It was 2002 when my friend, Rob, invited me over to his house and said, “wanna play showdown?”
I’m thinking, are we about to duel like cowboys? What the hell, I’m in. “Sure, I’ll kick your ass,” I reply.
Rob leads me into the basement and there is a card table with a deck of cards. I’m just the worst card player, so now I’m sweating thinking we are about to play Texas Hold ‘em or something like that. As I sit down, Rob slides me some cards and I notice the back of the cards say, MLB Showdown 2002. There’s a blue border on the back with a gray background.
I flip the cards over and say “what the hell are we playing?”
“Showdown,” says Rob. “I’ll show you how to play.”
From there, I was hooked. Allow me to tell you about one of my favorite card games of all time.
First things first, if you didn’t already know, I’m a huge nerd. And not just a baseball nerd. I mean full fledged, stereotypical nerd. I love video games, anime, dungeons and dragons, you know, the whole bit. Trading card games are no exception.
MLB Showdown was created by Wizards of the Coast. It was their way of getting jocks to buy their products because, let’s be real, sports cards are the jock equivalent to Pokemon cards. (I love both of those. If you’re interested in them, let me know on twitter or drop a comment below!) I really enjoyed the simplicity of MLB Showdown, and I really liked that it was the first sports TCG (trading card game) that I ever encountered. I find myself often saying, man, I wish I could play showdown with someone. But alas, I have no more cards, and they cost way too much for me on eBay in 2023.
The game was literally a baseball game. So, if you knew baseball, you were already familiar with the basic concepts.
Now for the card game aspects of it all. There was you and your opponent … or the home team and the away team if you were playing the way I did at times (alone). There were separate cards for pitchers and batters. The pitcher would roll a 20-sided die that would represent the pitch, and the result of that roll would be added to the pitcher’s control. If the pitch outcome was higher than the batter’s “on base,” the pitcher would have the advantage. If the outcome was lower than the batter’s “on base”, the batter would have the advantage.
Once the advantage was established, the batter would roll a 20-sided die to represent the “swing roll”. Based on who has the advantage, you would use the player’s stat chart to determine the outcome of the swing roll. From there, you would just follow the rolls and charts until three outs were recorded. Teams would then switch from offense to defense and vice versa. Like I said, it was just a baseball card game.
The game can get more complicated, but those are the base rules. There are rules for double plays, and other rules that include fielding and possible errors, as well as “strategy cards” that can help influence the outcome of rolls or even an injury!
MLB Showdown was a trading card game or, as we in the nerd community refer to them, a TCG. The point was to have a community with which you could trade players (cards). Some even sought to collect the entire checklist. That was a part that I really enjoyed; trying to collect all of the New York Yankees while trying to get rid of all my Red Sox cards. It was fun, but very hard in Yankee country (lol).
Similar to any other TCG, some cards were, as I called them as a kid, “holographic.” Nowadays, they are referred to as “foil” cards, but you know exactly what I’m talking about. The Yankees foil cards were Jeter (of course), Rivera, Bernie, Clemens, and Mussina. I never wound up getting the Bernie Williams foil card, and that always saddened me because he’s my favorite Yankee. If you’re reading this and have the Bernie Williams MLB Showdown 2002 foil card, make sure you find me on twitter @Barnesbbs and we can talk about a purchase!
But to me, MLB showdown was a way to entice some of my friends that weren’t into TCGs to play a card game. It was a way to talk about baseball that wasn’t limited to who was racking up the most home runs or strikeouts. It was a way for my friends and I to sit down, hang out, and play a fun game.
We wound up having a small “season” where we kept track of stats. That was the EXTREMELY NERDY PART, but it was really fun. I miss those days. Times were simpler back when a baseball game could be decided by the roll of a die.
If you’re looking for something fun and have some extra money laying around to buy the authentic cards, or if you want to print out your own proxy cards from Google images, MLB Showdown is for you. It’s a shame that it stopped printing after 2005, because I would love to see a Shoehei Ohtani or an Aaron Judge card and how the game would play out today. If you’ve got cards, you know where to find me.
Maybe they’ll print some updated cards. Wizard’s of the Coast, if you’re reading this somehow … please?
-Your Boy, Barnes