Bryan (raoulraoul) wrote,

Fantasyland by Sam Walker

Fantasyland coverIn 2004, sportswriter Sam Walker decided to play fantasy baseball for the first time. Not one to dream small, Walker decided to seek entry in Tout Wars, the top fantasy baseball league, which is stocked with fantasy baseball experts — the type who make their living giving fantasy advice. Walker thought it would be an interesting experiment if he pitted his knowledge of the human side of the sport — interviewing players and watching them nightly on the field and in the clubhouse — against the experts’ knowledge of the numbers. He was accepted into the league, and Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe is the result, recounting Walker’s descent into futile obsession.

I don’t care for fantasy sports; the games and players are interesting enough without attaching any extra significance. But Fantasyland does show the various personalities that have popped up around the fantasy baseball industry. For those who play fantasy baseball, I would think that would be the most interesting: getting a first-hand, outsider’s impression of all those people who sit at the top of the heap and make mostly consequenceless pronouncements like a pundit.

Part of the appeal of this kind of book is that outsider view. But another part is that the author, that outsider, is somewhat like the reader — he (or she) lives in something akin to the reader’s situation, or at least within aspiration of the reader’s situation. Walker is a sportswriter, which is a rarified position in that there aren’t many of them and they have access most sports fans find appealing. But we all know that sportwriters, whatever their gifts and access, aren’t exactly rock stars or tycoons. Well, I thought I knew that:

To produce [a scouting report on all major-league players], I’ve spent $7,400 on scouting trips … another $1,800 on computer components and software upgrades, and $895 on books, magazines, encyclopedias, and subscriptions to every Roto Web site that accepted my credit card. Sig’s and Nando’s [Walker’s assistants for the Tout Wars competition] salaries and expenses amount to another $3,000 a month, and considering all the extras … [the scouting report is] worth about $19,500, which is roughly the cost of a nicely equipped Subaru Legacy. (133)

That’s a considerable chunk of change, although one I could almost believe someone could spend on an obsession. But you’d think it would have a near life-wrecking effect on him. The money doesn’t seem to affect Walker, though. And it gets worse:

In the last five months, I have vanished from polite society. I’ve stopped calling friends and lost touch with colleagues. I have skipped four weddings and forgotten to send my brother a birthday card. I have spent sixty days on the road without taking a vacation, much less a day off, and leaned on my wife to manage our household affairs. If I tallied up every last bill, I’ve spent close to $46,000. (286-7; emphasis mine)

There’s a quick way to lose sympathy. Walker spent very nearly $50 grand, but financial problems aren’t evidently part of the problems Tout Wars wreaked on his life. At that point, Rotisserie baseball becomes less a hobby or obsession than you have too much damn money. Screw you; I don’t care what games you play on your f*&king planet.
Tags: baseball, fantasy baseball, reading list, sam walker, too much damn money

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