BY RYAN MILOWICKI
As many of you know, I play a wide variety of video games across many genres, but none is closer to my heart than EA Sports’ masterpiece MVP Baseball 2005 on my trusty Nintendo Gamecube. Like Firefly, Freaks And Geeks, or any series cancelled before its time, the MVP series came to an abrupt end after the wonderful 2005 entry which still holds up 10 years and 9 MLB: The Shows later. I’d be frightened to estimate the number of hours I’ve put into this game, but I’d conservatively estimate that from getting it for Christmas at age 12 until the present day, I’m at least 10 percent of the way to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours required to truly master any skill.
Chances are that if you’re aware of my relationship with MVP 05, then you also know that I am constantly looking for ways to keep improving my skill at the game. In high school, after completing a 162-0 campaign with my beloved 2005 Pittsburgh Pirates (real-life journeyman Sean Burnett went 32-0 without yielding a single run the entire season), I began exclusively facing the computer on the game’s hardest “MVP” difficulty. In my senior year, I finally beat the Hall of Fame team with the worst-ranked Single A minor league team in an exhibition game (after probably 50 or so attempts).
As I got to college, I began to crave the grueling grind of baseball’s long season against a ruthless computer giving no ground on MVP difficulty. This January, I made my first attempt at playing a full season without simulation or rage-quitting without being the Pirates. To give myself a sporting chance without gaming the system too much, I needed to pick a team that was in the bottom half of the league skill-wise, but not so horrible that I would get too frustrated to make it through 162 games. I settled on the Toronto Blue Jays, a team with a few good players on either side of the mound (or so I thought). Keeping the game’s fair trades and budget system in place, I was ready to put my MVP skills to the ultimate test.
This setup absolutely demolished me in the first week of playing. Carlos Delgado was a free agent, unbeknownst to me, and abruptly signed with the Yankees. Making solid contact against very good pitching was a monumental task, and any pitching mistakes on my end suffered immediate consequences. Sitting at 2-6, the Blue Jays took another hit when starting third-baseman Corey Koskie went down with a broken foot. Would I have expected this injury to vastly alter my fortunes and fundamentally change the way I played MVP 05? Never in a million years.
But that’s exactly what happened when I went to the free agent market to find a replacement. Only having the rights to players in the MLBPA, baseball video games often have abnormally thin minor league rosters and free agent markets, so I had to get crafty. The best bat available and willing to negotiate with me was aging outfielder Jeromy Burnitz. I quickly signed him to a one-year deal and penciled him into the DH spot, knowing that he could always fill in as a corner outfielder if any other injuries occurred. Sliding Shea Hillenbrand from the DH to first base, and Eric Hinske from first to third, I had a lineup once again. In his first appearance in a Jays uniform, Burnitz hit a pair of towering home runs, and a legend was born.
Taking the boom or bust approach in real baseball would never work, but in the world of MVP 05, it’s the only surefire way to assure yourself of scoring against computer pitching who almost never issue any walks. And so, I began swinging for the fences with every one of my players, to results equally effective and hideous. In the process, Burnitz set the single-season record with 82 home runs, in addition to 60+ apiece from Hillenbrand and Vernon Wells. Lurking behind these insane power numbers (417 team HR) was a woeful team batting average (.222) and only 690 runs scored over the course of the season. With some of the ugliest RBI:HR ratios of all time, here’s a quick look at my main contributors’ lines for the season:
- CF Vernon Wells: .264 AVG, 63 HR, 95 RBI
- 1B/DH Shea Hillenbrand: .241, 60 HR, 87 RBI
- DH/RF Jeromy Burnitz: .234, 82 HR, 127 RBI
- LF Reed Johnson: .219, 20 HR,41 RBI
- LF/RF Frank Catalanotto: .213, 22 HR, 34 RBI
- C Gregg Zaun: .212, 32 HR, 57 RBI
- 3B Corey Koskie: .212, 30 HR, 43 RBI
- SS Russ Adams: .212, 37 HR, 69 RBI
- 1B/3B Eric Hinske: .204, 34 HR, 63 RBI
- 2B Orlando Hudson: .197, 26 HR, 49 RBI
Anchored by peak-period Roy Halladay, my rotation was slightly more successful than the bipolar offense. With MVP difficulty, the computer is very hard to strike out, and no pitcher had more than 90 strikeouts for the year. But, I handled myself rather well under pressure and was reasonably able to work out of jams, leading to a team ERA of 3.49, slightly better than average in the real world. My rotation depth was pretty woeful, and I actually got lucky when 5th starter Dave Bush went down for the year with an ACL injury, as replacement Scott Schoeneweis proved to be more than adequate. Take a quick look at how my starters fared:
- Roy Halladay: 18-12, 2.21 ERA
- Ted Lilly: 16-7, 3.41 ERA
- Josh Towers: 11-8, 3.02 ERA
- Miguel Batista: 13-11, 4.41 ERA
- Scott Schoeneweis: 12-7, 3.95 ERA
- Dave Bush: 2-4, 4.98 ERA
With the exception of Halladay’s numbers, the rest of these guys were either decent or pretty bad. Notice though, they actually won games! As I played with this team more and more, I improved at hitting the long ball, adjusting the lineup accordingly, working through injuries, and doing my best to get quality starts out of the rotation. I finally creeped over .500 around the beginning of June, and then really started winning in the second half of the season. Stuck in the AL East, the gauntlet of the Torre Yankees and Francona Red Sox was a difficult hill to surmount, and even the Orioles put up a surprising fight. When all was said and done, four teams in the division finished at or above 87 wins, led by the Yankees with 102. Somehow, some way, despite my sabermetrician’s nightmare of a season, the Blue Jays grabbed the Wild Card spot (that’s right, only one Wild Card) with a record of 95-67. Continuing to pick up steam as the season went on, I beat the Yankees in a hotly-contested five game ALDS, then swept the White Sox in the ALCS. Facing the Cardinals in the 2005 World Series, I took care of them in five games to inexplicably bring the title north of the border (if only David Price and Tulo could have done the same in the real world).
Now I know what you’re thinking. This article is over, right? You’ve conquered MVP 05, Ryan. Do something else with your life! But striving for excellence is not an endeavor which has a finish line. There are always ways to improve, ways to do the unthinkable. I will not be satisfied until the hundreds of scratches on the disc render the game unplayable.
See, the real purpose of this article is to start the journey anew. I’m going to go through another season game by game on MVP difficulty, but with a few added constraints (some intentional, some unfortunate):
- Instead of having the freedom to pick my team, I am going to take my chances with the lowest-ranked organization with the game’s default rosters (the Kansas City Royals, in a very timely twist of irony).
- The TV in my room inexplicably has a tiny amount of input lag, resulting in the game being maybe a tenth or so of a second ahead of the image on the screen. As such, I have noticed that precision pitching has become nearly impossible. Going through this season will require me to become even better at hitting my spots, pitching to contact, and hoping that I keep the ball down. In addition, the impact of the lag is felt on hitting timing as well, meaning that it will be much more difficult to hit home runs with any regularity. I will have to work on manufacturing runs and hitting to all sides of the field. At the end of the day, the lag does not render the game unplayable in any way. Rather, it removes me from 10 years’ worth of a comfort zone, and will force me to adjust my game accordingly in order to succeed with the weakest team possible.
So over the following months, I am going to chip away at completing another full season. I know it’s going to be difficult, even moreso than my quest with the Blue Jays. I am going to lose my fair share of games, and I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect me to be a .500 team with the deck stacked against me from both a team and mechanical perspective. What I can guarantee though is that I am going to do my absolute best to keep a record of my foolhardy journey to see if I can emerge, bloodied but never broken.
Why do I do this? Because I love baseball and its long season. Because I’m not ready for real baseball to be over, signaling the start of winter with it. Because finding new challenges to overcome is a valuable mindset in any of life’s endeavors. But most of all, I do it because MVP Baseball 2005 is the greatest sports game ever made, and I owe it to the game that defined my childhood to spend the last months of my student life with it. Be sure to check back periodically to see if/how/why I’m surviving and persevering.