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Strikeout: Front Office swings for the fences and comes up short 

click to enlarge Yes, even virtual players are on 'roids. : Yes, even virtual players are on 'roids.
  • Yes, even virtual players are on 'roids. : Yes, even virtual players are on 'roids.
Yes, even virtual players are on 'roids.
Of all the jobs in the world, I never thought I'd be managing a baseball team. I like baseball. I watch baseball. I've even played baseball. But managing baseball is all about directing a group of men toward a unified goal. It's an American ideal. And I'm not sure I can even navigate all of these menus.

MLB Front Office Manager is a baseball simulation that sits on the screen like an operating system from the last century. A tower of choices is stacked up along the side of the screen with names such as "Payroll," "Transactions" and "Budget Allocation." Somehow, amidst these unintuitive options, I'm supposed to find the path to victory.

During my first career-with the New York Yankees-I managed to lose most of my best players because I failed to visit the menu that would have let me renew their contracts. After ruining that venerable franchise, I transferred my ignorance to the L.A. Dodgers where I was unable to successfully negotiate with Manny Ramirez. It's not that I wasn't willing to pay him a superstar's salary-I just couldn't figure out how to control the arbitration.

Eventually I focused on baseball as I know it: a pitcher's game. The whole thing begins with a throw that can elude a hit, keep batters off bases and win the game before it even begins. So during my next career-with the Red Sox (poor Boston)-I concentrated on my pitchers. I studied their stats and performance during training. I tinkered with starters. I scoured Japan for prospects. I even traded with other teams to fortify my rotation while weakening theirs.

My strategy paid off. We started winning. Morale climbed. The owner sent me approving e-mails. I even gained an appreciation for superstar batters and their ability to break through a pitcher's barrier. Now I've got a few call-ups and contract offers I'd like to extend. If only I could figure out which menu I need to use to do it.

THE GOOD: MLB Front Office Manager is a baseball geek's dream of number crunching, blind hope and baseball trivia. And while there's no excuse for the game's lack of tutorial, its complexity is entirely warranted. Fantasy baseball has long been an intricate pastime, and since 1960, when it was first played by an IBM mainframe computer, it has utilized increasingly intricate systems to simulate the game. Perhaps with a few more iterations, 2K Sports will manage to transform Front Office Manager into a worthwhile addition to the sports videogame market.

THE BAD: Not only is Front Office Manager unwieldy in the extreme, but its value is limited. To begin with, the teams and rosters that players develop can't be transferred to 2K Sports' Major League Baseball 2K9. Even more frustrating is the omission of a well-rounded minor league system. I understand that that's a different franchise entirely, but substituting generic, computer-faced players for real-world individuals takes all the fun out of scouting for talented prospects and developing a long-term vision for teams. A game this complex shouldn't stop halfway.

THE BOTTOM LINE: MLB Front Office Manager is an underperforming, behind-the-scenes simulation of a very overwhelming subject.

MLB Front Office Manager ★★✩✩✩
Rated Everyone; 360, PS3, Windows PC


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