By - Michael Friere
Before anyone gets nervous about the title of this article, this will be baseball related, as opposed to some “trashy” attempt to get your attention, using the specter of something inappropriate. Time permitting, I would like to produce a series of articles over the next few weeks, covering the basics of Fantasy Baseball. This first installment is designed to provide some background information and to whet your appetite for the game.
On the surface, anyone unfamiliar with the “game” usually dismisses the endeavor as a waste of time, or perhaps limited to “stat geeks” and not “real” baseball fans. That was pretty much my reaction when I first heard about the phenomenon back in the late 80’s. To be more specific, I was a student at East Carolina University at the time.......go Pirates........and my academic advisor asked me if I was aware of “Rotisserie Baseball”, since he knew I was a tortured Mets fan.
Not wanting to be rude, I told him that I was unfamiliar, but interested in hearing more about it. After a lengthy explanation, I was still skeptical, but intrigued. The biggest selling point to me was that playing the game fostered league wide interest, as opposed to only following “your favorite team”. That sounded like a good thing and an excuse to spend more time reading the sports page (the actual sports page at that time, not a bookmarked web site).
Long story short, I started playing “fantasy” baseball that year, got hopelessly hooked and have been playing some form of the game, ever since. The general premise has since spread to all of the other sports (football included) and has carved out a decent sized role in the overall sports world. If you don’t believe me, go to any reputable sports web site and you will find an entire section dedicated to the topic.
For our purposes in this article, I want to focus on baseball, since it is the “topic du jour” and where it all started. As I have stated before, the best place to start an article for the uninformed, is at the beginning. Way back in the early 60’s, there were several attempts to create a “fantasy” baseball world, where fans could pit one team against another and see who would win. One of the more well known versions of this era was the famous “Strat-o-matic” board game that used cards for each and every player. The cards were developed with realistic strengths and weaknesses that reflected the specific players’ skills.
The actual game play revolved around chance, signified by rolling actual dice and then looking up on the cards, what “happened” in each encounter. By the end of a game, you had tangible results and the answer to arguments, such as “would the 1927 Yankees beat the 1969 Mets” for example.
There were many other attempts at “fantasy” baseball, but the version I want to focus on was developed by a gentleman named Daniel Okrent in 1980. Okrent was actually a magazine editor in New York at the time and the game he developed was the precursor to the versions that millions of sports fans use today (there is a ton of information on this topic, which you can “google” if you are interested).
The main difference between the “Strat-o-matic” games of the 60’s and what is now termed “roto-baseball” (Rotisserie baseball) is that modern day “fantasy baseball” revolves around actual players and up to the minute statistics, as opposed to results based upon chance and different numbers generated on cards. In other words, “fantasy” baseball is an offshoot of “real statistics” while the other games are based upon “fake statistics”.
Lets’ put the focus back on Okrent’s early versions of “fantasy” baseball.
One of the simple allures of the game is that each manager drafts their own roster of actual major league baseball players. Granted, they are spread out across the MLB universe, but in totality, they represent “your” team. You get to play Sandy Alderson (i.e. the General Manager) with your roster. Additions, subtractions, trades, “benchings”, etc. It is all there for you to take part in and call your own.
On the surface, then, you can start to see how this fulfills the initial point, made a few paragraphs back. Yes, I am a Mets fan and will always be a Mets fan. However, once I have drafted my “fantasy team”, I am also a fan of my individual players. For example, I may have Albert Pujols on my roster as my first baseman. The day after a normal slate of games, I always look up the Mets’ box score first, and perhaps curse about Mike Pelfrey’s latest outing (OK, maybe that was uncalled for).
Shortly after doing so, I will also locate the Cardinals’ box score (or, now it will be the Angels box score) and see how Albert did, since he is a part of my team. Not only am I an interested Mets fan, but I am now “loosely” following the Cardinals, as well. With the advent of modern day television, ESPN highlights and even the internet, you will find yourself tuning in to a particular result, to “check on your guys”.
Keep in mind, you assemble an entire roster, which I will detail a bit later. If you have a collection of players from a variety of teams (which most players do, unless they are “homers” and only pick players from their favorite team), then you end up following quite a few teams throughout each day and across each season. In that way, you are a much more informed baseball fan, compared to limiting your interest to just a single team and/or box score at any given moment. Cool, no?
An interesting side note, is the dilemma that can be created while following the myriad of players you have assembled. For example, you own Roy Halladay and you own Albert Pujols. Who do you root for when they face each other? Or, better still, what happens when the Mets and Cardinals face each other? Do you still root for Albert to do well or do you root for the Mets? Or, do you hope Albert does well, but that the Mets still win the game? It certainly adds an extra layer of intrigue during the year, as you follow along.
Okrent’s initial version was called “Rotisserie Baseball”, because it was named after a local restaurant where the first group of players met and played the game. It should be noted that the version they played in 1980 (“roto-style”) is still played today. However, there was a second version (“head to head”) that was developed as time passed, that is now more popular, in my personal opinion.
Okrent’s version and the newer version are both based on real time statistics and they both use actual players on individual rosters. The key difference is that the “roto” version encompasses the entire season, while the “head to head” version is more of a “weekly” phenomenon. Before looking any deeper at how the two different styles compare and contrast (tentatively set for the third installment of this series), I want to explain how you organize a league and “set up shop”, so to speak.
The first rule in fantasy baseball is not to talk about fantasy baseball. OK, maybe that was a cheesy “Fight Club” movie reference. Seriously, the first step is to form a league, which is nothing more then a collection of like minded baseball fans, who want to play “fantasy baseball”. It is helpful if everyone agrees to take the league seriously for the entire season, since an absentee owner can throw the entire season out of whack.
When setting up a league, it is also beneficial to have an even number of managers (especially if you are playing in a “head to head” league) and you probably want to have at least eight to ten, in total. More is better, but I wouldn’t exceed fourteen to sixteen managers (since available players gets pretty scarce in larger leagues).
Twelve managers is usually the “magic number”, in my opinion, since it disperses the aforementioned talent across MLB equitably within your league. The fewer number of managers, the more “all star” rosters you accumulate. This, in turn, adds to the number of talented players left in the “free agent” pool. Having a lot of talented free agents suppresses trades and overall league activity, which is a topic for a future article.
So, let’s say you have eleven friends that want to play and you form a league of twelve managers, in total. The first step is to figure out where you want to play your season. In this day and age of the internet and the endless pursuit of “web hits or clicks”, most websites offer to manage your league for free. I am not a huge fan of any particular service, but ESPN and Yahoo Sports are both excellent choices, if you were wondering.
Keep in mind, in the “old days”, all of this was done by hand, usually by the poor bastard who inherited the title of “Commissioner”. I don’t miss that and I really don’t miss carpal tunnel syndrome! Just be thankful that it can all be handled on line, making your enjoyment of the game that much better.
So, lets say everyone picks a website and you organize your league. You need to designate a “commissioner” who will be in charge of the day to day operations, as the season unfolds.
Each service allows for the adjustment of the league settings, which directly relate to roster sizes and scoring categories. If you are not sure, most services offer “default” settings, which are consistent with how most leagues are administered and are “true” to the early versions of the game. Whatever you decide, it is important that you know your league settings, rules an the how the league is “scored”. The best advice is to spend some time on the website reading the different tutorials that are available.
For realism, most leagues will require that you draft a twenty-five player roster, which addresses all of the positions on the field and makes each manager aware of how to set up a basic team. That number reflects the same number an actual major league General Manager has available to him/her.
Now that we have a league formed and everyone is up to speed on the roster size and the league settings, the next step is to assemble actual rosters.
So, how do we acquire players?
An excellent question, which will be answered in the second installment of this series.