I do not play fantasy baseball, never have. Sometimes I think it is a menace to the game, breaking down civic and regional loyalties to real teams and replacing that with a loyalty to a private team that exists nowhere except on your computer. Such fans have seemed to me straight out of the dice-baseball heaven-hell of Robert Coover’s Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Proprietor.
But other times I reflect on the millions of fans who play the game with an intensity they might never have brought to root, root, rooting for the home team. And this must be a good thing even for the practice of baseball history, as this new breed of baseball fan demands precision, exactitude, and getting the story straight. An analytical bent, dating from Bill James to Billy Beane and beyond, makes today’s fan a mythbuster, and that is a good thing.
...But today’s fantasy baseball players—those involved in leagues, swapping players, competing for prizes—might look to another father. I believe the seeds of Rotisserie Baseball, the Okrent-Waggoner creation—were planted in 1884 by Thomas W. Lawson’s game, “Base Ball with Cards.” This 1884 card game has lovely if disquieting graphics, but you can’t blame Lawson for the menace that future generations would find in that bodiless, four-ball, four-armed swastika.
Lawson sold candy on trains in the Boston area as a boy, saved his money, and invented a card game that he sold himself, on the trains and at the ballparks. Played by four players, two on each side, its object was “to secure as many tricks, or runs, as possible and by skilful [sic] combinations to destroy the value of opponent’s cards.” A paradigm of Monopoly expressed in miniature, it was an apt metaphorical statement for the course its inventor would ultimately pursue with phenomenal success on Wall Street. But that is a story for another day.