Making ‘MLB The Show’ Better: Inside The Exhaustive Fan-Led Pursuit Of Total Authenticity

Superior consoles have allowed sports games to consistently improve year after year with better graphics and more features, allowing fans to edge closer and closer to something approaching realism, but there are still limits. Licensing rights, for one thing, can hamper the authentic feel of a sports game. Specifically when it comes to rosters and which players you actually get to play with.

If you played basketball games like NBA Live in the ’90s, you know all about playing with Player 99 instead of Michael Jordan. If you play franchise mode in Madden now, you know that the realism ebbs when it comes to the NFL Draft when you’re stuck with a bunch of computer-generated names. For most people, this probably warrants little more than a shrug. But there are some who have a nagging need to have ultra real rosters. So much so that these games feel incomplete if that isn’t the case.

I’m one of these people. As a Bulls fan growing up, the lack of Jordan gnawed at me and took me right out of the fantasy that I was coaching the real Bulls or running the team. That the sh*tty polygons of the Sega Genesis era didn’t also do this is a testament to my imagination, but the point remains. With Madden, I (like a lot of others), used to buy EA’s NCAA games, buy a roster set off eBay for $4, and sim through four seasons so I could port those matured rosters over to Madden to play through a handful of seasons with legit rosters. When EA stopped making their NCAA football game and failed to offer downloadable rosters from the community, I stopped buying the game.

Downloadable community rosters enable these games to get closer to their full potential as simulations within already immersive franchise modes while saving obsessives like me from miles of frustration and hours of effort spent crudely making our own rosters. Which I’ve done… poorly.

Scott Spindler (aka RidinDwnKingsley) has a similar fixation with authenticity that he pairs with an uncommon willingness to pour his time into creating rosters for the masses. It started as a hobby, but eventually, Spindler started to take things further. Rosters for himself became rosters for friends, and then, in 2006, through the community message boards at Operation Sports, Spindler says that it all, “kinda blew up.”

The OSFM (Operation Sports Full Minors) roster is not the only one that services the game or promises minor league players, but it may be the most well-coordinated one and the effort, which Spindler tells me was started by a New York firefighter named Michael Koncz, has been going on for a decade.

To read the boards on Operation Sports is to get a sense of the dedication that everyone has to the cause. Research links are swapped and assignments are discussed in between queries about when the roster will be out and jokes about those queries. There’s even a spoof Twitter account that plays on the persistent questioning.

Currently, Spindler is leading a team of a half-dozen other volunteer roster creators (including specialists called “Face Guys” who make these players often look pretty damn close to real life) that are aided by other members of the OSFM community to update and adjust the base OSFM roster from last year for MLB The Show 17. Last year’s version and its many updates were downloaded more than 80,000 times according to the counts in the MLB The Show 16 roster vault. The first version of this year’s roster will be released on Saturday, April 8 with occasional updates to follow through the season. As per usual, it will include AAA, AA, and A ball players whose names you will only know if you regularly read Baseball America. Spindler and his team, on the other hand, know what brand of batting gloves these players wear and they know all about their attributes. And it’s all going into the roster.

The level of specificity deployed by the OSFM roster requires a big ask of the people that strive to edit or create a couple thousand players and tweak their stances, their look, their real contracts), those attributes, and that equipment. These are, according to Spindler, college students, bankers, and people with families. Spindler, who is a married father of two from Pennsylvania with a corporate job, estimates that he puts in about 200 hours each year (250 the year the game moved from the PS3 to the PS4) and says that, after the release of MLB The Show, he works on the rosters whenever he isn’t working his full-time job in an effort to get the rosters out to the waiting masses (which, according to Spindler, includes some of the people who make MLB The Show at San Diego Studios and some of the minor leaguers that the OSFM team adds to it) shortly after Opening Day. “This is a passion of ours and we just love it.”

The process to make these rosters isn’t one that kicks off when the game comes out in late March of every year (sadly, Spindler and his team don’t get an advance copy of the game from San Diego Studios). Though he starts recruiting able volunteers on the boards in January, he tells me that things actually kick into gear after the World Series.

“We take notes on the previous season and adjust prospect ratings based off of the past year. When MLB releases their updated top 100 prospects, we update ours as well,” says Spindler. “Baseball America is a great tool, SABR, STATs, baseball research are all used a lot.” But it’s not just about online resources. Spindler went down to Spring Training to do research for the roster and he tells me that real ballplayers get involved. “We have a bunch of minor leaguers and former minor leaguers who contact me giving input and advice on stances, equipment, and other things. They love it and most of them play it. I know in years past MLB players have been in contact with some of the guys and they all play it as well.”

That level of connection to the real players has to be a feather in the cap of the people that sacrifice so much time to make these rosters, but you have to wonder if that effort might have an unintended impact on those players. Is it possible that San Diego Studios might be more interested in securing a rights deal to use real Minor League players and put money in their pockets if fans weren’t satiated by the OSFM roster and others like it? It seems unlikely. For one thing, Minor League roster authenticity probably qualifies as a niche interest. But it’s not completely far-fetched and Spindler is sensitive to the issue.

“I would love them to get a fully licensed Minor League license. That is a dream and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings or hurt me. I think we could still help with accuracy details such as motions, equipment, etc,” says Spindler, because it’s not about the vanity of being the ones that make the roster and inchMLB The Show as close to real life as possible — it’s about ensuring that fans can have that experience. “I just want people who love the game and The Show to be able to have a realistic fun experience. That makes it all worth it to me.”

The OSFM roster for MLB The Show 17 will be available to download in the roster vault in-game on Saturday. You can follow Spindler and his team’s efforts on Twitter @OSFMRosters.