The regular season of Major League Baseballis over. Washington took the cup, and the boys of summer are off to hibernate until spring. For the baseball superfan, this means many long months without their sport of choice, so they've turned to the virtual world. And rather than the super-sims or manager games, a Mario spin-off baseball series seems to have captured people's attention.
Mario Superstar Baseball hit the GameCube in 2005, and its sequel Mario Super Sluggers landed on the Wii in 2008. There hasn't been a new baseball spinoff since developer Now Production's closure, unless you count Super Mario Party's baseball toybox, but the decline in Mario sports games hasn't deterred the dejected baseball fans of the r/baseball subreddit from picking the game apart.
Amid discussion of the best baseball games around, several threads popped up, diving deep into the mechanics of Mario baseball. It's not without reason, though, as even the first Mario Superstar Baseball is a surprisingly deep game. Teams are made up of a single captain, who usually has a specialty pitch and overall slant towards batting, pitching, fielding, and running; the bench filled out around the superstar is made up of other Mario characters, from big names like Bowser or Peach to a smattering of common enemies and toads, each with their own stat lines and specialities.
While fans have their arguments for which baseball game is superior—the GameCube classic or the motion control-enhanced Sluggers—a number of users have fallen down the Mario baseball rabbit hole. Whether picking apart their optimal lineup or simply discussing the way the games manage to blend Mario elements like banana peels and team-up moves with relief pitching and sabermetric stats, it's a joy to follow.
Here is one frankly beautiful diatribe, declaring Yoshi the GOAT of Mario Superstar Baseball. In it, user smoltanboi says why they would "kill [their] own family for the opportunity to draft Yoshi."
The Redditor makes their case. The reach of Yoshi's bat is magnificent, his fielding is frankly broken, and he has finesse pitching that makes his egg ball "dance like a Valenzuela screwball." As smoltanboi opines, Yoshi is like Brock Holt, "if Brock Holt played like Mike Trout at every position."
And then he mentions OBP, which is where I get to the deeper obsession with Mario baseball on this subreddit. User TheAlphaRanger fired up the Wii game, Mario Super Sluggers, and tracked every pitch and at-bat as if it were a real baseball game. While Mario baseball is built for fun, it's not built for sabermetrics, a term for in-depth stat tracking that was part of the "moneyball" revolution in baseball.
Put simply, TheAlphaRanger turned off the mercy rule, took away items and the Star Meter, and played some good ol' fashioned baseball, Mario style, just to see what kind of stats they could produce. They wrote up a box score report of this game, breaking down stats like batting average, RBI, and ERA. There's even a scoring play summary and a winning/losing decision for each pitcher.
It wasn't easy, as they note it took them an hour and a half to figure out the iScore app they used to track the game ("The Green Magikoopa fielding error in the 4th alone took me 15 minutes to correctly score in the app," they said) and they don't recommend others do this, but I find this wonderful. Here are several baseball fans, applying real-life statistics to what is ostensibly a spin-off game for children, and finding new ways to appreciate the sport while it's in the offseason.
"DFA Green Magikoopa!" one user replied to the box score, referring to how teams can designate a player for assignment to remove them from the 40-man roster. "Almost every run scoring hit was to center field. GM clearly doesn't have the range to hang in this league."
Another user suggests that this pace is unsustainable for the offseason. I respectfully disagree. Please continue turning Mario Superstar Baseball and Mario Super Sluggers into bizarre competitions and exhibitions, mish-mashing sports with sports-adjacent video games. Please keep making lineups of nothing but massive, absolute bat-breaking units.
Some of this might come off like fooling around, but it's a genuinely deep baseball game. Especially by the Wii version, there was a fair amount of depth in the lineups you could craft. Different trick pitchers, batter advantages, and field maneuvers that might seem gimmicky end up adding another layer of entertainment. Several genuinely laud Mario Super Sluggers as one of the best baseball games, and that's not due to any pursuit of realism or simulation, it's about making a fun, engaging baseball game.
I'm frankly surprised this has caught on. While emulating real life with a sports game can be fun, seeing all the possibilities a virtual, more malleable environment with fantasy elements affords is where it's at. What if Yoshi, the disposable horse-mount of Mario, is actually a fantastic third baseman? What if Waluigi's deviousness makes him a brutal relief pitcher? How does a Goomba hold a bat? These are all questions Sluggers answers, and it's a blast to play baseball in that surprisingly in-depth realm.
If at the end of this, it somehow spurs someone at Nintendo to consider rebooting the Mario baseball spin-offs, it will have been worth all the incredulous, ridiculous posting in the world. Most of Mario's sports spin-offs have been riding the bench, but Mario Tennis got some new life breathed into it last year. If that can make a comeback, then so can the sluggers of Mario's baseball years.