fantasy_lifeThat’s how long I have to wait until my Penguin fantasy baseball league, Sack Punch 2 – On the Move (great name, huh? Rivals Of Mice and Men…), will be drafting tonight. My team is named MetaData WorldPiece, which I would argue is better than anything Steinbeck ever came up with.

I already have drafted two other fantasy baseball teams in two public leagues, but there is nothing quite as special as preparing for the Penguin league draft, as this is the only case in which daily taunts can be hurled at one another, face to face, on a daily basis for the next six months. April, May, June, July, August, September… yeah, by then we will all loathe each other, I can assure you. And perhaps hate ourselves as well. Fantasy baseball is not a game, it’s a condition. One of those for which you can’t get antibiotics.

I will not participate in the draft tonight as a live participant, but rather as an AutoPick droid. Or drone. That means I have already ranked the players in the order of what I have determined is their respective worth, and will let the computer pick them each time my turn comes around. That will allow me to spend the hours between 9 and 11 pm tonight napping on the floor while pretending to watch my Netflix disc of Lincoln.

Such has been my “system” for the past twelve years. At times this approach has earned me some unforeseen results, such as having four catchers on my roster but no relief pitchers. But on the other hand, I have won a few championships in this manner as well. And I am almost always in the playoffs, where admittedly I usually self-destruct in one way or another. But, so what?? IT’S A GAME, ISN’T IT????? So I must be having fun. I must be…

But to prepare for the draft, one is well advised to consult the experts on the major Fantasy sites. Which brings us to Matthew Berry, the reigning expert on the ESPN.com site, and the author of the soon-to-be-published bible of Fantasy Sports, Fantasy Life. Which Riverhead will publish in July and grow wealthy from.

Over the past seven or eight years I have consulted Matthew Berry for months on end about baseball. And in the Fall, I have also consulted him for football advice. And he has never let me down. Or almost never. Well, if we’re being perfectly honest here—Berry has let me down about fifty percent of the time. Possibly fifty-five. Which means I could do just as well (or just as poorly) with a random choice system as by following his sage advice, right?

WRONG!! Because even incorrect advice from Berry is presented so logically, so passionately, so charmingly, that you almost decide you don’t have to slit your wrists afterward, once it’s clear your team is doomed because you believed him when he said (in 2011) that Michael Vick ought to be the first pick in the draft. Or that Adrian Gonzales was going to be a Can’t Miss when he moved to the Boston Red Sox. [Shameless plug for my pathetic real-life team.] Or that Mike Trout was a fluke. (Actually, he may not have said that one, but he COULD have.)

Because there is one thing Matthew Berry can do that many of his fantasy brethren (some of whom are quite capable, even brilliant) can’t do nearly as well, and that is—entertain while instructing you. As Fantasy Life makes clear, Berry is a master of dispensing his hard-earned wisdom in the most humble manner imaginable, while also being hilarious at the same time. Other than Oscar Wilde, who didn’t even play fantasy baseball (and who wouldn’t have been very good at it anyway, even if he had), I can’t think of another writer whose quips are so deftly leavened with profundities. And vice versa.

Consider some of the examples that Berry provides from the book. One particularly choice anecdote I hadn’t been aware of before was that Matt Hasselback, a veteran NFL quarterback for the past 14 years or so, also played fantasy football, and (a few seasons back) sensibly enough drafted himself. But he was also wise enough to draft the resurgent Brett Favre, so he could play the optimal matchups. What happened one week is that Hasselback decided to bench himself and play Favre instead, who had a more favorable matchup and was as hot as a pistol anyway. WELL—guess how that turned out? Favre earned a measly 11 points, throwing but a single touchdown, while Hasselback went out on the field and threw *four* TD passes, earning 28 points in the process, the highest total of any player that week. EXCEPT—Matt had left himself sitting on the fantasy bench. Oh, the humanity!

Along with providing such colorful player anecdotes, Berry is also superb at sharing details of how hideous the real-life players of fantasy sports can be. Engaging in the most petty behavior, lying to each other, cheating without qualms, ruthlessly preying on each other’s weaknesses, even creating fake websites for the sole purpose of dispensing mis-information to the other players in the league—and that is just describing the editor of Fantasy Life, who shall remain nameless because of those silly libel laws.

Let’s be clear—this book is not for the faint of heart. But it most decidedly *is* for everyone who appreciates clever writing, incisive analysis, and sublimely funny self-deprecation.

There is only one problem with Fantasy Life that I can anticipate, and that is—by the time it reaches bookstore shelves on July 16, I will already be in seventh place in my Penguin fantasy baseball league, trying like hell to figure out exactly how to create a fake website so I can unethically make the playoffs through someone else’s misfortune. Do you think Matthew Berry could be convinced to become my friend? Even just for six months? And then I would never ask again.

- Michael Barson, Fantasy Manager of the Century

Take me out to the ball game, you say? Check out these other baseball books:

Adult

wherever_i_wind_up baseball_as_a_road_to_godgil_hodges

Wherever I Wind Up, R.A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey
Baseball as a Road to God, John Sexton with Thomas Oliphant & Peter J. Schwartz
Gil Hodges, Tom Clavin & Danny Peary

Young Readers

throwing_strikesfantasy_baseballwho_was_babe_ruth

Throwing Strikes, R.A. Dickey with Sue Corbett & Wayne Coffey
Fantasy Baseball, Alan M. Gratz
Who Was Babe Ruth?, Joan Holub – Author, Nancy Harrison – Illustrator


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