Retro Coin Op Synopsis
As pinball became the king of the arcade in the early 1930’s, it developed an offshoot called the ‘pitch and bat’ game. These games offered an interesting variation on the pinball formula by shooting a ball out at the player from the middle of the field instead of the side, then having them ‘bat’ it into one of a series of targets with some sort of device placed where a pinball game would have its flippers. Sports as diverse as football and golf were used as the basis for these kinds of games, but the most popular sport theme for pitch and bat games was baseball. These baseball games may not be as well-remembered as pinball games, but they were just as popular as pinball games for a long time and continued to be made into the early 1980’s.
Like pinball games, baseball games were housed in large stand-up cabinets that had backboards to display the score. They used the ‘pitch and bat’ formula in a fairly standardized way: a pitcher would shoot out a ball at the player from the center of the field. The player would use a bat to knock the ball towards a series of pockets or targets at the back of the playfield. These areas were marked to represent everything from ‘Single’ to ‘Home Run.’ Of course, there were also areas for ‘Outs’ and ‘Foul Balls.’ In general, the player would bat the pitched balls for three innings, with an allotment of three outs per inning.
One of the first baseball machines was All-Star Baseball, which was released by Rock-Ola in 1932. This game had tiny metal figures to enact the baseball action. To add to the game’s difficulty, the outfielders would shift back and forth and thus make it tough to score into the targets. A later game, simply titled Baseball, eliminated figures in favor of lights on the playfield to register the player’s progress. This cost-cutting element made it possible to sell a lot of these machines and helped make Baseball one of the most successful baseball games of this early era.
World War II led to a drastic slowdown in baseball game production, but they returned full force during the early 1950’s. They also began to add new elements around this time to compete with pinball. For instance, Super World Series became the first baseball game to use backbox animation in 1951. It depicted a baseball diamond complete with motorized cutouts for players. Each time the player scored, the batter cutout would move forward to show how far they had gotten. Meanwhile, games like Hi-Fly and Champion Baseball replaced the rolled metal balls of most games with large plastic ones that were shot through the air.
New options kept popping up as baseball games moved into the mid-1950’s. 1955’s Super Slugger added batting control by allowing the player the choice of a ‘Weak,’ ‘Medium’ or ‘Hard’ swing when they were up to bat. Other baseball games allowed more than one player to use the game at one time. Some games like Home Run would allow up to six players, but the standard eventually came to be two players. Some of the later two-player machines even allowed a player to pitch the balls while the other was up at bat.
By the late 1950’s, all these new features had been perfected and baseball games moved into their golden era. A big fan favorite from this time was Pinch Hitter, a 1959 game that offered all sorts of cool features like backbox animation, game-to-game carry-over, and a choice of pitches. Another game, Official Baseball, had 3-D figures on the playfield, including an umpire who put the ball in the pitcher’s hand. Still later, Batter Up took this idea a step further by having a 3-D figure that handled a bat controlled by the player.
As the 1960’s began, baseball games became even more popular when they introduced extended-play options to lengthen the game. The first of this kind was Extra Inning, which allowed the player to earn up to nine extra innings by hitting home runs and racking up high scores. Thus, a game could go on for hours. Extended-play features like this offered skilled players more bang for their buck and gave less-skilled players a good reason to spend plenty of time (and money) brushing up on their game. Soon enough, extended-play features were a regular element in most new baseball games.
Once the baseball game was firmly established, game designers began to experiment with its format. 1965’s Play Ball offered a set number of balls instead of allowing the game to be determined by outs. The most ‘out-there’ of these experimental games was 1970’s Hit and Run, which eliminated scoring targets altogether. Instead, a player batted a ball up the field while a light representing the batter tried to round the bases before the ball rolled back down to the bottom of the playfield. Although they offered something new, games like these never caught on like the old-fashioned ‘pitch-and-bat’ games.
The popularity of baseball games began to trail off as the 1970’s approached, but games continued to be made. 1971’s Action Baseball was a good old-fashioned ‘pitch-and-bat’ from Williams that did well at the arcades. Williams also introduced the novelty of eight-track sound on Line Drive and Upper Deck, two baseball games that featured vivid sound effects like an announcer, cheering crowds, and even fireworks. Despite the new dimension that sound added, these machines didn’t catch on as well as the company hoped. Stand-up baseball machines would continue to be made for a few more years, but Upper Deck was one of the last long-cabinet baseball games made in the 1970’s.
The long-cabinet baseball game returned to the arcades in 1984 with Pennant Fever. This Williams game offered three pitch options and boasted excellent sound, including an umpire who called strikes and outs. Bally also got into the competition with a stand-up machine called Big Bat. It was built like a batting cage and allowed the player to control a scale-model batter inside with a trigger-grip handle. It also added plenty of sound effects, including a snack vendor and a rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” These 1980’s-era machines experienced some success, but didn’t do well enough to inspire a full-on baseball game revival.
The baseball game made one last comeback in 1991 with Slug Fest. Although it boasted modern sound, digital scoring, and up-to-date cartoon graphics (including a jiggly bat-girl), it was a classic ‘pitch-and-bat’ game at heart. One of its most interesting novelties was a ‘BOO’ button that the player could press to register their disagreement if they didn’t like an umpire’s call. Slug Fest wasn’t a big hit, but it was a pleasant surprise for older arcade patrons.
No new baseball games have been made since Slug Fest, but the baseball game remains popular with hardcore arcade fanatics. They are also a regular feature at arcades that stock older games, especially vacation resort arcades. The reason for this continued popularity is that the baseball game offers a truly unique arcade experience. Since they don’t rely on time limits, they allow players to work at their own pace and form strategies. These games also offer a consistent challenge for players thanks to the games' high luck factor (in other words, you can’t master a baseball machine). As long as collectors and arcade owners can keep them running, there will always be a place in the arcade world for the baseball game, a genuine arcade classic.
Arcade Machine Release History1932 - All-Star Baseball - Rock-Ola
1932 - All-American Baseball Game - Amusement Machine Corp.
May 1934 - World Series 1934 - Rock-Ola
Jan 1937 - World Series 1937 - Rock-Ola
Jul 1947 - Big Inning - Bally
Aug 1947 - All Stars - Williams
Nov 1947 - Box Score - Williams
Feb 1948 - Heavy Hitter - Bally
Apr 1948 - Yanks - Williams
Dec 1948 - Bat-A-Score - H.C. Evans
Jan 1949 - Star Series - Williams
Aug 1950 - Lucky Inning - Williams
Aug 1950 - Double Header - Williams
Jan 1951 - Play Ball! - Chicago Coin
Apr 1951 - Super World Series - Williams
Mar 1952 - Deluxe World Series - Williams
Mar 1952 - Slug Fest - Williams
Apr 1953 - Deluxe Baseball - Williams
Jun 1953 - Star Baseball - Williams
Jul 1953 - Pennant Baseball - Williams
Dec 1953 - Deluxe Special Baseball - Williams
Feb 1954 - All Star Baseball - Williams
Feb 1954 - Braves Baseball - Williams
Feb 1954 - Super Deluxe Baseball - Williams
Feb 1954 - Super Pennant Baseball - Williams
Feb 1954 - Super Star Baseball - Williams
Mar 1954 - Super Home Run - Chicago Coin
Apr 1954 - Major League Baseball - Williams
Jun 1954 - Big League Baseball - Williams
May 1955 - Bulls Eye Big League - Chicago Coin
May 1955 - King of Swat - Williams
Jun 1955 - Champion Baseball - Genco
Jun 1955 - Fifth Inning - United
Jul 1955 - Star Slugger - United
Jul 1955 - Super Star Slugger - United
Apr 1956 - Four Bagger Deluxe - Williams
Apr 1956 - Hi-Fly Baseball - Genco
Feb 1957 - Deluxe 1957 Baseball - Williams
Apr 1958 - Batter Up - Chicago Coin
Apr 1958 - Big Inning - Bally
Apr 1958 - League Leader - Keeney
Apr 1958 - Short Stop - Williams
Apr 1958 - Deluxe Short Stop - Williams
Feb 1959 - Heavy Hitter - Bally
Mar 1959 - Yankee Baseball - United
Apr 1959 - Pinch Hitter - Williams
Apr 1959 - Deluxe Pinch Hitter - Williams
Jun 1959 - Deluxe Baseball - United
Aug 1959 - Batting Practice - Bally
Feb 1960 - Ball Park - Bally
Feb 1960 - Official Baseball - Williams
Apr 1961 - Batting Champ - Williams
Apr 1961 - Deluxe Batting Champ - Williams
1962 - Sixty-Two Baseball - Midway
1962 - All Star Baseball - Chicago Coin
Jan 1962 - World Series 1962 - Williams
Mar 1962 - Deluxe Baseball - Midway
Jun 1962 - Extra Inning - Williams
Feb 1963 - A.L. Twins - Williams
Feb 1963 - Slugger - Midway
Mar 1963 - Big Inning - Williams
Mar 1963 - Major League 1963 - Williams
Feb 1964 - Grand Slam Baseball - Williams
Feb 1964 - Tenth Inning - Williams
1965 - Play Ball - Midway
Apr 1965 - Double Play - Williams
1966 - Little League - Midway
1966 - TV Baseball - Chicago Coin
Feb 1966 - Pitch and Bat - Williams
Mar 1966 - Big League - Williams
1967 - Bullseye Baseball - Chicago Coin
Apr 1967 - Base Hit - Williams
Apr 1967 - Scoreboard - Williams
Jan 1968 - All Stars - Chicago Coin
Feb 1968 - Ball Park - Williams
Apr 1969 - Fast Ball - Williams
Apr 1969 - Yankee Baseball - Chicago Coin
Mar 1970 - Hit and Run - Williams
Mar 1971 - Action Baseball - Williams
Feb 1972 - Home Run - Chicago Coin
Feb 1972 - Line Drive - Williams
Apr 1972 - Flash Baseball - Midway
Sep 1972 - Mini-Baseball - Chicago Coin
Feb 1973 - Upper Deck - Williams
Mar 1973 - Baseball Champ - Chicago Coin
Feb 1974 - World Series - Chicago Coin
Mar 1975 - Big League - Chicago Coin
1984 - Pennant Fever - Williams
1991 - Slug Fest - Williams
Arcade Game Sub Categoriessports