SOFTWARE REVIEW: Out of the Park Baseball

Robert Bee
Robert Bee's picture

In Robert Coover’s novel The Universal Baseball Association, the protagonist Henry Waugh creates a detailed stats-based baseball game played with dice, similar to games like APBA and Strat-O-Matic that many of us played as kids and beyond. He creates entire seasons with his eight-team league, keeping intricate statistics for the players and teams. He imagines back-stories and personalities for his players, serving as the league’s official historian as he records reams of articles and pages. He envisions himself as a god who towers over his league’s imaginary world, with his dice throws determining life, death, and batting averages for the players. Waugh’s imaginary world becomes more important than his boring job, his mundane life, and reality. Waugh becomes a metaphor for everything from god to artists to misguided geeks. His dice tossing even symbolizes the tendency of humans to assign meaning to random events, as he imagines the reactions of the crowds and players, when its actually just random dice rolling determining the game’s events.

I’m abashed to admit that one reason I haven’t posted as often in recent months is that I’ve been immersed in playing the baseball videogame, Out of the Park Baseball. OOTP is a stats-based game, unlike graphics and hand-eye coordination game such as Madden’s NFL game.

OOTP allows you to replay any major league season, or to design your own fictional league (much like Harry Waugh). You can set up a traditional major league in the US from any period in baseball history. You can design a Caribbean Winter League, a Cuban League, a Korean League, a Japanese League, etc. You can use real players, or have the game create fictional rosters.
OOTP’s forums provide endless examples of the leagues players have generated (and believe me, these people are almost as nuts as Republican science fiction fans). Some players have simmed the entirety of baseball history with fictional players, or have designed imaginary countries and worlds. Replayers can utilize real or imaginary players, and some write Waugh-like articles and websites about their players and team rivalries. Some OOTP gamers have designed fantasy worlds filled with rosters of elves and trolls. The game’s greatest strengths reside in its flexibility and its capacity to sim seasons in a short period of time.
Although the simming allows you to rapidly play days, months, or years in minutes, you also have the option of playing the games out, and making the managerial decisions. Henry Waugh’s life would have been much easier if he had the game to keep track of the stats, and play out most of the games.

OOTP focuses on the GM and commissioner side of the sport. You can take over a team as GM and manager, and build a franchise through trades, drafts, and free agents signings. You can maintain a full minor league system, which you keep track of to make sure players have been promoted or demoted to the right level. You have limited money to sign free agents, and a poor free agent signing can handicap your team for years.
OOTP differs from many stats-based based games such as Strat-O-Matic and APBA that generate a seasonal card for every player. In those games, the card lists the number of singles, doubles, homeruns, and outs per number of dice rolls. OOTP creates ratings that duplicate a player’s ability, which can be based on year-to-year replication, a three-year average, and some other options. OOTP’s system is more flexible than Strat-O-Matic, which does not have the option of creating imaginary players or different ways of generating ratings. My guess is that Strat and APBA are more accurate at statistical replays, since that is their sole function (although I’ve never tested this supposition).

Games like Strat-O-Matic and APBA require you to buy cards or discs for each year in ML history (which costs hundreds or thousands of dollars if you buy multiple seasons), and do not make multiyear replays and general manager functions easy. OOTP, for the price of the game, gives you every major league year since 1871. OOTP is available on Mac, PCs, and Linux. It’s also available on the iPhone and iPad, and as far as I know is the only stats-based baseball game in that format.
Playing out the games on OOTP is not always interesting because there’s not a whole lot for the manager to do. If your primary interest is hand-eye coordination, this is not the game for you. You decide when to bunt, hit-and-run, remove a pitcher, set lineups, etc, but there’s not a lot you can do if your player strikes out with the bases loaded.

I’m a relatively new player, but what I’ve done so far is to construct a game based on the 1920s. I took over as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers (then known as the Robins) and have won two world championships with the team. I created a full minor league system consisting of a Rookie league, Short season A, A, AA, and AAA. I also allowed fictional players to make the majors. This final decision turned out to be a mistake because the fictional players often seem better than the real historical players. If I had it to do over again, and of course I can create other games, I would set the game to only allow real historical players to make the majors.

I like the playing style of the 1920s. The homerun grew in importance throughout the decade as Babe Ruth demonstrated the offensive utility of knocking the ball out of the park. Despite the growing importance of the long ball, the playing style of the time still relied extensively on dead ball era strategy such as bunting, stealing, and hitting and running. Batting averages tended to be higher in the 20s, so doubles and triples were abundant. The teams carried four starters and only three relievers, and starters were expected to finish the game.

The game doesn’t have any physics features; otherwise, it might be interesting to create a league on a futuristic planet with lighter or heavier gravity than Earth’s. You might be able to sim that type of science fictional league by adding homeruns and offensive production on a planet with lighter gravity, or turning a planet with heavy gravity into an environment similar to the deadball era.

OOTP is remarkably sophisticated and flexible,ß with options that I haven’t explored yet. There’s a lively fan following for the game with extensive forums. Replayers have created endless mods and databases that can be downloaded for free. If you would like to sim your own league, or test your skills as a GM, try the game. Just make sure you have a lot of time to waste, or to spend “productively” in an imaginary world.