FANTASY BASEBALL: TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY? THAT IS THE QUESTION


David Schoenfield says relax -- fantasy baseball is just a way to round out your enjoyment of the real National Pastime, the greatest of all games. Jim Caple says this waste of time is enough to make you crazy -- crazy like those people who have to tell him about their fantasy teams. (What, like that doesn't happen to you?!)

In today's Writers' Bloc, David and Jim debate one of the great issues of our times: Is fantasy baseball hazardous to your mental health?

David Schoenfield: Well, Jim -- it's your favorite time of the year. No, not the NCAA Tournament ... time to start preparing for your fantasy baseball draft! I know how much you love fantasy baseball.

Jim Caple: And it's going to be especially tough this year, what with trying to hold the draft while the rest of the league is standing in line to see "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" for the 26th time.

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  • DS: You could at least use an original line while disparaging fantasy players. Just because I like fantasy baseball doesn't mean I carry around a pair of 10-sided Dungeons and Dragons dice.

    JC: Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to imply that fantasy leaguers are a bunch of get-a-lifers. How are those Spock ears fitting anyway? Do they still pinch?

    DS: Hey, there's nothing wrong with having a hobby. You like Broadway musicals, Yanni and watching PBS. Some of us spend a little of our spare time increasing our interest in the National Pastime.

    JC: Why do you need a fantasy league to increase your interest in baseball? I find what really happens to be interesting -- and demanding -- enough. And never, ever diss Yanni.

    DS: It's just another way to enjoy the sport. I faithfully watch and root for my favorite team -- the Mariners -- but paying attention to how my fantasy guys are doing makes me more interested in the other games and other players.

    Vladimir Guerrero
    In fantasy baseball, you don't have to be an Angels fans to really enjoy Vladimir Guerrero's talent.

    JC: I just don't see the need. What really happens is far more interesting to me than how some friends of mine have manipulated the stats for their own game. And I certainly don't want to hear them tell me about it. Listening to fantasy get-a-lifers talk about their league is like listening to a golfer talking about his round. Just go back to your TPS reports and leave me alone.

    DS: Maybe you need to stop watching the Travel Channel and get out and meet some new friends. I'm with you on that -- never, ever, talk about your fantasy league to anyone except other members of the league.

    By the way, I'm conflicted: Do I keep Roger Clemens or trade him for some prospects who will help me in the future?

    JC: Funny. That's exactly what I'm talking about. And I get that all the time.

    DS: That's because they view you as a baseball expert. I guess they don't know any better.

    JC: I can understand why fans love baseball so much they want to keep it going when the real game is over. And I can understand pretending to be a player in a computer game or a manager in a simulated game. What I don't understand is the appeal of pretending to be an owner. Where's the fun in that? Other than threatening to move out of town unless the city builds you a new room for your Dungeons and Dragons tournament.

    DS: Do you have to bring George Steinbrenner into everything you write? It's more like GM than owner. Is Bobby Crosby going to replace Miguel Tejada's shoes? Is David Wells over the hill? Will Vladimir Guerrero's back hold up? What's more valuable, a closer or a shortstop who can hit? It's the strategy element, the predicting of performance, the nuances behind building a roster, that make fantasy baseball similar to real baseball (though, admittedly, with a different set of rules).

    JC: Playing general manager doesn't really appeal to me either. Anyone can pick a roster. The joy is in playing games.

    A-Rod, Jeter
    Just like the Boss, you can have Jeter and A-Rod on your team.

    DS: Well, sure, anyone can pick a roster. Just look at the Brewers. But some of us have a little Billy Beane in us. I guess you have a little Bud Selig in you.

    JC: That's cruel. What I want to know is: Why isn't the real game enough? Why does someone have to have a personal, financial stake in every player to be interesting?

    DS: The real game is terrific -- there is no better game, I know we agree on that. But I guess it's like listening to your favorite band -- if you can see them in person, it's even better. This is just another way to enjoy the game from up close. And I admit -- I'm not a big fan of the financial aspect. I've played in a league since I was in college with no financial stake.

    JC: Confession time. I tried playing fantasy leagues for awhile, but I never enjoyed them. Grabbing random stats from guys around the league and assigning bogus value to them never came close to replicating the real game. It's not baseball, it's math.

    DS: Sorry, Jim, some of us scored well on the math portion of our SATs.

    JC: What drove me crazy -- and I admit the leagues have become more sophisticated -- was our league counted a stolen base as being as vauable as a home run. and a save as valuable as a win. Call me old school, but that just offended me on a fundamental level and drove me away.

    DS: Hey, something we agree on. I refuse to play 4x4 leagues, where, as you say, a stolen base is as valuable as a HR. I hate that almost as much as I hate George Steinbrenner. I don't respect anybody who plays in those leagues.... Wait, I'm supposed to be defending fantasy leagues ... don't twist me around like this!

    JC: Editors, you're so easy. And while we are at it, can you tell me why an RBI is considered more important than a run? It's not. How is knocking a guy in from third on a groundball more meaningful than getting yourself to third base so that you can score on the grounder? The only stat that truly matters in baseball, the only one that decides the outcome of a game, is the run. Teams have won games when the other team has more RBIs, but they've never won when the other team has more runs. But I digress.

    DS: You writers ... always digressing and getting away from the point. In 5x5 leagues, a run is added as the fifth category -- making them equal to an RBI. Jim, here's the real fun: draft day. Get in a room with a bunch of your buddies or co-workers, or even some sportswriters, order some pizza with extra cheese and pepperoni, have a few beers (never hold a draft at your office for this provision alone) ... and then mock said sportswriter "expert" when he drafts Derek Jeter third overall because he's a "great leader."

    JC: Right. Unless you can find a stat for something, it doesn't exist

    DS: Of course, I forgot -- in "real life," you professional writers love to wax poetic about crap like leadership and clutch hitting. Thank God that doesn't exist in fantasy baseball.

    JC: Right. No such thing as a guy rising to the occasion. No stat to show that a teammate had any sort of effect on the game around him. That's the problem with fantasy leaguers -- if there isn't a stat you can use for your personal benefit, you don't care

    DS: Of course guys rise to the occasion. But they don't do it on a consistent basis. Is Andy Pettitte the "clutch" pitcher who pitched well in last year's postseason or the guy who guy got bombed twice in the 2001 World Series?

    JC: You know what would make fantasy leagues better? If the seasons didn't end with the regular season. If you still have games during the postseason. In that way, you would be forced to consider whether a player is on a winning team and not just whether he has great stats.

    DS: Hmm ... I've yet to see a team finish in first place with bad stats. By the way, I just want to know what you think: Will Clemens pitch well in Houston? How many runs will Sheffield knock in in that lineup? Does Jamie Moyer still have life in him?

    JC: We'll just have to wait and see. That's the beauty of the real game. And in the meantime, could you tell me whether I can pull a sneak attack in D&D with a magic missile spell or with only a Melf's acid arrow spell?


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