Around the Horn with Paul Ghiglieri: 26th Edition

Sliding face-first into baseball... for all of us.

Welcome to the 26th edition of Around the Horn, a recurring op-ed with a satirical slant that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball. Think of it as a stripped-down Last Week Tonight or The Daily Show in a column format with recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.

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Despite there being nothing to talk about, there is much to talk about.

Yeah, I know that’s an oxymoron, but it made sense in my head even if it doesn’t in yours. If I’m not shaving or putting on a collared shirt anymore, I’m definitely not deleting gibberish I already wrote.

Such is the state of our times.

Actually, the truth is I’m staying quite busy when I’m not writing. Education is my other calling when not moonlighting as a writer. I’ve long felt that those in the education sector have never truly been appreciated or respected by the general public for their contributions in ways that they should. Our global pandemic sure has provided many with a small dose of what it’s like, though.

 

We’re all learning a lot during this global crisis. Just because there are not any games being played at the moment doesn’t mean we can’t also keep enjoying baseball. Namely, that game within the game – fantasy baseball.

Many of you may already know the genesis behind fantasy baseball, but our main story today not only delves a little deeper into that backstory, but also provides an opportunity to live out a few fantasies on the diamond as well. And I’m not talking about simulating 2020 games.

After all, what is time, but a flat circle?

 

 

The Rundown

Our Main Story

 

Fantasy baseball originated in the circa 1980 when Daniel Okrent, a New York writer and editor, along with Glen Waggoner,  a Columbia University academic, other editors, members of academia, and the like all agreed to wager $250 in league dues to play a made-up game Okrent had invented surrounding America’s Pastime.

The men decided to call their “silly little game” Rotisserie after La Rôtisserie Française restaurant in New York City where they dined together. It was then the term “roto” was born, and the way many of us watch the game has never been the same, nor have corporate offices and water cooler conversations.

There was even an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the first fantasy baseball league, where it was revealed that Okrent still has never won a league. Imagine that, never winning a game you invented.

And yet, to think of what his fanciful whim has become over the last 40 years, it’s hard to argue Okrent won the greatest prize of all – more than 10% of the nation’s population playing your game, accounting for nearly $4 billion in annual revenues, and a totally different way of watching baseball for millions of fans.

However, the origins of fantasy baseball can actually be traced back as far as the 1860s parlor games that simulated a 9-inning game.

(Collection of Tom Shieber)

By the 1890s, these board games began featuring the images of baseball stars such as Cy Young and Willie Keeler, and the “sports page” of the newspaper was born. By the 1930s, Clifford Van Beek’s  National Pastime board game finally allowed fans to simulate the game with actual players.

(Milo Stewart, Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame – B-125.2011)

All this led to electronic simulations, and eventually, to the real-time fantasy baseball experience we have today. Or, to be more precise, the fantasy experience we had in 2019, so says COVID-19, MLB’s new acting commissioner, who has suspended play indefinitely.

There is a plan to resume play, which I’ll get to later in this article, but what’s a fantasy player to do until then?

The most rewarding answer, it turns out, may require a Delorean, figuratively speaking.

What if you could play fantasy baseball right now, and you could do it by starting your draft with Pete Rose and Ty Cobb instead of Roger Maris and Juan Soto. Better yet, what if the first game featured Justin Verlander facing off against Lou Gehrig at Ebbets Field?

Turns out, there is a fantasy baseball option out there that allows you to draft a team of historic players from different eras, including our own, pick your own home park for your team, manage a team budget, and use complex software algorithms to simulate a season.

Basically, it’s a “historic” baseball league using a pool of 5,000 players from every era, including players from the Negro League to Nippon Professional Baseball. Games are simulated 6 days per week. All current ballparks, from Oracle Park to Dodger Stadium, are available to choose as your home park, as well as many historic parks.

Diamond Mind Online simulates games using statistics that players accumulated during their careers. The stats are then normalized relative to other players in the league during the time they played, adjusted for park factors and effects. You geta $100,000 million budget, and you’ll have to refine your trading skills and learn how to loan money to get better players. It’s a true GM experience. You can spend your budget on pitching and defense, speed and contact ability, power-hitting, and so on.

Given the wait for real baseball to resume, there might not be a better way to enjoy fantasy baseball than to experience it in a way you’ve probably only dreamt about as a kid. Leagues start for as little as $4.99 per team, and with the pandemic locking most of us at home these days, they’re offering a free second team when you purchase one as a new customer. Plus, there’s an unconditional, 30-day money-back guarantee.

You will almost never hear me plug a product in this column, but these are desperate times in the fantasy sports realm. If you’re starving for fantasy baseball, this is one of the more imaginative and original ways to play that you can find.

I mean, it’s worth a shot in between spending your free time scavenging for toilet paper and slipping slowly into madness. You never know who might be around the corner.

 

 

Out of the Park

A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week

 

The delayed start to the season hasn’t just given you free time. Some of the game’s finest have been occupying themselves playing in MLB’s The Show Player’s League.

As if real baseball players playing their virtual selves in a video gaming isn’t entertaining enough, watching them banter back and forth is something I would pay to see if required. The look on Blake Snell‘s face as he mocks Joey Gallo for laying a bunt down the third-base line is priceless, perhaps topped only by the look on Gallo’s face when Snell admits, incredulously, that Gallo homered off him in the next at-bat.

This is precisely what MLB should be doing to market its players. Showing them at play, literally, with each other and having fun doing it allows some of the game’s best personalities to shine. Unless, of course, Rob Manfred still thinks a variety show of himself ruining the game is still the best way to engage a new generation of fans.

 

Wisely, the league has been live-streaming all this on its social media accounts, with the clubs’ social media accounts and each player also following suit from their individual Twitch or YouTube accounts. This is how you brand the game the right way, at least during these uncertain times where no real games are currently scheduled to be played.

After all, how do you top a reaction like this?

 

Backdoor Sliders

Where Baseball Got Caught Looking

 

Baseball has proposed a plan to resume play as soon as May, and–

Ok, hold on, let me finish.

I can see why that excites you, and you might even think that should have been the main story of this column. However, there are so many obstacles hindering this proposal that I’m more inclined to examine the half-baked nature of it first.

So, what is this proposal, you ask?

In a nutshell, the plan entails having all 30 teams play their games in Arizona, sequestering players, coaches, and essential personnel in local hotels for up to four months away from their families. Travel would be limited, allowing them to move to and from the hotel and their respective stadiums.

The player reviews of this plan have been, shall we say, mixed, ranging from outright refusal…

… to feigned consideration…

… to being fully on board…

Of course, Cole Hamels‘ wife may have a uniquely different reaction that probably looks something like this:

 

The plan could potentially be expanded to include Florida and may feature major realignments.

Nobody has mentioned that it’s hot enough to boil an egg on the sidewalk in Arizona come summertime, nor the fact that rosters would likely have to be expanded to account for more double-headers, thus complicating everything from new rules in place on substitutions to a whole host of other issues.

I want baseball back as much as you do, but this plan has some serious flaws. The logistics already sound like a nightmare, but the financial implications also need to be considered, as the ESPN story outlines:

“The hurdles go far beyond testing and players’ fears of separating from their families. MLB and the MLBPA, sources said, expect to discuss this week the economics of the plan, in which the league would forgo the gate receipts that account for the largest proportion of its annual revenues that exceed $10 billion. The league could reap additional money by adding games to its national television portfolio, with networks likely to leap at live programming as other sports remain shuttered due to the coronavirus, sources said.”

A plan that involves playing a 100 game season, with the season starting after the All-Star break and a World Series played on a neutral field in a warm-weather city probably makes the most sense.

In this case, perhaps less is more. Believe me, it pains me to say that, too. But not nearly as much as it would pain me to see curves we have worked so hard to flatten suddenly start bouncing up and down all over the place like Jessica Biel on a yoga ball.

No, seriously, that really happened.

 

 

Extra Bags

 

I hope your holiday was a pleasant one!

That’s the ballgame for this week! Thanks for joining me, and I’ll see you all next week!

 

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Paul Ghiglieri

Paul Ghiglieri has written fantasy analysis and hardball columns for PitcherList and FantasyPros. A lifelong Giants fan living in LA, he spends his free time writing screenplays with metaphors for life only half as good as baseball.

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