Old baseball card game still fun in 2021

SHOWDOWN — Pittsburgh pitcher Josh Fogg, left, and Cleveland first baseman Jim Thome are featured on MLB Showdown cards, a baseball game from 2000-2005. -Joe Catullo

For the younger and current generations who enjoy playing MLB The Show on PlayStation or Xbox, how much do you enjoy opening virtual baseball packs and receiving virtual cards to play with?

For the older generation and/or those who do not play The Show but still love baseball, have you ever played a game with baseball cards?

MLB Showdown may be for you.

Manufactured by Wizards of the Coast, MLB Showdown was a collectible card game that ran from 2000-2005. Wizards of the Coast also produced NFL and NBA Showdown, but MLB was its most popular and best-selling sports card game.

It simulates baseball through cards with heavy randomness. It involves a 20-sided die and a paper field that is a little smaller than a poster.

If you use your imagination, this is a really fun game for those of all ages.

There are numerous ways to compose a team. If you have enough cards, you can put them with the teams they are printed with. You also can draft players based on whatever criteria you prefer. Cards have point systems to help determine that.

Basically, you control what happens.

And, obviously I am bias, but the cards are absolutely beautiful, especially those from 2000-2001. Each has its own background with the color of the team it is playing for, like red with the Cleveland Indians, yellow for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and so on and so forth. Cards from 2002-2005 have the background from wherever they were playing when the photo was taken. They’re not as sharp but still very nice.

There have been so many times where I get lost playing this as a kid and even nowadays (because I am a huge nerd when it comes to baseball). At least I do not take stats anymore.

Anyways, let’s get started on how to play the game.


Once you have picked your players, you form a starting lineup. Each card gives you the positions of the players. Some only play one, while others have multiple places to play.

If you have a utility infielder, they are marked INF, meaning they can play anywhere in the infield. Outfielders can be LF/RF, CF, both or simply OF. A select few that do not play the field like Edgar Martinez are marked –, meaning they are only a designated hitter.

As for pitching, there are starters, relievers and closers. Each are given how many innings they can throw. That’s pretty self explanatory.


If you notice the photos, I have placed a pitcher and a hitter to help explain how to play. We have starting pitcher Josh Fogg of the Pittsburgh Pirates facing Cleveland Indians first baseman Jim Thome.

You roll the 20-sided die. For this matchup, if you rolled a seven or less, you will look at Thome’s white box to get the result of the play. If you rolled an eight or higher, you will look at Fogg’s. That’s where the Control and On-Base come into play.

For the heck of it, let’s say you rolled a two. You roll the die again, and whatever number it lands on will be the result from Thome’s possible outcomes. Rolling one through four results in a strikeout. Five through 13 nets a walk, 14-16 a single, 17 a double and 18-20 a home run. You can look at Fogg’s card and see what his outcomes are if you rolled, for example, a 13 on the first roll.

There are many more strategies involved that I will get to, but this is the basis on how to play MLB Showdown. I can imagine right now Tom Hamilton calling a 500-foot Thome home run off of Fogg with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning.


Aside from the players, this game features strategy cards. MLB Showdown came with rules, and you can see them online. But, you also can make up your own rules.

Strategy cards can help your team perform better. One example of this is an offensive strategy card will give you a plus-two for the upcoming swing. So, if you rolled a 17 for Thome, which is a double, that card turns it into a 19 for a home run.

The most important strategy card involves stealing bases, and that’s where the player’s speed comes into factor. Thome is a Speed C, so you would not want him to take off for second base. But, there are others with Speed A or Speed B. From 2000-2001, the cards did not give numbers for the speed. From 2002-2005, they did.

For this purpose, Speed C from 2000 is a 10. If you notice for Thome, his 1B is +0. Catchers have the same. You roll the die and add the number from whichever catcher you have. Because it’s the Pirates, let’s use Jason Kendall from his card in 2001, which is a +4.

If the total is equal or less than 10, Thome steals the base. If it is more than 10, Thome is out.


That is how you play MLB Showdown. It is much more fun playing it than me describing it.

If you love baseball and have a strong imagination, this game is for you. At least give it a try. However, if you do not own these cards, they are a little pricey online. The Fogg and Thome cards may be a little higher in price than a normal, basic player card. It’s a little difficult to notice in the picture, but both cards are foils, meaning they have a shiny background.

Foil cards indicate a player that the makers of MLB Showdown believe are in their prime, up-and-coming stars or are coming off a tremendous season. Why Fogg is foil I still can’t figure out.


Outside of the foils and the basics, some cards have other special features. The best are super seasons.

Because the game was manufactured from 2000-2005, it is players from that era. However, super seasons go back in time. There is a Barry Bonds Pirates card from his MVP season of 1990 as one example. There also exists hall of famers in the Cooperstown Collection like Larry Doby and Pee Wee Reese.

Some cards from 2000-2001 had a special promo. For example, Chipper Jones from 2000, who is the cover athlete, is a foil. The same picture and strategies associated with that card also was made into a Diamond Star and Home Run Hitter (two separate cards).

In 2002, special All-Star cards were made from the players that participated in the Midsummer Classic. They did the same in 2004, but it did not come in its own box or come with a special field to play on.

Each season began with a base set. As the year went on, Pennant Run editions came out for players who switched teams, became better than what their base-set card was, etc. In 2002, Wizards of the Coast introduced Trading Deadline cards, which pretty much serve the same purpose as Pennant Run.

When the 2003 season began, Thome is an Indian on his MLB Showdown card. That was made and printed before he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. So, later in 2003, a Philly Thome card was produced.

If you ever get the opportunity to try this game out, I highly recommend it. Do not attempt NBA Showdown that was made one time. NFL Showdown isn’t too bad. For this game, player cards have barcodes that you swipe to get the play result. That is another column for another day.


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