This past Saturday my childhood hero Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York.
With his induction I began reminiscing on my favorite baseball player. Over at a sports site I write for, goingfor2.com, you can read my more sports inclined memories of the ball player simply known as “The Kid”. Here, however I thought I’d tackle a little known fact about Nintendo and Ken Griffey Jr.
In sports video games it isn’t uncommon to use an athlete as the cover person or the title of their game ( Jordan vs Bird, Madden NFL Football, Wayne Gretzky Hockey, Tiger Woods Golf. etc.,) and super star baseball player Ken Griffey Jr. was no different.
However, unlike many other players who had their own game, Griffey’s was exclusive to Nintendo, but why? Surely the biggest star in baseball would make a lot more money on a game if it were published by say EA sports or Akklaim.
Well, the reason for this is because Nintendo owned a majority stake in Ken Griffey’s team the Seattle Mariners. In the early 90’s the Mariners owner was vastly running out of money and needed to sell the Mariners and fast and it looked like that the city of Seattle was going to lose it’s second MLB franchise.
In stepped Nintendo. After Microsoft owner and CEO Bill Gates passed on buying the Mariners, the Baseball Club of Seattle approached Nintendo and their CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi in buying the team. There were steep obstacles in the way of Nintendo’s purchase of the team in 1992, mostly due to xenophobia on Major League Baseball’s part, but in the end Nintendo was allowed to buy a 49% share in the team (the majority) and the rest was bought by the Seattle Baseball Club so that American businessmen would own 51%.
Nintendo, of course, took quick advantage of their new team and the superstar center fielder and partnered with Ken Griffey Jr. to release Ken Griffey Jr’s Baseball exclusively for the SNES. The game had the MLB license, but the the Player’s Association license, so Griffey was the only “real” player in the game. However, the players on the other teams had identical stats to their real world counterparts and the game allowed you to change the names, so making a real roster wasn’t hard.
The 1994 release received mixed reviews from critics, averaging about a 6.5 out of 10. I remember the game fondly though (I could have been blinded by him being my favorite ball player) and had a lot of fun playing it.
It’s 1996 SNES sequel Winning Run improved in every category, even getting a perfect score from GamePro Magzine and was well liked. Again, going off of memory, I loved this title even more than the first.
Another two years would pass and we’d get another Ken Griffey Jr. game, this one entitled Major League Baseball: Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. This title made the jump to the Nintendo 64 and I can honestly say I played this game more than any other baseball title I’ve ever owned (and I’ve owned a lot). For the first time in a Griffey game we got full MLB rosters, no more renaming players, they were there from the start. The game had above average scores, usually averaging a 7.5, but it had a huge fan base, which was probably due to it being the best baseball game on the N64, not to mention having the most popular player on the cover.
The final game in the Griffey series would be Ken Griffey Jr.’s Sluggfest released May of 99 for the N64. This game (the only one I never owned because I was still playing MLB:FKG) improved upon everything the previous 64 release did. Graphics, game play, and music. In turn it also received better scores.
This would be the last Ken Griffey Jr game, probably due to the fact that the 1999 season would be his last in Seattle. Whether it was Nintendo who ended the deal because they didn’t want to have a Baseball game series with a player who didn’t play for their team, or if Griffey ended the deal, it really isn’t known, it was just one of those things that ended and no one really noticed, mostly because unlike EA’s sports franchise there wasn’t a Griffey game every year so when one wasn’t released again we just never noticed. I tried finding out an official answer but have yet to. My guess is that with Griffey leaving Seattle to play for the Reds in 2000 the contract between him and Nintendo just expired with neither side trying to re-up it.