With no real baseball at the moment, we can at least take solace in simulated games. Baseball Reference is simulating the 2020 season using Out of the Park 21. On Friday, when there was supposed to be a full slate of games for the first time since last September, a group of players competed in a MLB the Show 20 tournament. Both games are worthwhile facsimiles of the real thing, but both are lacking in a key area. Both games do a worse job of including women than real baseball does, and that’s saying something.
In MLB The Show’s ‘Road to the Show’ mode, players create a minor leaguer—often a likeness of himself—and play through the grind of Double-A and Triple-A before finally reaching the majors. The appeal of RTTS should be obvious, it allows the average person to live out their dreams of playing in MLB. For players like myself, it allows the person with the controller to bend the limits of what should be permissible on a baseball field.
When I play RTTS, the first thing I do when altering my character’s appearance is turn the height slider all the way down and the weight slider all the way up because my ideal baseball body is extremely short and incredibly jacked. In almost every iteration of the game, this results in my player’s arms clipping through his spherical torso. It’s a wonder my character is able to hold a bat at all let alone swing one well enough to be drafted in the upper rounds straight out of high school.
Next, I turn my character’s speed attribute up as high as it will let me. Does it make sense that a 4’10”, 325 pound young adult man can keep pace with Terrance Gore? No, but it’s delightful to watch this cannonball of meat run the bases.
Road to the Show lets me bring forth whatever my imagination dictates so long as what I’m imagining is male.
While I’m able to conjure up the five-tool byproduct of what happens when Jeff Goldblum and a bowling ball get thrown into a transporter together, my partner can’t boot up the game and just make a player who looks like her. Road to the Show’s character creator has no option for gender, and not because gender is a social construct.
Other games, like Animal Crossing: New Horizon, have eschewed the binary male/female toggle in their character creators allowing for players to create avatars more in line with their gender expression. MLB the Show 20, and all its previous versions, limit players to creating men.
Of course, there has never been a female player in affiliated ball, so SIE San Diego Studio, the company that develops MLB the Show, is likely just trying to make a “realistic experience.” Realism, however, is common excuse for developers to omit women or other marginalized groups. Warhorse, who developed Kingdom Come: Deliverance, didn’t include people of color in the game because according to them, there were no people of color in Europe in the Middle Ages. Gamers railed against Battlefield V, a game set in WWII, for including women soldiers.
Of course, there were people of color in Europe in the Middle Ages, and there were women who fought in World War II, and wouldn’t you know it, there are women who play professional baseball. If my dinger-swatting Danny DeVito can make it to the big leagues, then why can’t someone in the mold of Kelsie Whitmore, Stacy Piagno, or Anna Kimbrell make the jump from the independent leagues to affiliated baseball?
In our patriarchal reality, the obstacles to women playing professional baseball in the United States are numerous and none of them have to do with latent ability. There are so few opportunities for women to even play baseball. There’s still so much work to simply normalize girls playing the national pastime. In MLB the Show’s reality, the only thing keeping women out of the game are the developers.
The same could be said of Out of the Park 21. The Out of the Park series prides itself on being the most realistic baseball simulation game out there, and in many ways, the game is a marvel. Players can become the manager and/or general manager of any MLB team throughout its history or any current team from the myriad leagues around the world. Players can take the helm of the Sugar Land Skeeters from the Atlantic League or the Hoofddorp Pioniers from the Dutch Honkbal Hoofdklasse. Disappointingly, you cannot play in any women’s leagues or tournaments whether historical or present.
Like MLB the Show, OOTP’s adherence to reality is only just a front. In OOTP, you have the option to enter “Commissioner Mode” aka “God Mode” and do whatever you want. If you want to clone Mike Trout 25 times and field a team of 26 Mike Trouts, you can do it. If you want to see what happens when the 1927 Yankees face off against the 2019 Dodgers, you can do that to. But if you want to pursue the fantasy of having a woman work for your baseball team, sorry, that’s just a little too out there.
As the general manager of your team, you’re responsible for hiring your coaching staff, and the game supplies you with an exhaustive list of men to choose from. When the game prompted me to sign a hitting coach for the Giants AZL Orange affiliate, I naturally signed Barry Bonds to a one-year, $26,000 to coach my high-schoolers and international signees because realism. Nowhere, in the many, many menus that tell me everything I never wanted to know about the 2020 Giants could I find confirmation that Alyssa Nakken worked for the Giants as an assistant coach. If there was baseball going on, Nakken would be in uniform with the Giants, but she’s not included in OOTP.
Nor is any other woman who has ever coached in professional baseball an option for hire. Rachel Folden, who currently works for the Cubs as a minor-league hitting coach isn’t in the game. Justine Siegal, who worked for the Athletics as a guest instructor, has thrown batting practice to five major league teams, and has worked tirelessly to facilitate women’s baseball isn’t in the game. Veronica Alvarez, who is slated to manage the US Women’s team in the 2020 Women’s World Baseball Cup isn’t in the game.
If you didn’t know that there was supposed to be a Women’s Baseball Cup in 2020, that should only highlight why representing women in baseball video games matters. It’s 2020, and we’re still pushing against the archaic idea that boys play baseball and girls play softball. MLB the Show and Out of the Park have had multiple opportunities to disprove that, and so far, they’re whiffing big time.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.