Geeks and Baseball

With the baseball season in full swing, it’s time to remember how geeks and technology have transformed the game of baseball. Over the past three decades, the internet, medical advances, and the globalization media have fundamentally transformed how fans consume baseball and how ballplayers play America’s pastime. Below is a survey of some of the ways technology has effected baseball, and some ideas on how some new technologies will continue to affect baseball.

Baseball, Technology, and Fans

1. Video Games

From the beginning, video games have attempted to replicate baseball. In 1971, Don Daglow at Pomona College wrote ”Baseball.” During the early 1980s, Atari and Mattel also released baseball video games. In 1983, Mattel released Intellivision ”World Series Baseball.” For the first time, players of ”World Series Baseball” could use multiple camera angles to show the action. A gamer could see the batter from a modified “center field” camera, see baserunners in corner insets, and view defensive plays from a camera behind home plate. ”World Series Baseball” also integrated fly balls into their interface.

In 1988, baseball video games made another jump, when Electronic Arts (EA) released ”Earl Weaver Baseball”, which added an actual baseball manager provided run by artificial intelligence. The important of ”Earl Weaver Baseball” was acknowledged by Computer Gaming World in 1996 when it named ”Earl Weaver Baseball” 25th on its list of the Best 150 Games of All Time. This was the second highest ranking for any sports game in that 1981-1996 period behind FPS Sports Football.

Nintendo also hit a homerun, in 1988 when it released ”RBI Baseball.” RBI was the first video game to be licensed through the Major League Baseball Players Association. The game contained authentic major league players and rosters, and not surprisingly was a huge hit with players.

Twenty years after the first baseball video game, ”Tony La Russa Baseball” appeared on shelves across the country. The game made significant advancements in baseball game play. First, ”La Russa” included a circular Fly Ball Cursor that appeared where the ball was going to land, and grew or diminished in size based on the height of the ball. If the wind was blowing the cursor would move its location to reflect the changing course of the ball. The Fly Ball Cursor introduced real fly balls and pop-ups to computer baseball games, eliminating the last segment of the sport that had never been simulated accurately. Second, ”La Russa” allowed users to conduct drafts and set up their own leagues, all with access to the game’s comprehensive player statistics. Third, ”La Russa” was the first baseball game to offer accurate stats for each individual pitcher against each individual hitter, data that actual managers use extensively in the dugout. In contrast to many sports celebrities who merely lent their names to games, Tony La Russa spent extensive sessions over a period of years working to make the game’s artificial intelligence as accurate as possible.

The quality of baseball games has continued to develop since ”La Russa.” The development of EA’s ”MVP Baseball”, Sony’s ”MLB The Show”, Out of the Park Developments’ text-based simulation ”Out of the Park Baseball”, and the and growth of gaming systems (from Genesis to XBox360) has transformed the depth and reality of baseball games. Even players themselves admit to using them prepare for games. According to an FHM article written by 2004 AL Cy Young Winner Johan Santana (April 2006 pg. 113), “I can see the hitting zones of each player and statistically where he doesn’t like the ball. I can also get a feel for when he will swing at fastballs and when he may not expect a change-up. I wouldn’t say that I would pitch to a guy in a real-life game the same way, but it gives you ideas of how to approach certain hitters.”

2. Internet Fantasy Baseball

Hate it (girlfriends, wives) or love it (practically every baseball fan), fantasy baseball has become as popular as the sport itself. Once regulated to stat junkies who painfully calculated and managed everything on their own, the expansion of the internet has allowed millions of fans to participate in leagues with friends and other fans throughout the country. This couldn’t possibly affect the actual sport itself right? Wrong. Fantasy Baseball has a huge impact on fan interest. Did your team throw in the towel mid-season, or currently in an unwatchable rebuilding year? That’s OK. You can still follow your fantasy team and can continue to watch games involving your players via the MLB Baseball Cable Package. Major League Baseball is a product, and anything that allows your customers to constantly read, write, and talk (thus promoting) about your product in a passionate way becomes important.

Fantasy baseball would not have becomes popular without technology. Computers and the internet ushered in this sports revolution. The advent of powerful computers and the Internet revolutionized fantasy baseball, allowing scoring to be done entirely by computer, and allowing leagues to develop their own scoring system, often based on less popular statistics. In this way, fantasy baseball has become a sort of in-time simulation of baseball, and allowed many fans to develop a more sophisticated understanding of how the real-world game works.

According to a recent Fortune article, the “American male’s obsession with sports is nothing new, but try this on for size: More than half of fantasy sports fanatics spend over an hour a day just thinking about their teams.” Fantasy baseball is a ”billion dollar industry.” However, Much like the RIAA and MPAA, Major League Baseball is putting clamps on the fantasy technology that fueled professional baseball’s rebirth after the 1996 strike. MLB has decided to dramatically restructure how it licenses companies that run fantasy games on the Web. Official licensees will now likely be restricted to a Big Three of ESPN, CBS Sportsline, and Yahoo! (some reports add AOL and The Sporting News as well). “Mom and pop” shops that helped usher the fantasy baseball phenomenon into existence will be severely limited by the licensing deal. They will only be allowed information to service 5,000 customers apiece. Everyone else using baseball statistics to run small fantasy leagues will have to choose between scaling back their operations, closing up shop, or receiving a visit from MLB’s lawyers. 중계사이트

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