TOWER GROVE — In 1994, late in the last stand of 16-bit consoles, a Super Nintendo baseball game gained the endorsement of All-Star center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. and approval of Major League Baseball, but it could not land the licensing rights from the Major League Baseball Players Association and could not use real games.
For that, we are forever grateful.
A lack of authentic names forced a stroke of genius.
“Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball” brought some of the most creative lineups ever to gamers. Oh, if only they were real! Unable to have Cal Ripken Jr. as the starting shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, Junior’s game instead had Baltimore native (and colorful film director) John Waters playing shortstop. The Colorado Rockies were loaded with famous movie monster actors, putting, as the game says, B. Legosi in center field and L. Chaney at first. Griffey is playing center for the Seattle Mariners — hey, he endorsed the game — but instead of Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez and Tin Martinez around him in the lineup are the names of Nintendo employees. The Kansas City Royals are former presidents. The New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers are punk bands from those areas, putting the city’s Joey Ramone against the coast’s Lux Interior. The Oakland Athletics have a lineup of authors such as M. Twain, L. Tolstoy and, filling in at first base fore Mark McGwire, is a bearded chap named H. Ernest. (Well, they can’t all be that obvious.) The most inventive of the lineups might be the Boston Red Sox, where Sam Malone is the ace and the characters from “Cheers” are his supporting class alongside other Boston fixtures, like G. Monster.
Two National League Central rivals received less obvious lineups: The Cardinals are all comics and the Houston Astros are all comic artists. If, say, you’re playing the Cardinals and looking for a pinch hitter in the seventh innings, here are your choices:
The St. Louis Wolves of “Who’s on First?” fame are well represented, though sadly neither Abbott or Costello is actually on first base. That goes to one of the three Marx brothers on the team, surpassing the record for siblings set by the Deans and tied by the Beneses, I suppose, and tying the Three Stooges. Let me explain. The real fun comes when you take the Cardinals’ actual lineup and see the comic the stand-in:
2B Stan Laurel as … Luis Alicea
SS Oliver Hardy as … Ozzie Smith
1B M. Groucho (Marx) as … Gregg Jeffries
RF Buster Keaton as … Mark Whiten
3B M. Zeppo (Marx) as … Todd Zeile
LF Bud Abbott as … Bernard Gilkey
CF Lou Costello as … Brian Jordan
C M. Harpo (Marx) as … Tom Pagnozzi
P H. Moe (Howard) as … Bob Tewksbury
P Jackie Gleason as … Ray Lankford
P A. Curly (Howard) as … Donovan Osborne
P H. Larry (Fine) as … Rene Arocha
P H. Shemp (Howard) as … Allen Watson
P Redd Foxx as … Omar Olivares
P Lenny Bruce as … Lee Guetterman
P Milton Berle as … Joe Magrane (perhaps)
P Phil Silvers as … Rob Murphy
P Charlie Chaplin as … Les Lancaster
P Fatty Arbuckle as … Mike Perez
OF Jackie Gleason as … Ray Lankford
C Art Carney as … Erik Pappas
INF George Burns as … Geronimo Pena
UT Gracie Allen as … Rod Brewer
INF Jackie Mason as … Tracy Woodson
OF Bill Cosby as … Gerald Perry
SS Richard Pryor as … Tim Jones
There is something surreal about a keystone combination of Laurel and Hardy, and mind-altering about the idea that Hardy would have to do a back flip to truly fill the cleats of Smith. And who knew Buster Keaton, the stoic wonder, was such an imposing switch-hitting slugger on the ball field?
Most of the names for the Cardinals will at least be recognizable, like the lineup for the Minnesota Twins that includes A. West (Batman!), J. Hendrix (Experience!) and W. Herzog (Obvious!). Houston … not so much. The stand in for Craig Biggio is the creator of The Spirit. Not sure? OK, the center fielder playing the part of Steve Finley in Junior’s game is, fittingly, the co-creator of Spider-Man. Don’t know him? Well, Jeff Bagwell is actually one of the most famous and distinctive comic book artists of all time. He created Captain America and the forced perspective fist. No clue?
This was actually the lineup that I came upon Friday when pushed to Comic Book Resources (CBR) by an intriguing Twitter tease about Spider-Ham and Cerebus the Aardvark. Long story. At the bottom of this article — one in a series about comic book urban legends — there is the detail about the Astros’ cartoonist-inspired lineup. That jogged the memory about those stand-up Cardinals, the rocking Mets and, for this Colorado kid, those monstrous Rockies. I wasn’t savvy enough back then to pick up on all of the comic creators. And, let’s be honest, in 1994 I was in college, had a Sega Genesis and only one game had control over me, NHL Hockey 94. (“You can make their heads bleed in this one.“)
It was with great nostalgic, sepia-toned, 16-bit delight that I matched Astro fill-ins with their artist counterparts:
2B Will Eisner … creator of The Spirit
CF Steve Ditko … co-creator Spider-Man
1B Jack Kirby … created Captain America
RF Steve Caniff … created “Terry and the Pirates”
LF William Gaines … founder Mad magazine
3B Harvey Kurtzman … Mad
SS Jim Davis … created Garfield
C Don Martin … Mad
P Daniel Clowes … artist, writer “Ghost World”
C Will Elder … Mad
INF Frank Miller … Sin City, Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil
INF Wally Wood … Mad
INF Robert Crumb … underground comics, Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural
OF Stan Lee … Mr. Marvel Comics
OF Robert Williams … Zap Collective
P Howard Chaykin … American Flagg!
P Peter Bagge … Hate
P Brett Ewins … Judge Dredd
P Ralph Bakshi … animator behind “The Lord of the Rings” movie
P Jim Shooter … Marvel’s longtime editor in chief
P Gary Larson … “The Far Side”
P Charles Burns … RAW and Dogboy (“Liquid Television”)
P John Romita … artist who did definitive work on “The Amazing Spider-Man”
The Astros aren’t the most obscure team on the game. That has to go to Toronto who is made up of rugby players from a club in England. (You can see all of the themes here; you can see one person’s attempt to lineup fiction with fact in this dedicated blog.) There isn’t that quirky connection in Houston either, not like The Wizard of Olly for the Cardinals or — and I kid you not — Phil Spector being the stand-in for John Kruk in Philadelphia. The Cardinals-Astros game isn’t going to give you those delicious showdowns that make this game a class: B. Wayne of the Milwaukee Brewers against A. West of the Twins; B. Stoker of Cincinnati crossing paths with B. Lugosi of the Rockies (Dracula can face his maker!); and, perhaps the most awkward of all, when M. Monroe of the Cleveland Indians tries to score from third on a fly ball to New York Yankees outfielder Y. Clipper.
A little disappointed they didn’t go with M. Coffee, but you get the idea.
The Cardinals-Astros games may not have that kind of star power, but the genius of the game is that every team has a twist. Houston’s Shooter in the bullpen, Wood off the bench, and Spirit in the infield ought to be enough to keep up with the Cardinals’ comic relief (it’s The Stooges) and the catcher behind the plate who only calls pitches by whistling or tooting a horn.
Now that’s a video game.