Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Ben K. on Monday, July 19, 2004

A Published Writer

As part of my summer this year, I'm interning one day a week at a weekly neighborhood paper in New York called the Resident. The paper has a circulation of about 200,000 to various parts of Manhattan. This week, I asked them if I could write the sports article on the allure and popularity of fantasy baseball.

Well, they said yes, and I got to write about 800 words on fantasy baseball. So I'm going to be a published sports writer in a paper besides ones that are run by me. While I'm sure this piece will be edited somewhat before it is printed next week, I thought I would share it with all of you out in blogland. It's nothing groundbreaking, but I had fun with it. Also, the style is more my newswriting style than my blog writing style; it might seem a little bit different. Anyway, without further ado, here it is:

Being the General Manager
The Allure of Fantasy Baseball
By Benjamin Kabak

David Metz, a life-long Red Sox fan, follows baseball with a passion. Oftentimes, he is skeptical of the way the game’s general managers approach their jobs, and as a Red Sox fan, he has seen his fair share of blown chances.

“I watch day in and day out general managers squander their possessions,” Metz said. “They misuse their money, and a lot of them are really clueless.”

To better understand how these general managers do their jobs and sometimes fail at them, Metz—and millions of other baseball fans like him—has turned to fantasy baseball. “I get to be my own general manager. That’s the best part for me.,” Metz said. “I control all player moves and trades. I decide who I add to my team. If I lose, it’s my fault.”

Gary Scott, a four-year fantasy veteran, echoed Metz’s sentiments. Fantasy baseball is a way for him to test his mettle against those who are actual in control of the big league clubs. “I like to think that I know the game extremely well and that I have a good eye for future talent. This gives me the ability to measure just how good I really am compared to all the other armchair managers out there,” he said.

For some fans, having that shot at being the general manager is enough to drive them to fantasy baseball. But there’s more to the recent explosion in the popularity of fantasy baseball than this.

Fantasy baseball can be a competitive way to keep up friendships. “There aren’t that many outlets for competition once you are out of school sports or intramurals,” Dan Brassem, a former college baseball player and two-team fantasy manager said. “Fantasy baseball gives you another reason to watch the game, and it gives you a reason for more camaraderie.”

For others, it’s the fascination with statistics in baseball. “I think baseball more than any other sport by far is a statistical sport,” Russ Salzberg, the sports anchor for the channel 9 news, said. “For some reason, baseball has always been the game of make-believe.”

In a way, fantasy baseball has been popular for decades. Strat-O-Matic Baseball first hit the scene in the 1950s, and recent books about the prevalent use of statistics in baseball have really highlighted the importance of numbers in the game. “It’s fun to look at statistics,” Salzberg said. “I can really see the lure of the people to fantasy baseball.”

While a new love affair with statistics has led many fans to explore the inner workings of the game, the explosive growth of the Internet has made a fantasy baseball boom possible. “I do think the Internet is responsible,” Salzberg said. “I think the Internet makes everything more popular. It has a glaring effect on all sports. Every stat and piece of information about any player is right at the tips of your fingers.”

Before the Internet statistics were tallied by hand in a tedious process that involved collecting box scores from numerous sources. But now, Internet sites maintain leagues for free or for very minimal fee. Currently, Yahoo Sports hosts the most popular fantasy baseball leagues around. With approximately 400,000 leagues, the Internet portal hosts around 4 million teams free of charge. ESPN, the popular sports network, is the runner-up in the fantasy world because they charge for their leagues. With a smattering of other, less comprehensive fantasy options available, most fans opt for Yahoo’s inclusive package which updates league totals as the games are being played.

Without these sites, fantasy baseball would still just be a game reserved for only the most devoted of stat heads. “I bet probably 95 percent, if they had to score it themselves, wouldn’t do it,” Brassem said. “It’s amazing to think that just a few years ago, the participants had to keep score themselves. It would be way, way, way too difficult to do that everyday.”

As fantasy baseball has become an integral part of the rebirth of baseball, more and more fantasy owners face a daily predicament. Do they root for their fantasy players of their favorite teams? The answer, it seems, is a mix of both.

“I’m fantasy fan first,” Brassem said. “There are always one or two guys in my league who grew up as Mets or Yankees fans and put too much stake into the home team.”

Metz had a different take on the game. “The extreme emotions are reserved for the hometown teams,” he said. “In fantasy baseball, there’s no so such thing as a comeback in the bottom of the ninth because there are no actual games, just results. I’m not going to be happy when [Yankees’ pitcher] Javier Vazquez shuts out the Red Sox, but I certainly won’t be too sad either.”

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