Fantasyland will help get a fantasy baseball addict through the dark depths of winter meetings and spring training, capturing the buzz of the 2004 Tout Wars league from a unique and entertaining perspective. The author, Sam Walker, was able to secure an invitation to participate in the league, a 12 team auction league of fantasy legends, including Baseball Forecaster author Ron Shandler and Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan, as an exercise in journalism. Mr. Walker has a significant advantage over typical fantasy owners in that his position for the Wall Street Journal served both to bankroll his exercise, and allow him ‘insider access’ to locker rooms, baseball psychics, and a NASA biomathematician named “Sig” who signs on to assist with quantitative analysis. As Walker explains in chapter 7, “Every time I told a seasoned Rotisserie player about my plan to spend ten days and $2400 scouting ballplayers in Florida and then, in short order, ten days and $3000 in Arizona for the same purpose, the response was more or less consistent: You are an idiot.”
The concept of applying this type of resource to a hobby whose aficionados often participate for $120 pots or even just the cheap thrills of trash talking allows a uniquely entertaining perspective on fantasy sports. Walker’s team has ups and downs over the course of the season, and Mr. Walker himself experiences many of the pathologies associated with our sport. He feels changes come over his viewing and rooting behaviors, he switches his faith between various player rating strategies employed by fantasy players, he plays hunches, he looks at numbers, he sees guys cool off and heat up, and makes deals that can make you laugh out loud. At the same time, he also has an opportunity to visit with Jacque Jones and David Ortiz in the locker room to see when THEY think they might get hot, or who he might trade them for. The details are presented with wit and charm and I recommend this book as an entertaining off-season diversion for any fan of fantasy sports. Fantasyland also has a good historical background of fantasy sports worked into the narrative and would serve as an excellent introduction for a non-fantasy player who is at all curious as to what the big deal is. The only thing that could improve this book would be a sequel documenting the NEXT season when Mr. Walker finished first in the league.
Mike Barry is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Mike in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Acidrock23.
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