RBI Baseball: Revisiting the 10 Best Players in the Original Nintendo Game

By Mike Cardillo

The new, updated version of RBI Baseball was released for consoles and iOS devices last week. I’ve yet to play the new game, which reportedly tries to stay true to the 8-bit NES classic. The original still happens to be the most fun baseball video game you can play side-by-side with a friend in the living room. The original is still perfect and enhanced by the RBI Drinking game invented by Gantry and the Gang over at Dee-Nee.com, which is also  my favorite pre-Web 2.0 site still in operation.

Forget the nostalgia factor, forget the delightful soundtrack, forget the home run fireworks, forget the giant colored bats and players crying as they run back to the dugout, RBI Baseball remains a challenging and fun game to play head-to-head vs. a friend, regardless of whether or not cheap, canned domestic lite beer is involved.

Okay … let’s be honest it’s hard to dust aside the glorious late-1980s nostalgia the game triggers. With that in mind, let’s revisit the 10 best players from the original RBI game.  The American and National League All-Star teams aren’t going to be given consideration, since that would defeat the point as much as I’d love to write 150-odd words about George Bell.

No. 10: Charlie Kerfeld, Houston

Admittedly picking the Knob Noster, Mo., native is an odd choice since the RBI Houston team features the fearsome 1-2 starting pitcher punch of Nolan Ryan and Mike “Sandpaper” Scott. Remember RBI isn’t always about pure power and speed on the mound. It’s often easier to time the digital cheese than it is to figure out a soft-tossing, George Costanza “lady frames“-wearing, scrub like Kerfield, who gets the added advantage of being the only sidearm-throwing righty in the game. Fun fact: My friend Mike (who runs this fun 80s-inspired Tumblr) threw something like 5-6 scoreless innings against me with Kerfeld. It might have been a two-hit shutout. My BAC by that point was Rob Ford-level so I don’t exactly recall all the details.

9. Tony Armas, Boston

RBI Baseball is a traditionalist’s baseball video game, hence there is no use of the designated hitter inside Tengen Stadium. This means Tony Armas and his 43-home-run power begins the game on the bench. If you sub Armas into the Boston lineup,  the gauntlet of Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, Don Baylor and Dwight Evans is almost unstoppable in the late innings against a tired pitcher. Fun fact: Armas stole 18 bases in his 14-year career including five with Oakland in 1980. Unofficially, via Dee-Nee research, he is the slowest player in RBI.

8. Chili Davis, San Francisco

Relish the fact I won’t turn this entire paragraph about Chili Davis into a pun-filled series of bun mots thanks to San Franciso’s brownish mustard-colored uniforms in the game. In any event, Davis rakes with his smooth lefty stroke. Fun fact: Chili’s given name is Charles Theodore Davis. Let this serve as a reminder baseball — and all professional sports — need more players nicknamed for food items. The Cardinals Matt “Big Mayo” Adams is a good start, at least.

7. Bert Blyleven, Minnesota

There are only eight non-All Star teams available to select in RBI. Tengen programmers picked the four division winners from the 1986 and 1987 seasons. Based solely off an 8-bit video game, you wonder how the Twins won the 1987 World Series. Tom Kelly’s digital Minnesota squad rivals Houston for the weakest in the game. The late Kirby Puckett isn’t even very good, nor are stalwarts such as Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti. Dan Gladden might’ve had a great mullet in real life, but he forever stinks in the game. If you pick Minnesota the only way you can stay in the game is the rubber band arm of Blyleven. In 1988, nobody cared about pitch counts and since this is a game you can throw 12-13 innings with Blyleven … but if you get that deep into a game of RBI please send me a screenshot. Fun fact: Bert liked to pass gas.

6. Will Clark, San Francisco

The Thrill’s unofficial aggregate batting average in RBI is something like .841. Each time you make contact and shoot the ball into the right field corner you can almost hear the unmistakable sound of dip being spit out at the same time. With the Thrill, Jeffrey Leonard, Kevin Mitchell, Candy Maldonado and Chili in the lineup it’s borderline impossible not to have fun using San Francisco in the game, regardless of its uninspiring array of starting pitchers. Fun fact: Here’s a semi-recent picture of what the Thrill looks like nowadays. My childhood is ruined. Ruined!

5. Darrell Evans, Detroit

Evans hit 414 lifetime home runs, including an American League-best 40 with the Tigers in 1985. That said, he’s one of those players lost to the sands of time that nobody remembers or lionizes, aside from Bill James in his most recent Baseball Abstract. Fortunately, Evans lives on forever as one of the best power hitters in RBI Baseball on the masher-friendly Detroit team. You might not remember Evans, but you certainly will not forget him after your first three-homer, 11 RBI game. Fun fact: Darrell Evans doesn’t possess a fun fact … that’s the fact!

4. Dwight Gooden, New York

Maybe nothing dates RBI Baseball quite like the fact the New York represented in the game is the Mets, not the Yankees. Yes, New York was once a Mets town, hence the Keith Hernandez’s Seinfeld cameo didn’t seem out of place at the time in 1992. The Yankees’ presence is limited to Don Mattingly and Dave Righetti’s spot on the American League All Stars, yet the Mets’ Scum Bunch (read Jeff Pearlman’s book on the ’86 Mets if that reference flies over your head) endures. Starting pitchers are somewhat devalued in RBI, but Doc is the best of the bunch. He throws hard, possesses decent breaking material and strong stamina. There’s always the temptation to start the game with Bobby Ojeda and use Gooden as a fireman in the fourth or fifth inning, but it’s a risky play. One of the best things about RBI Baseball is getting to use Gooden at the peak of his powers, so don’t out-think yourself. Fun fact: Did you know the Mets got in on the Super Bowl Schuffle craze and released “Get Metsmerized” in 1986?

Fun fact 2: The Mets weren’t always the answer to a bad punchline:

3. Vince Coleman, St. Louis

Everybody always cites Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl or Michael Vick circa 2001-2 in Madden as the best video game athlete ever. Coleman’s name rarely is mentioned. Simply put: if you hit a ground ball with Vince Coleman to the infield, it’s a single. If it makes the outfield it’s a double or triple. If you hit a home run with Vince Coleman … send me the screen shot. Again these stats are unofficial, but Coleman’s stolen base percentage in RBI hovers around 99.99999 percent — unless you’ve never played before or are intentionally trying to make an out to prove a point or something. Billy Hamilton, let’s see what you’ve gotFun fact: the entire scene in “Major League” where Lou Brown tells Willie Mays Hayes to hit the ball on the ground was based on Coleman’s performance in RBI.

2. Darryl Strawberry, New York

Darryl F’N Strawberry


1. Reggie Jackson, California

I love using the Angels in RBI. Maybe it’s the aesthetically pleasing purple uniforms and giant red bats. Maybe it’s because I think of Enrico Palazzo every time I use them. It’s probably because Reggie Jackson’s home run is pure, 8-bit perfection. Fun fact: Reggie’s IMDB page is well worth 37 seconds of your time.