I love everything about baseball. I love watching, playing and obsessing over stat categories like runs batted in and on-base percentage. I love baseball videogames and fantasy baseball. There’s nothing more satisfying than handpicking a team of superstars based on their performance from prior years, and seeing if you can do it better than complete strangers online. It’s hard to believe I’ve never played a baseball management sim before. What’s not so hard to believe is after playing Out of the Park 9, I may never put it down.
If you’ve ever wanted to prove to yourself you can do a better job running your favorite baseball franchise than the actual general managers, Out of the Park 9 is just what you’re looking for. In addition to being a pretty big Phillies fan, I’m also a complete baseball junkie. I have a great deal of respect for the small market teams who manage to put together playoff-caliber teams with the salary of one Yankee. OOTP9 starts by letting you decide just where you want to go. If you want to take over the Boston Red Sox, that’s all well and good, but why not try your hand at managing the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox? If you want, you could even set the game to take place in 1955 with historically accurate teams, and manage the Brooklyn Dodgers. Do a good enough job, and at the end of the year you’ll be seeing job offers from all sorts of teams wanting you sitting behind their desk. It’s all up to you how you want to play it.
This game is a stat freak’s dream. If there’s a baseball statistic to track, this game keeps track of it. Wondering whether or not your players have a high VORP (value over replacement player), or whether or not your pitchers are maintaining a good BABIP (batting average on balls in play)? What? Did I lose you? Okay, this game has a plethora of stats. Most fair-weather fans might be turned off by the sheer amount of numerological categories used to define player performance. The good news is OOTP9 keeps track of the stats kids can follow too. Home runs and RBIs (runs batted in) are kept along with the more sabermetric statistics. The bad news is trying to read all the stats available can be cumbersome to someone who doesn’t feel like looking at box scores and spreadsheets while playing a game. That’s not to say the interface is hard to follow. There are countless tabs organizing everything, and every name is clickable to bring you to a menu specific to that player or team. There’s a lot study if you want to.
Despite not having the MLPA license, you don’t have to worry about not having the actual players on the teams since that information is all public domain now. The game doesn’t have any real photos, but after searching through the options, you can find a way to download them straight into the game. There are even photos of many of the minor league talents you’ll be trying to steal away from other teams to bolster your farm system. Building up a farm system was probably one of things I enjoyed the most while playing. The game not only ranks the top prospects, but also ranks the best Minor League systems. I continually found myself not only trying to put together a team that could win now, but one that was built to win in the future. Most teams you try and trade with can be pretty stingy, but the game built in a “Shop Around” option. You’ll be able to field multiple offers for the same player, making this one of the easiest interfaces to use in any baseball game.
The only time you might feel a bit slighted when putting together a team is during the free-agency period. When the winter meetings start, players expect to be paid exorbitant amounts of money like they do in real life. The problem lies in the AI not actually signing any marquee players during this time. The first season I finished, both Alex Rodriguez and Johan Santana were available. They were even both still available at the start of spring training for half of what they asked for in December. Many others, like Jake Peavy and Francisco Rodriguez, lied in wait for the whole season unsigned. In a game where everything else is so close to the real thing, I felt a little gypped AI teams weren’t trying to make themselves better.
In case you were wondering, no, you don’t get to physically play any of the games. If that’s a turnoff to you, than OOTP9 probably isn’t your type of game. However, there is a micromanaging gameplay mode where you can tell batter whether or not to swing, and choose whether or not pitchers to throw around batters. It’s pretty boring, despite the attempts to spice it up with text commentary. Each game is really decided by the stats your players have versus the stats the other team has, so micromanaging becomes tedious and pointless.
Other than the weird free agency AI issue, this game mimics the real thing pretty darn accurately. This 2008 season, real Ryan Howard is on pace for 58 HR and 152 RBIs. In my virtual campaign, Ryan finished with 55 HR and 155 RBIs. There was supposedly a problem with players performing as they would in real life in an earlier version, but the most recent patch fixed that problem. Hell, the game version of the Tampa Bay Rays were even in first place. That’s accuracy you wouldn’t expect. At the end of the day, playing a game that so closely mimics the real thing is all you can hope for. Out of the Park 9 is hands down one of the best baseball sims I’ve ever laid eyes on, and I can’t wait to finish this review so I can play more.