When the original Baseball Mogul came out in 1998, it was a unique game. Other baseball simulations of the time allowed you to simulate (and manage) a single baseball season, but Baseball Mogul took a higher level approach. Instead of acting as a team’s manager, you got to be the team’s general manager (GM), and you got to run the team for multiple years. As a result, the focus of the game was on making trades and keeping to a budget rather than on calling for pitchouts and the like. Now, over three years later, Sports Mogul Inc. has released the third installment in the series, Baseball Mogul 2002. Unfortunately, this installment looks and plays much like the earlier installments, and the series is in desperate need of a facelift and some improved play mechanics.
If you’ve never played a Baseball Mogul game, then suffice it to say that Baseball Mogul 2002 is a text-based baseball simulation. You get to make trades, sign free agents, set lineups, and configure tendencies for your manager to follow, but you don’t get to actually manage (or even watch) games yourself. You’re essentially the team’s GM (with some extra duties), and the fate of the organization is in your hands. What’s more, Baseball Mogul 2002 is just as much a financial simulation as it is a baseball simulation, and you’ll have to work at keeping your team under budget while still winning games.
Probably the biggest difference between Baseball Mogul 2002 and its predecessors is that Sports Mogul Inc. made a licensing agreement with the Major League Baseball (MLB) Player’s Association, and so the game not only includes the names, ratings, and statistics for real players, it also includes photos for those players. Plus, Sports Mogul Inc. was thorough in obtaining photos, and so you’ll get to see players with little or no major league experience -- like Hiram Bocachica (Dodgers) and Nick Johnson (Yankees) -- as well as the stars and everyday players you’d expect to see. Unfortunately, Sports Mogul Inc. didn’t obtain a license from MLB itself, and so players wear generic uniforms in the photos (no logos allowed), and, if you want the teams in the game to actually have names, you’ll have to type them in yourself. But the typing only takes a couple minutes, and you only have to do it once, so the lack of an MLB license isn’t that big of a deal.
What is a big deal is that Baseball Mogul 2002 overly simplifies the GM’s job, and so even with real players and real teams, you’ll never feel like you’re running an actual MLB franchise. As an example, the game lets you move players between the majors and minors any time you want. That isn’t even close to being realistic, and while MLB has all sorts of rules regulating when players can be moved (with options and waivers and more coming into play), I don’t think it would be too difficult to create something simple and effective to mimic what MLB does. As it stands now, the minor league team is little more than a reserve list for the major league team, especially since Baseball Mogul 2002 doesn’t include a disabled list at all (another bad simplification), and so the minor league team has to function as that as well.
However, where Sports Mogul Inc. really made a mistake was in their service time model for players. In MLB, organizations basically get players for free while they’re in their minor league system, and then the players can’t become free agents until they’ve been in the major leagues for seven years. That means organizations usually keep players around (barring trades) for about 10 years. But in Baseball Mogul 2002, players start accumulating service time as soon as they appear in an organization (even in the minors), and they start asking for serious money after about four years. That results in a few bad things: you have to make about twice as many financial decisions each year, players become free agents and leave teams much too quickly (it’s not uncommon to see a 22-year-old free agent), and small market teams have an almost impossible task because building a successful farm system doesn’t pay off. What’s worse is that Baseball Mogul 2002 is just as much about finances as about baseball, and that it should make such a mistake really puts a serious dent into gameplay.
Luckily, since you’ll be making lots of trades because of pending free agency, Baseball Mogul 2002 has a pretty nice trade interface. You can “dangle” a player and see what other GM’s are willing to trade for him, and you can even restrict those trade offers to prospects only, or certain positions, or even cold, hard cash. Plus, when you’re in a normal trade dialogue, you can get a hint from the opposing GM about what it’s looking for, and if that isn’t enough, the GM can even make a counteroffer and let you know explicitly what it’ll take. The computer GM’s are even reasonably smart, and so the trading aspect of the game works well.
Baseball Mogul 2002 also seems to be pretty accurate. I ran the 2001 season 100 times (the engine is fast, so it took less than 2 hours) and then looked at the results. Everything seemed reasonable. Players hit, pitched and fielded about like you’d expect, and, other than the engine liking the Rockies and not liking the Mariners, the right teams made it to the playoffs, with the Braves winning the World Series 30 times. The only problem the engine seems to have is in career mode, where it creates more good hitting prospects than good pitching prospects, and so as time goes on offense really takes off. Players start hitting 60 home runs left and right, and one time when I finished a 20-year bout managing a team, I checked on Alex Rodriguez and found that he had hit over 950 home runs in his career (the record is 755). So Sports Mogul Inc. still has a little work to do to make career mode reasonable.
Sports Mogul Inc. also has some work to do on the interface. Some aspects of the interface are nice, like the calendar mode for showing a team’s schedule, but most need to be overhauled completely. For starters, Baseball Mogul 2002 runs in a fairly small window, and so there just isn’t room to display much data. That comes up mostly when you examine your roster and only get to see four statistics for each player. You can click on a player to see more statistics, but the only way to see a full listing of statistics and players is to print the information to a file and then examine the file. That’s just brutal. The interface is also ugly and bland, and buttons sort of appear all over the place. Sports Mogul Inc. needs to play a game like Season Ticket Baseball to see how an interface should be done.
Overall, Baseball Mogul 2002 gets a few things right and a few things wrong, but it gets the most important thing -- a good simulation engine -- right. Since the simulation engine should be the difficult part, there’s hope for the series, and even the current installment isn’t too bad. I’d call Baseball Mogul 2002 the best game in its genre but that might qualify as damning with faint praise, so instead I’ll just say that it’s fun enough to play if you’re a baseball junkie, and it’s not if you’re not.