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Ranking the Kids in Backyard Baseball

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A Japanese TV crew shoot packages of the Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP via Getty Images

There are many reasons that Backyard Baseball became a video game that came to define a generation. It was a surprisingly complex game given the ostensibly simple point-and-click controls. It combined the innocence of childhood friendships with competitive sports. Most notably, it offered a ragtag group of diverse, quirky characters whose idiosyncrasies elevated them well above the mundane, cookie-cutter appearance that was typical for sports video games at the time, which usually offered an amalgamation of oafish, blocky pixels which could have just as easily been Wayne Gretzky or Darren Langdon.

With professional sports wrought with hyper-competitiveness, commercialism, and scandal, Backyard Baseball was a reminder of the origins of sports and how wholesome they can be.

And screw that. If I’ve learned anything about America, it’s that there’s nothing we do better than pit children against each other in unhealthy competitive environments and ruin their self-esteem by mercilessly evaluating them and assigning them numbers which analyze their worth. So that’s what we’re going to do here. I am now a crazy pageant parent who exploits offspring in the name of covering up my own insecurities, and I’m going to rank the 30 (original) kids in Backyard Baseball.

Here are the criteria considered in performing this exercise.

Ability: How capable and useful the player is. This is not merely a raw tally of his/her stats, but also effectiveness in filling a role on the team and optimizing the overall roster. For this exercise we are only considering their abilities in Backyard Baseball. So while Ricky Johnson was a beast inside the paint in Backyard Basketball, that is of no use here.

Personality: This is not purely a ranking of how good the kids are at playing baseball. We’re ranking the kids in general. Are they interesting? Do they bring anything else to the table? Would I loathe being their camp counselors? How likely are they to grow up and become terrible adults who yell at retail workers? You can’t build a BBL Ultra Grand World Championship of the Universe winner without a good group on and off the field.

Theme Music: Does the music fit the kid’s personality? Is it noteworthy and memorable? Is it enjoyable to listen to?

Those areas ranked from 1-to-10 and then averaged together to assign an overall rating. In the event of ties, I arbitrarily decided which kid I liked better in abstract.

30. Jorge Garcia

Ability: 1

Personality: 2

Theme Music: 2

Overall: 1.67

This kid suuuuuuucks. He’s terrible at baseball and doesn’t even try. The theme music insinuates that Jorge is a stuck-up rich kid and that’s exactly what he is. Jorge openly brags that his dad and grandparents are wealthy and that he always gets what he wants. “He does not like playing in the outfield.” Buddy, you’re in no place to be picky about where you play. He literally refuses to slide or dive for balls because it will get his clothes dirty. I’d rather play with eight players.

29. Lisa Crocket

Ability: 3

Personality: 1

Theme Music: 5

Overall: 3.00

Lisa is exceptionally mediocre and mundane in every possible way. She’s humorless and just wants to be left alone. Tony Delvecchio’s mom has definitely had to explain to him multiple times that he can’t not invite Lisa to birthday parties.

I struggled with rating her theme music. It’s bland and boring, but so is she. It gets a “1” for listenability but a “10” for descriptiveness, so that averaged out to a “5.”

This is where I remind you that I am currently bullying eight-year-old cartoon children.

28/27. Sidney and Ashley Webber

Ability: 5

Personality: 2

Theme Music: 2

Overall: 3.00

The two twin girls are identical in just about every way. Same look, same clothes, same abilities, and same interests. They’re okay at baseball — certainly, there are worse pitching options — and play even better when they’re on the same team together. However, they’re not good enough individually to justify keeping both on the roster. It’s like if the Sedin’s had fourth-line ability and $3M cap hits.

The girls’ personalities come off as a bit phony and manufactured, with no distinguishable individuality, and I initially judged them harshly for it. However, it’s not really their fault. Their father is a monster who clearly is traumatizing the kids by forcing them into competition against each other. They both passive-aggressively claim to be the prettier of the two behind each others’ backs. Their dad is turning them into tennis robots and tries to prevent them from playing baseball so they don’t ruin their serves. The way they are treated as a single unit is detrimental, and it’s quite sad. Hopefully they will grow up and discover their own individuality. In the meantime, dad needs to let them be kids and enjoy sports.

Unironically, it’s incredibly impressive how Backyard Baseball subtly explored diversity and the kinds of problems children could have in their lives. As a game from the late-90s, it was well ahead of its time in that regard and probably helped out a lot of children who played it.

26. Kimmy Eckman

Ability: 6

Personality: 3

Theme Music: 1

Overall: 3.33

Kimmy is a pretty good batter, but not nearly good enough to outweigh her deficiencies in every other aspect. The Backyard Baseball equivalent of a hockey player who builds a prosperous career in the AHL with a few NHL call-ups.

What really hurts Kimmy is that her theme music is probably the most forgettable in the entire series and that she’s not that great of a kid. She does have some redeeming qualities. She’s a tough kid and has a rebellious attitude (she listens to alternative music and hides candy from her mom). She also offers up her humble house as a spot to host games and playdates. But she’s also a bully, making fun of Reese Worthington for his health issues and then hiding behind the classic, “it’s just a joke, bro” defense.

25. Reese Worthington

Ability: 4

Personality: 2

Theme Music: 6

Overall: 4.00

Reese isn’t very athletic and he’s held back by a few medical conditions, including asthma. However, he does try his best nonetheless. He’s a good, loyal friend to Dante Robinson.

He’s a pretty good fielder, but isn’t going to play a prime position and lacks offensive upside. Probably not the most exciting person but he’s good filler for a group hangout and can hold his own as one of your last picks to complete the roster.

24. Ricky Johnson

Ability: 3

Personality: 4

Theme Music: 6

Overall: 4.33

Ricky isn’t overly animated but he’s a humble kid. Unfortunately, baseball just isn’t his sport, though his sheer athleticism does compensate some for his lack in fundamental ability. With sheer size and strength, he’d rank close to the top of the list for other sports. His leg strength makes him a dynamo in backyard soccer and as a punter/kicker in backyard football, and he’s an ideal big man for backyard basketball.

23. Ronny Dobbs

Ability: 5

Personality: 4

Theme Music: 5

Overall: 4.67

The smallest boy in the neighborhood, Ronny an okay baseball player. He’s a very good contact hitter but lacks power, and he’s a good option to pitch in relief.

The kid annoying, though. He has an inferiority complex and is desperate to prove to everybody that he belongs despite being so small and young. He cries whenever he strikes. out or his team doesn’t do well. His sister (more on her later) does her best to keep him in check, but it’s not enough. However, I have to give him some leeway because he’s younger than the rest of the kids. I was crying at that age, too.

22. Amir Khan

Ability: 6

Personality: 4

Theme Music: 4

Overall: 4.67

The younger of the Pakistani brothers, Amir is an above-average player. He’s a B-level hitter with some serious power for his size and is a pretty good pitcher as well. Depending on what kind of lineup you’re trying to build, Amir is a pretty good choice if you’re willing to downgrade a bit on the mound for the sake of stacking the lineup with power hitters.

My issue with him is that he doesn’t really do anything to separate himself from his brother. He’s the same, only slightly worse. They listen to (and play) the same kind of music. They have similar baseball skills. Their theme music is basically the same. I’m totally down for Sunny Day to mention in the broadcast booth that #KhansAreBrothers 500 times every game, but try to separate yourselves in some way. Marc Staal is easily identifiable compared to his other brothers. He has his own personality and plays a different position. Take some tips from him.

21. Billy Jean Blackwood

Ability: 4

Personality: 6

Theme Music: 6

Overall: 5.33

She’s not great, but she can be useful when utilized correctly. She can hit for power and has a long reach, making her a pretty good choice to play first base.

Billy Jean is also pretty funny. She’s overtly Southern but attempts to speak French and relate to its culture, hoping to move to “Pah-ree” someday as a fashion model. Overall, she means well and brings some personality to the group.

20. Annie Frazier

Ability: 9

Personality: 5

Theme Music: 2

Overall: 5.33

Annie is a great all-around player who, outside of pitching, can do basically everything at a high level. She’s a tremendous hitter who can hit for both contact and power. She’s not an elite speedster but certainly some wheels. Can play most positions with aptitude. Annie won’t be the face of a Championship team, but she’s on that next tier below as a major difference-maker as the number-five hitter in the lineup.

There’s nothing wrong with her personality-wise, but she’s just bland. She’s very generic in every way. Her name is typical. Her clothing choices are fairly humdrum with the exception of her sandals. Her theme song is boring. She’s a hippie of sorts but isn’t old enough yet to really understand what that means in regards to anti-establishment philosophies. Annie is just a generally not-noteworthy kid who stays out of trouble and plays baseball very well; an out-of-touch Hockey GM’s pipe dream.

19. Mikey Thomas

Ability: 7

Personality: 3

Theme Music: 6

Overall: 5.33

On the field, Mikey is the Backyard Baseball version of Mike Piazza. The kid is a good option at catcher and can absolutely rake, having more power than just about anyone in the game. However, he is limited as a player. Mikey has a cold that never goes away, which is both gross and makes him ridiculously slow. Expect a lot of very long singles.

However, Mikey is a bit of a locker room cancer. The dude always has snot running down his nose and gets it everywhere. He’s a very sore loser who throws a tantrum if he doesn’t win and threatens to tattle on the others. He’s an effective player but you need a good leadership group around him to quell the BS.

18. Luanne Lui

Ability: 3

Personality: 6

Theme Music: 7

Overall: 5.67

She’s not a very good ballplayer but you have to give her credit for trying despite her deficiencies and age. She’s the youngest player in the game and it shows in her speech patterns and mannerisms. She always carries a teddy bear and it’s funny watching her run around the bases with it in her arms.

17. Maria Luna

Ability: 7

Personality: 5

Theme Music: 6

Overall: 6.00

Maria is a strong utility player who does the job assigned to her without any complaints. She can play any infield position and has enough speed to stretch a long single into extra bases. Nothing stands out about her, which is why she’s relegated to the middle of the list. she does like ponies and is obsessed with the color pink, proving that girls can have a wide range of interests.

16. Sally Dobbs

Ability: 7

Personality: 6

Theme Music: 6

Overall: 6.33

Sally is Ronny’s older brother, and, in fact, she tries to be everyone’s older sibling. She makes sure the entire world is aware of how old and mature she is. Sally comes off as fairly condescending, but at the end of the day she is the one responsible one of the group.

She’s not great at anything but she’s good across the board. Sally can hit for power, decent speed, and can field well with a strong arm. A solid choice at third base and a major locker room presence who sort out the crap and make sure the enigmatic players of the bunch stay in line.

15. Gretchen Hasselhoff

Ability: 4

Personality: 8

Theme Music: 7

Overall: 6.33

On the field, Gretchen is average at absolute best. She’s a decent pitcher, but not great. She’s quite quick, which gives her range as an outfielder, but her arm is terrible. Stick her in left field on a field with a short porch, like Tin Can Alley, and try to grit out some infield singles, and she can have use.

But it’s her personality that really takes her places. Gretchen’s nickname is “Jabberjaw” and for good reason. She’s an extremely hyper girl with a lot on her mind, and she speaks very quickly in run-on sentences. It’s endearing rather than annoying, and it makes her a great fit in the clubhouse. A modern Esa Tikkanen.

14. Ernie Steele

Ability: 6

Personality: 9

Theme Music: 6

Overall: 6.67

Ernie is sort of the neighborhood’s Will Smith. He’s tall, has a similar haircut, is very athletic, has a happy-go-lucky, attitude and is a total clown. In the game he tells a very funny joke about an invisible man whose girlfriend dumps him and how she no longer sees him.

Ernie is an elite fielder but he struggles at the plate and on the base paths. And let’s be real; nobody is player Backyard Baseball to snag grounders. He’s an interesting option for the right side of your infield if you’ve already accrued a strong corps of hitters, but Ernie’s talents are best served at wide receiver in Backyard Football.

13. Vicki Kawaguchi

Ability: 7

Personality: 6

Theme Music: 8

Overall: 7.00

A chaotic little ball of energy (with theme music to perfectly mirror that), Vicki is a gifted ballet dancer whose dexterity and athleticism translates on the diamond. She has elite speed and tremendous glove, making her an incredible choice for center field. And while she isn’t a very good batter, she can crank out a number of bunts and infield-singles with raw speed and then demonize the base paths.

12. Tony Delvecchio

Ability: 6

Personality: 7

Theme Music: 8

Overall: 7.00

Tony is a caricature of a character from Grease, as his theme music reflects. The exuberantly slicked hair, the tank top, and the lollipop that’s always in his mouth are all visual characteristics that match his lively personality. I would guess he’s a nuisance for babysitters, but he’s definitely entertaining.

Tony is a pretty good player. He’s a strong hitter and is a capable defensive player with a good arm. But his level of confidence definitely is above his actual abilities. As his sister, Angela, informs us, the front Tony puts on as a tough guy who doesn’t get fazed is largely a facade, as he often cries in private when he thinks nobody can see or hear him.

11. Stephanie Morgan

Ability: 7

Personality: 6

Theme Music: 8

Overall: 7.00

On the surface, Stephanie Morgan is the platonic ideal of a baseball player. Her dad pays in the Majors. She wears full baseball gear and is always blowing a bubble. She’s a very polished player with great fundamentals. And she’s talented across the board. Her theme music is a perfect fit for her personality and playing style.

But here’s the thing; for all the talking she does, she’s not that good. She has B-level ability across the board, good-but-not-great outputs as a hitter and fielder. She wants you to believe she’s the superstar of any team, but on a well-built squad she’s not even going to crack the team’s top-three. It’s like if Ryan Callahan had Muhammad Ali’s cockiness.

Still, she is a good player who is a fit as your number-six hitter and starting shortstop, and you have to appreciate the way she is confidently smashing gender stereotypes.

10. Marky Dubois

Ability: 6

Personality: 7

Theme Music: 9

Overall: 7.33

Every school or camp has that one nice but eccentric kid that everyone loves because he’s hilarious and keeps things interesting. This group’s version is Marky Dubois, who probably belongs in a Mark Twain book. He’s a hillbilly who plays barefoot and wears nothing except for overalls, speaks with a drawl, and carries a frog in his front pocket everywhere he goes, including in the batter’s box.

And he’s an effective player! Maybe he lacks the polish of a Stephanie Morgan when he swings or throws a ball, but he can pull the ball down the line and will catch anything in the field.

He also insists he’s going to marry Billy Jean Blackwood one day, though Billy Jean insists she’s not his lover to the point that she actually performs worse if Marky is on her team.

Marky is a weirdo, but he’s harmless and brings a ton of personality to the dugout.

9. Angela Delvecchio

Ability: 7

Personality: 9

Theme Music: 6

Overall: 7.33

Tony’s younger sister, Angela has more utility on the field and is way more down-to-earth off of it. She’s one of the few genuinely elite pitchers in the game with some slick off-speed pitches and incredible endurance which will allow her to spend most of the game on the mound. Angela also has enough pop in her swing which allows her to hold her own on offense, though she is slow around the base paths.

She’s also more mature than her brother despite the age difference. She likes to make fun of Tony for his narcissism and she excels in school. In fact, Angela lets you know that her teachers recommended that she skip ahead to the fifth grade, but that her father wouldn’t allow it because it would make Tony feel inadequate. Fragile, toxic masculinity wins yet again.

8. Dmitri Petrovich

Ability: 7

Personality: 7

Theme Music: 9

Overall: 7.67

Dmitri is living proof that stat nerds not only watch the games but can excel at them. He’s going to bash the hell out of the ball and then he’s going to mock you by citing its launch angle as he rounds second base. Is he a bit of a snarky know-it-all? Yeah (I can’t relate), but he sure as hell can play baseball.

And while this didn’t factor into these particular ratings, it’s rather noteworthy that his father defected from Soviet Russia and that Dmitri is an absolute stud in Backyard Hockey.

7. Dante Robinson

Ability: 5

Personality: 10

Theme Music: 8

Overall: 7.67

Dante is a decent option on the field. Though he’s not a complete player, with strategic usage he can be an effective player. He’s a strong fielder with range and he’s one the fastest players in the game, making him a menace as a runner. You’re only looking for singles to the left side of the field with him but if you can get him on base, watch out.

But it’s not his ability that gets him into the top-ten. Rather, it’s that he’s, by far, the best personality in the game. Everything about him is hilarious. The small hat that sits on his huge head of hair. The goofy smile that’s always on his face and the high-pitched voice. The fact that he has an absolutely massive appetite despite being so small. This kid is always eating something right before he steps into the batter’s box and he even invented his own sandwich, which consists of peanut butter, jelly, pickles, bananas, potato chips, whipped cream, and multiple hot dogs. He’s not making the MLB as an adult, but watch out Joey, Chestnut.

6. Jocinda Smith

Ability: 9

Personality: 7

Theme Music: 7

Overall: 7.67

Jocinda combines her natural athleticism — she’s tall and muscular — with incredible baseball aptitude. She’s one of the best contact hitters in the game and has an absolute cannon of an arm. You can stick her at catcher to extinguish base-stealing attempts or in the outfield to gun down runners trying to advance to the next base. Her nickname is “MVP” for a reason.

There aren’t many quirks to her personality, but she’s a strong, confident girl who can hold her own against her older brothers.

5. Kenny Kawaguchi

Ability: 8

Personality: 8

Theme Music: 8

Overall: 8.00

Another example of Backyard Baseball’s role as a pioneer in representation, Kenny is in a wheelchair but it sure as hell isn’t holding him back. He lacks power but can hit for contact, and he moves around the bases with ease. He’s also an incredible pitcher with tremendous command of the strike zone.

Kenny acknowledges the wheelchair and the ways in which it limits him, but also the ways in which he can use it to his advantage. Most importantly, he doesn’t let it define him. He’s a cool, mild-tempered kid with a number of interests and ambitions. He wants to build his wheelchair into a robot. He wants to become a DJ. It’s impossible not to like the K-Man.

4. Achmed Khan

Ability: 9

Personality: 7

Theme Music: 8

Overall: 8.00

The Axe Man is an incredible baseball player who is also interesting in his own right. Wearing his signature headphones to the plate, Achmed can absolutely murder the ball. He’s a no-brainer as one of the top-three hitters in the game.

He plays lead guitar in a band and his theme music boasts some powerful electric guitar riffs. He writes his own music and hopes to become a rockstar someday. A perfectly reasonable aspiration in the late-90s and early-00s.

3. Kiesha Phillips

Ability: 9

Personality: 7

Theme Music: 8

Overall: 8.00

Kiesha is, quite convincingly, the best girl in the game. She’s an elite hitter with a perfect swing and immense power. She’ll knock the cover off the ball. And even if the ball stays in play, she has unbelievable speed despite her size. Put her in the outfield because she has the speed and arm to be a major weapon.

Kiesha is cocky, but so what? She’s earned the right to be. She’s an absolute unit. Your team’s ideal number-four hitter who carries herself in a way that will intimidate the other team.

2. Pete Wheeler

Ability: 9

Personality: 9

Theme Music: 7

Overall: 8.33

Pete may or may not be Forrest Gump’s kid. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He says that thinking makes his head hurt. He has a tough time figuring out where to stand in the batter’s box and often remarks that he’s going to try to “hit a touchdown.” His swing is unconventional but at the end of the day he’s incredibly effective. He hits for contact but has surprising gap power, and once he’s running forget it. You’re not beating him to any base, as he’s by far the fastest kid in the neighborhood. He’s the perfect leadoff or number-two hitter; a Rickey Henderson incarnate.

#1. Pablo Sanchez

Ability: 10

Personality: 10

Theme Music: 10

Overall: 10.00

Not even Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith could figure out a way to embrace debate here. Pablo Sanchez is the runaway for the top slot on the list. He’s a five-tool player. He’s the best hitter in the game, both for contact and power. He’s an amazing fielder with a gun for an arm. Put him in center field, but he can play any position. He’s basically a mirror image of Ken Griffey Jr. and the two have camaraderie in the 2001 version of the game. The Secret Weapon’s theme song is hypnotizing to the point that multiple real-life professional baseball players have used it as their walkup music.

David Quinn recently spoke about how truly great players don’t need to tell everyone how great they are, referring to Mika Zibanejad, and that applies to Pablo. He doesn’t brag or boast. He’s a good teammate and respectful to the opposition. He just wants to play baseball and he lets his performance do the talking.

He also hilariously has convinced everyone that he doesn’t speak English. He’s actually fluent and only learned Spanish in school, but nonetheless only speaks Spanish with his friends. Brilliant.