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The Expert Losers

Today was a day I look forward to all year: the day my fantasy baseball invitation arrives in my inbox, ripe with the promise of six months of lost sleep, maniacal statistics tracking, and indecorous online trash talk. But not for me (well, I might talk a little smack). I don’t believe watching Sports Center helps you win at fantasy.

The fifteen other guys in my league disagree. They will spend the weeks leading up to the draft this March fanatically researching every player, ranking and re-ranking their draft lists based on an arcane combination of personal team preferences and hearsay. On draft night, they’ll stay up to fight over a rookie second baseman that some obscure AM radio commentator called the next A-Rod. I’ll be fast asleep, letting ESPN autodraft me a team of solid if unexceptional players as I do every season. And, as I have every season for the last six years, I’ll finish in the top three amid accusations that I didn’t really play.

The guys in my league are the kind of guys who know all the odds for every possible poker hand and can tell you in an instant if you should hit when the dealer is showing a six. These are guys who take pride in knowing rules, who don’t drink when they gamble and scoff at gut feelings. But when it comes to fantasy, it’s as if they’d been knocking ’em back all night. They drop players based on a weekend slump and blatantly disregard the statistics they normally venerate, I’m guessing because they conflate fantasy baseball with the real thing.

I don’t follow baseball. But I do check my fantasy team daily, and I resent being accused of letting the computer win for me. If one of my guys gets hurt, I take him out of the rotation. If after the draft I end up with three shortstops and no catcher, I trade accordingly. If one of my guys is sucking consistently, I replace him. Otherwise, I let the team be, keeping my statistically strongest hand. The guys who resent me the most are the ones who like to play at being big league managers—and they certainly know a lot more about baseball than I do. But we’re not playing baseball, we’re playing fantasy baseball, and I play by its rules, not some bizarre transposition of the rules of real baseball. You can play a game for lots of reasons, but I play fantasy to win.

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