To this day, Baseball Stars on the Nintendo Entertainment System is still my favorite baseball game. Though it lacks an MLB license and realistic graphics of games today, the gameplay is superior to any baseball game I've ever played. From infielders diving to outfielders climbing the wall with an outstretched glove hand to rob a home run to the timing of hitting the ball on the sweet spot of the bat--this game was simple to play yet took time to master, without a frustration period games usually give you while learning the mechanics and controls. Other than the gameplay the coolest feature about Baseball Stars is the ability to create your own team and players, a first on the NES.
I was first introduced to Baseball Stars by a friend who was as ambitious as Dr. Wily. He wanted to create a six-person league where we would create our own teams and hold a draft to pick the names of our favorite ball players, like Kirby Puckett, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, and Ken Griffey Jr. My friends and I gathered at his house early into the summer after our sixth grade year to conduct the draft. It was brilliant. Though the players bared no resemblance to the Major League players names you drafted, it was still cool to own a team of our favorite players (that is, unless your buddies sniped you and drafted them first). Draft positioning was decided by highest score in Tetris.
All I cared about was getting Jose Canseco on my team, and with the second overall pick I was assured to land him. Especially since the owner of the first overall pick was a diehard Andre Dawson fan. The draft commenced with plenty of heckling and trash talking to dissuade others of drafting a player's name you wanted. In essence, it was a precursor to how our fantasy football drafts would be held many years later. Believe it or not, a trade actually occurred on draft day between the owners of the third and sixth picks. The pick six owner had to have Ken Griffey Jr. on his roster so he traded his 1985 Topps Mark McGwire rookie card to the pick three owner to swap picks for the first round--a pretty significant card of value back in the day before eBay. I can still remember the majority of my pics and how I shortened their names to fit (you could only use six letters). Canseco was CNSECO. Ricky and Dave Henderson were R.HEND and D.HEND. Don Mattingly was MTTNLY. Terry Steinbach was STNBCH. As you can see, I was a huge Oakland A's fan. When I received Baseball Stars for Christmas later that year my whole team consisted of A's players, with myself manning centerfield. Sorry for demoting you to the bench, Dave Henderson.
It was mandatory to create one player with a silly or crude name. My second baseman's name was NUTSAC. Other beauties around the league were ASSMAN, FARTER, DICK, and FU. Drafting and creating players was almost as fun as playing the game itself.
Once the draft had concluded we devised a schedule to meet every morning that summer at nine a.m. to play. We spent the next few hours creating our teams, ripping each other for drafting losers whose baseball cards weren't worth shit or guys with mustaches. In our minds, everyone who had a mustache looked like Rollie Fingers. We agreed not to use the cheat code to create a maxed out team (a maxed out team started you with players rating 85 or higher on a scale to 100). Every team would start out inexperienced, and need to show some skill to win games and money to boost individual players attributes.
The Baseball Stars draft day is one of my favorite gaming memories with friends, even though draft day featured very little gaming at all. Maybe because our season only lasted a few weeks is why I look back so fondly on the draft and not the games. After the first week, one kid dropped out because he was going to his grandparents for the summer. When pressed about why he was leaving so abruptly he simply said, "I forgot." Another kid was kicked out of the league for stealing another owner's lamborghini Micro Machines. Next there were baseball camps and fishing trips, groundings for sneaking out of the house at night to jump on a neighbor's trampoline. We only seemed to have two or three guys each day to play. By the third week our league commissioner, evil genius of the Baseball Stars league, erased all data because he wanted to start a new league with his cousins. I'd like to say I punched him in the mouth, instead I said, "Let's play Contra."