How to Improve MLB The Show

Bryce Harper will appear on the next cover of MLB The Show, but it may no be in Washington Nationals’ gear. (via Keith Allison)

While the aphorism “Good artists copy, great artists steal” might be a bit suspect, there’s no denying that creation is often inspired by or is a direct copy of others’ innovation. The same is true in the video game industry, especially with sports games. You can play an entire season in Bases Loaded? How about creating a team and making money in Baseball Stars? Players can collide into each other in Triple Play Baseball? How about giving you the ability to argue with your manager and risk being ejected in MVP Baseball. Sports game developers try their best to one-up each other when they might sometimes be better off commandeering others’ ideas for inspiration.

Now direct your eyes to MLB The Show. It’s most recent release on March 27 featured American League Rookie of the Year winner Aaron Judge on the cover; Bryce Harper will grace the cover of the 2019 version. The Show is an all-time great sports video game franchise that could be made even better with a few additions that will keep those who play it engaged and add some silliness to keep the game fun. Understanding the tremendous time and dedication it takes to produce a game of this caliber—and anticipating that some of those who play the game will likely complain no matter how great the game is— let’s engage in some wishful thinking. Here are 10 things the folks over at SIE San Diego Studio should take from other games to improve the next MLB The Show. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Add retired players to the management and coaching pool. (Madden/NBA 2K)

This is really a no-brainer, isn’t it? With the recent circulation of a Reddit post noting that you can create an entire batting lineup in MVP Baseball 2005 using current managers, why not create a manager and coaching pool based on players who have retired? As anyone who plays the Madden football or NBA2K franchises could tell you, it’s a trip to have the ability to hire a coach or assistant coach who you were battling against just a season or two before. (Note: This writer once hired Dirk Nowitzki to coach the Knicks in franchise mode. The real life Dirk likely isn’t a glutton for punishment.). In Madden and NBA 2K, retired players are automatically thrown into the coaching pool. If you’re a Minnesota Twins fan, Joe Mauer could truly stay a Twin forever if you hire him as your manager.

The pool should also include “Legends” players to make things a little more interesting. Want a Cubs team managed by Andre Dawson? Or a Mets team with Tom Seaver or Mike Piazza at the wheel? Maybe hand over the reins in San Diego to Benito Santiago! Baseball could use more managers of color.

Ads for fake products (Triple Play Baseball)

Every year, real companies (especially those that sell athletic apparel) work hard to cut deals to get their logos and products in sports games. Maybe The Show should take a cue from EA Sports’ old Triple Play Baseball franchise. Starting with Triple Play ‘98, the game had announcers Jim Hughson and Buck Martinez read ads during dead time, shilling products like Lobster Cola (“All of today’s baseball action is brought to you by Lobster Cola! The world’s favorite crustacean cola. Lobster Cola! Also available in diet.”) and Chork (“This game is brought to you by…Chork! Not quite chicken! Not quite pork! Chork! Made by Scientists! Enjoyed by everyone!”). It’s utterly ridiculous, but video games should have a bit of absurdity in them.

Ability to create female players (FIFA/NBA Live)

The Fox TV show “Pitch” didn’t make it to a second season, but it did help further the conversation of women playing baseball at the major league level. Channeling the spirit of recent NBA Live and FIFA video games that allow you to create male and female players, MLB The Show should feature a similar ability. While Live lets women play street ball and engage in court battles, they still aren’t a part of “The One” mode where they could take their talents pro. The Show could take the next step and include women as part of their ‘Road To The Show” career mode. It should include a diversity of names, hairstyles, and appearances. Imagine the tie-ins The Show could feature with organizations like Baseball For All. And add women play-by-play announcers and color commentators. Jessica Mendoza is an obvious choice, but how about women like Jenny Cavnar and Michele Smith as well?

A Negro League All-Star Team (All-Star Baseball 2004/2005)

This really should have been in The Show from the beginning, and it’s a shock and shame that it has taken this long. While the All-Star Baseball franchise might not have been as popular as other baseball video games, it brought a sentimentality and historic perspective to the game’s development and design. A product of that approach included a team consisting of the best of the best from the Negro Leagues. While outlets work to keep the story of the Negro Leagues alive, and MLB uses Jackie Robinson Day to praise baseball as a sport open to all Americans, a roster full of some of the greatest Negro League players would serve as a reminder that these men were just as good as their major league counterparts.

Spanish Announcers (All-Star Baseball 2004/2005)

One of the many charms of All-Star Baseball 2004 and 2005 was play-by-play announcer Thom Brennaman telling you that you could listen to the Spanish broadcast of the game utilizing the “S-A-P” button in the pause menu. While the Spanish language announcing was pretty barebones, it offered the game-player a very different game experience (especially if Spanish isn’t your first language). Imagine an SAP option that includes some of the broadcasters from ESPN Deportes or a Spanish-speaking play-by-play person from one the league’s many team broadcast booths? It may be a small thing, but that little thing could make the MLB The Show that much more rewarding and authentic.

Story Mode Option (Madden/NBA 2K/FIFA)

You could look at MLB The Show’s “Road to the Show” mode one of two ways: it’s either too barebones and needs a more fully realized story, or it’s the perfect mix where one can give oneself a backstory and not have one imposed upon you. MLB The Show ‘18 had your player drafted in the late rounds of the amateur draft; not much was expected from you, leaving it up to you to surprise the franchise that picked you. But what if there was a story to that journey? FIFA has already done this it with Alex Hunter, the character you play in that game’s story mode, and it works like a charm. Madden’s Longshot, while a chance worth taking by EA Sports, leaves a lot to be desired. NBA 2K’s story modes and cut scenes are hit or miss depending on the year (I’m looking at you, Spike Lee).

But imagine what a good story mode in MLB The Show could feature. A player questioning whether he was good enough to make the bigs while treading water in the minors. You could include cutscenes with teammates and managers, on the field during practice, or in the dugout during games. There are a ton of options if The Show’s developers play their cards right.

Sandlot/Schoolyard/City Mode (All-Star Baseball 2005)

With youth participation in baseball outside of organized games and travel teams declining, it’d be nice to remind each other of a time when pickup baseball flourished. That’s right, folks, there was a time when kids, armed with their own gloves and bats, would go on a pilgrimage to the nearest sandlot, park, or schoolyard and play a game of baseball. Eighteen players were available. Two captains would be named, and pick from the remaining players to form teams. No bases drawn? Draw ‘em yourself in chalk. Those days are fading, but not from All-Star Baseball 2004 and 2005. Their “Pickup” mode allowed you to choose players and gave you the option of playing in a sandlot, a city park or a schoolyard. An addition like this could only enhance the experience of The Show.

Pre-designed original stadiums and Expansion Teams (All-Star Baseball 2004/2005)

MLB The Show players have clamored for the ability to create a stadium, relocate a franchise or start a new one entirely. Even if building a “Create Stadium” mode would present the folks at Sony with a great technical challenge, it shouldn’t preclude making a franchise/expansion mode. Once again, let’s look to the All-Star Baseball franchise for inspiration.

The game’s “Expansion” mode had a pre-set list of team nicknames, mascots, cities and pre-designed original stadiums created by developers from which players could choose. After you made your selection, the computer would automatically add another expansion to set up the expansion draft. Fun ensues when building a team from the ground up. This writer once picked an expansion franchise for Juneau, Alaska and named it the Alaska Glaciers. And yes, there were sometimes flurries when the Glaciers played home games. Which reminds me: The Show should add snow to its weather options.

Extreme Big League Challenge (Triple Play 2001)

Baseball gamers of a certain age may fondly recall the Extreme Big League Challenge mode of Triple Play Baseball 2001. Why, you ask? Check out this, and this, and this. “Challenge” mode allowed you to play the precursor to the batting mini-game in MVP Baseball 2005. You could hit around a construction site, a medieval castle, a regular ballpark (Cashman Field in Las Vegas) or in a living room (after being shrunk down to size). Hitting certain targets would produce some funny commentary from the broadcasters (“He just hit a guillotine!” “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t live so close to ballparks.”). The mode kept bringing you back to the game because the novelty never really wore off. With the emphasis on sports games being as realistic as possible, there needs to be room for little arcade-like fun in between the life-like simulation.

Dear Santa: Or, What I Want for Baseball Christmas (2018 Edition)
It's that time of year again, folks -- time to tell Santa what you really, really want.

Ability to realign divisions and leagues (NHL 19/NBA 2K)

Some of the best parts of the NBA 2K franchise and EA Sports’ NHL franchise involve the customization you’re allowed before you even get to game play. Two notable examples of that can be found in the Franchise mode of NHL ‘19 and the My League modes of NBA 2K: the ability to move teams to different divisions and realign divisions out right. In NHL ‘19, you could make sure all of the teams in the northeast were in one division or move the Minnesota Wild to the Metropolitan Division, just for the heck of it. You could also do what this guy did and put all of the Canadian teams in the same division. NBA 2K’s My League mode not only includes the ability to realign divisions, move teams, and add expansion teams; it also allows you to vote on newly proposed rules at the end of each season, just as teams do in real life.

For MLB The Show, why not have an option to go old school and have a two-division National League and American League with the winner going to straight to the League Championship Series? What about splitting the leagues into four divisions and having the winners of each make the playoffs without the need for a wild card? Maybe you want to move the Astros back to the NL and the Brewers back to the AL. The possibilities are endless.

Some readers may complain that a few things were left off this list—the ability to set ticket prices and promotional days, or carry over roster sets, or use face scan/image upload, for instance—but if The Show’s creators follow these 10 suggestions, I think they could cement the game as the best baseball sim of all time (and get people to stop pining for MVP Baseball 2005). The Show is the best baseball simulation around but much more customization and absurdity is needed. Baseball’s a weird and quirky sport. Let’s make the game reflect that, too.


Stephon Johnson is a staff writer at the New York Amsterdam News. His work has appeared in The Classical, The Sports Fan Journal, Polygon and The Cauldron at Sports Illustrated. He would like hitters to emphasize making contact again. Doubles and triples are OK. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @StephonJohnson8.

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29 Comments on "How to Improve MLB The Show"

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stever20
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stever20

The fake ads from Triple play were great….

1 thing that always ticked me off in the last few years was that if you saw a replay, the next batter would show up in the batters box, w/o any graphics on who the next batter was. They for some God only knows reason took that out a few years ago….

GoNYGoNYGoGo
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Member
GoNYGoNYGoGo

“The real life Dirk likely isn’t a glutton for punishment”

Ouch, it’s getting cold in here.

sp13
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sp13

I want to see a VR game where you can be the home plate ump. People might realize how hard it really is to call balls and strikes.

Victory Faust
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Victory Faust

There was a 3DS baseball game that included an Umpire mode, it was actually a lot of fun.

Famous Mortimer
Member

I’m waiting for Beer Vendor Simulator ’19.

Shirtless George Brett
Member
Shirtless George Brett

The ability to argue any call (and argue it as aggressively as you felt) was one of the things that made MVP baseball the greatest baseball game to date. It sounds weird but it was so satisfying being able to digitally yell at the umpire for perceived transgressions lol.

Victory Faust
Member
Victory Faust

The great part about that was there was a risk/reward built into it: argue a call that wasn’t close and your team wouldn’t be happy, argue a close call and your team would get fired up, and argue too much and you get tossed, losing all ability to control your team’s pitching and batting changes.

dbau3919
Member
dbau3919

Or they could fix the programming where if a player gets injured in franchise mode, you should be able to add them back to the roster after a playoff round.
The amount of times a guy gets stuck in this limbo for me is ridiculous.

dodgerbleu
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Member
dodgerbleu

+1. This is especially frustrating because the game says you can do it , but it doesn’t let you.

v2micca
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Member
v2micca

The biggest addition I want is for MLB the Show to start getting the Minor League players correct. At least the top 100 prospects. Maybe you will get a handful of an organization’s players correct. But over 95% of them are just randomly generated NPC.

ryanredsox
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ryanredsox

Just download the OSFM rosters

v2micca
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Member
v2micca

We are discussing ways Sony can improve its product. Not forcing its community (with limited access to their engine rendering tools) to generate fan content to cover their gaps would be a huge improvement.

dodgerbleu
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Member
dodgerbleu

I want Juan Soto in franchise mode, dammit!

arsenic-
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arsenic-

Or put it on PC dammit

Andrew
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Member
Andrew

Improvement in the replay functions would be nice. I would like to manually call for replays and argue balls/strikes. Seems like that functionality is mostly up to the CPU’s discretion, at least for the Show 2017

tim.carlton123
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tim.carlton123

I don’t see why it would be difficult to allow team/uniform/stadium customization. Madden and NCAA Football allowed you to customize stadiums and in NCAA you could do some of the most elaborate uniform designs. As a Padres’ fan, there’s nothing I’d like more in a game than being able to switch to a brown and yellow/orange uniform using the current ‘SD’ logo. Hell, it might even help the creative team at Tony Gwynn Ave. in developing the 2020 uniform!

TwinPeaks
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TwinPeaks

The biggest complaint I have is that it takes way too much grinding to get a good team. My son has basically abandoned the game because of this. Also, it seems nearly impossible to hit the ball well in the latest iteration. It’s either a home run or an out. (Although, this is eerily similar to actual MLB, I guess) MLB the show 17 was a lot more fun, despite Babe Ruth being in this version.

Takiar
Member
Takiar
Agree. The number of outs (doesn’t matter if well hit or not) is staggering. Meanwhile, the CPU does the exact opposite, running very high BABIPs. That’s been lessened in 2018 (it was insane in the 2015 version on PS3, where it was either a K or a hit from the batting CPU), but still quite high. Another thing would be to fix the CPU’s out-of-zone swinging percentage, which is ridiculously low (it’s not that high for in the zone either). It almost never swings at a close to the black (either zone or not) early in the count. Later, it… Read more »
dodgerbleu
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Member
dodgerbleu

Agree, hitting is a real problem in this version. Lots of chatter they’re going to make changes to the next version. But there was also lots of chatter they were going to address it with patches this season. Not sure if they did or didn’t – all I know is if you don’t have 8 guys who can hit HR, you’re at a huge disadvantage.

dodgerbleu
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Member
dodgerbleu

What about adding the ability to play with DH?

jlebeck66
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jlebeck66

MLB Power Pros 2008 Success Mode

Victory Faust
Member
Victory Faust

That mode had ridiculous depth. You could do everything. Want to change your pitcher into a sidearmer? Sure. Want to be able to get good enough that a company sponsors you and supplies your cleats and gloves? Okay. Want to do enough charity work so that a social worker notices you and maybe you get married to her? Why not? And that’s even ignoring the pre-MLB high school mode that had even more depth.

mateodh
Member
mateodh

I would change the formatting. As I’m scrolling through team rosters, give me a page where I can see the lineup(sorted by batting order or position) and bench on the left and the rotation and bullpen on the right. Instead of just a sorted list from top to bottom.

How about a smarter auto-fix that doesn’t completely change all the lineups I set because I added 1 free agent?

egm
Member
Member
egm

Simple ask: how about keeping career RTTS batting stats for pitchers? I like being a good hitting pitcher.

Also, don’t make the RTTS seasonal MVP award only dependent on HRs and RBIs. Seems like that’s the only criteria.

Edit: just saw Kershaw won three straight MVPs in my RTTS, sooo… maybe not just HRs and RBIs… but something is off there.

ryanredsox
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ryanredsox

Improve the simulation and player development engines. If The Show and OTTP could have a love child I wouldn’t stop playing that game.

Johnston
Member
Johnston

“OOTP is a simulation. MLB The Show is a game.”

pedeysRSox
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pedeysRSox

Maybe have foreign all star teams (KBO, NPB, CUBA and MAYBE CPBL)

Mason
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Mason

Adding back Online Franchise mode will get Myself and 30 of my friends to buy the game again. Your are ideas are sweet though.

packfan19
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packfan19

The thing that MLB 2k used to do before it got shut down that guaranteed me getting the game every year was the Perfect Game challenge. The Show has never had anything like that to my knowledge (other than the weekly hitting challenge thing in ’17) and that would make the game much more exciting every year for me.