My Strange Love Affair With Fantasy Baseball

Chances are, during the first batch of games on Monday, while constantly checking your fantasy lineup, you realized one of two things. Either 1) You didn't do nearly as good a job drafting your fantasy team as you thought or 2) You really don't seem to care as much as the other people around you. And if you're in a third camp, that of the smugly satisfied fantasy player, while I don't wish any true ill will on you, I do hope your next fountain soda doesn't have nearly enough of that flavor syrup. Serves you right, you stuck up prig. 

You see, I used to be in that first camp before I realized that not only was I unskilled at the art of 5×5, I was simultaneously overwhelmed by the constant update of lineups and disinterested in the scouring of waiver wire for saves. All of the things I loved about baseball, the action, narrative, even statistics that I would immerse myself in on (and before its existence, the thousands of baseball cards that littered my closet), weren't represented in fantasy. Focusing so narrowly on home runs, RBI, batting average and steals, or wins, WHIP, saves, and strikeouts, sucked all the joy out of baseball. Sure, the truly great players were always valuable, but except in the deepest of leagues, fourth outfielders and back of the rotation starters were worth nothing. And you never got any points for a great catch or a guy handing a ball to a fan with only two outs in the inning. 

To try and get myself enthused, I added categories, trying to squeeze in sacrifices, slugging percentage, errors, and every other subcategory available in hopes of replicating realism. All that did was further complicate things and make it even harder to figure out what the hell was going on. Though perhaps there is a lesson in there every time I think "what the hell is Dan O'Dowd doing now?" I increased the number of teams and bench spots until we were all fighting over the same scraps of players who would be lucky to get 15 plate appearances in a season. And still, nothing. Fantasy baseball doesn't work when you start expanding it, it becomes unwieldy and wild like Oliver Perez circa The Mets Years. It's not a real baseball game and it can't be made to replicate one. That's what MLB: The Show is for (and in case you're wondering, the Mike Clair on the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates is hitting for plenty of power and plays great defense despite being massively overweight. He's a natural fan favorite.) 

And though I tried to give it up completely, I couldn't quit it. By writing about baseball on the internet, people naturally want to ask you things like "in what round would you draft Josh Reddick" and "If RA Dickey could be distilled into an idea, which idea would that be and why?" And when it comes to making awkward small talk with other sports fans, it's a great help to be able to commiserate when they tell you "Ugh. My fantasy team, despite being flipping sweet," only hit .115 today." And you can nod your head, and with a slight chuckle say, "That's nothing. You should see my club's WHIP." 

Oh yeah, and the pun team names! That's probably the best part.

So now, rather than forcing myself into a game that even tries to resemble Major League Baseball, a task it will never live up to, I focus on the things that I love. I currently operate a utility player only league, one that forces you to select either relief pitchers (saves aren't counted) and players with multi-position eligibility. There are only a handful of players like Bryce Harper (LF, CF, RF) or Mark Trumbo (1B, 3B, LF, RF), so instead you end up looking at a team full of Pedro Ciriacos and Trevor Plouffes. And it's great. Because while you bemoan your starting shortstop going down with a torn ACL, I celebrate my player's increased playing time. And when you sob into your beer that your team is sacrifice bunting in the top of the fourth during a one-run game, I'm collecting fantasy points (because naturally the league highlights sacrifice bunts. Did I forget to mention that?) So now I finally understand, if only slightly, the fascination and hold fantasy sports has over some people. 

But perhaps you're not sold. Perhaps you don't want a league filled with Trevor Plouffes. (What are you? A monster?) But don't fret, I'm sure it's not too late to start something grand. And if you're out of ideas, here are a variety of great leagues that you can start up if only you're only willing: 

If you're tired of players getting press for off the field news, start a league where players lose their eligibility after any DUI, steroid scandal, or petty theft they've been involved in (sorry Mike Leake). 
Perhaps you're a man with a passion: a passion for expertly groomed facial hair. As long as a player has a beard or mustache, he can be on a roster and as soon as he gives in to the weakness that surrounds him and shaves, he has to be dropped. The system rewards both attentive owners and fashionable ballplayers, making for a much better world all the way around. 
To make it even more difficult, every player must be six players or transactions away from being a teammate with former Cy Young winner Kevin Brown. This league only gets more difficult after every year that Brown has not been in the league. For experts only!
Since you're a social media marketer who likes to mix business and pleasure, your league must feature only players with Twitter accounts. They score points for Retweets, Klout Score, and FourSquare Check-Ins. 
What you'll need: One (1) snow globe and Twelve (12) Yahoo! accounts as you manage and draft for every single team in the league, creating separate personas and strategies for each club. It's a great time for a shut-in or a prisoner in isolation. 
The real point is: baseball is only played for 180 days every year. And we have to make the most of that time, and the best way to fill that 2 am period is to time operate a fantasy team. And if you happen to run a weird fantasy team, please let me know how you do it. And maybe send me an invite the next time you're looking for an owner.