I recently got a video game system called RetroN 3 that can play Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis games, and it turns out, one of the cheapest games I bought is the best.
RBI Baseball came out in 1987, 10 years before my birth. It was the first baseball video game licensed by the Major League Baseball Players’ Association and for all of its flaws, it’s an all-time great video game and an excellent deal at $6.99. I only play as the Boston Red Sox, though the game includes eight MLB teams and two all-star teams comprised of the best American League and National League players not featured on those respective rosters. I have no reason to play as anyone else. The game came out one year after the Red Sox made it to the World Series and lost to the New York Mets. One downside is how no players’ fielding abilities correlate to their real-life fielding skills, but I love it. In the more than 50 games I’ve played, first baseman Bill Buckner has a perfect fielding percentage. The game's defense sucks overall, as nearly all of the players move in the same direction when controlling the fielders, but this goes both ways.
Coupled with the lack of a DH for even American League teams (the game came out well before the universal DH), pinch hitters have an outsized value in the game. Each roster has 16 players—eight position players in the starting lineup, four pitchers, and four bench players. Since everyone's fielding ability is the same, pinch hitters can play out of position, so it makes sense to pinch-hit outfielder Tony Armas for shortstop Spike Owen unless you want to bunt or conduct a hit and run. Plus, pitchers generally can hit, so bench players provide value pinch-hitting for tired pitchers, especially in plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
One benefit to playing this game as a Red Sox fan is the team’s pitching, specifically Roger Clemens. Along with Nolan Ryan on the Houston Astros and Fernando Valenzuela on the National League All-Star team, Clemens is one of the game’s top pitchers. I also struggle against Astros reliever Charlie Kerfeld and Mets reliever Jesse Orosco because of their sidearm delivery, so pitching them in two-player mode is a good idea, though they don’t fool the computer.
Clemens consistently throws fastballs over 100 miles per hour early in games. He also has better stamina than other pitchers, a vital metric in a game where pitchers progressively worsen with each pitch thrown.
Since Clemens throws gas and right-handed batters struggle against his curveball when he’s fresh, using an opener is wise in this game. Using Hector Velazquez and others as an opener was a disastrous idea for the 2019 Red Sox, but video games aren’t real. Any pitcher can pitch in any role and their ability remains consistent. I like to get two or three solid innings from Calvin Schiraldi or Bob Stanley to start the game before pinch-hitting for them and putting Clemens in to pitch for much of the game. When playing consecutive games, one can’t use the same starter in back-to-back games —another reason to use Clemens as a reliever. Without him, I can't win unless the offense has an excellent game. Additionally, starting Bruce Hurst makes little sense because having a left-handed arm in the bullpen provides value in the later innings.
People who like more modern games may knock RBI Baseball for its simplicity, but that’s part of the appeal. They may nitpick the game for counting hit batsmen as walks in the box score, not including the infield fly rule, or for every player being white, but it deserves credit for being a simple game that any baseball fan can learn quickly if they know the controls. And if you’re lousy at the game, that’s fine because it features a 10-run slaughter rule, making finishing awful games quicker and less painful than usual. Sometimes, I wish MLB had the same option, especially given the Red Sox’ miserable 2023 season.