Tuesday, July 01, 2003
As I've spoken of on several occasions previously here, baseball is taken seriously around this household. As far back as I can remember, whatever baseball game is on TV, be it the Cubs on WGN, the Braves on TBS, or the Mariners on whatever channel they happen to be on (unless it's ESPN, in which case you just turn off the TV and hit the radio) took precedence over just about anything else. The world is coming to an end you say? Big deal, Ryne Sandberg is up at bat, the bases are loaded, and Harry Caray is on his fifth Budweiser of the game. Aside from a couple of flashes of brilliance from the Cubs in the early eighties that didn't extend into the playoffs, the teams we followed didn't exactly provide us with the pinnacle of baseball talent (it wasn't until we moved here in '95 that we were able to follow the Mariners.) With the Braves' success over the past decade or so, it is hard for some people to recall the truly terrible Braves teams of the eighties, featuring such all-stars as Pascual Perez, Ken Oberkfell and Terry Forster (Well OK, they had Dale Murphy too, and we did get to see the major league debuts of Steve Avery, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.) And the Cubs were... Well... the Cubs. No further explanation should be needed there. On the other hand, I knew all the words to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" before I reached Kindergarten
Over the years, I'd like to think that watching all this baseball has allowed me to understand the game. And to some extent, I have picked up on a lot of the subtleties of the game. I could probably rattle off the implications of the infield fly rule (exactly how that became the benchmark of one's baseball knowledge I'll never know), and I can usually at least provide a reasonably close guess on the Aflac Trivia Question during any given ballgame. Of course, just when someone starts to think they're an expert on the game, along come Bill James, Rob Neyer and their gang of SABR punks, tossing around stuff like OPS, Win shares, Pythagorean Rankings. It's enough to make even the diehards slink back to the cheap seats, drown their sorrows in a $7.75 microbrew and shout stuff at the umpires. At this rate, it won't be long before you're going to need to show your Ph.D along with the contents of your bag and tickets at the gate when you go to the ballpark, lest you be banished to the section of the 300 level full of giggly prepubescents holding up their "We (heart) Ichiro" banners.
But there's hope for us, or so it seems. From the wilds of the Internet comes Fantasy Baseball, where you and eight of your closest friends you've never heard of can put together your own dream team using superstars from all over the league, and challenge others head to head for ultimate supremacy... In theory, at least. Fantasy baseball is nothing new, all things considered. Before the Internet era, you would have to pay some exorbiant sum of money to some mail-order outfit to participate, and conduct all transactions by mail or phone. Nowdays, you just pay an exorbiant sum of money, and get to deal with all this online. After receiving an invitation into a fantasy league from a former co-worker last year, I jumped at this exciting new opportunity. After spending countless minutes of careful research (e.g. browsing though the player list and picking guys I'd heard of at some point before) in preparation for the live draft, I selected a team heavy on top-name pitching. Finally after several weeks of anticipation, the season begun... and within a week, my team was mired in last place. As the season dragged on, things continued going downhill, until I eventually found myself 30 games out of ninth place. Things did improve somewhat during the second half of the season, although I don't recall exactly where I finished, but I do seem to recall that it wasn't pretty. So far, this year's iteration of my team hasn't fared a whole lot better. Although this year's (slightly more balanced) team started out reasonably, it has since regressed to seventh place out of eight teams, and is now only one game out of last place.
As I sit and ponder the fallen state of my team, I now begin to realize that although it may seem to be a perfect solution at first glance for us baseball fans who flunked out of stat junkie's class, fantasy baseball is in fact an excellent way for fans to utterly ruin their enjoyment of our national pastime. Due to the mix-and-match nature of your fantasy teams, it is inevitable at some point that you will find members of your team pitted against each other on the baseball diamonds of reality. Thus you are faced with a dilemma: Should you root for the pitcher you have on the mound, hoping for a strikeout, which will then count against your hitting stats, or should you root for your batter, at the expense of your pitcher's stats? Unable to mentally reconcile such circumstances, you find yourself making mental compromises, which ultimately lead to rooting for ridiculously improbable sets of circumstances ("C'mon Joe, hit a line drive to the guy on third base who's on my opponent's team, and have him bobble it and throw the ball away, allowing an unearned run to score!") You know full well that this just isn't right, but especially when you have a fantasy team that is more often in the dumps than not, you find this to be an unfortunately frequent occurence. It becomes especially difficult to reconcile when your fantasy team contains members of a division rival to your favorite MLB team, or when you have two starting pitchers from your team going against each other. There's just no way to win, barring an especially unlikely course of events that hands one pitcher the win, and the other a no decision after seven strong innings. Oh yeah, your centerfielder is the only one allowed to get any RBIs, but it has to be on a double, not a home run.
There's just no way to win, I tell you.