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Saturday, March 25, 2006 

Literary Society Correspondence


[Editor’s Note: Known mainly for his prowess as King of the Internet, Todd Neckers is a graduate of Hope College and currently a law student at the University of Michigan. At Hope he was a member of the most dynamic beer die tandem (pictured right) since his Grandfather, Carlyle Neckers (class of 1935) who played the game using shots of moonshine instead of beer due to restrictions on alcohol sales resulting from The Great Depression.]

If you had $50,000, an MLB press pass, and 10 months to devote exclusively to running a single, AL-only rotisserie fantasy baseball team, how would you fair?

That is the question Sam Walker sets out to answer in Fantasyland. Mind you he had never played fantasy baseball and joined the most prestigious and intense roto league on the planet: Tout Wars. Normally reserved for the most experienced players, Walker describes joining Tout Wars as being “like trying to learn cello by joining the London Philharmonic.” His opponents included an MBA, 3 lawyers, a Hollywood screenwriter, a pair of computer engineers, a participant with a master’s in Victorian literature, and fantasy writers from USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Some of them have even dabbled in front office jobs for big league teams.

Walker sets out by hiring a player scout and a NASA employee to help with statistics. His goal was to tie together the best of both worlds: old school scouts concerned with ‘make up’ and ‘tools’ – in order to give him insights that the fantasy geeks couldn’t get while pouring over the Bill James Handbook (or the books/magazines they produce to make a living), and an engineer to design and implement complicated projection algorithms similar to those utilized by his opponents (with about 60% accuracy, traditionally). From there he toured all 14 AL spring training sites in order to garner information that the other participants (known as “Touts”) would not have access to.

The book takes you along Walker’s journey from total noob to self-proclaimed fantasy genius and back again. Walker does a phenomenal job getting readers to feel like co-owners of his team (the “Streetwalkers”). You’ll watch him bombard opponents with trade offers, eventually leading to the elation of fleecing an opponent in one deal, only to watch him peddle away stars for peanuts and have huge moves blow up in his face.

The heart of the book is experiencing firsthand every fantasy player’s dream: 10 months devoted to nothing but your squad, with a staff to aid you, a newspaper to bankroll you and a press pass to give you personal access to your players for prodding, encouragement and even sharing the occasional beer (seriously). The book does drag a bit during the middle of the season, but this could merely the depth of Walker’s writing – any baseball fan or player knows that 162 games is a very long season – and in this book you experience that long season personally. This small short-coming is more than made up for by a wonderful history of the development of fantasy baseball and poignant anecdotes on topics ranging from a Florida minister who picks up tips for his roto team from the minor league umpires in his congregation to the story of a man saved from the 9/11 attacks by breaking from his daily routine (which would have left him trapped in a WTC elevator during the attacks) to trade for Magglio Ordonez. He has drafted Mags in the first round of every draft since.

This is the best baseball book since Moneyball, and unlike Michael Lewis’ masterpiece, Walker’s book will actually help your fantasy team (I still have a hard time not drafting Mark Teahen – a demi-god in Moneyball, but worthless in fantasy – in my fantasy leagues). From SABRMetric types to those of you who prefer the traditional ‘tools’ scouting method, this book is a can’t miss prospect, and at 344 pages, unlike Prince Fielder (at least according to Billy Beane), it is not too fat to make it in the major leagues.

Cheers.

(This review was brought to you by the letter D (in olde English script) and the number 1984.)

"Hey Todd, which do you think we are better at: answering Jeopardy questions or playing beer die?" SEL on one drunken, great October afternoon.

Lepper couldn't look more queer than he does in that picture.

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