A year ago, I shared with you the prospect of the baseballing robot in all of its unicycling glory. It was a future full of action, intrigue, and strangely conservative grass fields. It was a future in which warfare was no longer merely a metaphor for the national pastime: it was the pastime itself. This, ladies and gentlemen, was the era of the Base Wars.
Today, however, allow me to transport you to an entirely different era: forward from the Nintendo Entertainment System of the late 80s to the superlative version of the early 90s, and backward from the 24th century to our own. Thanks to Japan and through the magic of video games, we can now imagine what baseball will be like when Prince Fielder’s contract expires. Witness: Super Baseball 2020.
Robots have, you may be surprised to learn, already infiltrated the sport, though their barrel-shaped design is neither sleek nor sexy. Robots are, naturally, stronger and more sure than their fleshy companions, but they’re also more erratic, wearing out and exploding after four to six innings, without even being shot by a laser.
Technology has come a long way in eight years: the glowing ball is already a feature, body armor has evolved from the Barry Bonds shin guard to a full set of splint mail, and the field is peppered with land mines and “jump” plates, obviously installed in the mid-2010s to reduce Mike Trout’s advantage over the rest of humanity. The hitters have the apparent ability to transport into the batter’s box, raising all sorts of potential ethical dilemmas, but they still walk off the field when changing sides. Perhaps best of all, the aluminum bat is finally welcomed into its rightful place in professional baseball.
But it’s the social standpoint of the game that has seen the most surprising changes in the next eight years. Women’s suffrage has finally been granted, and the female players seem every bit as able as their male counterparts, though their uniforms are perhaps less practical. Rules changes abound: foul territory now only reaches to the first and third base bag, and home runs are only to center; all other balls hit over the fence bounce off a plexiglass roof and back into play. (It doesn’t do much for the environment of watching a game at the old park – but perhaps it’s there to deflect radiation or acid rain.)
Though much has changed between now and 2020, the heart of baseball is still the same. Super Baseball 2020 feels like 1986 RBI Baseball mixed with 1996 HTML code; it still relies on that same top-down perspective that makes the player feel like God, or at least like J. Henry Waugh. Like real baseball, bunting and stolen bases are basically useless. You can upgrade your team by throwing away money, which is mysteriously earned after every play, as if your local club has its own Kickstarter. This money can be used to improve players mid-game, through what one assumes to be the use of anabolic steroids, providing a new form of managerial strategy. (Should you pinch hit for the pitcher in the sixth with runners on, or just dope him?)
I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords. If the future wants to promise a 58 year-old Roger Clemens encased in molybdenum and starting for the Naples Seagulls, I won’t stand in the way of progress.