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Online baseball game teams players from past, present

Baseball Boss, a free browser-based game that combines fantasy baseball with virtual trading card collecting, teams up players from different eras.

The CNET Redballers are off to a good start in the online game 'Baseball Boss' against the 1907 Brooklyn Superbas, soon to be known as the Dodgers.

A new online baseball game may finally help put to rest an age-old debate: how would Babe Ruth do at the plate facing Nolan Ryan's fastball?

That is the kind of scenario that may be possible soon with Baseball Boss, a free browser-based game released Thursday that combines fantasy sports with virtual baseball card collecting. The game allows fantasy managers to build teams with Major League Baseball players from 1907 and 2007 (more years will be added later) that can play other user-created teams or even historical teams such as the 1907 Brooklyn Superbas. Instead of focusing on stat categories such as stolen bases and home runs, this game cobbles together the entire team's likely performance to give you a final game score.

When managers register for a team, they are assigned 40 players, which are represented by trading cards. From that team, managers can trade for other cards with other managers, purchase cards at auction from other managers using points earned from wins, or purchase premium card packs with real money. My team featured a bunch of players I had not heard of or barely remembered, but presumably (after their career years are added) one could eventually acquire players such as Cy Young, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, or Alex Rodriguez. Even Pete Rose would be a good bet.

This is truly a casual game that can be played in a few minutes rather than the week-long contests that most fantasy baseball managers are used to. Managers make challenges and games are played in about 5 to 15 minutes--managers don't even have to be online while the game is under way. The computer determines the winner of each game based on chance and actual player statistics. Results appear immediately, presenting box scores and inning-by-inning play on how the teams did, or managers can choose to watch the game unfold on the diamond via Flash.

The use of the players was made possible through a multiyear licensing deal with Major League Baseball Advanced Media with creator Challenge Online Games, which announced a $4.5 million investment from Sequoia Capital on Thursday. Challenge Online games is also the creator of the role-paying game Duels.

This game is billed as a nostalgic twist on online fantasy baseball play, which, like real baseball has gone through many incarnations in the past three decades. On one side are the baseball cards, which used to be for kids; we would trade, for them with our friends until we got the cards of our favorite players. Then, thanks to free agency and the designated hitter, national interest in baseball, and subsequently baseball trading cards, suffered in the 1970s.

Starting in the late-'80s, thanks perhaps in part to Kevin Costner movies and steroids, fans rediscovered the game, and a decade later, the rotisserie baseball leagues tracked in three-ring binders were replaced by online drag-and-drop fantasy baseball leagues.

In that spirit of rediscovery, this game may create baseball fans out of casual gamers, while offering a chance to reminisce to those of us who have been wearing a spongy index finger since childhood.

As for the great Ruth and Ryan debate, you will have to find out for yourself. As the saying goes, that's why we play the games.