The casualties of fantasy baseball
Sometimes, in order to understand how much you have lost, it is necessary to win it all.
Although it may no longer be the most popular sport in the United States, baseball is still indisputably the national pastime. Since its early origins in antebellum New York, baseball has been thoroughly ingrained with the shared national consciousness, capturing the collective imagination and awe of the public.
As a nation, the nature of our relationship with baseball has historically mimicked the cultural trajectory of mainstream America. Through times of war and economic hardship, we found our heroes on the baseball diamond. As we dealt with the twin legacies of slavery and racism in our society, baseball served as an arena and litmus test for national attitudes on integration. When the end of the so-called “Steroid Era” saw dozens of role models reduced to the status of cheats and brigands, we were forced to reconsider what we valued in our heroes. Lastly, the ever-increasing commercialization of our fine national pastime means that professional baseball generally operates like a business concerned first and foremost with the bottom line, regardless of what the sport means to millions of fans.
I am starting to believe that fantasy baseball is one of the stops along the highway of moral decline in our national pastime. Or at least, my style of play is one of those stops.
Fantasy baseball is a billion-dollar industry played by millions all over the world. In theory, it is just another way to make fans feel closer to the game. What fan wouldn’t want to be the manager of their own imaginary team, with their favorite players, competing against their friends? It can be a fun, harmless experience, except for one critical factor. Fantasy baseball is competition, and the primary objective in any competition is to win.
Reader, I know what you are thinking. Yes, it is possible to enjoyably compete and be friendly to your fellow competitors. But inevitably, in any friendly competition, one reaches a point where they have to make a choice between the “friendly” part and the “competition” part. For me, ten times out of ten, the competition part wins out.
In a previous piece for this fine publication, I made my ethos on fantasy baseball clear. Since the writing of that piece, I have added another league championship trophy to my collection. But I have also sustained a significant blow to my reputation. On December 10, 2011, ESPN reported that my favorite player—and offensive cornerstone for the 2010 and 2011 seasons—Ryan Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone.
Through a tumultuous and strongly-contested appeal process, Braun successfully challenged the decision, although seemingly on a technicality relating to the handling of his urine sample. But the damage has been done. He will play the rest of his career under a cloud of suspicion and mistrust. Because I bonded my fate to his for two championship seasons, I too shall suffer the same consequences of disrespect and illegitimacy. I have already felt the spiraling effect of these consequences during my preparations for the upcoming seasons. I am a monarch with no subjects, a paper king in exile.
Baseball is a uniquely American sport, and the actions of Ryan Braun (real-life) and I (fantasy) have transformed it into some form of a uniquely American horror story for myself. Considering the trajectory of most horror movies, I fear that I may be the first casualty.