The Saga of Anthony Friese: MVP Baseball and the 1994 Strike

Kevin Millar, also known as Anthony Friese, will forever be connected to the 1994 strike and MVP Baseball 2005. (via Arturo Pardavila III)

MVP Baseball 2005 is widely considered to be one of the best baseball video games of all time. Players who remember the game will recall the built-in cheat that was Jon Dowd for the San Francisco Giants–an avatar for Barry Bonds, who was not part of the MLB Players Association’s licensing agreement, and whose likeness, therefore, could not be replicated in a video game. Dowd’s in-game power has since become legendary. But what about the other created guy in MVP Baseball that was based on a real player?

The other guy played first base for the Boston Red Sox, was black, and sported blond hair way before Kanye West did (and way after Wesley Snipes did in Demolition Man). Who was Anthony Friese exactly? How did the developers come up with the names and likenesses of these fictional replacement players? Were the developers just having fun mixing the races of players who should’ve been in the game?

According to Dee Jay Randall, who worked on the programming team for all three installments of the MVP franchise, “I don’t know.”

Randall joined EA Canada in December of 2001. While there, he finished his master’s degree the following April. He joined the MVP 2003 team in the fall of 2002.

“My understanding is that as a result of the player strike, Barry Bonds was not part of the MLB Players Association,” Randall told me. “When EA published their officially licensed game, they only included players whose likeness was licensed through the MLB Players Association.”

Friese was the replacement for Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar. A focal point of the team that broke the curse, Millar’s exclusion from the game sticks out. MVP Baseball 2005 was the first baseball game released after the Sox broke said curse. EA made sure to feature the historic championship in the game’s intro. Manny Ramirez was the cover athlete. But Millar, who called his teammates “idiots” (a term that stuck during the postseason run), was nowhere to be found.

The reason for this goes back to the strike that ended the 1994 major league season. As chronicled by Bill Baer at NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk on the 25th anniversary of the strike, Millar was part of a group of players (including Shane Spencer, the late Cory Lidle, Rick Reed, and  Kerry Ligtenberg) to cross the picket line. They joined the “replacement players” as part of the owners’ effort to break the union and end the strike.

While some of those players found jobs on major league squads after the strike, some were ostracized by their respective clubhouses. But fans quickly forgave them when they started to perform. Spencer became a sensation late in the New York Yankees’ historic 1998 season, Reed became a “poor man’s Greg Maddux” for a few years with the Mets, and Millar made a name for himself in Boston. He now co-hosts a show on MLB Network, which may or may not make up for his exclusion from a popular baseball video game.

If you mention Friese and MVP Baseball, you must mention the great Jon Dowd. Dowd was given attributes that were meant for Bonds after he revoked the use of his likeness in video games in 2003. (The last time we’d see Bonds in a licensed video game would be All-Star Baseball 2004.) His now-iconic name, as the story goes, belonged to a member of the development team for MVP Baseball.

I tracked down the real-life Dowd–not Barry Bonds, but a developer who worked on the production teams for the MVP and Triple Play Baseball franchises–and asked him about the Friese origin story.

“‘Anthony Friese’ was the nom de plume of Ben Brinkman (no relation to the NCAA hockey player of the same name, as far as I know), who was one of my fellow producers on MVP,” Dowd said. “I honestly don’t remember why Ben chose that name. There are dozens of ‘stand-ins’ in MVP 2005, but as far as I remember, Ben was the only one who didn’t use his real name.”

Dowd said that Friese being black (and Dowd being white) didn’t have anything to do with having a little fun race-switching. He said it was to ensure that Friese didn’t resemble Millar too closely. Most people would say he accomplished that goal quite well.

“In real life, Ben is an ordinary-looking white guy,” said Dowd. “[He] kinda resembles the golfer Justin Leonard a bit.”

Ben is a California native and was in Vancouver with EA Canada for only a few years before moving back to the States. He recently worked as an executive producer for the Call of Duty franchise at Activision. He also did public relations work for the legendary NBA Street franchise in the early 2000s.

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But back to Friese. Since they were banned from the MLBPA, all of the 1995 spring training “scabs” were represented by someone on MVP’s development team.

“Scott Barcik on the Angels was the stand-in for Brendan Donnelly, for example,” Dowd told me. “Scott was the programmer I worked with most closely at that time, as he dealt with player database and simulation engine stuff. We later worked together on a few baseball titles at Blue Castle Games. Scott currently works for Glu’s ‘Tap Sports Baseball’ in the Bay Area.”

(For those who don’t know about Tap Sports Baseball, it’s the phone game whose advertisements you see when you’re using apps you have no business using. Its ad campaign features Kris Bryant.)

Dowd also unofficially made a top 100 list of prospects for MVP 2005 and gave the players the names of MVP development team members, family, friends, and other acquaintances. He then stashed them in teams’ Double-A squads–a fun Easter egg for those in the know. For example, the Smallenberg triplets on the Yankees Double-A team are Dowd’s best friend from high school, his brother, and his father–all Yankees fans in real life.

“A few savvy gamers compared birthdays, etc., to prospect guides and figured out who was who,” Dowd said.

While Brinkman didn’t respond to inquiries, Dowd told me a bunch of Triple Play/MVP alums still do an ESPN fantasy baseball league every season, even though some haven’t been in the same room in years.

And for those wondering, I did ask Dowd about replacing Bonds in MVP. The story’s also not as sexy as you might like to believe.

“As for me ‘becoming’ Bonds, it’s not a terribly interesting story, I’m afraid,” Dowd said. “I remember being informed he’d opted out of the union for licensing purposes (I think this was shortly before MVP 2004 came out?), much like Michael Jordan did with the NBPA years earlier. The MLBPA forbade us from negotiating with him, so we decided to make a ‘fake Bonds.’ I asked my boss, Brent Nielsen, what to name him, and he just told me to use my own name. Didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.”

It’s amazing how often things that don’t seem like a “big deal” at the time become a big deal later. Dowd’s MVP avatar is a video game icon; Friese is an amusing tidbit. Both of them draw a fascinating connection between a legendary video game and the recent, fraught history of Major League Baseball’s labor relations.

References & Resources

Baer, Bill. “Players who crossed the picket line in 1995.” NBC Sports, August 12, 2019.

Ellentuck, Matt. “‘MVP Baseball 2005’ was the best sports video game ever.” SB Nation, May 25, 2017.

Good, Owen. “The Replacements, Still Replaced in Video Games.” Kotaku, January 30, 2010.

Rovell, Darren. “Bonds will be individually licensed.” ESPN, November 16, 2003.

TheOnlyRule. “MVP Baseball 2005 Intro.” YouTube video, 1:37. Posted 2015.

Yeboah, Kofi. “Why MVP Baseball 2005 is immortal.” YouTube video, 19:16. Posted November 22, 2018.


Stephon Johnson is a staff writer at the New York Amsterdam News. His work has appeared in The Classical, The Sports Fan Journal, Polygon and The Cauldron at Sports Illustrated. He would like hitters to emphasize making contact again. Doubles and triples are OK. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @StephonJohnson8.
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Webs
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Webs

“using apps you have no business using”

Now I’m curious.

evilsquirrel13
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evilsquirrel13

This was a decade after my gaming days. The last baseball video game I ever remember playing was Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run (or something like that), which came out for the Super NES in 1996 and was based on the 1995 season. Only Griffey’s name and likeness appeared in the game, but a number of the fake names that filled out the team rosters were very clever takes on the real life players from those teams. A few examples that I remember well: -The leadoff hitter for the Giants was Sandy Falcon (Deion Sanders) -The Braves had a starting… Read more »