People have always had fantasies about baseball and not all of them included Kevin Costner in the back of a bus. Every baseball fan has fantasized about having one of only 32 jobs in the world, the owner of your team. The owner gets to make unilateral decisions that determine the success of the team they love. Fans are left helpless to watch and scream at their radio, then their TV, then their MLB.com mobile app, “Why are we giving Barry Zito so much money!” Then in the early 80’s fans were given an outlet for their anger with the invention of the Rotisserie League. They could, for the first time get that feeling of creating a team and living and dying by your own stupidity and not just second guessing that of the front office. Fantasy sports were born.
I am not here to recap the invention of fantasy sports, for that all you need to do is watch the ESPN Films 30 for 30 documentary Silly Little Game. Although fantasy baseball was the first of all fantasy sports, Football and auto racing dominate baseball in popularity. Baseball has its limitations in fantasy like playing every day and misleading statistics like Wins for a starting pitcher, but it is still Americas pastime. Despite the difficulties fantasy baseball faces, in recent years it has begun to close the gap in popularity with the help of some modern fantasy baseball pioneers. I am here to honor the three people who have made the biggest impact on modern fantasy baseball history.
In 2007 fantasy baseball got an endorsement similar to incumbent president giving his support for an up and coming senatorial candidate. Fantasy baseball was making its first strong push in national popularity, but players still had to look over their shoulder while talking trades at the water cooler because the non-sports fans still saw the game as a nerdy endeavor. That all changed with three words, “I got Matsui.” Paul Rudd deliver this line in Knocked Up, and immediately added a fantasy baseball reference to the universal lexicon. Even though the character leaves us wondering if he is excited about Hideki or is terrible at fantasy baseball and drafted Kaz, those three words stand as a catch phrase, normalizing this once obscure passion.
Although this moment in cinematic history did wonders for normalizing a passion for fantasy baseball, the moments following are what launched fantasy baseball on a popularity rocket. Mr. Rudd goes on to show all those husbands and fathers scouring minor league stats ready to pick up a mid-season call up, that fantasy baseball is in fact more fun than spending time with your wife. However it is not more fun than seeing Spiderman by yourself.
Hollywood came through with another bump to fantasy baseball popularity this last year with Moneyball. This movie is not technically about fantasy baseball, but for that matter it is not even about playing baseball. Brad Pitt accomplished the nearly impossible. He made talking on the phone about trading for a middle reliever sexy. Fantasy players left the theater ready to negotiate a five-way trade that even involved cash consideration. The spouses of fantasy players left with a Brad Pitt fantasy that turns them on every time their spouse talks about John Rauch on the waiver wire. Brad Pitt is to fantasy sports what Billy Bob Thornton was to air traffic controllers in Pushing Tin.
Finally, none of us would ever bask in the glory of victory over nine of our closest friends and a guy in our office, if it were not for one man. Matthew Berry has been giving us a framework of knowledge from which we pretend we did our own research for years. You may notice that his name is not in bold. This is an article about unsung heroes, so I offer you the real hero behind the hero that is Matthew Berry. In 1986 Randy “The Wet Noodle” Nelson received the word that he got the final roster spot on his high school baseball team. Randy earned the last spot as a long relief pitcher that the coach wanted to use to eat up innings in blowouts. He was a long gangly kid who could throw inning after inning without tiring and that how he got the nickname “The Wet Noodle.” Although, it also could have been because a skiing accident left him impotent and high schoolers can be mean. In any case the player that did not make the team was none other than Matthew Berry. He started writing shortly after that and now we get the benefit of his wisdom. So, thank you “Wet Noodle.”
Happy Baseball Season.
By: Murphy Row
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