In the words of Shakespeare’s Richard III, “I thank my God for my humility.” Of all my strengths, humility is the greatest.
For instance, when you’re walking down the street and minding your own business, people don’t approach you out of nowhere and say something like, “Hey, have you heard of this guy named Matt Freedman the Oracle and how good he is at everything, especially Twitter, NFL prospect analysis and sex?”
Of course not! Because I don’t like to talk about my myriad of talents.
Does it really matter that I can type up to 30 words per minute, or run 1.5 miles in just under an hour or bench press 45 pounds five times? I don’t tell people these things, because I’m not looking for constant praise. If I had been looking to impress you, I would’ve used a word such as “approbation,” “adulation,” “adoration,” “amelioration” or some other fancy “A word” to end that sentence. But I don’t feel the need to show off my fancy pre-SAT vocabulary.
Like Ron Swanson, I’m a modest man — which means that when I say what I’m about to say, you should take it seriously and know that I say it with no embellishment: When it comes to the 1994 video game Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, I am the best player in the world.
An Old-School eSports Expert
You might have noticed that we have started to provide some eSports content at The Action Network and FantasyLabs. If you’re new to eSports, that’s not a problem. Check out our League of Legends intro, which will help you learn about the game for the purposes of betting and daily fantasy.
I admit that I know nothing about eSports — I mean, I’ve obsessively bet on it and won money based on the breakdowns that we’ve posted — but I know little about League or any of the other games that form the foundation of the burgeoning eSports industry.
If, however, you think of Griffey on SNES as falling under the eSports umbrella, then, yeah, I’m something of a niche eSports expert.
Whatever Mark Gallant is to the 2001 version of Backyard Baseball …
- Part 1: The Worst of the Bunch
- Part 2: Middle of the Pack
- Part 3: The Almost Elite
- Part 4: The Starting Nine
… that’s what I am to ’94 Griffey.
My Griffey Degeneracy Knows No Bounds
In the pre-Excel days, I filled up notebooks with all of the statistics from the various 162-game seasons I played … when I wasn’t, you know, reading literature and seducing women. (By the way, my best season ever was in the fall of 2004 with the Yankees, when I hit 79 home runs with Kevin Maas, 69 with Danny Tartabull, 51 with Paul O’Neill, 48 with (I believe) Matt Nokes and 34 with Mike Stanley, all of whom had batting averages of at least .380. In the World Series, my Murderers’ Row-led lineup put up 44 runs against the likes of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz in a four-game sweep. I also allowed only four runs in the series, no big deal. (Man, the fall of 2004 was so epic.)
From 1994 to 2006 (when I graduated from Texas Christian University), I might’ve put in my 10,000 hours with that game. Eat your heart out, Malcolm Gladwell. I am the outlier. Sure, I was in college for a lot of that time, triple-majoring in biology, chemistry and English and serving as president of a fraternity — but I always made time to grind out some Griffey: I knew my priorities. Sometimes I would blow off my girlfriend, telling her that I couldn’t go out because I needed to study — and then I would play hours of Griffey with my roommate, who in his own right is probably one of the world’s top-five players. Game respects game.
And we wouldn’t just play. We would play.
We always used World Series mode. The loser of the previous series would be Player 1. Nine times out of 10, that was my roommate. Because of a number of factors, Player 1 had a significant edge. He got to pick the team he wanted, which meant that Player 2 had to use a franchise from the opposing league — we were AL/NL-only purists — and Player 2’s team couldn’t be one from the previous series.
On top of that, Player 2 had to deal with the “pitcher bug,” a weird quirk that wouldn’t allow any pitcher to reappear in the series after he had started a game for Player 2’s team. What this meant was that to be competitive, Player 2 had to use stamina-deficient relievers as starters; and if a series extended beyond five games, Player 2 had to deal with a thin bullpen.
Even with these disadvantages as the regular Player 2, I’m pretty sure I never lost two series in a row to my roommate. Or to anyone else. Ever.
“Fate Has Me Highly Skilled and Loaded With Talent”
When I was in graduate school, my college roommate once came up to Boston for a long weekend to hang out. I was already dating the woman I was lucky enough to marry, and the three of us had a great time just hanging out together. My memory might be fuzzy on some details, but here’s my recollection of that weekend.
As a video-game trash talker, I am very much in the Vince Vaughn mold. In college, I would question almost every strategic decision my roommate made.
- “Are you really going to use the Expos?”
- “What’s the point of being the Yankees if you don’t have Maas in the lineup?”
- “You’re starting Glavine over Maddux? Are you even trying to win?”
- “Why would you even think about bunting with Juan Gonzalez?”
Even though the game used fake names for all the players except for Griffey, we knew all of them: Their strengths, weaknesses, batting stances, power spots, etc. At times we were scientists conducting experiments in the 16-bit laboratory. It wasn’t enough to know the surface-level details about players. We wanted to know everything about everything to do with the game. And eventually we did.
Whenever a player hits a home run, the distance of his hit appears on the screen after he touches home plate. We got pretty good at guessing these distances. The 383-foot home run looks similar to the 382-foot variety … if you’re someone who doesn’t hit a lot of homers.
The Origin of the Coors Light Prop
Most of the time when my roommate and I played Griffey, we weren’t paying all that much attention to the game. We usually played it in the background of conversations about life, love, girls, hopes, dreams, and sometimes even disappointments. I don’t remember many games or series in particular, but I remember a number of those conversations.
But there are a couple of Griffey moments that do stand out years later.
One of them doesn’t even involve my roommate. When I was a senior, there was a young guy in the fraternity who heard I was good at Griffey and challenged me to a best-of-seven series. Some guys just want to be hazed. At stake was a nice, cold 18-pack of canned Coors Light. This was serious.
In front of about 20 brothers in the chapter room, I outright swept the jackass. He almost took Game 3, but my center fielder robbed him of a would-be walk-off home run with a well-timed, ninth-inning leap at the wall. I might be wrong, but I believe I won Game 4 by double-digit runs.
The most special of my Griffey memories is from Dec. 31, 2010 — the day I got married. (New Year’s Eve weddings are the best. I highly recommend them.) A few hours before tying the knot, I was in a hotel room with maybe 12 of my closest friends, many of whom I’d known since childhood and all of whom grew up playing the game. There’s a non-zero chance that never before in one place had such a collection of Griffey-playing talent been assembled.
My roommate and I started playing a game, but he had to take a phone call after a couple of innings, so one of the other guys took his place. After another inning a third guy wanted a couple at-bats, and before long all the guys were rotating at the plate and in the field, forming something of a super-team of hitters and pitchers.
For the first six innings or so, the guys who weren’t actively playing weren’t too focused on the game. They were just talking with each other and hanging out. But by the middle of the seventh inning, everyone’s eyes were fixed on the screen, and the chatter had died down. In the room there were only whispers, and absolutely no one was speaking to me.
They were honoring the code.
Most of us grew up playing baseball. Many of us had played on teams together when we were young. We all knew the code. If at a certain point in the game no one is talking to the pitcher, that can mean only one thing.
The Most Perfect of Perfect Games
After seven full innings, a number of the guys on the super-team gathered in a corner of the room to confer quietly, as if they were having an actual meeting on the mound.
From that point on, they were much tighter with their at-bats. If the ball wasn’t near the plate, they didn’t swing. If the ball was inside, they actually scooted toward it in the hope of being hit. As disciplined as anyone can be with Griffey, they were exhibiting uncharacteristic control at the plate.
They were also — and this was sharp — trying to increase the amount of time I had in my half-innings as the batting team. They wanted to get me out of my rhythm by keeping my pitcher on the bench as long as possible, so they intentionally threw lots of balls out of the zone. If I swung and missed a bad pitch, great. If I didn’t swing, great. Above all else, they weren’t going to let me get three outs quickly.
Although at this point I was ahead just 1-0, for them the goal wasn’t to win. The goal was not to lose in the most ignominious manner possible.
In the middle of the eighth inning my roommate returned. He looked at the room of guys, asked why everyone was so quiet and then he looked at the TV. After a few seconds his expression changed from one of curiosity to comprehension, and he looked at the super-team and gave this speech:
No. Not today. This isn’t happening. We can’t let this happen. If we let him get away with this — today of all days — he will be an insufferable jerk for the rest of his life. We’ll have to hear about this for years to come. One day, whenever he finally starts writing fantasy sports content full time, he’ll somehow connive to work this into one of his articles as if he’s Matthew Berry — and I’m not going to be the loser in yet another of his exaggerated stories.
He didn’t actually say that. Instead, he mumbled a mild expletive and then asked for the controller, which he was immediately given. He really was the super-team’s best hope.
I could stretch this story out, but I won’t. I could go into detail about how for each of their remaining batters, the guys debated every little detail — where the batter should be positioned in the box, whether they should bring in a pinch-hitter, if he should swing on the first pitch, etc.
But I won’t.
I retired the bottom of the eighth in order.
I don’t remember at all what happened in the top of the ninth.
In the final half-inning, I struck out the No. 7 batter and got the No. 8 batter to pop up.
The last batter was a small-and-fast pinch-hitter. My roommate took the first pitch on the outside corner for a strike. On the second pitch, he tried to lay down a bunt, but it went foul. The last pitch was a weak grounder to second, which I fielded cleanly and threw to first base with time to spare: The final out.
The End of an Era
The room erupted in cheers. The guys broke out cheap bottles of champagne — which were originally intended for the post-reception party — and they shook them up and popped them open as if we had just won the World Series. They just started pouring champagne all over each other, all over me, all over the room … all over everything.
Naturally, some of the bubbly found its way onto and into the SNES — my SNES — and it short-circuited right there. One second we were all jumping around and laughing, and then the next second we heard an electrical pop, and smoke was coming out of the console, and the TV was nothing but static.
The room was silent. We all looked at each other. I said, “Well, I guess that’s my last game of Griffey,” and then we all started jumping up and down again and spraying each other with more champagne. After a couple minutes of that, they picked me up and paraded me into the hotel lobby on their shoulders, chanting “Freedman! Freedman! Freedman!”
For that one moment, I was motherf–king Sandy Koufax.
Of Course, I’m Known to Embellish
What does it matter if 45% of the story I just told you is false? That’s the type of story that deserves to be true. Besides, the pertinent points are factual:
- I did pitch a perfect game on my wedding day.
- It did come against a cohort of skilled Griffey players.
- That was the last time I played the game.
And there was also some grumbling about how insufferable I would be if I completed the feat. In all fairness to myself, I’ve always been insufferable. Pitching probably the greatest game in Griffey history doesn’t change that.
“Kill the Boy and Let the Man Be Born”
Why haven’t I played Griffey since I got married?
In a word, sex. I mean, I’m not some loser who plays random 162-game seasons of a 1994 video game when there’s a willing woman in the vicinity.
Additionally, I thought the perfect game was a great way to end my gaming career (such as it was). Being married and having literally attained perfection at Griffey, I decided that I didn’t want to spend any more time playing a video game when I could instead be doing something meaningful with my life — like writing about fantasy sports and betting. By putting down the SNES controller, I intentionally decided, in the words of Maester Aemon, to “kill the boy.” I was a married man. I figured that I might as well start acting like a man.
And so my SNES console and Griffey cartridge collected dust for more than a half-decade, buried underneath a strewn collection of DVDs in the back of an ignored drawer in our TV stand. Eventually I happened upon the SNES while looking for a movie, and I was overwhelmed by the sudden urge to hook that bad boy up and start hitting homers … but the cartridge didn’t work.
Disappointed, I put the SNES back in the drawer, believing that my days of Griffey glory were over for good.
I was wrong.
I recently turned 35, and to help me feel more like my younger self, my wife bought me a new cartridge of Griffey as a birthday present.
I am so lucky that this woman chose me.
Anytime, Anywhere, Any Amount of Money
I generally don’t need much of a reason to write 2,500 words about myself — but this piece actually has a purpose. I’m not likely to be a high-rolling participant in the upcoming Gambling Olympics (whenever they are), but I’m about 99.99% sure that I’m the best Griffey player in any room I enter, and I’m willing to put some skin in the game to prove it.
Anytime, anywhere, for any amount of money, if anyone wants to take a best-of-seven shot at the guy who threw a perfect game on his wedding day, I’m your huckleberry … but I should clarify a few items.
Anytime: Whenever it’s convenient for both of us.
Anywhere: I live in Iowa, and sometimes I find myself in Texas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York. Hopefully you live near me or the places I occasionally visit.
Any amount of money: I’m not looking to get rich off fellow Griffey enthusiasts, so anywhere between $100 and $1,000 per series is on the table, based primarily on your appetite but also maybe mine at the moment. I’m volunteering Jonathan Bales and Peter Jennings to serve as our third-party escrow brokers, since they don’t really ever have anything else going on. If you’d also like to play just for fun that might be possible.
If enough people want to play Griffey with some action on the line …
The First-Annual Action Network Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball International Feats of Strength Competition
Let’s make this happen, people. We might even be able to get MyBookie to post lines on it. I’ll be happy to bet on myself at -10,000 to win.