand-ins. The Orioles, home to the legendary John Waters, had a player named Divine to fill in for Harold Reynolds. Cheers' Cliff Clavin, Norm Peterson and Sam Malone pepper the Red Sox roster, while the then-California Angels had stars Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne and Fred Astaire. You can't top that kind of star power.

3. MLB: The Show

It's difficult to rank a game currently in production -- not only does it lack the golden hue of nostalgia as you think back to days of sitting around with your friends, but there are always things you want a game to have and you hope the next version will address.

It's tough to find flaws in The Show. It’s by far the most robust, technologically advanced game ever made. There’s every mode available under the sun, including the ability to create yourself and work your way up from the Minors -- the gritty, gutsy dream nearly every fan has. There are online modes and leagues, and you can play in classic stadiums or with iconic legends.

The Show has taken something from every other game on this list to become the juggernaut. In 2021, the game will be available on systems other than PlayStation, and that's going to open it up to a whole new wealth of fans, too. It's a hard game to top.

4. Backyard Baseball

Based merely on conversations I've had with people in my life, the number of people who found Backyard Baseball as a gateway into the sport surely numbers in the millions.

Bright colors and simple, fun gameplay combined to create one of the best baseball video games ever -- especially for young fans who may not have a deep connection to a team or big league player. While later versions of the game had actual Major Leaguers take part, including Chipper Jones, Nomar Garciaparra and Ken Griffey Jr., among others, none have topped the popularity of Pablo Sanchez. He may be the greatest and most beloved fictional baseball player ever created -- and that includes people like Crash Davis, Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez and Roy Hobbs.

5. Baseball Stars

The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. There's a magic in the day-to-day hum of the game, with counting stats adding up over the course of a full season. While that's great as a fan, that can be hard to pull off in a video game, especially as early systems didn't have a way to save games. Baseball Stars changed that as it was the first to introduce an ability to save your game. Along with that, they even gave players the option to create teams and players, helping teams grow and develop as you were awarded cash after victories.

Yes, creating a custom version of yourself may not quite be the same as uploading your consciousness to the mainframe, but it's a pretty sweet second place.

6. RBI Baseball

While a video game is a world of make-believe, there’s something about actually playing with someone like Nolan Ryan or Vince Coleman (who was so fast, he could never be thrown out) rather than digital avatars with names like Neal Ryno or whatever. This was the first game to cut a deal with the MLB Players Association -- though not the league -- so it meant that there were eight "real" teams (they didn't have the MLB license, so they were simply known by their home city) and two All-Star teams of real-life stars, so you could finally play as if you were one of them.

That, mixed with solid gameplay that was easy for a first-timer to grasp and some seriously Oompa Loompa-looking baseball weirdos, has helped make this one of the most beloved games ever made -- sports fan or not.

7. MLB Slugfest

There are relatively few arcade-style baseball games. Maybe it's the pace, the focus on statistics. Perhaps it's that uniforms with belts and buttons don't make sense for the arcade -- who knows?

So, while there is no NBA Jam for baseball (yet), Slugfest came the closest. With flaming graphics and the ability to start fights at any time, this was a mix of classic baseball action with some over-the-top sophomoric humor that still stands out from the crowd.

Honestly, the strangest part isn't that you can slide tackle the catcher, but rather that there was even an option to bunt.

8. Triple Play Baseball

When Triple Play Baseball came out, it was the first time that it really felt like the characters you were playing were people. (Looking back now, were we just more easily entertained in the 1990s?)

Sure, the game was incredibly buggy. Bunt hits were an unstoppable force. Sometimes, it seemed impossible to hit a home run. But Triple Play also felt like a whole new type of experience, and it laid the blueprint for the games that we see today. And who doesn't want to spend hours bashing living room furniture with dingers like you could in Triple Play 2001?

9. Base Wars

Is this the best game on the list? Absolutely not. Is it the only game on the list set in the 24th century with cyborgs and robot fights during close plays? Yes. Yes, it is.

Sometimes, video games strive to be as realistic as possible. Other times, we have laser sword-wielding automatons playing sports. And that's a beautiful thing.

10. Out of the Park Baseball

To some, this isn’t a video game. It’s more like a job, one designed to make you pull out your hair and find yourself muttering alone in your apartment at 3 a.m. because you traded your backup third baseman just before your starter went down with a long-term injury.

This is a simulation game, but one with the utmost detail possible. You never get to play the action. Instead, you're like Billy Beane -- forever trapped on his treadmill -- watching and hoping as the players you drafted and developed, traded for and signed, go out and hopefully deliver World Series titles.

Where Earl Weaver Baseball Microleague started the simulation games, OOTP is the one that has taken it to its robust conclusion.