A Wall Street Journal writer spends a season in a fantasy baseball league to explore the inner workings and contagious passions of one of the country’s most popular pursuits
Every spring, millions of Americans prepare to take part in one of the oddest, most obsessive and engrossing rituals in the sports pantheon: rotisserie baseball, a fantasy game where armchair fans match wits by building their own teams. Starting with a player "draft" before the Major League season, contenders spend six months scouring the box scores to see if their handpicked players can outperform the opposition. It’s a pastime that threatens to overtake traditional baseball in the passions it generates.
In 2004, Sam Walker, a sports columnist for The Wall Street Journal, decided to explore this phenomenon by talking his way into Tout Wars, a private league generally reserved for the nation’s top experts. Using his baseball contacts and access to locker rooms, Walker spent a year trying to dredge up information that might give him a competitive edge over his eccentric cast of competitors. But in his quest for victory he also endeavored to settle the great question that divides modern baseball thinkers: Can excellence be predicted by statistics alone or is the human element more important?
Together with his crack research team, Sig (a statistician) and Nando (a baseball savant), Walker finds himself possessed by the game and determined to win at any expense, spending weeks on the road interacting with his real Major League players and trying to "manage" them. We follow his descent into sleeplessness, panic, triumph (temporarily), treachery, and even consultations with an astrologer as he keeps his ever-blearier eyes on his elusive goal. The result is one of the most entertaining sports books in years and a matchless look into the heart and soul of our national pastime.
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"I have read many books on baseball, but none of them approach the delight, the zaniness, the lunacy and the sheer reading pleasure of Sam Walker's Fantasyland. In trying to build the perfect fantasy baseball team, Walker takes us on an absolute joyride. His book is a riot and a romp, but he also cleverly crystallizes the raging baseball culture war between the stat freaks and the hard-line traditionalists."
--Buzz Bissinger, author of Three Nights in August and Friday Night Lights
Sam Walker is a senior special writer for The Wall Street Journal and appears frequently on ESPNews.
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