In Defense of Fantasy Baseball

This Lenten Season, I — like many Catholics — have given up a vice. But it’s neither chocolate nor beer from which I’ll be abstaining for these forty or so days. I don’t particularly care for the former and view the latter less as a vice and more as a type of awesome medicine.

Here’s what I’ve given instead: apologizing for my interest in fantasy baseball.

Of course, given the amount of time I spend thinking about it, “interest” might be a bit of an understatement — but let’s leave that consideration for another day. There are real benefits provided by fantasy baseball that no other pastime, so far as I can see, is capable of providing.

Having meditated real hard all up on this line of thought, I could discuss said benefits at some length. For the sake of brevity (relatively speaking, of course), here are three actual reasons why fantasy baseball is of legitimate benefit to your life. Keep them at the ready in the event that your wife/parents/boss confronts you with what they’ll inevitably call your “problem.”

1. It’s Good for the Mind Grapes

Yes, while rotisserie almost exclusively concerns baseball — in terms of content, that is — it’s clear to anyone who’s ever played that other skills are necessary to fantasy domination than a simple knowledge of players and their stats.

In fact, fantasy baseball offers a number of the same benefits that Steven Johnson (in Everything Bad Is Good for You) attributes to video games like Sim City or Grand Theft Auto — that is, games which feature open-ended narrative structures and, therefore, require a greater deal of player interaction.

Because he’s smart, Johnson hands the mic over to John Dewey for the theoretical underpinnings. It’s in Experience and Education that Dewey writes:

Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the particular thing he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future. The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.

By way of commenting on the collateral benefits of video games, Johnson himself goes on to say that, “far more than books or movies, games force you to make decisions.”

He continues:

All the intellectual benefits of gaming derive from this fundamental virtue, because learning how to think is ultimately about learning to make the right decisions: weighing evidence, analyzing situations, consulting your long-term goals, and then deciding.

I’m probably preaching to the biggest ever choir when I say that, n’doy, fantasy baseball requires decision-making skills. The fantasy owner must understand the scoring mechanisms of his league, must weigh that information against the players available, must understand what skills those players have, must understand those skills separate from context (team, ballpark), must understand those skills separate from luck, must assimilate news reports about a player’s projected playing time or injury status, blah to the blah to the blah. And that’s even before the draft/auction begins.

2. It’s Good for Male Friendships

As a rule, I’m averse to hugging. Oh sure, there are some exceptions. Like, I’ll hug either of my parents. I’ll hug someone who’s just gotten married (more for consolation than congratulation). Sometimes, if she makes me, I’ll even hug my wife. But generally speaking, I’m not what you’d call a casual hugger.

And yet, especially as I get older and see my friends getting older, see some of them, in fact, getting sick in ways that can be a little frightening, I’ve begun to realize that it’s sometimes advisable — indeed, necessary — to tell these same friends that I care about them. Having had little experience with this sort of venture, however, my attempts are a little clumsy.

Luckily, fantasy baseball allows people like me — that is, with little in the way of emotional intelligence — to display affection in a highly ritualized, but still very real, way.

For example, I’ve been in this one keeper league going on about five years now. In said keeper league, I own Jeff Clement, who still qualifies at catcher even though he’ll almost definitely begin the season as the starting first baseman for the Bucs. This, as you might know, is a boon to Clement’s value, as he won’t be subject to the physical demands of the catcher position.

I’ve recently utilized the the league’s message board to inform the rest of the owners in the league about how Clement qualifies at catcher and about how he’ll be starting at first base and about how awesome that’s gonna make my team compared to their dumb teams.

To this, another owner has replied that Clement is a piece of junk. A third owner has suggested I have a fun time finishing in fourth place. I, in turn, have invited both of these guys to “cram it.” While, to the outsider, this might seem like open hostility, any sociologist worth his salt will see all the goodwill spilling out of us. Basically, what we’re really saying to each other is stuff like: “You’re a good guy” and “I’m happy you’re my friend.” It’s like Love Fest 2010 over here.

3. It’s Unimportant in the Good Way

Very often we’re asked — and by “we,” I mean middle-to-upper-middle class, college-educated men* — we’re asked to care deeply about things over which we have very little control. This is, to some degree, the entire modus operandi of media: to draw our attention outward.

*According to Sociologist Donald Levy of the University of Connecticut, overwhelmingly the demographic that plays fantasy baseball.

To illustrate, consider three headlines from this past Sunday’s edition of the New York Times:

- Burmese Refugees Persecuted in Bangladesh
- Portugal Landslides’ Toll Rises to 42
- Pakistan Kills 30 in Airstrike on Militants

Suffice it to say, these are legitimately terrible things happening to very real people. The thing is, my ability to do anything about their respective predicaments is minimal. Still, there’s an ethic that is popular among the class to which I belong, an ethic which holds that it’s one’s duty to “stay informed.” In lieu of affecting change in far-off places (largely impossible), we make offerings of our own well-being as penance. We say, in effect, “Though I’m unable to help, I’ll set aside a part of my day to consider you and your problems.” I’ll argue that, while the intentions of such an act are good, the practice itself is not.

Fantasy baseball provides almost the exact opposite experience. With the exception of my opposing managers, there are exactly zero people who care about my fantasy team. Yet, for every problem that arises — an injury to a starting pitcher, a second baseman traded to another team — I’m fully equipped to deal with it. I go to the waiver wire, I propose a trade: whatever the solution, it’s fully within my capacity to affect change.

Some might suggest that I’m burying my head in the sand. I think that’s untrue. I contend that it makes me a healthier citizen. I spend a great deal of time dealing with situations that are wholly within my control. I find that I’m able to take problems in stride, with the idea that, through some combination of patience and ingenuity, I’ll be able to solve them. In turn, the world does not appear to be such a dark, forbidding place.




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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

29 Responses to “In Defense of Fantasy Baseball”

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  1. ATepperm says:

    Donald Levy finished seventh in his eight team AL-only keeper league.

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  2. Steve says:

    …amazing. That was a good morning laugh.

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  3. Tom Au says:

    I’d even say that fantasy baseball may even provide good training for solving those other, refugee-type problems “later on in life.” If so, fantasy baseball will have fulfilled a social role.

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  4. Jason461 says:

    Averse to hugging. Not adverse to hugging.

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    • Frig. Thanks. Fixed now.

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      • Mark R says:

        While we’re on things like that, I believe, and Grammar Girl (a leading grammarian/girl) confirms, that it’s “effect” change rather than “affect” change. I know we all learned “affect” is the verb and “effect” is the noun, but “effect” is also a verb meaning “to bring about” or “to accomplish.” It’s a rare usage, but you seem like the type who’d appreciate knowing about it.

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      • Thanks, Mark: both for the correction and for providing it so civilly.

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  5. arch support says:

    Was this calculated to run shortly after the notice about Second Opinion’s release? Because if so, brilliant.

    Worked on me.

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  6. JR says:

    I’ve never been able to make it through any of your other posts, but this was fantastic. It’s getting the 95 Theses treatment on the door to my basement apartment.

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  7. Resolution says:

    Much praise for this

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  8. Joe says:

    So you’re saying its good because it allows one to maintain traditional masculine gender roles and avoid the risk of attempting to transcend them.

    great advice…

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    • JR says:

      Exchanging stoicism/emotional distance for atypical emotive expression is trade-off that does involve sacrificing traditional gender roles.

      Besides which, enhancing reasoning and decision-making capacity as identified in (1) and (3) should lead to a change in outward emotional expression.

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  9. Sen-Baldacci says:

    we can convince ourselves of anything. I’d say the only excuse you really need, and the one that works with wives, bosses, and girlfriends alike is that fantasy baseball nurtures friendships. No matter age, marital status, kids, interests, we share a love for baseball and the numbers that correlate to fantasy. The friends in my league are lifelong friends and it brings us together from around the country and globe once a year for the draft and for 6 months a year in playful competition and banter.

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  10. Johnnyonthespot says:

    I do it for the money

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  11. Everett says:

    Carson,

    You’ve managed to mention Lent, fantasy baseball and educational theory in the same post. Big time props.

    I’ve got a group of college buddies that I play with. We’re now scattered all over the country, but this gives us a chance to spend time together, mostly talking smack, and occasionally sharing what’s actually going on. We’ve got a trophy that gets mailed around to the winner. Before this league my wife (then girlfriend) never understood the value of fantasy baseball. Now, while she still thinks the game is silly, she does at least appreciate my participation in the league. I don’t think she’ll ever buy the collateral benefits argument (I’ve tried it on her with both fantasy and video games), but I’ll take what I can get.

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  12. Matthew McExpos says:

    Any time someone references Everything Bad Is Good For You, I give them a little mental high-five. Great book, and I think there are excellent applications to fantasy baseball (and sabermetrics in general).

    Then again, I’ve found that the nerdier my pursuit, the more academic my defense becomes.

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  13. JMac says:

    This was a good post until #2.
    Just because the overwhelming demographic is male, doesn’t mean everyone is.

    My best female friend lives in California and I in Philly and we share strategy all the time. Fantasy brings us together. And we’ve consistently been tops in our leagues.

    (And before any males with ego issues respond, we didn’t win by picking the cutest players)

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    • JWay says:

      I got my fiancee (then girlfriend) to join my league even though she knew Pujols was locked up as a keeper (her favorite player). She proudly manages the Rolls-Royce Claytons. :)

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  14. Clint says:

    Fantastic post Carson, definitely brought a smile to my face.

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  15. H.W. Plainview says:

    Carson,

    Incredible.

    That is all.

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  16. scatterbrian says:

    Thanks Carson. My mom’s basement suddenly got a tad brighter….

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  17. kdringg says:

    I hit that age a few years ago (mid-30′s) where I don’t give two sh!ts about any one else’s opinions of my hobbies & interests, you know why? They have their own obssessions & intrigues that more than likely I would think are ridiculous – Facebook anyone?

    Do what you love. Period.

    The great Bill Hicks said you should wake up and enjoy the decisions you have made in your life….deciding to play (and dominate) and fantasy baseball is a decision I have no trouble enjoying. My only problem is wanting everyone else to enjoy it as much as I do….but there’s a balance to all things.

    I just don’t want anyone to accuse me of playing fantasy football. Those are fighting words.

    KDR

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  18. KY says:

    here here. fantasy seems “judged” by many sabermatricians too.

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