Play ball! Albeit in an abstract, nerdy form! - Macleans.ca

Play ball! Albeit in an abstract, nerdy form!

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I’ve been remiss in posting here, having made the error of devoting the last few days to activities that don’t lend themselves well to blogging. When not watching basketball, I’ve been working on my fantasy baseball league’s upcoming draft. Last year, I caught bad breaks (that means “made bad choices”) in a tough division, pulled the plug early, and gave up a very high draft pick, Brian Burke-style, as part of a package for elite talent. That means my 2010 draft isn’t going to be much fun, any more than the Leafs’ will. But the Leaf fans get to cheer for Phil Kessel in the meantime, and this baseball season I’ll get to cheer for Albert Pujols, the imperishable Aztec god of hitting.

This is my compensation for suffering the eternal insults all fantasy players share: 1) the league is rigged against me, 2) the scoring system and the rules are self-evidently irrational (since, 2a, I win every single trade I make and still manage to finish around .450 every season), and 3) the guys whose teams keep pounding on mine every year are obviously—since we cannot contemplate the possibility that they are smarter than me—outrageously fortunate dorks with tons of free time and, no doubt, all kinds of illicitly obtained inside information and strategic intelligence. (Needless to say, those who finish behind me are just garden-variety dumdums.)

The women who snicker at fantasy baseball, which is to say all women, would guffaw outright if they knew how much work was really involved. Even if you keep up with the baseball news as a matter of course throughout the offseason, and even if you invest in some gnostic projection system, or in pre-fab cheat sheets off the magazine rack, you still have to calibrate everything to your own league’s scoring methods and put in a certain number of root-canal hours of due diligence in the runup to the draft. Has anybody signed Gary Sheffield yet? (Not yet, though he says he has offers.) Why the hell isn’t Khalil Greene on anybody’s depth chart? (He had a nervous breakdown and his contract was voided when he failed to turn up for training camp.) What’s the Opening Day lineup for the Mets gonna look like? (A vast, soft, silent yellow turd in the sun.)

If you don’t do this work, you run the risk of drafting Nomar Garciaparra in the 20th round and inviting unsurvivable derision from other males. The fact that would no doubt seem especially pathological to women, if any man were foolhardy enough to mention it in public, is that there are no commensurate ego benefits to be derived from success. Unless you play for real money, and we don’t, fantasy baseball is a bet you can only lose. When Lawyer A fleeces Engineer B in a trade, nobody really says, “Well, good job, A, you must have been at the top of your advocacy game that day.” Inevitably, A is despised for an unearned windfall, and B simply loathed. And when C wins the league, it is chalked up to chance and borderline-unethical practice, and his downfall is contemplated with merciless primal glee.

If you invite exactly the right people into your league, all of this hostility and petulance can be accompanied by nitpicking over regulations, power struggles, and whining about technical problems. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. The last time somebody invented a hobby like this, they called it golf.