Fear and loathing in fantasy baseball
October 3, 2010. 2:37 am. The last West Coast game ended, and with that final out, the 2010 MLB season came to its close.
Alone in my Johnson third-floor single, I closed my eyes and looked to the heavens. I was officially the champion of our fantasy baseball league.
Fantasy baseball is a solitary activity. After my victory, legions of fans did not line the sides of the Miller Library Street for a ticker-tape parade. No teammates awaited me, clad in goggles, to douse me with champagne.
My intention is not to say that fantasy sports are not social—I enjoy competing with my friends, talking about trades over dinner and damaging relationships with abusive trash talk. Nonetheless, most of the satisfaction from fantasy baseball comes from within. It is a beautiful runner’s high experienced only after a six-month marathon involving imaginary teams, real players, real drama and, often, real cash incentive.
I have to come completely clean about the effect of fantasy baseball on my life.
But like all forms of competition, fantasy baseball has the capacity to bring out the worst parts of human nature. That is what this column is about: how fantasy baseball leads to gross inhumanity and moral degradation. I use myself and Daniel Day-Lewis as a case study.
In my favorite movie, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, protagonist Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) amasses a huge fortune in the oil industry at the turn of the 20th century. The opposite of a bildungsroman, TWBB traces Plainview’s regression. He begins as a strong, young man who finds some success due to the merits of his intelligence and hard work. He even adopts the orphaned son of one of his employees and takes him as his own. By the end of the film, however, Plainview is an immensely selfish and reclusive millionaire, crippled by the three axes of aging, alcoholism and avarice. In the last ten minutes, an inebriated Plainview irreparably disowns his son and bludgeons a minister to death in cold blood.
Don't fear—to the best of my knowledge, I have no children to disown, nor do I harbor any serious resentment towards clergymen. But I have definitely cast my morality aside in pursuit of fantasy baseball glory. In 2006, my first season, I snuck into the playoffs with the sixth seed and made it to our league championship game, fueled primarily by the pitching of known anabolic steroid user, noted adulterer, indicted perjurer, and all-around asshole Roger Clemens. I have no qualms about what I did, and wear my accomplishments with pride. I may have even manipulated an opponent’s roster to ensure a victory or two. Big Fukudome deal.
In 2007, 2008 and 2009, I added a few layers of deceit to my stratagems. Most people are in fantasy baseball leagues with friends and co-workers. I began to view friends less as the people who create the emotional support framework for a happy life, but rather as people who I could more easily bend to my will. I wrestled in high school, and I figuratively and literally twisted arms to acquire the players that I wanted. My low point was 2008, my senior year of high school. We were all sentimental about graduation and moving on to new challenges. I leveraged this sensitive time in our lives to convince my good friend Tommy to trade me Kerry Wood for Randy Johnson. At the time, Kerry had cast aside his injury-prone past and reinvented himself as a closer for the Cubs. Randy was on his second stint with Arizona and definitely past his 300-strikeout prime. I made it clear to Tommy that our friendship was on the line, and he finally relented on the eve of graduation. Wood won me my first championship that year, thanks to a 34-save campaign and 11.4 K/9. Randy Johnson turned in a solid, but unspectacular, campaign.
But that season was also the first time I felt empty inside. In October of 2008, my friends and I were all miles apart, at our respective colleges. No amount of electronic trash talk or excessive usage of uppercase letters could substitute for the satisfaction of telling a lifelong friend “BOOYAH” in person. I spent the entire 2009 season making amends, repairing relationships and controlling my inner demons. By October of 2009, I was a man at peace.
The 2010 season changed that. I found myself in a new league with friends from college, instead of high school, and my desire to prove my worth left me vulnerable to my old ways. I fully embraced the There Will Be Blood-Daniel Plainview perspective on life, naming my team “There Will Be Braun.” I truly believe that I won the league based on my own merits, but my actions left bad tastes in the mouths of nine men whose names have been changed. I considered league commissioner Lordon Gessersohn a friend, but for six months I said nothing that could be considered friendly, except for the times I wanted him to quickly approve illicit trades. Over the summer, I reached out to my friend Dustin Auncanson, who I hadn’t spoken to since our CH 141 final. Three threats, two calls and 41 texts later, Troy Tulowitzki was on my team for the cut-rate price of Curtis “.247-average” Granderson. The league uproar against me was loud, but I viewed their shouts as jealousy and kept storming towards the championship. In the week of the final, eventual runner-up Dammy Seeran derided my tactics as “malicious” and “money-mongering.” Tragically true to Daniel Plainview’s example, I spent all my league winnings on alcohol. Perhaps the coup-de-grace was when I picked up Ken Griffey Jr. on the last day of the season so that “he could finally be a champion.”
With the 2011 baseball season underway, my vices are again in full swing. Instead of shame, I take pride in my imaginary success, in my own solitary abyss. As the Devil states, in Paradise Lost, it is “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Maybe I’m just melodramatic. Readers, if your curiosity piques you, go to Yahoo’s fantasy baseball page and search for the “Colby Mules” league.
I’ll be at the top of the standings.