Culture, Humor

Swing Batter: Steroids and the Nostalgic Glory of Backyard Baseball

By Ike Rofe

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It started when my brother shot me a text saying “Yoooo.” I knew I was in for a treat. We’re not big texters, but based on the extreme number of o’s in this yo, whatever he wanted to say was going to be some crazy shit.  But little did I know that his subsequent texts would hurl me on a nostalgia-induced joyride.

His message was clear: “Very fun game that we just played in my school friend text thread. Can you name all the MLB players in this photo?”

At this point I wasn’t really excited anymore, as baseball stopped being interesting to me in 2006.

But then he sent me this image, which naturally floored me.

Who you got??

I felt like Anton Ego after he tasted a bite of Remy’s ratatouille.

Like the food critic in Pixar’s finest, I instantly teleported back to my childhood, where my passions included defeating the Elite Four in Pokemon Blue in under 24 hours, preparing for the release of Hey Arnold! The Movie and monitoring Jason Kidd’s assist numbers on a nightly basis. But there was nothing like playing Backyard sports with my brother huddled over our grainy, dial-up Dell computer that was wider than it was tall.

For those who grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s, tell me you recognize this photo. Because if you didn’t at least dabble in Humongous Entertainment’s legendary Backyard Sports franchise, I maintain that there is a Keisha Phillips-sized gap in your childhood. In other words, if the above image doesn’t ring a bell, I implore you to stop reading this article immediately.

But for the chosen ones, grab a handful of Member Berries while we reminisce about the fabled collision of the greatest gaming franchise since The Sims and the larger-than-life ways of the steroid era MLB.

Let’s start with a go-to guide of some backyard ballers to draft off the bleachers.

2nd Baseman, PABLO SANCHEZ:

The GOAT

PROJECTED LINE: .434 AVG, 57 HRs, 159 RBIs, 50 SB

Before the likes of Kenny Lofton and Jeff Bagwell infiltrated the sandlots of Backyard Baseball, Pablo Sanchez was Michael Jordan and he didn’t need a Scottie Pippen. He didn’t even need a Toni Kukoc. That’s because young Pablo was, is, and forever will be, the true GOAT.

Unafraid to dabble in innuendo, Humongous Entertainment notably clarifies that “Pablo Sanchez is living proof that size doesn’t matter.” Despite being the shortest dude on the field and not speaking a lick of English, young Sanchez is a do-it-all athletic anomaly, a true generational talent. If Pabs isn’t your first pick in the backyard fantasy draft, you probably like Twizzlers more than Redvines.

Pitcher, RANDY JOHNSON

THE BIG UNIT

PROJECTED LINE: 21-3, 120 SO, .94 ERA

Randy Johnson’s lanky ass is the only fool who should be pitching for your Backyard Baseball squad (besides The Big Hurt, obviously). The 6 foot 10 beast throws fastballs that even Achmed Kahn can’t keep up with. And remember when the real Randy blew a pigeon to smithereens on national television?

Well damn!!

To digress, which sports-related animal death is more legendary: Randy and the pigeon or Manu and the bat?

On one hand, Randy’s feat is more visually interesting. He turns a breathing being into gray confetti. But BatManu might take the cake on this one, mainly because after murdering the bat, he picks it up like a quarter off the street. So nonchalant. What a baller.

Regardless, no one besides The Big Unit deserves to throw fireballs for your team.

Left Fielder, PETE WHEELER

Stupid.

PROJECTED LINE: .337 AVG, 12 HRs, 63 RBIs, 119 SB

First things first, yes, this kid is dumb as fuck. But Yung Wheelie made it out of the cornfields and onto the diamond mainly because of his Boltian speed. The more that I think about it, the more I see jarring similarities between Pete Wheeler and Forrest Gump. Baseball is his ping-pong. Petey Wheeler is the most dominant lead off hitter in the Humongous Entertainment universe because the dude could steal bases at will. Run, Wheelie, run.

Right Fielder, SAMMY SOSA

C’mon steroids!

PROJECTED LINE: .380 AVG, 66 HRs, 140 RBIs

When you unlock the aluminum bat powerup, you best be certain to use it with Slammin’ Sammy. That’s because ladies were loving Sosa’s power hitting way before Chief Keef was born. The dude roped 609 home runs in his career and his 1998 home run rivalry with Mark McGwire defined the heyday of PED-fueled hitting. But Sosa’s post-career decision to Michael Jackson himself is a chilling reminder of the shenanigans retired athletes take part in. (Ed. note: Leave Michael alone!!)

Sammy’s not the only former Backyard legend to get into some weird shit.

Curt Schilling is a reactionary, Trump-supporting nut-job trying to steal Elizabeth Warren’s senate seat. This is after he got fired from ESPN for comparing Muslims to Nazis in one of the most heinous tweets of all time.

Really????

Jose Canseco isn’t doing much better. He’s a snitch who outed fellow Backyard Ballers Jason Giambi, Pudge Rodriguez and Juan “Gone” Gonzalez for their illegal steroid use in his tell-all autobiography. The quasi-exiled former star dabbled in MMA and now is offering his services to help Tim Tebow in his baseball career.

Canseco is also a maniac on Twitter.

how, sway??

Yes Jose, do explain later. We’re all ears.  

Regardless of where these ex-stars are now, during baseball’s glory days of the 90s and early 00s, there was undeniable flair surrounding the MLB. Baseball was still America’s pastime. Homers were at an all-time high. Guys nicknamed The Big Hurt and The Hit Dawg tore up the league. Baseball cards were a thing. MLB superstars were household names. Just ask Derek Jeter. Or Barry Bonds. Or Ken Griffey Jr.

So what about now? Well, we just witnessed history with the Cubs breaking the curse. Game 7 was the most-watched baseball game in the last 25 years. So, the MLB is as exciting as ever, right? Well, not really. Yes, a perfect storm made baseball exciting again for one unforgettable series. But let’s not forget that baseball is a patient, strategic game that lasts three hours and that the MLB expects its diehard fans to watch 162 regular season games a year. That’s over 29,000 minutes per season. Perhaps most telling is a 2015 poll asking young Americans to list their 30 favorite sports figures. The poll produced zero MLB players. Let’s face it: we have relegated baseball to the backburner, where dedicated fandom has become niche among young people.  

Even though I may never watch another baseball game on TV from start to finish, I still respect the MLB’s immense history. And maybe the steroid-fueled, high-octane version of the league that I fell in love with as a kid was unsustainable anyway. But it sure was fun. 

For me, baseball’s doping era is intertwined with a certain video game. That’s because Backyard Baseball–equipped with screamin’ line drives, fireballs and an almost-too-apropo juice meter–is a product of baseball’s steroid era. So, despite recent efforts to “Make Baseball Fun Again,” the MLB will always remind me of my childhood in the same way that I look back on Flubber and Holes. I won’t watch Phillip Brainaird or read about Stanley Yelnats any time soon, but I will always welcome the occasional blast from the past. And yes, if you were wondering, you can still play Backyard Baseball online. 

Please, never forget that Mikey Thomas has a perpetual cough. Or that Tony Delvecchio always sucks on a lollipop that looks exactly like a spliff. Or that Vinnie The Gooch is the best color commentator this side of John Gruden. Because if we forget these things, if we stop eating our Member Berries, we lose out on the formative content that raised and shaped a generation.

Ike Rofe has known Jackson since before he wore glasses. He’s also a Mario Party connoisseur, a Spike Ball enthusiast, and a three time champion of The Schlereth, the most important fantasy football league of all time.