There’s a Super Nintendo here in the 35th Street offices, complete with most every 16-bit masterpiece you can think of: Super Metroid, Mega Man X, Super Mario World, A Link to the Past, Earth Bound, Star Fox, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes after a hard day of rocking and caring a little too much about this awful and complicated existence, it’s nice to plug in to the old console and relive the days where epic experiences came in low resolution and everyone had their own way of blowing the dust off the cartridges.
The Super Nintendo, while possibly the greatest game system of all time, was revered in nearly every genre of entertainment except for one, in which the Sega Genesis was the undisputed king. I speak, of course, of the sports game. Ask even the most casual gamer over the age of 25 for the best sports game of all time and, without hesitation, they’ll answer Madden ’93 for the Genesis. In fact, ask them to name the top 25 sports games of all time and there will be exactly one entrant from the little grey rectangle.
The other great debate, to those of us watching in the early to middle 1990s, was the only one true debate in all of baseball: Frank or Griffey? That’s it. Everything else was settled (the answers were Maddux, Rickey, and Blue Jays), but in the duality of Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey, Jr., we as fans could actually distill our discussion of fandom into fundamental questions about the sport. What makes a great player into The Greatest Player? What elements of a player’s game matter most to the team? To the game? To me me ME?
The thing was, people liked Griffey. Frank was surly and hated the press. Griffey had the million-dollar smile and the greatest sports game in Super Nintendo history. Laughably, the developers couldn’t (or didn’t) strike a deal with the MLBPA, so the only actual name used was Griffey’s. Oh, everyone knew who certain players represented – Big Magoo was actually Frank, Sid Milner was actually Scott Brosious, and so on – but they made a point to let us know it was Griffey’s game.
Video Game Griffey never struck out, never got caught stealing and made every single catch. Video Game Griffey hit walk-off home runs on a regular basis. Video Game Griffey always got the extra base. And if you didn’t play the Mariners, you just kind of accepted these things. Not because those were the breaks, but because those things weren’t that far off from what you heard Real Griffey could do. Big Magoo could hit big home runs, but Ken Griffey, Jr., scored the winning run. Hell, that was literally the name of the game: Ken Griffey, Jr.’s Winning Run.
And, strangely, it was awesome. He gave you a challenge. He wasn’t plagued by injuries. He wasn’t missing huge chunks of the past six seasons. He hadn’t lost a step in the outfield yet. He wasn’t a questionable answer to a problem the White Sox actually went out of their way to create for themselves this winter. And this is why it’s hard to celebrate the trade for Griffey. He was possibly the best, a statement of fact telling us those days are over and now we get to herald the arrival of yet another slow, aging veteran who can’t hit.
In some ways, it’s as though we’re not really welcoming Griffey at all.