RBI Baseball Week Post #5 – “RBI, perfection” by Greg Harrell-Edge
I asked five of my friends if they would write an essay about a mystery topic. I wouldn’t tell them what it was unless they agreed to do it, but assured them it would be something they’d enjoy writing about. All five said yes. The topic was RBI Baseball, a 1987 Nintendo game that I’ve spent hundreds hours playing with all of them. Here is the fifth entry, by Greg Harrell-Edge
Read all the essays in the series here
Perfection is an ethereal thing.
At best, ‘perfection’ is fleeting. At worst, it’s a mirage; an illusion we manufacture to hide the inescapably flawed nature of the human condition.
Sometime in the winter of 2001, I threw a perfect game in Nintendo’s RBI Baseball against my friend Derek Moore.
In real baseball, a perfect game is when a pitcher doesn’t allow a single opposing batter to reach base — no hits, no walks, no errors, no nothin’. Twenty-seven batters come to the plate, and twenty-seven batters go back to the dugout having failed at their task. It’s only happened 21 times in the history of Major League Baseball; it’s quite impressive.
In RBI Baseball, a perfect game is pretty much the same thing. But because RBI Baseball is a shitty (but loveable) 1987 Nintendo game, throwing a perfect game is equally rare but much less impressive. It just means you’ve played way, way too much RBI Baseball. And in college, we definitely played way, way too much RBI Baseball.
My junior year of college, I lived in an old house in Charlottesville, Virginia, with a group of my closest friends. Guys who, today, are writers and lawyers, but who back then spent most of their time doing things that we’re not, or shouldn’t be, proud of.
Ostensibly, I attended the University of Virginia. But we had a standing rule that if someone suggested playing RBI Baseball that automatically took priority over all academic pursuits, including attending class or studying. Personally I also had my own rule that I would never attend class if it was raining, just on principle. Combined, those two rules meant that I attended class about once per fortnight.
But I did accumulate a rather advanced education in RBI Baseball, particularly the game’s only three pitches: the fastball, the curveball, and the junkball (a pitch that was thrown by pressing “Up” and “A” at the same time, and kind of wobbled to the plate).
I don’t remember much about the actual perfect game itself. I don’t remember which pitchers we used. I don’t remember any of the (surely) dramatic final outs. There is an unwritten rule in baseball that during a perfect game, no one talks to the pitcher – but I don’t remember if we talked much shit or kept quiet. I do remember that after the game, while Derek was off sulking, I thought to snap a picture of the television screen to commemorate the event. It’s a picture I still have today.
I also remember that as Derek and I drove to a party afterwards, I wondered how to announce this accomplishment to our friends in the way that would be most embarrassing to Derek. To pre-empt any such thing, Derek bounded out of the car the second we arrived, ran into the party, and as I walked up the path to the front door, I heard his voice boom, “I’M ONLY GOING TO TELL THIS STORY ONCE, SO LISTEN UP…”
I’m so glad, too, because I’m quite sure that none of the strategies that I was brainstorming in the car would have stood the test of time in everyone’s collective memory as much as Derek’s enthusiastic attempt to ‘get ahead of the story.’
Looking at that old picture to write this story for Conor is what made me start to wax philosophical about the concept and nature of perfection. Getting all twenty-seven of Derek’s guys out in RBI was, by baseball’s definition, a perfect game.
But man, living in a house with a bunch of your closest friends?
Not having the slightest hint of responsibility?
Spending most of your time playing a ridiculous 1987 video game with a seriousness of purpose that could rival the real major leagues?
Spending the rest of your time living out all the ridiculous stories (the firework that lit the American flag on fire; the fecal Chi-Chi’s; the night of 100; the infamous empty OJ carton with the hole cut out of the bottom) that you can rarely tell, but will always remember?
Looking back on it now, it looks an awful lot like perfection.
[Author's note: It turns out that Wednesday night, the 22nd perfect game in major league history was being pitched at AT&T park in San Francisco... about 3 blocks from my current apartment. I did not attend -- the forecast called for light rain. - GHE]