Baseball's Excellent Video Game Isn't Enough To Get Me Past The Sport's Problems

I always keep a copy of MLB The Show on my hard drive, even though I rarely play it. It connects me to baseball, a sport I have increasingly complicated feelings about.

The Show is one of the few places in video games full of Puerto Ricans like me, because baseball is a sport where roughly a third of all players are latinx. In Road to the Show, the game’s popular career mode, I can drape a Puerto Rican flag in my character’s apartment.

The bank of names that have been recorded on the commentary track are full of the sort of last names that mark Hispanic descent. These names are now as common in baseball as an organ playing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

This should be a nice thing, and in some ways, it is. Most games I play don’t have recognisably latinx characters. They largely sidestep us entirely, taking place in some science fiction or fantasy setting, or offering a vision of the world full of diverse characters that aren’t really from anywhere.

And there’s the rub with The Show: sure, it has some flags and last names and a Moments mode designed for celebrating all-time great plays, but it doesn’t celebrate baseball outside of the most anodyne version of the sport.

The Show 19 is crisp and welcoming, its opening montage an ode to spring and lovingly manicured baseball diamonds. It’s onboarding is probably the best I’ve seen in a sports game, introducing you to the different ways you can control players and letting you try them in real time.

Baseball as presented in The Show is easy to sink into, to break into discrete parts in your mind so you can appreciate the intricacies of each, and understand how to improve them. It’s a clean, readable experience that largely minimises friction between you and the statistics the sport is fuelled by. It’s easy to forget the world around you when you’re doing this. Maybe that’s by design.

In the real world, baseball is a sport notoriously avoidant of politics, run by officials who seek to reinforce the idea of baseball as a place without politics, one of the few remaining testaments to the Good Old Days.

Sometimes this is reinforced culturally, by the players—like in 2017, when Tamba Bay pitcher Chris Archer was talked out of taking a knee during the National Anthem by his teammates.

Other times, the pushback is more institutional, like when first baseman Carlos Delgado made headlines for sitting during “God Bless America” in the middle of the seventh inning stretch. When Delgado was traded to the Mets, owners demanded that he stop his protest, and Delgado complied.

Trying to position the sport as apolitical has always been wilfully ignorant, but it’s increasingly laughable in recent years when immigrants—the lifeblood of the MLB thanks to the elaborate and gruelling system of baseball camps in Latin America and abroad — are under perpetual assault by the United States government.

Meanwhile activism by players in other pro leagues—notably the NBA, where commissioner Adam Silver regularly advocates for and supports the free expression of players—is only on the rise, and yet MLB’s preferred stance for both officials and players is, overwhelmingly, silence.


I want to love baseball because my dad did. I keep a copy of MLB The Show because of him. Like a lot of dads, he likes baseball, even though his interest is a casual one at this point in his life.

He’s also not someone who will pick up a controller for a modern video game — they’re too complicated, and he’d prefer the old arcade games he came up with. But a new release of The Show? He’ll always play a few innings.

We don’t have much to talk about these days, and if I’m honest with myself, I’d like to lean on the cultural crutch that sports provide in many male relationships.

When I play The Show, I’m reminded that part of the sport’s appeal, for me, is in the downtime, all the space there is to fill with drinks and snacks and conversation. There’s room there to be yourself, as long as you appreciate a warm spring day and the crack of wood against cowhide.

I find it harder these days to pretend baseball is played in a vacuum, and celebrating the success of my latinx brothers is only as meaningful as their hardships are clear. I wish baseball did more. I wish the sport that served as such a powerful connection for latinx people everywhere didn’t feel so thoroughly compromised, or wilfully blind.

It bothers me to see all that reflected in The Show, simply by virtue of trying to be the best, most accurate baseball simulation on the market—something it’s very good at doing. And because it is faithfully replicating a pro league that seems interested in smoothing over its own latinx edges, the game magnifies the sport’s deficiencies.

I’m not asking for the game to become something it’s not, or be radically different from what it is. I’d be thrilled to see something as straightforward as offering Spanish commentators, or including more Spanish-language artists on the (already pretty solid) soundtrack. Something that feels like a step forward toward a representation of baseball as I know it.

I still have the game on my hard drive, though I don’t really watch actual games. Maybe my dad will come by and play. Maybe, as I drift from the sport, we’ll do something else.


Comments

    Loved the article even if the sport is a strange alien anomaly to me

    I'm literally on the other end of the spectrum.

    My lineage is well represented and celebrated in Rugby union but we don't have any good games to speak of.

      I should add it wasn't always so great but changes came about long before this kind of stuff became political and so confronting for some folks.
      Really just a love of the game.

    This is a take that is clearly deeply personal, and not one that I'd completely agree with. But then as a white Australian I'm as far removed from this as you could probably get.

    I have no problem with sports trying to remain apolitical; sport can be different things to different people, but ultimately it should be for everyone. For some its a nice 3-4 hour distraction from being reminded the world can be a shitty place.

    One also has to ask if sport is always the right platform for protest. Colin Kapernick is no small name in the NFL, but he gambled his career on his beliefs and ultimately lost. And I question if anything came from those protests apart from forging further division. The sport rolled on and the only change I can see is more restrictions were placed on the players.

    As a long time F1 fan, I've seen the many changes the championship has undertaken geographically over the last 30 years, and try as it might to claim to be apolitical, it is inherently used as tool by many countries to present themselves to the world in a very deliberate way. This no better highlighted but the sheen of glitz and glamour F1 brings to Bahrain as they brutally squash anti-government sentiment. While you can be comfortable in simply enjoying a race, its gets a bit much when Sky Sports F1 does a travel diary puff piece to promote Bahrain as a tourism hot spot.

    For the most part Baseball seemingly does a good job of maintaining an apolitical stance (apart usual pro USA pomp and grandeur of significant days). As much as they don't want players staging protests against immigration policies, they wouldn't want players campaigning in favour of them either. But as I'm far removed from this environment, I can only judge this at the surface level. I don't think it would be too outrageous of me to suggest some team owners are very pro-Trump, and whether that is reflected in the administration of the team of the league I'd can't say off the top of my head (though as a Mariners fan, I'm well aware of the chatter).

    However as far as the video game is concerned, I cant help but feel anything they could implement wouldn't be very proactive. Don't get me wrong, the lack of Spanish commentary seems like an egregious oversight from a design stand point given the popularity of Baseball in Spanish speaking countries. Especially with 2K beefing up the Chinese commentary in their recent NBA game. But then The Show seems like a game that has retracted in recent years. Starting with The Show 17 They no longer sell it physically in Australia, with it only available digitally either directly through the PSN or with a digital code bought in store. So maybe the omission of Spanish commentary comes down to numbers.

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