Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Strolling through the Fantasy Past

Although there are many arguments over who discovered fantasy baseball, nearly every one aggress that the earliest forms of fantasy baseball was "tabletop baseball.” The best-known of these games was the Strat-o-Matic, whose 1963 game used customized baseball cards of Major League Baseball players with their stats from recent seasons. Participants either re-created previous seasons using the game rules and the statistics, or compose fantasy teams from the cards in order to play against each other.

As a kid in the 80s, I played a tabletop game called Pursue the Pennant which took the baseball board game to new (And supposedly realistic) level of play thru ball park effects, clutch hitting and pitching and various other nuances of the game. It wasn’t a bad game, but not really as fun as FBB in my opinion. Of course, it took about as much time to finish one game as a real baseball game. There are several other table top games out there, if you are interested in them check out: http://tabletopbaseball.org

The origins of Fantasy baseball in the incarnation that we would recognize today is highly disputed. According to Wikipedia, the Canadian-American writer Jack Kerouac played his own form of fantasy baseball starting quite young and continued developing and playing this perhaps private version of fantasy baseball during most of his life. Several other informal personal games also claim to be the first and stretch back as early as the 1950s.

Regardless of who was first, the development of Rotisserie League Baseball occurred in 1980 and was the creation of magazine writer/editor Daniel Okrent. The name coming from the New York City restaurant La Rotisserie Francaise where he and friends first met to play. Okrent's innovation was that "owners" in a Rotisserie league drafted teams from the list of active Major League Baseball players and would follow their statistics during the ongoing season to compile their scores. Thus rather than rely on past statistics, owners make predictions for players' playing time, health, and expected performance just like real baseball managers. Because Okrent was a journalists, other journalists were introduced to the game and it became a subject to write about during the 1981 baseball strike, which spread the phenomena.

Rotisserie league baseball proved to be hugely popular. Traditional statistics used in early leagues were often chosen because they were easy to compile from newspaper box scores. Scoring was done entirely by hand. Computers and the Internet revolutionized fantasy baseball. Scoring was now done by computer, which opened it to anyone on the world wide web and let leagues to develop their own scoring system, often based on less popular statistics. In this way, fantasy baseball has become a sort of real-time simulation of baseball, allowing fans to develop a more sophisticated understanding of how the real-world game works.

And that brings us up to today. Millions of people play fantasy baseball (although it has been surpassed in popularity by Fantasy Football). It is so popular that many companies block providers to keep their employees from playing. The situation is so bad that many experts suggest that millions of dollars are lost each week to employees wasting time with fantasy sports. Of course, the past time is so popular that several industries serve the commuting, making billions of dollars each year on other company’s waste. With so much money being won and lost, clearly Fantasy baseball is here to stay.

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