How does a reporter who covers sports for the staid The Wall Street Journal go completely berserk where his every moment is governed by what baseball players do (or don’t do) on the field and who thinks nothing of watching multiple games on television every night? If he is Sam Walker, he sees his life’s strings pulled by a greater being – it being Rotisserie baseball.
For the uninitiated, Rotisserie or fantasy baseball is when people join a league to bid for players and establish winners and losers by how well the players do on specific metrics in real life action. To get to the heart of this phenomenon that has millions of followers (in various sports) throughout the world, Walker joins the “Tout Wars,” the absolute pinnacle of Rotisserie baseball, for the 2004 season. The book is both an insightful look into this singular phenomenon as well as a rollicking read, so full of the peccadilloes of the people involved and the lengths they would go to be successful in this event.
Ever since Michael Lewis profiled Oakland Athletics’ manager Billy Beane in his book Moneyball, the baseball world has been split between the conservatives who are skeptical about statistics as a judge of ability and believe in old fashioned scouting and the younger generation of managers who underscore the importance of objectivity through numbers. To get an advantage in Tout Wars 2004, Walker combines both schools of thought in assembling his team, called the Streetwalkers. Toward this, he hires Ferdinando Di Fino, a warehouse worker with a liberal arts background. Nando’s responsibility is to do the traditional scouting of players, albeit from his home computer. The yang to Nando’s ying, is Sig (a.k.a. Sigurd Mejdal), a NASA mathematician, who provides Walker with a mind-numbing array of quantitative formulas to get the best team.
With a budget that Walker eventually estimates to total $46,000, the trio spends countless hours drafting a team and making numerous trades to compete in the prestigious event. That Walker does not succeed (he finishes eighth out of twelve players) does little to diminish the richly cadenced narrative that has numerous laugh-out loud moments. Walker’s writing is mostly tongue-in-cheek, and thereby provides the right tone for the sometimes absurd netherworld that Rotisserie aficionados inhabit. Nevertheless, Walker takes us to the heart of this highly addictive phenomenon that has grown men and women become social recluses for long periods of time as they chase success in this most vicarious form of athletic endeavors.