To fantasize, or not to fantasize?
I have an on-again, off-again relationship with fantasy baseball. The first few years I did it – 2003, 2004, somewhere around there – it was downright valuable; for someone like me who was used to just watching the Yankees and Mets, it forced me to familiarize myself with the mid-level players on other teams that I otherwise wouldn’t have known much about. Willy Taveras, whatever his flaws, will always have a place in my heart thanks to his unexpectedly non-sucky 2005 season; Aaron Harang remains a target of my misplaced resentment ever since his 6-win, league-leading 17-loss 2008 season crippled my Brooklyn Excelsiors. (Pretty much my favorite part of fantasy baseball, of course, is naming my team. My Little Lebowski Urban Achievers had a particularly successful run in the middle of the decade).
Too often, though, I’ve been That Person: the one who gets busy or forgetful or just frustrated with a lousy roster or bad luck, and abandons her team sometime in late July, allowing it to float gently to the bottom of the standings. Nobody likes That Person. But when I get stressed out, or just distracted by a shiny object, my fantasy team will be the first thing jettisoned. So perhaps, this year, I should leave it to those with more devotion, or at least longer attention spans. Maybe I can convince someone else to let me name his or her team.
Even if it may not be for me anymore, it would seem to go without saying that there’s nothing wrong with fantasy baseball. And yet, last night I came across Ron Shandler’s Huffington Post piece about a new fantasy baseball documentary:
There is a segment in the new documentary film, Fantasyland, when several esteemed baseball media veterans rail against fantasy baseball….
Mike Francesa of WFAN, Phil Mushnick of the New York Post and Hall of Fame writer Murray Chass are classified as “The Naysayers.” They think fantasy baseball is “foolish” and “ridiculous.”
(Mike Francesa, Phil Mushnik, and Murray Chass. You know that popular interview question, “Name the three people you’d most like to have dinner with”? This reads like the answer to the opposite of that question. Welcome to Brunch in Hell.)
Is fantasy baseball “foolish” and “ridiculous”? Maybe, but then, isn’t baseball itself? It’s no sillier than most of the things we do for fun. (Let’s pause here for a moment to allow Murray Chass time to Google the word “fun”). Obviously you can take a fantasy fixation too far – one of the cardinal rules of sports blogging is: No one cares about your fantasy team. But no one cares about the dream you had last night, either; that doesn’t mean it has no meaning for you.
Anyway, this got me thinking: is baseball really so different from fantasy baseball? I may not have a team this year, but I’ll watch a collection of players perform, and I’ll hope that they hit well and pitch well, and if they do better than another collection of players, it will make me happy, even though the tangible benefits to my daily life are nonexistent. Obviously, given the choice, I’ll choose flesh-and-blood baseball over fantasy baseball any day of the week, but let’s not kid ourselves: fandom is essentially irrational, except insofar as it gives us pleasure. Hell, at least in fantasy baseball, you can win some money.