The latest installment in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries is a funny look at the origins of fantasy sports: Rotisserie Baseball.
I enjoyed it for many of the same reasons the AV Club reviewer enjoyed it: while the idea of fantasy sports appealed to me, I must admit I was more in love with the books that explained the game.
I remember first noticing the original Rotisserie baseball book sometime in the summer of 1985. I flipped through it a few times, but figured it seemed like something older people might do, not 14 year olds. I came across a gift certificate at some point that fall and decided to blow it on the Rotisserie League book. While the Royals were busy making a late run in the AL West, then coming back from 3-1 deficits against Toronto and St. Louis to win the pennant and the World Series, the book languished in my room.
Finally, sometime in the summer of ’86 I dusted it off and read through it. I loved it. The concept of the game appealed to me, then in my final years of total baseball geekdom. But I especially enjoyed the stories of the original drafts and off-seasons, the team biographies and accounts of their pennant races. I immediately drafted a league of eight teams and spent a month or so pouring through USA Today each morning to update each team’s stats.* I resolved to put a real league together the next spring.
(This is a good point to remind you I didn’t talk to girls much back then.)
Well, we moved away to California the following fall and I was still struggling to make friends at my new school when baseball season rolled around. I again did my own league for part of the summer, but something that would remain true 20 years later was apparent then: it was more fun to do all the research that went into putting a team together and then go through the draft than to actually play the game. That was true when it was just me running a pretend league of eight teams, and when I was in 12 team fantasy leagues with coworkers years later.
I gave up on fantasy sports a few years ago. I finished second in a football league and figured that’s the best I would ever do. I don’t miss it in the fall, when friends are frantically checking their fantasy football stats as the games progress each Sunday. But each spring, when I buy a baseball preview, I spend a week or so thinking about joining a league and getting back into the game. I always know, though, that I just want to go through those early stages of the season, and by July I will no longer care about my lineups or making trades or checking the standings.
Now if I could land a book contract and keep the history of a season, as the originators did, I might make the jump again.
I got into fantasy baseball because of the books they wrote chronicling the ups and downs of their teams; the idea of a fake baseball team was moderately appealing to me as a high school ballplayer, but even more, I loved reading about these smart, funny people and their adventures in playing it.