Sports games rightly suffer the same criticism year after year. Often the changes are only minor, it can feel like a $60 roster update, and dev teams rarely have the time to actually review the game. Some of these charges can be leveled at MLB The Show 23but not when it comes to adding its Negro League mode.
Never has a game so lovingly added a story mode. It’s not just an old scorebug filter with former players, but a playable documentary series featuring eight legendary players who dominated baseball in a time before Jackie Robinson broke the barrier of colors. It’s so good it’s worth buying the game, and it’s high praise for a game mode.
The game mode begins, naturally, with Satchel Paige. It is the ideal starting point for an introduction to the black leagues. Lovingly narrated by Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Baseball Museum, a mix of archival footage and drawn art not only gives players a better understanding of who Satchel is, but feel why it was unlike anything baseball had ever seen before.
The Negro League mode never overstays its welcome, as we often see in historical modes. Instead, you’re thrown into one or two rounds and given a very specific task. With Satchel, he may not allow a single hit in two innings and strike out three – using only Paige’s 105mph fastball. Then everything is reversed, with all terrain types being replaced with Paige’s unique nicknames: like the “Bee Ball”, the “Dipsy Doo”, and the “Bat Dodger”.
It adds a whole level of uniqueness to the game and feels so different as Paige uses her signature whirlwind and high kick to provide unparalleled warmth. Then, shortly after, Kendrick is back on screen to tell a story about when Satchel’s Kansas City Monarchs faced an all-white semi-pro team, who recorded a Paige hit during their first batting game. Hearing racial teasing from their dugout and claiming Paige was no good – he called his entire team, all of them, to sit in the infield and watch him pitch, daring his opponents to kick him again . They didn’t, and MLB The Show 23 lets you play this.
Paige alone would deserve praise as a mode, but there are seven more players, many of whom may not be aware of except the most diehard baseball fans. Of course, everyone knows who Jackie Robinson is – but Hilton Smith, the second ace behind Paige on the Monarchs, has been largely lost to history.
After punching 105 mph fastballs with Paige, players then take on the role of Smith – who was primarily an off-speed pitcher with one of the most devastating curveballs in baseball history. Painting the corners of the plate with his ridiculous array of curveballs is so much fun, and once again Kendrick is back with an amazing commentary, pointing out that Smith was the Shoehei Ohtani of the black leagues, hitting .298 during his career and be a two-way legend. So naturally we get the chance to strike, changing the whole feel of the mode.
It continues with so much love and care for every player featured in the Negro Leagues mode. It’s far from just Paige, Robinson, and phoning the rest. Each player is a 1-2 hour documentary (including playtime) that feels fully realized and complete.
We’ve never, ever seen this before in a game – and it’s the gold standard of how sports video games should handle historical modes. Much is said about the Michael Jordan mode which debuted in NBA 2K11but that pales in comparison to the care and attention that MLB The Show the team did with this game.
There is an obvious importance and seriousness when it comes to black leagues. A lot of players never got the recognition they deserved because of segregation in baseball, so this mode is all about finding a small way to fix that with a new generation of fans. Still, he created a blueprint for what every sports video game should do in the future.
imagine if mad had the time or the attention to take us back to someone like Sid Luckman in 1943, when the Chicago Bears leather-hatted quarterback threw for over 400 yards and SEVEN touchdowns at a time when most quarterbacks were throwing for 600 to 800 yards IN A SEASON. How about playing as Jim Brown in 1963, when he rushed for 232 yards against the Cowboys at an astonishing 11.6 yards per carry?
In many ways, we’re in a major lull when it comes to sports games. In addition to making sure things are bug-free (which, when it comes to mad seems impossible), there’s only a little that can be done with the graphics and physics until we reach next-gen. So why not add value through the story of the way MLB The Show 23 To? I’m not asking for a mode as ridiculously deep as black leagues, but just give us the time and attention it deserves.
Anyone who loves sports and sports history must play black leagues in MLB The Show 23. Even if you’re not a baseball fan. It’s a real game-changer, and one of the best things that has ever been put into a video game. Seriously, it’s amazing.