12 May 2008

Fantasyland - Sam Walker

A book about fantasy baseball. Nobody who knows me would be surprised that I read this book. Amongst my reading list, populated by Nobel laureates, is this book featuring one man’s attempt to win Fantasy’s baseball’s equivalent to the Oscars. Sam Walker, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, joined Tout Wars, an expert fantasy baseball league in 2004. He spent approximately $50,000 hiring two “consultants, traveling across the country and interviewing real ball players, all in the hopes of winning a fantasy game that had no prize money attached to it. In the end, he finished in 8th out of 12 experts. Fantasyland is the whimsical and comic outcome of his yearlong ordeal. Although sacrificing time to read it may have been detrimental to my own fantasy baseball hopes for 2008, it was a blast and I would recommend it to anyone who last baseball – be it real or of the fantasy version.

Rich Deneault’s top 10 reasons why fantasy baseball is better than real baseball

Before we get to the list, for those who don’t know, fantasy baseball is a game whereby a player gets to live out his boyhood dream of managing a baseball team. You draft real players who then accumulate statistics for your pretend team, such as home runs, steals, saves and the “oh so exciting walks/hits per innings pitched” (WHIP). The “fantasy” element is not related to some sort of game played in latex, but rather the fact that no real game occurs, simply a statistical compilation of real statistics. Ultimately, fantasy baseball is basically math for athletes – they should have called the players mathletes.

1. Suddenly an inter-league game between Kansas City and Cincinnati has meaning. No disrespect to these own hallowed franchises, but their teams currently suck. However, should you sport KC’s messianic David DeJesus or Cincinnati’s aptly named Josh Fogg on your fantasy roster, all of a sudden this game has meaning. As Walker points out in his book, fantasy baseball means that every pitch now takes on a new meaning.

2. The hot dogs taste better – rather than choosing between week old overpriced pig intestines, your choice of pabulum is now nearly endless. In the world of fantasy baseball, where you hardly need stray from your computer, the world of gastronomy is at your fingertips. Feel like Black forest cake, go for it. Your not tied down to munching on saltless sun flower seeds in between pitches.

3. The internet can be used for much more than porn. Walker again correctly surmises that only porno can claim more casualties from the internet age. In fact, he even argues that fantasy sports in a strong reason behind the instant popularity of the internet. It was a medium that quickly took to real time statistics as fantasy owners fawned over a player’s surprising stolen base one inning, only to be found innings later vituperating this same player for striking out with the bases loaded (thus decreasing the owner’s chance for not only a hit but also an RBI).

4. The sense of ownership that comes with drafting a player. Sure, in cheering for your home town team you have been known to refer to their exploits in the first person plural, but in fantasy sports you can suddenly claim the accolades of various talents all for yourself. Even if you could never hit a ball from the tee to the outfield, suddenly you may claim the Herculean strength of Albert Pujols. Should you be wheelchair bound and never capable of even walking let alone running, you can suddenly be referred to as the most fleet of foot, as Juan Pierre steals another 2 bags for your fantasy team. Yes, fantasy baseball has endowed you with some powerful skills with which to mock your buddies.

5. Fantasy baseball is a statistician’s wet dream. Baseball has long been a numbers game, but with the advent of fantasy baseball, these math geeks have gone from back room junkies to armchair athletes. It is of little wonder that the flourishing of statistical consultants in baseball has directly coincided with the rise in fantasy baseball. All of a sudden the Red Sox are hiring a 30-year MBA graduate to run their team from his laptop, and lo and behold, the Red Sox win a World Series for the first time since the Abacus was around. Baseball has nearly tripled their known statistics in the year since the Fantasy version came along. The irony is that the vast majority of fantasy leagues continue to stick to the old 8 or 10 stats.

6. Stolen bases all of a sudden have meaning. Ignoring the heyday of a few coke-snorting sprinters in the 1980s, steals have not been a big part of baseball. In fantasy baseball on the other hand, they can mean the difference between basking in the glory or languishing in the basement. As they occur less frequently than HR, RBI, or runs, they become the most sought after offensive commodity. They both literally and virtually ensure that most fantasy fans will be aware of players like Joey Gathright or Wee Willy Taveras, even when these guys managers hardly know they exist. Case in point, the current MLB leader, Michael Bourn has not sense being in the major leagues. He is batting an anaemic .198 with an on base percentage of .269 – a retarded infant could be fairing better than him. Yet, with 17 stolen bases, I guarantee that he is owned in over 90% of fantasy leagues. I’m guessing that about 0% of major leagues owners want him on their team, including the Houston Astros owner, the team he currently runs (I mean plays) for.

7. Fans everywhere have a chance to hate Andruw Jones, not just in LA. In December, Dutch fan favourite Andruw Jones signed a $18 million/year contract with the Dodgers. That means he has earned exactly $18 million for every HR he has hit this year. Dodgers fans may have been questioning their ownership prior to the season, but now they really have a reason to hate this bum. For purposes of real baseball, Matt Kemp, Juan Pierre and Andre Ethier are the benefactors of Andruw’s slumps, while the entire Dodger fan base laments over this jack ass. In fantasy terms, anyone who didn’t draft Andruw is smiling while those idiots on auto-draft who got stuck with him are busy pulling their hair out. Were it not for fantasy baseball, most fans could care less about players like Andruw – fantasy allows for the mockery of crappy players all over, with little regard for home park affiliation or not.

8. Sports tickers both frustrate and enrapture you. The sports ticker, a big reason for cable sports channels’ success (see The Score), take on a whole new meaning to fantasy players. It is not enough to watch for who won last night’s games; you are now beholden to them for information on your team. Your spouse will no doubt recognize that look of glazed attention that you give the television when the baseball stats are scrolling down the ticker; he or she should be aware not to move you during these times as it may result in an elbow to the face if your starting shortstop went 0-4.

9. Playing fantasy baseball will never give you crabs from wearing an unwashed jock strap the way real baseball would.

10. Leaving the best for last, fantasy baseball is way better than real baseball as it helps make a somewhat monotonous, long drawn out, boring game played by fat, hairy, butt scratching cavemen into an action packed, statistical frenzy of super athletes and free agents who are yours to own, command, and follow as they continue to tease, frustrate and delight you along a 162 game schedule where you hope to beat your friends at a pretend sport for no money, nor trophy but simply for the chance to mock these same friends for their lack of knowledge on a pretend sport, while you continue to wonder why they would rather go out on a date Friday nights while you stayed in and dominated your fantasy league.

As best as I could tell, the game appealed to people who would still be playing Dungeons & Dragons if it wasn't such a powerful antidote to getting laid in high school.


Anonymous said...

ummm....here's hoping that #9 was not the reason you took up fantasy baseball!


Anonymous said...

Yo rich. This post should be labeled sports too.

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