About a decade ago I was at my mother-in-law’s old house in Kirksville, MO for several days over Christmas. I was bored.
The house was small and all of us were crammed in there in the cold with a Christmas tree, kids’ toys scattered everywhere, a rather large dog, and wall after wall of books. My mother-in-law is a prolific writer. We get along great. (Not sarcasm, for a change.)
My mother-in-law and wife have their holiday traditions, which include watching White Christmas and other old movies, putting up her mom’s old tree and bubble lights, antique shopping, and about a dozen other things where my presence is not needed or requested.
I needed something to do. And when I need something to do, I usually turn to baseball.
I had heard from some fellow super nerdy baseball friends (I honestly think it was our own John LaRue, but he can correct me if I’m wrong) about this cheesy little computer baseball simulator called “Baseball Mogul”. It’s basically a database and some mediocre simulation algorithms fronted by a less-than-dynamic interface. Really selling it, aren’t I? But it does let you pretend to be a General Manage and run a stripped-down baseball franchise.
Did I mention it’s cheesy? Ok, just want to make that clear. I know there are better front office simulators out there – Out of the Park Baseball, for example. But Baseball Mogul has one thing going for it: it lets you download old versions of the game for free!
During that season of Christmas monotony, I went to the site, downloaded Baseball Mogul 2011 or something comparable for the low low price of my spam email address, and pretended like I was John Mozeliak. I ran sims. Made trades. Drafted players. Figured out the system. After a few years in game time – a day or so of real-time – I built a dynasty.
It was free. It was sorta fun. It was a short-lived baseball-fueled distraction for a few days of boredom.
If you don’t have baseball content, create your own!
That’s what I’m suggesting. We’re bored. We love baseball. We won’t have the Cardinals for a while. We won’t have minor league ball until April – and I do plan to cover it at the site if the lockout goes that long. That gives us a month of content-less baseball.
Let’s play Baseball Mogul!
You can download the game here. If you want to pay for the most recent versions, go ahead! It’s $39.99 for the 2021 and 2019 version. The 2018 version, though, is free! That’s the one that I’m going to use so that any of you can play along with me.
Here’s my plan: Instead of starting with the modern day and moving forward, I wanted to go back to the year when everything changed for the contemporary Cardinals. For me, that’s the 2000 season.
The 2000 team still ranks as one of my favorite teams of all time. After years of ineptitude, the Walt Jocketty and Tony LaRussa-led Cardinals finally went for it. They still had Mark McGwire. They traded for Jim Edmonds. J.D. Drew, Rick Ankiel, and Edgar Renteria had all the potential to become superstars. They had a strong supporting cast: Fernando Vina, Eric Davis, Darryl Kile, Pat Hentgen, and Andy Benes.
That was a fun team to watch! And their success – filling Busch Stadium every night and reaching the NLCS – became the catalyst for a half-decade of dominance, two World Series appearances, and a championship.
In many ways, the Cardinals are still riding the wave created by 2000.
At the same time, those Cardinals teams were not built the way that baseball operates today. The bench and bullpen were peppered with aging veterans barely hanging on to their careers. On the farm, the club had Ankiel and Drew but they were backed by a bunch of AAAA-caliber place-fillers. (I guess I should give some love to Placido Polanco, too.)
What if I applied contemporary roster building and on-the-field strategies to the 2000 Cardinals? Could I match the success of that era of baseball? Could I surpass it, even?
That’s what I’m planning to do. I’ll download Baseball Mogul 2018, load up the 2000 Cardinals, make my trades and signings, sim the season (maybe multiple times), and see what happens.
It would be great if some of you wanted to do the same thing. You can start with 2000 or somewhere else if you want, and we can talk about it in the comments section.
Ground Rules and Settings
Before we jump into this, I want to establish some ground rules.
First, I’m not going to edit any players. Players are what they are based on the database and the records and that’s the way that it is.
This matters because it will probably mean you can’t play the 2000 season the way you want. Rick Ankiel, for example, has crappy ratings in the database. The computer-generated text for him even says something like “this guy might want to try hitting instead.”
The world didn’t know what was going to happen to Ankiel after the 2000 season. But the database can’t seem to sort that out. That steals a little of the fun but the game makes up for it elsewhere.
Like Albert Pujols, who starts the game as a 20-year-old rookie with 60/80 overall rankings before he even takes a professional plate appearance. Somehow, in the databases’ attempts to piece together a farm system, both Dan Haren and Adam Wainwright are 19-year-old prospects with similar high present and elite 80-level futures ratings.
To play along with me, here’s what I did:
1. Start a new game.
2. Select “Classic” from the franchise scenario menu.
3. Pick your year – 2000 for me – and select “Load Retired Players”. The game then loads up a bunch of CSVs (as I said, this is a database with an interface).
4. Pick the Cardinals and go to Advanced Options. Select “Historical Rookies”.
I debated about whether going with “historical rookies” gave me an advantage or not, but in the end, I decided that it evens out. Yes, I know what a player might be but there’s no guarantee the player will follow their historical career path in the simulation. In the end, I’m relying on the scouting reports, exactly as I would be doing if I used fictional rookies. It’s just more fun to have players I know!
From there, I made a few “quality of life” rule changes. You can find most of these under the League Editor and Tools windows. Here’s what I changed:
* I realigned the divisions to match the modern day. Why? Because I hated the unbalanced divisional alignment in the early 2000s and I didn’t know if the game would automatically change it when I hit 2013. I decided it would be better to just play under one system the entire way. This creates some schedule oddities – like starting in mid-March – but it doesn’t matter.
* I went ahead and added the second Wild Card playoff system for the same reasons.
* I switched the scouting system to the traditional 20-80 scale.
Lastly, I made significant changes to the game’s AI to match how I would play the game in 2021 with an analytics-oriented manager. Under “Strategies” I pulled “Sacrifice Bunt” and “Squeeze Play” way back. I pulled steals back a bit but added a bit more “Extra Bases” and “Tag Up” – a setting which I’ll call the “Oquendo factor”. Under pitching, I have fewer pitch outs and way fewer “Intentional Walks”. I’m no Mike Shildt. Then bumped up “Pitch Around” just a hair.
Lastly, I pulled “Pinch Hit”, “Pinch Run” and “Defensive Replacement” all back three notches. Part of this is my experience in the game, where I’ve seen the simulator pull Mark McGwire and Jim Edmonds from a playoff game just because. I did the same thing with the “Pitcher Use” department. No short rest. Limited “Pitch Through Trouble” and cut back on “High Pitch Counts.”
You can also change strategies for specific players under the “Scouting” tab of the players. I plan to pull back the pitch limit for some of the younger arms. 19-year-old Dan Haren starts with a 125 pitch count. I think not.
From there, the game is yours! I already have some crazy ideas on how to modernize the 2000 Cardinals roster.
You’re going to hate it. And love it from a “that’s not boring!” perspective.
For those of you who just want to follow along and not play yourself, I’ll post screenshots of the roster and the moves I made. This week, I’m going to make my moves and simulate the 2000 season. I’ll then tell you what happened in next week’s article. We can debate where I went wrong (if I did!) and talk about how to improve in 2001.
Here’s what we’re starting with:
Play around with that! What would you do? It’s the very beginning of Spring Training. You still have room to make some moves. How would you change that roster? Or would you just let it play out?
Let me know! Or … let’s play! Download the game and join in the fun!