Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Review: Fantasyland

In honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I figured it was time to write a book review here. Pauly has recommended Fantasyland to me a few times, and I finally read it this past April.

Sam Walker's Fantasyland traces his first season playing fantasy baseball. As a senior sportswriter for the Wall Street Journal, Walker had been reluctant to take any interest in fantasy baseball for the longest time. But when he finally decided to play, he was going all in. He managed to pull some strings and found himself in the unique position of being completely new to fantasy baseball, yet playing in the most competitive league on the planet: Tout Wars.

While Walker was a fantasy baseball newbie, he was by no means new to baseball. In fact, with his media credentials for inside access and sources throughout the MLB, Walker was a bona fide baseball expert. The trick would be to parlay that traditional baseball knowledge into fantasy baseball success. As this book illustrates, that's no easy task. But Walker wasn't going down without a fight. He turned fantasy baseball into his full-time job and hired two employees--an intern who researched players' personal traits and a NASA scientist who wrote a computer program to crunch all the stats. Together, the three of them embarked on a season-long journey that was often humorous, sometimes maddening, even thrilling, but never dull.

Fantasyland is a funny book, with one of my favorite parts being when Walker goes into the locker room mid-season and informs Doug Mientkiewicz that he's planning to trade him off his fantasy team; and Mientkiewicz agrees with that plan. If that's not laugh-out-loud humor, I don't know what is. But this book is more than just a comedy. Walker explores the colliding worlds of old school baseball men and new school baseball geeks. He also takes an in-depth look at each of his competitors in Tout Wars. Some of the stories are reflective, others light-hearted, and one is very poignant. Also, from an interesting historical perspective, Matthew Berry was one of the competitors in this league; and this book was written before he became ESPN's "The Talented Mr. Roto."

I thoroughly enjoyed Fantasyland. It's a must-read for anyone who plays fantasy baseball, and I would also recommend it to anyone who is curious about the culture of fantasy baseball.

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