March 31, 2005


My Fantasy Life: Our NEWSWEEK sports columnist, finally, comes clean and puts you in touch with his infantile side. (Mark Starr, March 31, 2005, Newsweek)

I confess that, for a man my age, I have a very active fantasy life. And my wife can get really steamed about it sometimes.

Nah, not that kind of fantasy. I told you ages ago that I haven’t had an impure thought about another woman since Natalie Wood crossed the Great Divide. I’m not talking about the ladies. I’m talking fantasy baseball.

I am one of the multitude of Americans—estimates now run to 15 million—who play fantasy baseball, a preoccupation that has grown from the quirky little hobby of some New York writers into a billion-dollar industry. (And there is now fantasy football, basketball, NASCAR and, for all I know, fantasy “American Idol” too … or is “American Idol” the actual fantasy?) The pioneers of the fantasy baseball game have seen very little of any money generated by their idea. Hardly surprising. If they had a knack for profit, they wouldn’t be in my profession.

For the uninitiated, fantasy baseball uses real players and real stats to create faux teams in faux leagues. The teams are formed in auctions—my league gathers for the annual bidfest in the basement of a West Side Irish bar in New York City—or in NFL-style drafts. At auction, everybody has the same amount of money to buy the same number of players for their team, a delicious counterpoint to the financial inequities in the real game.

The original concept is credited to Dan Okrent, who would later despair that its success would dominate his obituary. But now that Okrent has served as the first public editor (i.e., ombudsman) of The New York Times, he has assured himself a slightly different post mortem (“Dan Okrent, the first public editor of The New York Times and the man who invented fantasy baseball …”). Okrent shared the idea with his cohorts during a meal in a now-defunct New York restaurant called La Rotisserie Francaise. Thus the game became known as “Rotisserie Baseball.” When the hoi polloi got involved, they cut through the fancy Frenchified title and to the chase—fantasy baseball.

Okrent’s Rotisserie gang made its debut in 1980, using National League players. Our league followed a year later, a junior circuit with an American League attachment. We became the American Dream League. (Our name was a riff on the Norman Mailer novel and meant as a decided irony for a bunch of ‘60s cynics who weren’t all that sold on the concept of the American dream.) What is remarkable is that we are now entering our 25th season, with 12 teams and 18 owners still going strong, still battling with our imaginary teams. (My team is Nova, a triple play on a fiery Starr, a smoked fish and, in a tribute to multiculturalism that was ahead of its time, “no go” in Spanish). This weekend we will come from six states around the country to celebrate the remarkable feat of our survival with a Tex-Mex banquet in Greenwich Village (if banquet and Tex-Mex can rightfully exist in the same sentence).

I joke not when I say it is remarkable. There are very few such alliances of pals—poker games, golf games, book clubs, investment clubs, dining groups or anything else—that have lasted a quarter of a century.

Infantile? We of the Juddernaut resent that crack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 31, 2005 7:33 PM

Okrent can be forgiven because invented fantasy baseball, but being the public shill of the NYTimes should be like working as a hooker in a vegas casino. "It was a job and I needed the money. OK?"

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 3, 2005 3:53 PM