There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, and each year only one of those teams (and its fan base) can end the season with a World Series win. For the other 29 teams, it's a tale of woulda-coulda-shoulda that sets up America's real favorite pastime: good old-fashioned hot stove second-guessing.
Fans always think they know what's best for their favorite club. If only they could make the blockbuster trade to shore up the middle of their team's lineup or set the pitching rotation, hoisting the World Series trophy at the end of the season would be a mere formality. Thankfully, for these would-be George Steinbrenners and Joe Maddons, there's the Out of the Park Baseball simulation series.
The latest version of the computer simulation (available for PC and Mac), OOTP17, is the best so far. OOTP17 is a baseball stat nerd's dream. All 30 MLB teams (and their minor league affiliates, plus international leagues) are present, allowing fans to take the reins of their beloved franchise in any season, from the late 1800s to this year's opening day rosters, and lead them to the top of the mountain.
Statistical data for minor league players goes back to 1919, setting up countless opportunities to shape your favorite team's destiny. Want to see how John Elway would have fared if he'd stayed with the Yankees? Could you have made a big-league star out of Michael Jordan? These are all possibilities within OOTP17.
On the field, the game is first and foremost a detailed and accurate simulation of the game of baseball. It's basically a glorified text sim, and that's not meant to be a slight. The engine that runs the game is arguably the most accurate simulation of baseball available.
But understand going in that the stats are the stars. Don't expect to swing the bat or run down fly balls yourself—for that experience, check out the amazing MLB: The Show 16 on the Sony Playstation 4. The appeal of OOTP is in recreating some of the sport's most historic moments and playing "what-if."
I put the game to the test with my beloved Cleveland Indians, a franchise that hasn't won a World Series since 1948.
I started with the 1954 World Series, when the 111-win Indians fell to the 97-win New York Giants. I simmed the series and was pleasantly surprised to see the Indians sweep the Giants, which is the exact opposite of what happened in reality. A second attempt ended with the Indians winning it all in seven. After that, however, fantasy gave way to history as the Giants won the next five series simulations, including a pair of sweeps.
Next up was 1995, when the Indians faced the Atlanta Braves, and just like in real life, the Braves won the series in 6 games. In 10 simulations of the 1995 Series, Cleveland only managed three series victories, while the Braves won seven, including two sweeps.
Simulating the 1997 World Series fared better for Cleveland, which won seven of 10 attempts over the Florida Marlins, who won the real-world matchup in seven games.
In the above examples OOTP17 really shows how baseball is a game of inches where anomalies exist (and could often change a franchise's fortune), but that when played out long enough, stats are king. Simming a full seven-game series takes just a couple of minutes, and it's easy and quite addicting to spend an evening imagining dream matchups, like pitting the famed '56 Yankees against Cincinnati's Big Red Machine.
Beyond the field, OOTP17 is as deep as an All-Star bullpen. You can control every aspect of owning and managing a big league franchise. Sign free agents, call up future stars from the minors, promote prospects from Double-A to Triple-A. You can re-negotiate contracts, set your scouting budget for future talent and determine your ticket prices to get your fans to pay for it all.
All of this depth comes at a price. If you're not a real stat nerd who likes to micromanage your club, OOTP17 may not be your bag of peanuts. And even for someone who grew up playing text-based computer sims (shout out to anyone who remembers the Lance Hafner 3-in-1 football game!), OOTP17 can be a chore.
I absolutely love managing the actual games, but clicking through page after page between games trying to find a suitable replacement for LF Michael Brantley, who is injured (again!), and keeping tabs on my minor leaguers while trying to keep the owner and the clubhouse happy got to be pretty frustrating at times.
You can delegate many aspects of team management to an AI assistant, and I did some of that, but it felt like I was missing out on some of the fine elements of the simulation. It's a small gripe, but anyone diving into a stats-based simulation should know what they are getting into.
If you're looking for a last-minute holiday gift for the baseball fan on your list, or if you're a baseball nut who got some spending money in your stocking from Grandma, you cannot go wrong with Out of the Park Baseball 17.
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