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August 23, 2011

The Horrors of Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball

When I was 13, my world was changed in a new and exciting way that surpassed anything young teen The Mike had seen since Tecmo Super Bowl happened in 1991.  That change was precipitated by nothing less than the Super Nintendo system and the classic sports game Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball.
You could probably guess that this version of The Mike was a bit of a sports nut, and you'd be right.  Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball - or, as I like to call it GRIFFEY! - took the league's biggest star and put him front and center so every young buck who loved baseball (which was still cool at the time, before the strike) would buy this game.  And we did.  But there was a catch - the makers of the game didn't have the rights to anyone else in the Major League Baseball Players Association's names.

Despite this, the makers of Griffey Baseball put real statistics of every MLB player and real jersey numbers and real attributes and relatively real appearances (plus a bit of a G.I. Joe effect, in some cases) into their game.  What wasn't named Nolan Ryan still hurled fastballs like Nolan Ryan, what wasn't named Todd Hundley was still a couple years away from his supper-slugging season for my dear 'ol Mets, and what wasn't named Mark McGwire still looked like he'd taken a few performance enhancing drugs.  All the makers of the game needed....were names.
It also had funny headlines during the post game recap.
So it came to pass that every team in the game picked up 25 fake names that fit a certain theme.  Members of the Kansas City Royals were named after U.S. Presidents.  Members of the Boston Red Sox took on the names of the characters from Cheers.  The Baltimore Orioles players were partially named after John Waters movies - with Waters' name being used for legendary shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. And the Colorado Rockies - well, the Colorado Rockies roster was filled with famous names from horror movies.

Let's take a look at the starting lineup....
Yes, you're reading that right. Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi, is the pseudonym of lead off hitter and center fielder Alex Cole.  He's followed in the number two spot by Peter Lorre, who sits in for catcher (and current New York Yankee manager) Joe Girardi.  The meat of the order consists of Boris Karloff (doubling for slugging right fielder Dante Bichette), Lon Chaney (as first baseman Andres Galarraga, the team's representative on the National League All Star team), and Christopher Lee.  Lee subs for veteran third baseman Charlie Hayes, who was one of my favorite "grunts" in baseball at the time.  It's funny that little 'ol The Mike - who probably didn't really know who Christopher Lee was at the time - ended up playing with this team just because of Hayes a few times.

The rest of the starters are Peter Cushing in left field (replacing Jerald Clark), Oliver Reed at shortstop (for Freddie Benavides) and "Tony" Perkins at second base (for a young Eric Young, who went on to a long MLB career).  Perkins bats last among position players - even though the actor once played a baseball star in the 1957 psycho-thriller Fear Strikes Out.
The bench is a conglomoration of behind the scenes and A-list names.  The top bat of the bench is the oddly named "M. Ripper", which is the one member of the Rockies batters that confuses me. Is this supposed to be a Jack the Ripper reference, or am I missing something?  Other backups include American International Pictures schlockmaster Samuel Z. Arkoff (who's from Iowa, BTW), the legendary Roger Corman, Stephen Freakin' King, KURT RUSSELL! (who is the team's worst hitter, sadly), and Hammer maestro Terence Fisher.  Oh, and some guy named H. Alfred.  Hmmmm....I wonder who that is.  The suspense has mastered me.

As if that's not cool enough, let's check out the team's pitching staff, which includes some great names and some surprising obscurities....
The biggest surprise is the team's top starters, which include Ray Dennis Steckler, who is most famous for directing The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, and Ted V. Mikels of The Astro-Zombies fame.  They're joined by gore master Herschell Gordon Lewis, George A. Romero, and Wes Craven in the starting rotation.
You have to kind of wonder why the likes of Steckler and Mikels are given the top spots above those more loved filmmakers, and I have two theories on this.  The first, and more optimistic, theory is that the people who made the game just happened to really like the films of these two men.  Heck, it's possible. Nerds like video games, nerds like B-movies - it makes sense.  My second theory, which also kind of makes sense, is that the Rockies - due to their mile high altitude and expansion team status at the time - are generally known as the team where pitchers really, really stink.  So maybe the makers wanted stinky filmmakers atop the Rockies' pitching staff? The world may never know.

But hey, check out our bullpen!  Available for relief duty are Tom Savini, William Castle, T. Hopper (who I assume is supposed to be Tobe Hooper), and Sam Raimi (who had just made Army of Darkness at the time the game was being made). Oh, and our closer....the incomparable Vincent Price.
I don't get why the Colorado Rockies - who went a less than stellar 67-95 in their first year as a team - were chosen to represent horror in Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball.  But hey, I also don't get why it's still frickin' impossible to hit the ball well consistently with my beloved Mets
I'm not entirely sure what the point of this post is...except that the fact that these horror icons (and some who aren't so iconic) were immortalized in this manner just gives me a nerd buzz.  You never know when your horror heroes are gonna cross the streams with some other cool thing in this new world of cyber nerdiness. And the fact that Ken Griffey brought them into my home years before the world was this nerdy - at least to me - is pretty freakin' cool to The Mike.

And if you disagree, I've got one thing to say to you.....


matango said...

M. Ripper is most likely for Michael Ripper, who was in many Hammer films, though, never, I believe, as the hero or main villain.

SonOfCelluloid said...

I think it's probably more likely that Russell is Ken Russell, director of The Devils, Gothic, Lair of the White Worm, and Altered States. I actually played this game a lot when I was younger. I wasn't a sports fan, but my brothers were and their favorite player was Griffey Jr.

therealphoenixanew said...

What a fun post! I never had this game, but we had RBI Baseball for the NES. They had a similar situation, where they didn't have rights to the players names even though they used their stats. Now I'm wondering if they used any similar themes for naming their players..

Kev D. said...

Sports Talk Baseball on the Genesis was even worse/better.

The Man-Cave said...

Awesome post, Mike! I used to play Griffey back on the SNES as well and I remember the Rockies had those horror names. You just took me like 18 years! Remember the old NES game Baseball Stars? They had a lineup like the Griffey's Rockies with Freddy, Jason and Leatherface. I think they were called "The Monsters". Yeah, real original, haha!

The Mike said...

Oh wow, good calls Matango and SonofCelluloid. My Kurt Russell blinder worked against me.

Syrin - I think I had RBI baseball as well, but my memory of it is shady. I know there was an NES game where they slightly changed player names to get around it.

Kev D - Never got into Genesis, sadly. Hope it gave players a bit more hitting control.

Geof - Baseball stars also sounds awesome! Part of me thinks it's too bad games like this are gone...but then part of me realizes the change is OK.