Famous Names on Baseball Games
Board and card games that simulate — or attempt to simulate — the actual play of a live baseball game began to appear early in the history of the sport.
Possibly three copies of Metcalf Sumner’s Parlor Game of Base Ball, made by Milton Bradley Company in 1867, are thought to exist. But Sumner wasn’t a player.
The first player-endorsed baseball table games appeared as particular players became famous and the game industry sought them out to attract buyers.
We begin with the player and batting legend of the early 20th century, George Herman (Babe) Ruth. He played from 1914 to 1935, first in Boston and after 1920 for the New York Yankees. As his home-run record grew, Ruth lent his name to the first of several baseball simulation games. Babe Ruth’s Official Baseball Game resembled early pinball games, with bases marked on the game board. After Yankee Roger Maris broke Ruth’s season home run record in 1961, Maris endorsed three baseball board games the following year. And Hank Aaron sponsored two baseball simulations just before he broke Ruth’s all-time homer record in the 1970s. Games, it appears, followed fame.
Hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Jack Roosevelt (Jackie) Robinson broke the colour barrier in Major League Baseball and shot to national renown. Although he endured racism among some players and fans, to many Americans he was a hero and a symbol of achievement by a person of colour. Fully aware of his position and importance, Robinson also endorsed baseball board games. The Gotham Pressed Steel Corporation made this mechanical baseball simulator around 1950. There is no doubt that Robinson insisted that a Black child be included on the game box cover. It is the first such representation on a sport simulation game.
The 1955 Big League Baseball Game carried Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller’s name. Born in 1918, he bypassed the minor league because of his pitching skill. “Bullet Bob” was considered one of the greatest pitchers of the 20th century. Saalfield produced his game, which was guided by a central spinner and charts, and utilized pegs to score and mark bases around the diamond. As the popularity of baseball and the recognition of great players grew, there was no shortage of player-endorsed games. We still recognize names like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, and Steve Garvey — all of whom sponsored baseball board games.
Video Game Era
Sports like baseball were among some of the first video game simulations; these have virtually replaced analogue board games as more realistic re-creations. Roger Clemens endorsed MVP Baseball for the NES system in 1985, and Tommy Lasorda lent his name to a Sega baseball game in 1989. Often, endorsed video game series continue through years of updated versions. To name only a few, Ryne Sandberg, Ken Griffey, Reggie Jackson, and Derek Jeter have all appeared on various systems.
Baseball endures, players reach new heights, and player-endorsed games, just like real baseball, will be with us.
Nicolas Ricketts is a collections curator and board game specialist at The Strong National Museum of Play. Located in Rochester, New York, The Strong houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of historical materials related to play.
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