(Editor’s note: The CBU web site has been removed since this article was originally published, and the Wayback Machine has no useful links, so the links currently produce “not found” errors.)
Many rival sports leagues have come and gone over the years, but few have survived. In baseball, the American League was originally an upstart competitor to the National League, and the short-lived Federal League existed from 1914 to 1915, but in all likelihood, we’ll never see a serious competitor to Major League Baseball.
Unless you count the fictional worlds made possible by Out of the Park Baseball, of course. One such world created by Jordan Gillis posits a scenario in which secret meetings take place beginning in 1985. The participants are unhappy with where Major League Baseball is headed. However, they decide to take a stealth approach, gathering resources and biding their time until the opportunity arises to announce their intentions.
Setting the Stage
In 1992, relations between players and owners in Major League Baseball have grown rocky, setting the stage for 1994’s infamous work stoppage. That year, the Classic Baseball Union (CBU) makes public its plan to compete against the MLB in 1994. The CBU conducts its inaugural draft in 1993, eschewing MLB players for fresh talent, and begins play as promised the following year. The MLB World Series is cancelled in 1994, but the CBU crowns its first champion, the Dijon Moutarde (its only Canadian team), and the league is off and running.
“Initially I created the CBU because I wanted to run my own league for myself and my friends, plus anyone who wanted to join,” Gillis recalls. “I was interested in creating my own fictional world as OOTP X was just finishing beta testing. I sought an intimate group of individuals who enjoyed the fictional universe and possibilities. Unfortunately, between OOTP 11 and OOTP 12 our file became corrupt and unrecoverable.
“When that crashed, I decided to restart the CBU with a slightly different backstory and more of a fictional writing background. When 19 of the 20 original owners vowed to stick around for two months while I came up with this history, I became inspired. I spent those two months simulating through 27 seasons of history while writing stories, news, and notes of important things that occurred during that fast simulation time.”
Simulating nearly three decades of baseball gave the CBU’s human owners “some serious history and a unique feel to a world that is uncommon in sim leagues,” Gillis acknowledges. “Everyone had the challenge of getting to know their entire roster and dealing with the AI either setting them up well or leaving a rebuilding project.”
He adds: “My daily updates leading up to that point allowed people to stay as attached as they wanted as the league unfolded, and now we’re debating over several threads which of those guys (who were never controlled by humans) were Hall of Fame worthy or not. It’s been a wild and fun ride.”
A Nod to 80s and 90s Baseball
“The CBU is a fictional league based in the late 80s, early 90s baseball, just before the steroid era,” Gillis explains. “Our pitchers tend to finish more games, and stolen bases still exist. Also because of a fictional television deal, the teams all have plenty of money to keep the league competitively balanced.”
In another nod to pre-steroid scandal era baseball, the CBU is divided into the Giamatti and Landis Leagues. The Giamatti contains the Veeck and Rickey divisions while the Landis has the Finley and Frazee divisions. The 20 team names are a mix of serious and tongue-in-cheek monikers, including the Rapid City Outlaws, Durham Dragons, Dijon Moutarde, and Wisconsin Cheese.
“The CBU has been dominated by the Landis League,” Gillis says. “In our ‘live’ seasons, the first three champions have come from the Landis League. The Giamatti League has only managed 8 championships in 30 years, including the initial simulated run. The Vermont Greens have the second most playoff appearances of all CBU teams with 18 and have won the Giamatti pennant three times, but they have zero championships.”
Comparing this version of the CBU to the original one, Gillis says, “Since the start of CBU 2.0, none of the teams have moved around or changed, although they could if an owner wanted to. Some of the amateur drafted players were renamed before they were drafted as players from the CBU 1.0 universe. No alterations were ever made (to hold the integrity of the game), but it was fun to watch some of those players finish out their careers since they didn’t have that chance with CBU 1.0.”
He adds: “Amazingly, 13 of the 20 owners in the CBU have been around largely since I started the league in 2009. Four more have been in the league for over two real life years, and only three have been replaced since the switch from CBU 1.0 to CBU 2.0.”
Asked for fond memories from the CBU’s existence so far, Gillis responds with several: “Dale ‘Lippy’ Johnston tossed the league’s first two no-hitters, once in 1997 and again in 1999, almost exactly two years apart. Since then, we’ve had 3 perfect games, and two others who tossed multiple no-no’s: Michael Jordan(this one is white) and Paul Adams. Also, even though he debuted in the CBU as a 24-year-old, Joey Brown is the current career home run leader with 712.”
Gillis adds: “One of the greatest debates for the Hall of Fame has been around Anderson Bishop. Bishop started his career in 1994 (inaugural year) as a 40-year-old. He went on to pitch in six CBU seasons, racking up 93 wins, a 3.58 ERA and 930 strikeouts. His career was short, and all after the age of 40, but he did rack up 36.2 WAR in six seasons, leaving voters torn.”
A Long-Time OOTPer
Gillis has been playing OOTP since version 3, which he discovered when he was 15 years old. “I became fascinated with rosters,” he recalls, “and I helped develop an Opening Day roster mod for OOTP4 and 5. Since then, my play has been largely fictional and online. While I occasionally kick the tires in a few solo projects, I find the online leagues to be so satisfying because its among strangers who I can now call my friends.”
He’s been a baseball fan since 1995, rooting for the Seattle Mariners the entire time, but their recent struggles have led him to focus more on the CBU “because fictional baseball rules,” he says. Like other CBU participants, Gillis has had his share of real life distractions, including work and a new baby boy, but he says even when people cut back on the league, they’re “usually as fierce as ever” when they return, he says.
Asked why he still plays OOTP, Gillis says: “The community I am in keeps me around. As I get older and busier, it seems like the best excuse to continue playing is because my wife understands how enriching the community is to me and how important it is to keep it going.”