RBI BASEBALL predicts the Giants' Future

Signs predicting the Giants' future are everywhere, from the alignments of bobbleheads to the temperaments of orange-beaked birds. But the most revealing intermediary of the baseball gods has been a Nintendo game from 1988 called RBI BASEBALL.

This game is a blithely-pixilated take on what baseball would be if certain unrealities were imposed. For example, what if each hitter had only two stats: batting average and home runs? What if players were distinguished through three simple attributes: power, contact, and speed? Or teams only carried four pitchers? Or every player played defense equally? Or there was only one field, an astroturf stadium in which the ball often travels twice the distance of the fence? Or there were only ten teams? And what if all baseball players were the spitting image of an overweight Matt  Williams, and after making an out or an error, they wept openly in disgrace seldom felt by those in the game today?

This is the world of RBI. The original version included the division winners from 1986 and 1987, plus two all-star teams. Vince Coleman and Ozzie Smith are devils for speed, Roger Clemens throws 101 mph, and Candy Maldonado, with 20 homeruns, no longer feels like an abomination. The Giants squad, the ‘87 team that lost to St. Louis on account of Jose Oquendo's biceps, is outstanding, with Mike Krukow and Rick Reuschel anchoring the rotation, and Chili Davis and Will Clark dropping bombs like nobody's business in the middle of the lineup.

Although other versions were subsequently released (RBI 2, 3, etc.), the fat-bodied gameplay of the original was frozen with the stats of the mid Eighties...until a magical realm called the internet came to be.

On the site Dee-Nee.com, technological Giants fans everywhere can download the game (known as a ROM) and play it on their computers. More importantly, statistics from recent seasons have been transposed into the original design. Thus the Giants teams of the Sabean era, from 1997-present, have been memorialized in the strange confines of this game. Often, a version will contain the roster of an upcoming season and the stats of the year before, like a watered-down hot stove report. It is in this disjunction that augury resides.

The Giants have averaged 93 wins in the Sabean era. But each of these teams, going into Spring Training, revealed a unique hint at the possibility of upcoming success. Through the dominant powers of hindsight, let us compare recent seasons to our upcoming one, to see what might be revealed...

According to the world of RBI, the best two Giants teams of the Sabean era were the 2000 and 2002 squads.

Here is the 2000 pitching staff and lineup with 1999 statistics for batting average and home runs:

Ortiz/Rueter/Estes/Nen

Benard .290/16
Mueller .290/2
Bonds .262/34
Kent .290/23
JTSnow .274/24
Burks .282/31
Aurilia .281/22
Mrabli .253/1

Another ceremonious aspect of RBI is its chronic misspellings, a result of a six-letter limit on names. In the world of this video game, power is everything. Heading into the 2000 season, this team had both power and high averages. J.T. Snow of the Candlestick past was coming off a 24-homer showing. Richie Aurilia was continuing his ascendancy. Billy Mueller was a few seasons away from a batting title, hinting at his rise with a .290 average. And Bonds-Kent-Burks reminds us that Bobby M. Jones managed to one-hit the Giants in the NLDS only because of a deal forged between Benny Agbayani and the devil.

Look at this lineup. It is fresh. Even Biz-nard, about to smolder into a caricature of Glen Allen Hill on account of Pac Bell's cavernous outfield, appears radiant (remember, everyone plays the same defense in RBI world). And the pitching staff is also strong, with Russ Ortiz and his many walks nevertheless producing results, with Rob Nen, the proverbial anchor, throwing 101 mph. And, in a stunning move of retributive hindsight, Livan Hernandez has been left off.

This staff does lack an ace, which proved, in the short playoff series, to further an early exit. But stripped down to the RBI parameters, the 2000 team is ringing with talent.

Here's the 2002 pitching staff and lineup with '01 stats:

Ortiz/Schmit/Rueter/Nen

Benard .265/15
Aurila .324/37
Bonds .328/73
Kent .298/22
Snow .246/7
Shinjo .267/10
Santgo .262/6
Feliz .227/7

First, how on earth did this team play an entire year with the golden-locked Tsuyoshi Shinjo and not end up ten games behind Colorado? Second, this lineup is sans David Bell, who came over through the Estes-for-Desi-Relaford-to-Seattle trade, and it also lacks Kenny Lofton, a deadline pickup and needed alleviator of the Biz-nard/Shinjo tag-team (ah Biz-nard, so soon you would be newly dead, knees buckling in a rattle of retirement).

Although Snow would put up nearly the exact same stats in '02 as the year before, Benito Santiago would surprise everyone and end up in the fifth spot, knocking in Bonds on repeated occasions.

This stripped-down glimpse shows the importance of a strong middle order. On all the Barry Bonds teams in San Francisco, even before his apotheosis, it was important to surround him with at least two other powerful hitters, so that his preternatural on-base percentage and ability to knock in runners could be utilized.

Kent would end up switching to the third spot in June, and Aurilia would struggle with injuries, but their ability to drive the ball, coupled with Santiago's consistency, proved for excellent run production.

And the rotation finally had an ace in Schmidt. Rob Nen would soon be gone, of course: his worth sadly evident through the lens of absence. Kirk Rueter, although much maligned in the present, has been a fixture on all the Sabean teams, appearing in RBI-form as early as the 1997 ROM.

So how does all this predict the fate of the 2005 roster? Both the 2000 and 2002 teams were successful on the field and in the world of RBI. But what might the upcoming squad look like if transposed into the video game?

2005 Roster/'04 Stats:

Schmit/Tomko/Brower/Benitez

Durham .282/17
Vzquel .291/7
Grssom .279/22
Bonds .362/45
Alou .293/39
JTSnow .327/12
Alfnzo .289/11
Mathny .257/5

This is the best RBI Giants team ever. Only one player is hitting under .279, and in real life, the leather wizard Mike Matheny just needs to bat somewhere between the levels of pitcher and normal player (a shady area I like to call Neifi Perez Land). Nearly everybody has the ability to drive the ball out of the astroturf RBI stadium. Alfonzo in the seventh spot finally feels right, Omar Vizquel will save his tired legs by trotting out Bonds home runs, and as long as it's not Coors Field, I don't care what ballpark Alou came from: those numbers are downright gaudy.

And did anybody else realize that Ray-Ray Durham hit 17 bombs last year? That's nearly as much as the interminable Jose Cruz's 2003 production.

The pitching staff is finally balanced, and that second starter could easily be demon-slayer Noah Lowry or J-Ro Williams. Throw in Armando Benitez, who's wiggle pitch will drop every time, and I'd put this team up against the 1986 Boston Red Sox from the original RBI. That's right. They're that good.

By baseball gods, it's gonna be a gleaming year...as long as factors like age, defense, bench players, and ballpark differences are ignored. Hmm.

But try it out yourself, savvy Giants fans. On Dee-Nee.com, you can find San Francisco squads from the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, along with scores of other teams, like, say, the 1994 Expos, which includes at least three current Giants, and more if you count our learned manager.

What else is there to do in the offseason, anyway, but conjure former Giants rosters within the confines of a delightfully unrealistic video game?



Tim Denevi is a raving Giants fan who can't decide if he would rather have Mike Aldrete or Marvin Biz-nard pinch-hitting with the game on the line. E-mail him with your opinion on any issue at denevi@hawaii.edu

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