First off, because I know this is going to bum alot of people out--what I am about to say is not an indictment of every person playing "Fantasy Baseball" out there. Rather, I would like to raise the question of whether the phenomenon is negatively effecting the way some fans perceive the game.
I have alot of friends who play Fantasy Baseball, and I have to admit, it seems like a pretty fun way of spending ones time--not to mention it creates an interactive quality to the game that is enjoyable and potentially informative for the fans out there. That said, I really distrust the positive impact that Fantasy Baseball has on the game, and I would go a step further in saying that it is polluting the fanbase and their ability to contextualize the nuances, complexities and non-statistical aspects that dominate the strategy and out-comes of baseball games and the success and failures of players, teams and mangers.
The first thing that "Fantasy Baseball" does is it reduces and oversimplifies baseball into a reductive numbers game. Stats are King in Fantasy. and depending on how a player fares statistically on a given night, the owner of that player stands to gain "points" in their league. Hits, homers, stolen-bases, runs, strikeouts, wins, etc. are all point-worthy. Unfortunately what this does is it portrays the game of baseball as being about "numbers" when it's really about so much more--it's about situations, strategy, sacraficing, etc. The Cubs are a perfect example of how numbers fail to tell the whole story. They are at the top of the league in homers and batting average, and yet we are not able to win games and do the little non-statistical things to win.
In fantasy baseball, does a player produce points for a sacrafice bunt? How about for moving the runners over with a ground-ball to the right side or a fly ball that moves a runner over to third from second? Does fantasy baseball reward players for having a 10-15 pitch at-bat, fighting and tiring the pitcher so a team can get to their bullpen quicker, only to ground out weakly to the first baseman? Does fantasy baseball reward great defensive plays--does it differentiate between "routine" and "sensational"--how about defensive plays by an infielder that keeps a single on the in-field as opposed to letting it go into the outfield which might score a run. Does Fantasy Baseball reward situational hitting--do you get more points for a single with two outs and a runner on second, that scores that runner in the ninth inning to win the game, or do you get more points for a home run with nobody on in the first inning? Does fantasy baseball reward a short-stop who on a double-play turn gets the runner at second, but decides to hold the ball and not try and get the runner at first because it's too dangerous (see Nomar and Nefi last night......ughhhh).
I could go on and on with examples, and I won't because it gets a little obvious and redundant. Fantasy baseball reduces the game to statistics and numbers and in doing so, it promotes a philosophy from fans, particularly new fans, that stats are king--the intangibles aren't as important as BA, HR, RBI, K'S, etc.To me, a life-time fan of baseball, and a devoted Cub fan, the intangibles are way-more important than the big numbers. Let me ask this: Does Fantasy Baseball take points away from a 50hr 120 RBI guy, because they're playing on a losing team and his ego is negatively effecting the team identity and clubhouse chemistry? You know some people would argue that a statistically driven obsession with offensive numbers added fuel to the steroids era and that the combination of MLB trying to resurrect the league post-strike and the Fans desire for more home runs and power led to a mutually-destructive tragedy where we're now seeing heroes look like fools (Palmeiro/McGwire).
The other aspect of Fantasy Baseball that negatively effects the game is people's short-term decision making and short-sighted perspective. In Fantasy Baseball you don't have to deal with the psychological factors of baseball (which some--like Tony LaRussa--would argue is the most important aspect of the game), you don't have to deal with the long-haul and wear and tear of a long season, and essentially you plan your rosters on hypothetical line-ups that are idealized and unrealistic. In short you plan from game to game to produce the highest individual score possible. Their is no long-term thinking--it's all day-to-day. IF you don't like the way a player is producing, you can trade him or release him and sign the next - hottest guy out there. There is no loyalty in Fantasy Baseball and there is no long-term strategizing that reflects the real complexities of the game. All anyone wants to talk about is statistics and numbers.
I just find that a little sad. Once again, this is not an indictment of everyone playing Fantasy Baseball out there--I know there are those of you who play Fantasy and also respect and study the game on a deep level--big props. What I am saying is that that isn't the majority of the Fantasy players out there. What worries me is that a culture/game of Fantasy where people are overly-reducing Baseball to numbers, and hypothetical line-ups is not good for Baseball. Fans are the ones who ultimately determine who stays and who goes on a team because they're the ones paying the ticket price, so if a whole new generation of baseball fans are learning about the game through a Fantasy perspective, doesn't that negatively effect the game?
I believe baseball is an art-form. I believe baseball is our greatest national treasure (other than music), and I believe one can study baseball their entire lives and still not master the intricacies and complexities of the game. We hear it again and again when something unpredictable happens in a game, a series or a year: "Baseball is a funny game"...what that really means is that Baseball is a strange, mysterious and complicated game. I just don't like hearing people refer to statistics all the time as their justification for why someone is good or not. I tend to believe that that is part of the equation, but that it's the intangibles like team-chemistry, role-playing and "small-ball" (to use a popular term this year) that really makes for great baseball teams.
I don't hate Fantasy Baseball, rather I am questioning how it effects the fan base and whether the Fantasy matches reality--can the fans separate the two?