OK, sports fans, let's go back to the late-1990s and early 2000s. Back to when the Red Sox were still laboring under the Curse of the Bambino, wandering the Fens like some stricken Brontë anti-hero. It was in this ringless desert that I first discovered the alternate reality joys of sporting simulation games. Rather than mashing buttons or breaking joysticks trying to hit or catch a ball on the Atari or Commodore 64, this was a more sedate, more cerebral, ultimately more rewarding exercise. This was developer Clay Dreslaugh's Baseball Mogul series, debuting in 1997 (and Clay keeps pumping out updated versions each year, bless his heart).
I was hooked. By just clicking your mouse, you could assemble a roster of hitters and pitchers and simulate games, seasons, careers. You could identify and nurture prospects, sign high-priced free agents, fleece the primeval AI in trades. And as General Manager, you were in charge of everything down to the price of hot dogs in your home stadium. I loved the 2001 and 2002 versions of the game, but for me, the pinnacle of the game came in 2004. That version licensed with MLB for real players and teams, so you could take the helm of the Red Sox and guide them to glory. Which I did many times that summer, even as the real world Sawx were doing some curse-breaking of their own en route to their first title in a million years.
One of the seductive aspects of this sort of game is the option to take over any team in history. Want to go back to 1918 and keep Babe Ruth in Boston? Want to lead the sad-sack St. Louis Browns of the 1940's to glory by assembling Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio on the same squad? That's just the tip of the iceberg of dream scenarios you can play out with this fantasy software. It's endlessly replayable and every once in a while I'll still dust it off for a bout of nostalgic hardball management. Baseball Mogul isn't the best baseball management sim out there (that's Out of the Park Baseball, which we'll get to later). But it was my first, just like the 2004 Sox. and you never forget your first.