The Game: Play ball! Two teams play until they each accumulate three “outs” per inning. Try to hit the ball out of the park, or confound the outfielders with a well-placed hit none of them can catch. Steal a base if you’re feeling really brave – and then try to cover your bases as best you can when the other player tries all of these same strategies on you. (Mattel Electronics, 1979)
Memories: After Atari’s barely-there VCS baseball title Home Run, and the much better but still graphically simple Baseball! cartridge for the Odyssey2, Major League Baseball was a revelation. This was the moment, for many of us, when video sports games started to look like the sport they represented on home consoles. It almost redefined sports game sound too: the Intellivision has a good swipe at emulating the phrase “You’re out!” at the appropriate moment, an innovation which was nipped in the bud quickly by Mattel Electronics. Why?
Because the Intellivoice voice module was just around the corner – and they didn’t want any pesky innovations like built-in, no-extra-hardware-required speech to keep it from selling!
Mattel didn’t skimp on the expense, either – they actually licensed the name and logo of Major League Baseball for big-time bucks. They also bought the rights to make similar associations with the professional organizations for football, basketball, golf, hockey, even chess. It was the first step down the slippery slope toward today’s sports mega-star game licenses – and, in the grand scheme of things, expensive as it may have been at the time, it probably still remains the cheapest such step.
Major League Baseball plays like a beauty with the right two players, but therein lies the poblem – that second player isn’t always available. One-player functionality would have to wait for a reissue very late in the Intellivision’s life span, under the title of World Series Baseball. While plain two-player Major League Baseball is one of the most common Intellivision titles out there – it was a star player in Mattel Electronics’ aggressive advertising campaign with George Plimpton, so there are tens of thousands of them out there – World Series is much, much harder to find.
The memory of Major League Baseball is so strong that Intellivision Productions has revived it numerous times: in its Intellivision Lives PC collection, the Intellivision Classic Games collection for the PS1, and more recently in stand-alone form as a TV games handheld. Take a look at the screen shots, and you will remember it if you were there. This game was, quite simply, one of those seminal moments in the evolution of sports video games – even if you did have to wait for a friend to come over to play it.