"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Final Fantasy

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.

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Emma Span

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1 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 22, 2010 1:32 pm

Yo E!

I tried fantasy baseball one summer, in 2002, and didn't like what it did to me. I was wired like having had too much sugar, Cornholio. That fall, I started the Banter and couldn't justify spending time lost in the fantasy stuff. And that's where I saw it going, to addiction. But even though I don't play fantasy, I don't feel the need, like the three wise men mentioned above, to put it down.

To each his or her own, right?

2 rbj   ~  Mar 22, 2010 1:51 pm

I don't do fantasy baseball, it seems like too much work for me. But it certainly makes more sense than watching other people play poker on tv.

3 monkeypants   ~  Mar 22, 2010 2:09 pm

I don't do fantasy baseball because I get the same fix by poring over stats and bantering on the Banter. I reserve fantasy sports for the NFL, mainly because a) I don't care much at all about football and fantasy football becomes a numbers exercise (how can I game whatever scoring rules the organizer puts in place), and b) a group of old friends run a fantasy football league every year, so it's a way to keep in touch.

4 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 22, 2010 2:17 pm

Strangely enough, I routinely do much better in fantasy football than baseball, despite knowing maybe 1/50th about the players.

5 Shaun P.   ~  Mar 22, 2010 2:20 pm

[3] I would bet that a large percentage of fantasy baseball leagues exist because its a way for old friends from high school/college/grad school/wherever to get together. I love playing fantasy baseball, but what pulls me back year after year is that its a great way to keep in touch with old friends I otherwise don't see or talk to, and keeps those relationships going.

Emma, as I've been playing games in the Final Fantasy series since about the same time I first played fantasy baseball, I have to ask - convenient title or are you a dedicated RPG player? Or an homage to the poorly-received, all-star voice cast anime-style movie of 2001?

6 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 22, 2010 2:43 pm

Need help coming up with a name for your team?


My team name in my $$$ roto league one year was "Pedroia Own Conclusions"

7 Yankee Mama   ~  Mar 22, 2010 3:07 pm

I am already misunderstood for following (we know that it's more than merely following) a flesh and blood team. I'm not clear that a fantasy team wouldn't just put my marriage into sudden distress. It also seems like it would be addicting.

I simply must stay away....although curious.

8 Emma Span   ~  Mar 22, 2010 3:39 pm

[5] I played in my misspent youth, but it's been a very very long time. I think there were just two buttons on the Nintendo controller then, to give you some idea.

9 Yankster   ~  Mar 22, 2010 3:52 pm

A friend of mine couldn't make it to his fantasy draft. This league is made up of a bunch of senior economists from big big name investment firms, federal reserve, and the ivy league - it's fancy - and they fly to a different location every year and book a hotel room or conference room on the big day. So the friend, who is no where near the professional league of these others, asks me to sub in, to get all my custom metrics ready, to wow the whizes, only one problem: I know nothing about fantasy baseball and it's an NL team only, and I don't know squat about the NL.

For the ten days before the draft I crammed - I had Bill James, I had some league guides, and I had a hell of a complicated spreadsheet generated by some SAS code that I wrote. I had expected utility times draft round to give me a target price and a max price. It was on reams of paper because my laptop battery was busted.

It was a disaster and I won't go into the details but the drafting happened so fast I couldn't keep track of everyone else's picks on my spreadsheet which happened to be in order of draft preference (not last name - duh). I didn't know any of the mid-level players and they were being drafted by nicknames.

Anyway, I made a lot of mistakes, left too much money on the table, but still did pretty well. So the guy I drafted for did exactly what Emma said, he got busy, got distracted, didn't answer trade requests and so "my" team slowly drifted down to 6th out of 10th place, and these phenomenal professional contacts got the exact opposite impression from the one I intended.

This year I'm leaving it to the pros...

10 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Mar 22, 2010 10:27 pm

[6] :)

Fantasy takes too much time...only so many hours in the day to search for old Boogaloo Joe Jones clips on YouTube..

11 michibuck   ~  Mar 23, 2010 12:35 am

You guys are all missing the boat. I agree with you that fantasy baseball can really be a long haul. (At least with football you only have to change your line up once a week)

The newest thing out there sounds perfect for all of you time-starved, easily bored peeps. DAILY fantasy baseball.

Right... you play on a daily basis with no season-long commitment. You can play a day, take 3 off, come back and play for a week straight, go away for two months... it doesn't matter! Each day is its own individual "season"

My favorite part of daily fantasy (fill in your favorite sport) is that you get paid daily also... no more waiting until the end of the season. You enter a game (or as many as you want) before they close (generally around 7:00 at night) and by noon the next day you've been paid if you had a winning line-up.

You can play for peanuts ($6) or bigger stakes (up to $110) and just about any level in between. Play heads up or in 3-, 4- or 6-man games.

There are a couple sites out there running daily fantasy, but the most straightforward, easy to use I've found is http://365fantasysports.com. (They also have the best variety of contests).

Try it out if you want. I play there under the name Michibuck. If you put "Michibuck" in the "promo code" box when you register you will get a 15% deposit bonus. Try it for a day... if you like it, keep playing. If you don't, take your money out and move on. No harm, no foul. ($ goes back and forth quickly and easily with Paypal)

12 Jay Jaffe   ~  Mar 23, 2010 7:57 pm

That "Welcome to Brunch in Hell" line slays me. Funny stuff.

I've done fantasy ball since 1997, and I now derive a significant portion of my income writing about it (though you'll note that I take pains not to write about my own teams). I've won a few leagues (a Gwynn-for-Bonds trade put me over the top in my first year. SUCKER), never bailed on a team, had plenty of laughs and talked plenty of trash, particularly in a league I did for a few years with college friends.

And names. Oh, I love the names. I've got the Dock Ellis Islanders, the Homer Bush Leaguers, the Mendoza Line Drivers and now El Maximo Jaffe among my better ones.

But you know, I don't love fantasy baseball. I particularly hate drafting because March is such a busy time of year as a baseball writer that actually bothering to prep for a draft is a total f-ing drag. I do like the day-to-day or week-to-week lineup management part of things come summer. I can count the number of trades I've made over the last five years on my thumbs, but I'll put my ability to comb the waiver wires for an upgrade against anyone's.

I do fantasy in part because with the broad knowledge of players around the league that the work requires, I'd be silly not to. There are days it feels like little more than a necessary evil, but as an excuse to rummage through box scores, it's still a pretty fun way to go.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver