TO BE READ BY ME NEXT SUMMER, AND ALL FUTURE SUMMERS WHEN THE SIREN SONG OF FANTASY FOOTBALL CALLS

Dear Josh,

I am here to send you the following message: Do not play fantasy football again.

Every summer you forget what it’s like and you foolishly re-up. By the time you remember what it’s like, it’s too late to back out. So heed my warning now: Do not play fantasy football again. 

I understand it has been a part of your life for a long time. Your first season playing was back in 1998 on Sandbox.net, during your lost and lonely college student days (though thankfully past the full-on depression part). It was a time you needed something in your life and it was there for you. Your first ever draft pick was Terrell Davis, your all-time favorite actual football player, who carried you to a pretty respectable season even though the team was mostly bad because you had no idea what you were doing. After a few years on Sandbox you migrated to Yahoo and have been there ever since. You won a few leagues, were always competitive, and never gave up on a season. You played with your dad and countless friends. Sometimes it was the only thing you could talk about with certain people, so it was an important social bridge, too. It was there throughout the ebbs and flows of your interest in watching the actual games, whether you watched three a week or ten all year. All in all, it provided much enjoyment and entertainment and was, all in all, a very good thing.

But it’s been twenty years. Now it’s time for it to go. Because, as you and I have come to realize, it is a very, very stupid game.

Truthfully, I think we knew this no later than like, year three. We probably suspected it from day one, if we are going to be frank here.

Most fantasy players know this. Anyone who has played any appreciable length of time has stories of the time they lost the week because their opponent’s kicker made six field goals on Monday night. Or how they were projected to win by 60 points against a team whose owner quit two months earlier, but the ghost team eked out a victory anyway when its starting QB had a career game and yours tweaked his knee five minutes before kickoff and sat out. Or how they finished in last place despite leading the league in scoring. Or whatever other cosmically unlikely thing that could only happen, weekly, in a game this stupid.

But it’s low enough commitment, and it does have some positives, so who cares? Well, I have decided I care. Even at ten minutes a week I don’t need the aggravation anymore. In tabletop gaming circles, a game with too many random elements sometimes makes it a bad game. Fantasy football is a game with random outcomes.

That should be plenty. But there’s more. If we truly require more from a game that already assigns wins randomly, let’s also add that not one of the in-game proceedings intended to enliven the experience ever actually work. The reason for this is that, as one might expect from a game with the lowest of low stakes, the commitment of the human participants runs typically somewhere between “negligent” to “literally forgot they agreed to manage a team.”

  • The draft: The commissioner and the smallest cohort of owners want to do a live draft. No one else objects, because they aren’t really paying attention. Most players’ interest began waning right after they agreed to play, but they figure, maybe they’ll show up anyway. They won’t.
  • Lineup management. Fantasy football owners are expected to optimize their starting lineups weekly. The most productive players should generally be assigned responsibility for generating team points, but next-tier players matched up with favorablly bad defenses might be swapped in. Owners must also negotiate team bye weeks. This all requires research. Few, if any, owners with jobs, children, or literally any other life interests will bother. I did bother. I played for 20 years, times 17 weeks, equals 340 individual lineups to set. I am meticulous by nature when it comes to games, and pretty good at remembering stuff, and would wager I made the time to decide on my lineup at least 335 times, with the remaining five being times I was probably traveling and just set it in advance and hoped for the best. I would further wager that my opponents did the same maybe 200 times, an imbalance of effort that would have stopped me years ago, if I was smart. Because it never mattered. I am certain my overall record is within a sliver of 170 wins and 170 losses.Touchdowns are notoriously fickle rewards, meted out unsystematically by the chaotic nature of the sport itself, and you will never, ever feel as though you are getting your fair share of them. Especially if you have invested time into obtaining them. So, I cannot recommend doing that under any circumstances.
  • Trades. What if you would like to fortify your lineup? You can turn to the free agent wire, home of backup tight ends and reserve wide receivers who somehow got a touchdown once. What if you need starting-level talent? To the trading block! Herein, you inform the league about which players you own the rights to that you would be willing to part with. Maybe others will do the same. (They won’t.) So you can offer more directly, contacting another owner directly. You will ask, “How about I give you player A for player B? According to all sources, they are expected to score exactly the same number of points in the future, only I have an abundance of players like player A in that position, and I need a player B who can fill a position of weakness, and you happen to have precisely the opposite situation.” This trade will be ignored by nearly all owners, because they aren’t paying any attention. In a rare case, they are, only the response to every trade ever has been: “No.” With the counteroffer, “Instead I will give you my three most dreadful players–that I shouldn’t even be rostering, really–for your two best players. This is sure to be great for you! Three is more than two.”
  • League communication. Ha-ha, a message board! This will be a delightful way to engage with the group! That no ever posts to, reads, or acknowledges the existence of.

I’m sure there are good leagues. It doesn’t help to look for them, however. A quick trip into the public leagues available reveals thousands of “JOIN MY LEAGUE AWESOME OWNERS ONLY WE ARE THE BEST” only with all those words misspelled and 9 out of 10 teams still available. You can pay money to join more serious leagues. These are the same but now you have less money.

I hope this will serve as a sufficient rant against the foibles of fantasy football as a hobby. DO NOT SIGN UP. YOU HATE IT. IT IS STUPID. YES, THE DRAFT IS STILL FUN EVEN THOUGH NO ONE SHOWS UP BUT THEN YOU’RE STUCK WITH THIS TEAM FOR FOUR MONTHS.

 

IT IS NOT WORTH IT.

 

TAKE BACK YOUR LIFE.

 

Or at least, the 10 minutes a week you spend playing it.

 

Fantasy baseball is still OK though.

 

Love,

Josh

When I took a bad step off a curb over the summer and ended a-sprawl in the street, I mentioned that I had lingering shoulder injury. I finally got around to seeing a doctor and was told that I have a rotator cuff strain (apparently these just take a really long time to heal and I have to take some anti-inflammatories and do some physical therapy to help that happen). The obvious joke would be: “There goes my curveball.” Except that it was my left (non-throwing) shoulder and I never had a curveball anyway. What this post pre-supposes is: but what if I did?

Well not exactly. I actually just wanted to use the tools on Baseball Reference and Football Reference to see how many professional sportsfellows continue to play who are older than me. If one relatively minor accident could hinder my athletic potential for months, I wonder how anyone my age could perform high-level competitive physical activity day after day. This list is a fairly easy delineation at this point: basically it’s a list of active 40-somethings.

Baseball first:

Baseball players older than me

Eight results at first glance. But Joe Nathan is out: he hasn’t played this season due to injuries and announced that he was retiring over the summer. Oscar Robles and Walter Silva are not active MLB players either, though they do continue to play professionally in Mexico (hence their inclusion in the results). Really we’re down to just five active MLB players. Four of them are pitchers. Bartolo and RA Dickey aren’t going to blow anyone away but they continue to be reliable innings-eaters, which counts for something. We might even see Bartolo in the playoffs if the Twins can escape the wild card game. Jason Grilli’s ERA is well over 6. Koji’s had the best year of any of them, he continues to be effective in a bullpen role for the Cubs. Ichiro is the only non-pitcher, and an unquestioned Hall of Famer, but hasn’t been all that good for years.

How much longer will they be around?

I think I can count on a few more years of knowing there are baseball players older than me. I’d guess Koji or RA Dickey will be the last one standing. Koji is still effective and Dickey, notably, is a knuckleballer, so he avoids the usual arm wear and tear. A starter with an average ERA who doesn’t get hurt will continue to have a job, however unglamorous. Bartolo, maybe about the same. Grilli is probably done though. Ichiro is the mystery. He seems to not mind just kinda hanging on. One suspects he’d play anywhere, maybe he’ll end up back in Japan for a while. What if he ends up just being a baseball vagrant like Rickey Henderson, playing for Independent League teams forever, just because they’ll keep him around.

Football

Players older than me from football reference

Tom Brady misses the cut–he’s 40 but didn’t get there until this summer. So all we have is four: three kickers and a punter. Adam Viniatieri is the oldest in either league. He might make it into is late forties.

How much longer will they be around?

Honestly no way to predict anything here. There’s no real age limit on these skillsets, but eventually you’re bound to have a bad month or get a nagging injury and that’s the end. As a forty-something myself, I would not want a job where much younger, larger, faster, stronger humans are battling, sprawling, brawling, diving, or jumping anywhere near me. That might dawn on any of these guys at any time as well.

Now: we wait.

1. Read research and sports analytics-driven blogs

2. Read sports magazine-style sites with notable writer rosters

3. Watch games on TV with the sound muted

4. Watch games on TV with the sound on

5. Watch games in person

6. Read certain exceptional writers on mainstream sports sites

7. Watch in-depth programs on cable sports channels

8. Read local newspaper (local team information only)

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15. Get all of your sports information from NPR

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28. Read content filler on mainstream sport sites

29. Watch general news shows on cable sports channels

30. Read local newspaper (for non-local team information)

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50. Watch cable sports shows where two or more panelists bicker inanely

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57. Visit a local watering hole, wait to overhear conversations between old guys drinking rounds of bland light beer and occasionally glancing at ESPN on the bar TV

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83. Read celebrity gossip sites about sports

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168. Visit sites dedicated to posting grainy Youtube videos of minor speaking errors made by television announcers

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756. Be raised by progressive parents, never get exposed to sports media. Read lots of books. Play outside. As an adult, try to guess who might win the games based on written descriptions of the team logos.

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857. Eat the local newspaper.

858. Listen to sports talk radio.

I caught 30 seconds of SportsCenter. One talking head asked the other, “Is it time for patience or panic for Albert Pujols?” As you may know, Pujols is one of the greatest players ever. He changed teams this offseason. Naturally, he’s pressing to do well in his new digs, and as a result he’s in a pretty bad slump. So anyway, this is typical SportsCenter discussion-question phrasing, but I love how utterly stupid it is.

“Yeah, Steve. I think it’s definitely panic time for Albert. Baseball may be a game of hot and cold, but even though he’s one of the greatest hitters ever, as he’s proven over years and years, he’s been cold for almost a whole month now. I say, start pounding that panic button like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, assume there isn’t. It’s definitely time for him to just completely lose his mind.

“Maybe he should try batting left-handed. He could bat from his knees, or sitting down. Or he could jump out of the batter’s box just as the pitcher throws. Maybe it would screw up the timing. I did that once in Little League and it worked. He might want to bribe the umpire–he does make a lot of money these days. He could also try not wearing his shirt when he bats. He’ll feel like he’s getting down to work.

“Another thought I had–I have a few ideas here–is that he could go up to the plate and just start crying. Maybe the pitcher would go easy on him. I think this one has some merit. I assume he’s pretty much crying night and day at this point, drinking heavily, calling ex-girlfriends, asking them if they think he might try a wider stance.

“He might actually want to to just pack it all in, actually. Quit, get divorced, move to Hungary. Or just like, go out into the desert, dig a hole, and live there for a few years. Nothing like some good desert hole time to clear your head or pick up a slow bat.”

“Thanks a lot, Nomar. Next I want to ask you if the Tigers’ recent losing streak should be the reason everyone in the organization begins their path down the long, dark road to suicide.”

I watch the NCAA selection show most years. Somehow it’s fun to see the bracket and matchups revealed, even though it’s always precisely the same:

  1. Talking heads bicker over which teams should be #1 seeds.
  2. Talking heads bicker over which marginal, impossible-to-quantify teams are most deserving of those last few inclusions. They neglect to consider that these teams usually end up as 12-seeds and lose their first game 66% of the time.
  3. Tournament field revealed. Cut to shots of players whooping and hollering as their long season is rewarded with a chance to be on TV. (I actually love this.)
  4. Talking heads resume bickering about what a crime it is that such-and-such marginal team was not given one of those 12-seeds. They neglect to consider that the number of marginal teams they feel must be included substantially exceeds the number of available spots. They also neglect to consider that most of the teams they are defending finished like 5th in their conference, so there’s no evidence that they can do well in a national tournament.
  5. Talking heads badger the selection committee chair, whose long answers essentially amount to: “Listen guys, someone has to be left out unless we just start the tournament in November and include all 345 Division I basketball teams. Or would you just rip us for not including Division II?”

If I had time and access to a good copyright lawyer I would love to have a video montage of Seth Davis ranting about which teams were snubbed year after year.

CBS then bails for 60 Minutes but ESPN keeps things rolling with more outraged heads. The new set of heads also tries to pick the whole field, something they have never done any better than any random person in your office pool. They also pick favorites almost all the time and forget all about those poor 12 seeds they all argued about in the first place.

Sports!