The Strife of Reilly

Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly is somewhat of a celebrity.  He's been named Sportswriter of the Year several times and has appeared in several SI commercials with one of the swimsuit models.  So it was somewhat surprising to see him use his high profile pulpit to pick on the little guy.

In a recent column of his, he playfully derided fantasy baseball fans: "You smell like a goat. You're unshaven. You work endless hours in dimly lit caves. You speak a language understood only by others of your kind. You fear women and put prices on men's heads. And legions of enemies long to destroy you."

Funny.  I can't believe he's bringing personal appearance into this.  Have you seen some of your contemporaries, Mr. Reilly?  They're not exactly GQ material, are they?  In fact, about the only thing they're in are Hair Club for Men or Jenny Craig ads.  

As for their habits, they work endless hours in a place that smells like old sweaty socks.  They speak in a kind of esperanto philosophica obscura; things like how the work of the '93 Phillies bullpen was a lesson on how to live one's life, etc.  They don't necessarily fear women, but they often wonder how they managed to find one that would tolerate their incessant sports anecdotes.  Strikingly similar, really.

RR: "You are, of course, a fantasy baseball geek."

Y'know, it was so-called "geeks" who put a man on the moon.

RR: "All you care about is your pretend world of major league players and their stats. You root for numbers, not teams.

That's right.  We root for numbers.  The alternative is to root for teams, which free agency and parsimonious ownership has essentially reduced to rooting for laundry.  So which pursuit is more foolish?

RR: You have depersonalized the game, sucked the life out of it; all so you can say you took $100 off your former friends."

Sucked the life out of the game?  If by "sucked the life out" you mean saved the game from obscurity after the last work stoppage, then I whole heartedly agree.  You'd like to think that Cal saved the game.  But there was no significant increase in attendance other than in Baltimore the year he broke Gehrig's record.  And he didn't play in the NL, so there's not much chance he saved the game there.  No, what saved the game was millions of "geeks" buying tickets to watch their players "put up numbers".  See, even the players understand; they use the roto-guys' lingo.

It's not a coincidence that periodicals like Baseball America increased their readership hundreds-fold at the same time that fantasy baseball began to gain popularity.  It's not a coincidence that the STATS Inc. Handbooks are the biggest selling sports books every year.  Nor is it a coincidence that the increase in cogent statistical analysis and increased acceptance of sabermetrics over the last decade just happened to occur at the same time that fantasy players were looking for new ways to evaluate talent so they could win their league's prize pot.  Those geeks you playfully detest not only saved America's pastime, but they have injected more money to baseball's economy than probably all other demographics combined.

You wanna know who sucked the life out of the game, who depersonalized it?  I'll give you a hint: they are led by a man who used to sell cars in Milwaukee.  These men have constantly threatened the popularity and the integrity of the game - pretty flagrantly for the past 8 years - all for the sake of busting the player's union to make 8% more than several billion.  If you want to find who sucked the life out of the game, look no further than the man who announced that baseball was in financial shambles and need to contract two teams just days after one of the most exciting (and profitable) seasons and World Series in the last 25 years.  They've been pretty busy chipping away at the game this year, too; you can read about it in both the Congressional Record and in Forbes.  It has been these guys - no need to name names, I hope - who have turned this game into nothing more than an accountant's ledger.  Fantasy sports fans are just doing a pale but harmless imitation.

RR: "It's not just baseball. Fifteen percent of Americans over 18 have been in one fantasy sports league or another."

Yep, 15% and growing.  So if you want to increase the readership of your column by 15% or more, next time, use more numbers.