I don’t know what it is about MLB 2006: The Show, but I’m beyond addicted to it. And while almost every other part of my life has suffered because of it, one facet hasn’t.
Let me take a step back and tell you what I love most about this game. It most certainly isn’t the music, or the commentating, or the lag time after a few hours of game play. No, it’s the fact that when you’re twelve years into Franchise mode, nearly all of the players are made up—concocted from a random list of names, a random list of abilities, and a random list of numbers. And they all look tend to look the same, they all tend to run the same, field the same, swing the same, et cetera et cetera ad nauseam.
So what’s so great about that? It’s great because it mimics real life. If you stopped paying attention to the game (no matter what game you follow) for maybe five years, and you suddenly started paying attention again, you wouldn’t know who was good, who was bad, or really, who was who. You’d be screwed. Which brings me back to my first point: while this game, with its TV-like graphics and real-time statistical tallies (by the way, I’ve got Travis Hafner up to 208 hits, and we’re only just ten games after the All-Star break, in, uh, the 2012 season), has pretty much turned me into a recluse, I’ve figured out one very important thing: the nameless player is at the heart of the Bowman Mystique.
Think about it. Before the age of endless extreme close-ups, there were only a few places you’d see a ballplayer’s face: in the paper, on a print advertisement, in person (if you met them at the train station, airport, or knew where they worked in the off-season) and on a baseball card. You knew their names, their stats; those items were obvious from newspaper boxscores and radio broadcasts. But putting a face with a name…aye, there’s the rub.
So then why is this Bowman set ranked so low? A number of reasons, including (though not limited to) generally bad photography, poor player choice and thus a weak checklist, no real rookies to speak of, and did I mention bad photography? I was thinking of giving Dan Austin’s (stellar) Virtual Card Collection a break for a little while from my image pillaging, so I decided to bid on a lot of four cards from this set. But when it came right down to it, I was outbid and didn’t care enough about the set—based on what looked like an out-of-focus Bill Rigney—to remain in the bidding. It lead to me to wonder: why would a collector want this set?
Reason #1: It’s one of a handful of original Bowman sets.
Reason #2: The cards are relatively hard to find (especially in good condition).
Reason #3: It’s the other half of the fantastic 1953 Bowman Color set, so if you’re a completist, of course you collect it
Reason #4: You’re a fan of black & white photography on baseball cards (not too many sets used black & white photos)
Reason #5: You’re trying to spend $30 million in 30 days so you can inherit your uncle’s fortune, though you don’t quite understand the rules that you’re not allowed to have any possessions at the end of the 30 days
Reason #5 is the plot of Brewster’s Millions, and when you’re searching for reasons to collect this set after naming only four, well, that’s a bad sign. Let’s talk frankly here for a moment, all bullshitting aside: this set stinks. There’s no reason for you to collect it. But you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay that Bowman put out a clunker, and really, if they were going to put out a crap set, at least they made it almost an afterthought, bookending it to one of their best ever (its color counterpart from the same year).
So what of the Bowman Mystique? The Nameless Ballplayer? The whole buildup for this column? This tactic—the facsimile-signature-free/name-free front—while it’s what makes the color set so beautiful, it leaves the black & white set feeling more than a little bored. The Bowman Mystique hurts this set; it’s a negative here, leaving us with nothing more than posed wire photos without captions.