Terry Cashman might have crooned about Willie, Mickey and The Duke back in 1981's "Talkin' Baseball," but if you grew up playing Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball on the SNES, you might think the likes of Joey Ramone, Ronald Reagan and Norm from Cheers were perennial All-Stars.
Released in 1994, Griffey's very own baseball video game was a big deal — and it made sense, since Nintendo partly owned the Seattle Mariners, where Griffey solidified his Hall of Fame career. The game came out at a time when Griff was untouchable — hitting home runs, flying around the base pads and making spectacular grabs in the outfield, all while smiling ear-to-ear like he was simply fooling around in his backyard. It was like the guy was playing with cheat codes while everyone else was just fumbling with their joystick.
The game was marketing perfection, teaming Griffey up with the most powerful name in gaming at the time. Featuring arcade-style gameplay, home run contests and a sublime soundtrack, the game was the best MLB experience you could get on consoles at the time. There was only one problem: It wasn't licensed by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
This, unfortunately, meant that while all the teams and ballparks were included in the game, no actual players outside of Griffey were included. So what did Software Creations — the developers of the game — do to solve this literally game-breaking issue? They created their own players, based on actors, artists, fictional characters and U.S. politicians, of course.
Want to play as the Cleveland Indians and bat as Sandy Alomar Jr.? Well, you'll actually be batting as A. Hepburn, because the Indians were morphed into a team named after glamorous actresses from Hollywood's Golden Age. The Angels, on the other hand, got the famous actor treatment, so Chili Davis now became H. Bogart and Chad Curtis was F. Astaire.
The game was an odyssey of aliases and pseudonyms, as George Brett became Dwight Eisenhower, Dave Winfield turned into Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Kent traded in his second baseman's glove to become Joey Ramone. These players retained their real-life stats, but looking at the lineup you would think the sport of baseball got overrun by punk rockers, famous authors and celebrities back from the dead.
Even though I didn't quite understand the union license situation as a kid, these names always stuck out to me. The Milwaukee Brewers having a pitching staff comprised of Peter Parker and Clark Kent was easy for me to pick up on, but the Boston Red Sox being partly comprised of the characters from Cheers was lost on an 8-year-old me. For years I was convinced there was a Cliff Clavin out there in the Majors, trying to rekindle his career.
U.S. presidents and superhero secret identities are pretty easy to pick up on, but there were also some real oddities along the way — I'm not sure how many kids picked up on the fact that the Baltimore Orioles were made up of characters from John Waters films, nor do I think Mike Mussina would appreciate being P. Flamingo. However, these quirks somehow gave the title more life than a typical sports game, as my friends and I would try to figure who these teams were supposed to represent, and who their real-life counterpart would be.
Despite the charms of these fictional squads, the likes of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Phil Spector or Padres third baseman Sid Vicious didn't stand a chance against the in-game majesty of Griffey, who could seemingly hit a home run at will. It eventually got to the point where I banned anyone I played with from picking the Mariners, because I am the pettiest of all petty gamers. Hey, you don't become the cover boy by having the same batting average as Boston Red Sox outfielder — and U.S. politician of note — John Adams.
This all might seem like unimaginable madness and stupidity to a younger generation of video game fans, but to this day, whenever I pop in my copy of MLB: The Show 2015, I can't help but wish I had a pitching staff of Jello Biafra, Werner Herzog and Aretha Franklin at my disposal.