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June 29, 2001

6-4-3

Fear

by Gary Huckabay

Not surprisingly, after I did the ESPN chat last week, I received about 400 e-mails from people who participated or read the transcript afterwards. About 25% of those were from Derek Jeter fans/apologists, and his defense, along with that of Omar Vizquel, appears to be one of the hottest buttons in baseball. I'll be discussing Jeter's defensive career in next week's 6-4-3, so please save your nastygrams until at least then.

I'm always surprised at the level of fervor when discussing defense; I sometimes wonder if I'd get less hate mail if I were advocating California's secession from the union, or the sterilization of the unattractive, than I do by suggesting that Omar Vizquel might not be as good a defender as most people seem to believe.

Today, though, I want to focus on something that I hope is a little more lighthearted. I want to discuss something that I really, really dislike, apparently to the surprise of most people. It's not something about which I usually talk--not out of fear or secrecy, but for the same reason people don't usually discuss the effects of microloans on democratic reform in west African nations: it's just doesn't come up. Anyway, here it is, out for everyone to see:

I hate rotisserie baseball.

As someone who's spent a fair amount of time in his life around games and simulation, and around real baseball, I believe it's a really lame pastime. Not only do I find it a rather dull abstraction, it's also a missed opportunity, and an amazingly effective obstacle to promoting greater understanding of real baseball among a subset of fans who have a very high level of interest in the game.

Before I get into specifics, I want to make sure everyone understands this: I don't hate other forms of baseball-centric games. I love most stats-based simulations I've seen. SSI's Computer Baseball for the old Apple made the entire exercise of creating computers worthwhile. Some of the best social times of my life have been in simulation leagues, getting together with from 5 to 23 friends, drafting teams, then playing out a schedule of games. For several years, we played Lance Haffner's Full Count Baseball with about 8 to 12 teams, playing something like an 80-game schedule, with the draft/party on Halloween, and the league generally filling the baseball gap between November and February.

The best baseball simulations are not only great fun, but can be somewhat justified as useful tools. Diamond Mind Baseball (formerly Pursue the Pennant on the PC, not the analog version) is a complete blast, and obviously a labor of love for Tom Tippett and everyone involved. Of course, these games allow some managerial tinkering on the personnel and game-tactics levels, but they don't do what roto does, which is allow "gamblingesque" results that depend on the ongoing drama of the current MLB season.

Roto is popular in large part due to its simplicity and familiarity. I think those are the same two reasons why I hate it. I've spent upwards of ten years now screaming out about the evils of using half-assed or misleading metrics to evaluate player performance. Metrics like pitcher wins, saves, batting average, and RBI. Sound familiar? That's the frustrating thing. Roto attracts the serious baseball fan, (as opposed to the disturbed, borderline obsessive/compulsive baseball fan that reads things like Baseball Prospectus) and then immediately reinforces a bunch of canards in the minds of people who probably have a genuine interest in learning more about the game of baseball. It's maddening. Having people walk towards the fringe, only to stop for a pacifier that you consider inferior can be downright painful.

The real lost opportunity in roto isn't in pitching my "Life is OBP, and OBP is Life" mantra to a few hundred thousand more people. The real lost opportunity is that there are better games out there, and people just don't know about them. One of the best game designers ever was Danielle Berry, who created a bunch of computer games, including M.U.L.E., often hailed as the first software to be pirated by over a million people. Berry understood that the game should primarily serve as an catalyst that would give a bunch of friends a focal point to laugh, have a good time, and engage in friendly competition. The fun is in spending time with other people on something of common interest.

For many people, roto is the same thing. My father-in-law plays with his two sons in a roto league that's been going on for at least 15 years, and he's a major stathead. He knows there are better games out there, but loves the rituals, the competition, and the group of people. But you can get all those good things in better baseball-based games than roto.

For games that depend on the ongoing season, there are a number of free options available on the Web at places like ESPN.com, Sportsline, Yahoo, etc. Most of these games operate in a fashion similar to roto; you receive points for what your stable of players does during the season, and you can perform general manager functions like trades, acquisitions, and so forth.

Personally, though, I prefer Scoresheet Baseball. It's based on the results of the current season, allows a greater degree of control than most games, and most importantly, it's like real baseball. You play different teams each week, and things like walks, doubles, and defense actually matter. Some weeks, you get lucky and face Paul Wilson, Ryan Glynn, Omar Olivares, and a bunch of relievers that got smacked around. Other weeks, you run into a buzzsaw of Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and a red hot Manny Ramirez. It also adds the extra bonus of anticipation into the mix: your results for the week arrive during the day on Tuesday, and in an addicted office, it can grind productivity for a halt for a few minutes, at the very least.

So anyway, if you play roto, check out some of the other options. I'm not affiliated with Diamond Mind or Scoresheet, other than being a big fan of each. You can check out Diamond Mind at http://www.diamondmind.com/, and Scoresheet at http://www.scoresheet.com/.

No matter what you do for in-season baseball gaming, though, remember this one truism: no one, even a big roto fan, is interested in hearing about your roto team. There is nothing short of a Carrot Top comedy show that will make eyes glaze over faster. Want proof? Check out my Scoresheet League at: http://www.worldzone.net/sports/boness/murphy/murphy.shtml.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Gary's other articles. You can contact Gary by clicking here

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