One of my favorite hobbies is learning about sports history. It doesn’t matter the sport, if there is an opportunity to gain knowledge about how a particular player overcame obstacles, a team defied the odds or anything else of significance, I want to experience it. When sports video games go back in time, I love it. Having no real knowledge of The Negro Leagues, I instantly gravitated toward the new Storylines mode in MLB The Show 23. While I do wish there was a bit more variety in its challenges, and that they included subtitles for the video content, I had a blast learning about so many important players that contributed to the sport.
When you only know a few of the influential people
Of the four major North American sports, my historical knowledge is lacking with early 20th-century football and pretty much all baseball before the 1980s (excluding anything related to the Yankees – no, I’m not a Yankee fan). This is especially true for the pre-integration era of baseball. So, the opportunity to learn about The Negro Leagues in a video game was a great place to do so.
In MLB The Show 23’s Storylines mode, we get the chance to play and learn more about eight key members of The Negro Leagues. Each player is given either eight or nine challenges, which they call “Episodes”, for you to complete. These are pretty standard for the franchise. As a pitcher, you might have to strike out three batters or complete an inning without giving up a hit. As a hitter, you might have to hit a home run or run in a specific number of batters.
Outside of a few, most are fairly easy to complete. If you’ve been playing The Show for years, I suspect they’re actually quite easy. Unfortunately, the challenges lack variety. For the most part, the hitting ones focused mostly on just getting X number of hits in a game. Meanwhile, the pitching ones generally asked you to not give up any runs. There were only two challenges involving base running and both ask you to steal a base.
Learning so much while getting better at the game
As you play through each player’s episodes, we also get to watch short little vignettes featuring Bob Kendrick, the president of The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. He goes into detail about each player’s history in the sport and their lasting impact. In some cases, we get to experience some of these guys playing in the MLB.
The clips are fantastic and they had me wanting to learn more. While I was going through the mode, I was actively searching through Wikipedia in the hopes of getting any additional information. Mr. Kendrick is an incredible presenter, who shares some fascinating stories about all eight legends. Honestly, I would not be surprised if there was a lot of footage left on the cutting room floor. There is a lot, and it still felt like he could talk for hours if time permitted.
My only frustration with the clips was that there were no subtitles available. As someone who doesn’t always play with the sound on, it would have helped me a few times to have the option to toggle subtitles. Oddly enough, the game does have Closed Captions but only in-game. This is such a small nitpick for a generally great mode. Considering accessibility is so important in games today, this feels like an oversight by Sony San Diego.
More games need to copy this formula
From the promotional material around The Negro Leagues content for MLB The Show 23, it appears that we’ll get more stuff like this in the future. If that only means new content for The Show 24, then I’m fine with that. However, if they do plan on adding updates to this year’s game, I’ll come back to play them.
At the same time, I don’t understand why historical modes like this aren’t in more games. Yes, NBA 2K23 brought back Jordan Moments, but it’s been over a decade since their “NBA’s Greatest” mode in NBA 2K12. I don’t recall EA ever going into this much historical detail for any of their sports games. It’s such a great way to connect the game with the sport and something like FIFA could easily benefit from it.
While I don’t know if there is an equivalent to The Negro Leagues for the other major sports, I’d still be happy with any sort of look back that highlights key historical players, teams, or moments. I get that licensing hurdles for this kind of stuff exists, but I think developers can overcome them if they wanted to. I know both EA and 2K also want you to play their respective Ultimate Team and MyTeam modes. Completing the episodes in Storylines does unlock content for Diamond Dynasty, so they could do the same.
The most I’ve played of The Show in recent years
The Show is a sports series I don’t spend too much time with. I’ll fool around for a couple of hours, but I won’t stick around for that much more. But with The Show 23, I already spent around 7-10 hours so far, and I see myself sticking around for a bit longer. After finishing all eight storylines, I unlocked some high-rated players, so I could jump into Diamond Dynasty and field a decent squad. Also, I think I finally grasp the game’s hitting mechanics, and I’m not swinging at nearly every pitch. It might not be saying much, but this is my easily favorite sports game of the last 12 months.