OpinionJuly 20, 2004

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What the Heck…

By Stefan Micke

Stupid questions. They seem to be attracted to fantasy sports like moths to a flame. “What do you mean you bought Barry Bonds?” “Fantasy … so you’re playing a game you’re just making up?” “And just where do all those knights and dragons that I’ve seen on other people’s fantasy cards fit in – are they stronger than Barry?”

Like it or not, by participating in your very first fantasy draft, you become the life-time member of a secret congregation. The Society of Fantasy Baseball, so to speak, is a mystery to those who have never entered its (un)holy halls. It may be hard to believe, but many people simply have no clue what it’s all about!

So, just what the heck is going on here? Until recently, I had no idea either, but here’s what I found out…

Fantasy? What makes this game so fantastic?
True, everyone has different fantasies. Most of them include such things as millions of dollars, a life of glamor, and a bath in champagne. And hey, isn’t that what being a baseball team owner is really about? So, take a team owner, subtract the millions, remove the glamor, replace the champagne with plain tapwater (or Yoo-Hoo, for some), and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what fantasy baseball is all about. Oh, and don’t forget the fantasy that you can beat your peers with that measly team you drafted. In any case, fantasy baseball is where hope and dreams meet. Didn’t have the last laugh this time? No reason to despair – the next season is always just around the corner.

Who plays it?
According to our site survey, fantasy baseball is the overwhelming domain of North Americans – and 95% of them are MEN! So forget whatever you heard about Britney Spears or the Olsen twins checking their roto squads daily – it’s real men who enjoy sitting in front of a screen digging through endless stat charts. CNN/Money basically confirms these numbers, supplementing them with the fact that there are currently around 15 million fantasy players in the U.S. Men in other countries have fantasies, too, of course; mostly, they revolve around rugby, cricket, and naturally futbol (soccer, that is).

What’s at stake?
In the good old days (when the bat was still a club and the locker room was in a cave), thumping your fist against your chest and grunting as loudly as possible was enough to impress just about anyone. Apes, who clearly relish bragging rights as well, took it one step further; to make sure everyone knows that they’re da man (or da primate, as the case may be), they resort to showing off their brightly-colored behinds. Surprisingly, modern humans are even more sophisticated, and the game of fantasy baseball is their tool of choice. Fantasy winners are the finest of their species – they have more guts, better instincts and (above all) bigger balls. Sure, some folks also earn a little bit of prize money, but that’s just a side effect to draw even more attention to the guts and the balls. It must be for that reason that sports betting isn’t a close relative of fantasy baseball, but a distant cousin at best.

What’s the idea?
The basic concept of fantasy baseball is to allow your average Joe to prevail as a team’s manager and coach, while avoiding the deadly danger of being ripped apart by the press. You choose which players are on your team, negotiate trades with other team owners, and also decide who to start or bench on any given day. However, just like a real manager, you can’t have all the players you want – that’s because the nasty owners of the other teams are shopping for the game’s best as well, and, as in real life, every player exists only once. (The system is different for some of the more exotic fantasy sports mentioned above, but this is generally the way it is in baseball and football.)

Obviously, fantasy baseball was invented by frustrated coaches who were fed up with all the flack from so-called fans, self-proclaimed experts and Monday morning quarterbacks. “You think you can do my job better? Here ya go – let’s see you try!” Equally obviously, the plan backfired, and fantasy owners still complain about the real sport, only louder. If you did well in your league, you have proof that your initial suspicion (”I can do better than this loser manager”) was right in the first place; if your team wound up near the bottom of the standings, you can now add a new layer to your rants (”This loser is as bad as I am”).

How can you “own” a player when he’s actually playing on a real team?
You don’t – remember, it’s just a fantasy. If you ever played Monopoly as a kid, you’ve already been there – when you acquire the deed to Park Place you can’t really pack your bags and move there, it’s just an illusion (sorry to spoil some childhood beliefs here – the good news is that all the money you spent for this overpriced property wasn’t real either).

Would fantasy owners be good coaches in real life?
Would playing SimCity enable you to build a real town? Certainly!

What’s the connection to real baseball?
Baseball is the foundation of the game – without real-life baseball there would be no fantasy baseball, period. And while the major leagues might not admit it, to fantasy players it’s never been a secret: the true reason for having nearly 2,000 ballgames per year is to provide fantasy players with enough numbers to figure out the season’s true champs.

How can you win?
Every league uses a scoring system to determine whether your shiny new baseball team still seems unbeatable when measured against other owners’ do-it-yourself lineups. Many formats attempt to mirror the real world, with every team only competing against one other team in a given round, followed by a playoff phase where the strongest teams meet to determine the champion. Smart trades during the season are the icing on the cake, and rumors have it that, in some leagues, the politics of negotiating the rules for the next season are equally important (If your roster can’t win under the current system, why change the players when you can change the rules?).

Stefan (also known in the Forum as menyak) has never played fantasy baseball in his entire life. By watching Cafe regulars from his misty kitchen window (where the dishes he cooks up include new games and forum gadgets), he drew these conclusions all on his own.

Have you ever been asked strange questions by people wanting to learn what the fantasy baseball craze is all about? Looked at strangely? Share your experiences here!

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