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MLB The Show’s celebration of Black baseball is the best thing in sports video games this year

The heroes of the great Black baseball leagues get their long-overdue moment in the sun

Buck O’Neil in a red-and-white Kansas City Monarchs jersey laughs as he takes the field in MLB The Show 23
Buck O’Neil, inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022. The greatest ambassador and advocate for the sport of baseball.
Image: SIE San Diego Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Sports occupy one of the more curious niches among video games. They’re tremendous sellers, huge moneymakers, and yet they’re so taken for granted that nobody really talks about them the way they do a Resident Evil rerelease or Bethesda Softworks’ next RPG. But if you have an Xbox and a Game Pass subscription, at least, you really owe it to yourself to download and play MLB The Show 23’s outstanding Negro Leagues Storylines mode. If you’re not a sports fan, it will teach you a necessary part of American history. And if you are a sports fan, it will tell you something you don’t know about the National Pastime.

I say this as someone who considered himself educated on the history of segregated baseball, the times before Jackie Robinson kicked his toe into second base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Storylines, the new historical re-creation mode that SIE San Diego Studio introduced for MLB The Show 23, begins with the eight stories of Black professional baseball players who were forbidden from the National and American Leagues by the tacitly understood gentlemen’s agreement that preceded Robinson breaking the sport’s color barrier in 1947.

Satchel Paige, a name broadly known to popular culture, whose curriculum vitae is not understood as well, gets a tremendous close-up to start the mode. Pitching with him from his flamethrowing youth through his beguiling senior years (no one, frankly, really knows how old he was) deepens your understanding of someone who was likely the greatest pitcher of his time, and all time. It closes out with the sui generis Martín Dihigo, national hero of Cuba, the most complete baseball player God has ever made, who played all nine positions on the diamond and excelled at every one of them.

The best part: We haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet. Josh Gibson, who once hit a ball clean out of Yankee Stadium, is on the way. His teammate Buck Leonard is likely not far behind. And you can probably count on James “Cool Papa” Bell, too, who was so fast he could turn off the lights and be in bed under the covers before it was dark.

Baseball fans have just celebrated the fifth World Baseball Classic and its champion, Japan. They’ve gotten to know dozens of stars from all nations and cultures and embraced their fandom as their own, because it elevates the sport as a whole. This interactive peek behind the shrouded, segregated major leagues supports the same ideal. I have long said that sports video games are at their best when they teach the player something they never knew about a game they have loved their whole life. Well, that is MLB The Show 23.

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