When Phil Humber threw the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history two weeks ago, he didn’t get to choose the batters he faced. When Dallas Braden threw a perfect game on an emotional Mother’s Day in 2010, against the winningest team never to put a runner on base, he didn’t stock the heart of its order with .200 hitters from the end of the bench.
It’s appalling that anyone would think that rigging the opposing lineup is acceptable in a million-dollar contest predicated on throwing a perfect game. But the reactions of some video gamers was as predictable as it is contemptible. What is truly outrageous that the contest’s administrators at 2K Sports saw nothing wrong with it either.
Two days ago, I reported on the exploit in MLB 2K12‘s $US1 Million Perfect Game Challenge, in which contestants in the qualifying round could substitute opposing batters before the game began and still throw an eligible perfect game. I reported very strong evidence indicating that one of the eight finalists 2K Sports is flying to New York this week used the exploit in pitching his perfect game. And that same person has said he believed others in the finalist pool used it too.
On Friday morning, 2K Sports was made fully aware of the nature of the exploit and the admissions as to its use. Six hours later, it chose to release this dismissive statement all of 20 words long.
“The contest was run properly,” 2K Sports said. “We look forward to awarding someone a million dollars on May 10 in New York.”
No, it wasn’t. Earlier communications from 2K Sports and its official representatives, to the public, flatly forbade the subsititution of anyone in either team’s lineup. It’s a prohibition integral to the legitimacy of such a feat in a video game, where a user in ordinary singleplayer mode can take unlimited control of the decision-making for both teams.
But 2K’s lawyers didn’t think to include that in the contest’s official rules. And the game’s developers failed to include code prohibiting pre-game substitutions, or at least removing the watermark certification of authenticity if someone did so.
It is a sad irony that a programming glitch, the likes of which have plagued MLB 2K through the lifespan of an exclusive licence set to expire this year, tarnishes the one thing this game did right.
The Perfect Game Challenge was an enormous promotional success for 2K Sports, returning well more in publicity, attention and sales than the $US1 million check it has cut annually since 2010. I sure as hell wrote a lot of complimentary copy about it over the past three years. This contest delivered us the feel-good stories of Wade McGilberry and Brian Kingrey, the two preceding winners. And it brought us the remarkable T.J. Brida, who went 40 consecutive batters — into the 14th inning — before losing his bid at perfection, and had the character to accept the result.
This year, we’re given the likes of William Haff, who stands behind everything he says 100 per cent until you read him back his own text messages. Then he stands behind 2K Sports’ verification process 100 per cent, which, from the failures of the lawyers and developers, is now known to be compromised.
And while there is sympathy for a contestant like Scott Young, who threw an honest perfect game that was knocked out of the top eight by Haff’s, Young’s anger and frustration is representative of the true victims in all of this: The nearly 900 others who also threw perfect games, and all who made more than 900,000 attempts at it.
They judged a million dollars as a fair price to recreate a real-life feat accomplished by fewer men than have orbited the moon. They chose to do it not because it was easy, but because it was hard. That is why the cheating, 2K Sports’ acceptance of it, and failure to protect us from it, is so dishonourable.
Scott Young threw his perfect game the early morning of April 14, Colorado versus Arizona. He was shut out headed into the bottom of the ninth, struggling against the Diamondback lineup. With all-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, he hit a first-pitch walk-off home run and shouted for joy. The score assigned to his game placed him sixth when it was verified. Scott Young did it the hard way.
A week later. Haff revealed the exploit to him. “bro,” he texted, “i just took braun/ramirez/hart out of game.” The heart of the Milwaukee hitting order. It was late in the evening of April 21.
On April 21, Phil Humber of the Chicago White Sox threw a perfect game. A real one.
A legitimate one.
Stick Jockey is Kotaku’s column on sports video games.