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Fantasy baseball is a game in which people manage rosters of league baseball players, either online or in a physical location. The participants compete against one another using those players' real life statistics to score points.
Materials in the Jack Kerouac Archive at the New York Public Library show that Kerouac (1922–69) played his own form of fantasy baseball starting quite young and continued developing and playing this perhaps private version of fantasy baseball during most of his life. His version of fantasy baseball was completely fictitious, with made up players and statistics. At the Library from November 2007 to February 2008, an exhibition on Kerouac's life and works includes several display cases of Kerouac's highly detailed fantasy baseball records, including charts, sketches, and notes.
In 1961, another early form of fantasy baseball was coded for an IBM 1620 computer by John Burgeson, IBM Akron, and distributed for several years by the IBM Corporation. It allowed two teams to play one another using random number generation and player statistics to determine a game's outcome, including a play-by-play description. In the fall of 1961, Rege Cordic, a KDKA (Pittsburgh) radio personality, produced a radio show based on the program. The game was coded for a computer with only 20 KB in computer memory and was entirely self-contained.
Other early forms of fantasy baseball were sometimes called "tabletop baseball". One of the best-known was APBA, which in 1951 began publishing a game containing customized baseball cards of Major League Baseball players with their stats from past seasons. Participants could then re-create previous seasons using the game rules and the statistics, or compose fantasy teams from the cards and play against each other.
The first public open fantasy baseball game, Dugout Derby, was developed in 1989 by Lee Marc, Robert Barbiere and Brad Wendkos of Phoneworks who teamed with a West Coast Ad Agency (Wakeman & deForest) to launch the game in twelve of the largest local newspapers across the country. Papers that offered Dugout Derby included the LA Times, Chicago Sun-Times, and NY Post. Archives of Dugout Derby are available in most public libraries. Dugout Derby allowed readers to create a team of major league players, earn stats for those players based on actual performance, trade those players on a daily basis, and accrue points in an effort to compete against one another to win prizes.
Rotisserie League Baseball
The so-called Rotisserie scoring system was essentially established by the Chicago Baseball League, founded in 1978 by Ivan R. Dee and others (and continuing in play), which preceded the Rotisserie League. The Chicago Baseball League also established the draft system to form individual teams. The Rotisserie scoring system was developed independently and popularized in the 1980s by a group of journalists and formalized under the title Rotisserie League Baseball in 1980, named after the New York City restaurant La Rotisserie Française, where its founders met for lunch and first played the game. 
Magazine writer-editor Daniel Okrent is credited with inventing the Rotisserie scoring system, coming up with the idea on a flight to Texas. After presenting his first vision of rotisserie baseball to friends there, none seemed interested. Upon returning to New York a month later, he received an enthusiastic reception from a different group of friends, who then collaborated on the first league to use the system.
According to the rules, players (termed "owners") in the Rotisserie League would draft teams from the list of active Major League Baseball players and would follow their statistics "during the ongoing season" to compile their scores. In other words, rather than using statistics for seasons whose outcomes were already known, the owners would have to make similar predictions about players' playing time, health, and expected performance that real baseball managers must make.
Because Okrent was a member of the media, other journalists, especially sports writers, were introduced to the game. Many early players were introduced to the game by these sports journalists, especially during the 1981 Major League Baseball strike; with little else to write about, many baseball writers wrote columns about Rotisserie league.
Rotisserie league baseball, nicknamed roto, proved to be popular, even in the 1980s when full statistics and accurate reporting were often hard to come by. The traditional statistics used in early Rotisserie leagues were often chosen because they were easy to compile from newspaper box scores and then from weekly information published in USA Today. Okrent, based on discussions with colleagues at USA Today, credits Rotisserie league baseball with much of the early success of USA Today, since the paper provided much more detailed box scores than most competitors and eventually even created a special paper, Baseball Weekly, which almost exclusively contained statistics and box scores. Local papers soon caught up with USA Today's expanded coverage.
The advent of powerful computers and the Internet revolutionized fantasy baseball, allowing scoring to be done entirely by computer, and allowing leagues to develop their own scoring systems, often based on less popular statistics. In this way, fantasy baseball has become a sort of real-time simulation of baseball, and allows many fans to develop a more sophisticated understanding of how the real-world game works. According to statistics from a 2009 article in Forbes, nearly 11 million people play fantasy baseball today.
Fantasy baseball has continued to grow [based on recent studies from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA.org)], but has been overtaken by fantasy football as the most popular form of fantasy sports. This is at least in part because some of those sports, such as football and auto racing, only participate once a week, making it easier for players to make adjustments, since they do not have to check their teams daily.
Rotisserie leagues and their descendants typically draft teams before the season begins (or very shortly thereafter). One approach is to hold an auction, whereby each owner has a fixed amount of money to bid for players, and he must fill his team's roster within their budget. Another approach is to perform a serpentine system draft of available players until all teams are filled.
In either case, the skills of the team managers come into play in the "preseason" by their knowledge of the talent and ability to forecast the performance of Major League Baseball players and prospects for the coming season. The team managers draw on a great variety of sources of information, including tout sheets by various forecasters, who predict the coming season's performance and the likely overall "value" (often in terms of auction dollars) of the Major League players.
Many leagues allow teams to trade with each other during the season, as well as to replace players who get hurt or stop performing well with players from the pool of those who are not presently owned. However, some leagues prohibit such in-season "free agent" replacements, feeling that the game is more interesting when teams must live and die by the quality of their draft.
Also, some leagues limit free-agent moves that a fantasy team can make per season, and a team may not just drop all of their players if they are not progressing well during a season. The free-agent limit is also sometimes used to limit the so-called "pitch-and-ditch" tactic, a method of play in which a manager picks up a free-agent pitcher with the intention of using him in only one game before replacing him with a pitcher who is scheduled to start the following day. Another common limitation on the free agent system is a list of "undroppable players", who are players considered by whatever site is running the game to be too valuable to become free agents.
In most leagues, when a player who was injured returns to play, it is the choice of the team manager who to drop from his team. Usually, they are not forced to drop the replacement. Some companies actually offer real-world insurance on fantasy league players.
Baseball has garnered great interest in the daily fantasy sports industry as a legal alternative to sports betting. Termed a skill game, a competitor can pick players from that days game to participate in daily fantasy leagues.
Many fantasy leagues are played for money. Owners pay an ante or entry fee at the beginning of the season and may also be charged for in-season activity such as trades and "free agent" acquisitions. The pool of money is collected and then distributed to the winner(s) at the end of the season. Most often, however, the main reward of fantasy games is bragging rights or pride in the participants' ability to assess baseball talent. Established leagues often have a plaque or trophy that is passed to the annual champion.
There are different ways to play fantasy baseball. One way to play is a head-to-head format that makes each individual team play against a different team each week to acquire wins through total points scored for the week. Teams with the most wins at the end of the season often enter into a playoff similar to the MLB postseason. The winner is the team that doesn't lose in the playoffs, or has the most points at the end of season if the league does not hold playoffs.
Another style, the original style of playing fantasy, is rotisserie. The statistics compiled by the players from each team are then ranked by category, and the team with the highest cumulative rank at the end of the season is determined to be the winner. Fantasy Baseball can be played on numerous websites.
The original Rotisserie League used the following statistics:
- team batting average (total hits divided by total at-bats)
- total home runs
- total runs batted in
- total stolen bases
- total wins
- total saves
- team earned run average (9 times total earned runs divided by total innings pitched, the lower the better)
- team WHIP (total number of hits and walks allowed by pitchers divided by total innings pitched, the lower the better)
This is often called a "4×4" league (four hitting stats and four pitching stats). Many leagues adopt a "5×5" format, with runs scored and strikeouts added as hitting and pitching stats, respectively. Still other leagues are "6×6", most commonly adding OPS (OBP plus SLG), and holds. Occasionally, a league will adopt a format that keeps track of more statistics (such as a "7×7"), vary the stats tracked to favor hitting or pitching, or include fielding statistics such as fielding percentage. Other modifications to the rules include a minimum number of at-bats and innings pitched for categories that are averaged; teams that do not make the minimum were awarded last place in the respective categories.
Typical set-ups for head-to-head leagues are:
- Head-to-Head Rotisserie: Wins, losses and ties are based on the team's performance in individual categories.
- Head-to-Head One Win: Just like H2H Rotisserie, but the winner receives just one win, rather than one win for each category the team wins.
- Head-to-Head Points: Stats accumulate points for each team (a Home Run/Stolen Base/etc. is worth a certain number of points), and the team with the most points at the end of the week is awarded a win. These leagues often take advantage of several other statistical categories, from outfield assists to quality starts.
Opponents are dictated by a round-robin system. At the end of the season, the team with the best win-loss record is the victor.
Many head-to-head leagues also feature playoffs over the last three to four weeks of the MLB regular season. A set number of teams make the "postseason" and play a single-elimination tournament to decide a victor.
Fantasy trade referees
The growing popularity of fantasy baseball has created a niche for fantasy baseball trade referees. Owners of fantasy teams often trade players, and often those trades incite disputes within leagues. Third party websites provide fantasy players a place to have their trades reviewed by a panel of "judges" in exchange for a fee. Decisions are rendered based on the specifications, number of teams, statistical catego able to modern-day fantasy players.
New fantasy baseball formats have appeared that combine a traditional points-based competition with a liquid market that is used to facilitate real-time player trading. These games eliminate the need for fantasy trade judging by having team owners buy and sell players on a trading floor instead of negotiating trades directly with other owners.
Another new format of fantasy sports is 'daily fantasy sports'. Rather than joining leagues and selecting rosters that compete for an entire season, competitors are able to draft a line-up for a single day and compete against others with cash being awarded to the winner just hours after the games on the field that day have ended. A typical contest would pit two, four or six people against each other.
There are also fantasy baseball leagues that specialize in the Major League Baseball playoffs. Many fantasy baseball leagues stop their seasons at the end of the regular season.
Simulation games use computer programs, processing actual MLB player statistics, to generate results for contests matching teams comprising MLB players 'drafted' by 'owners.' This is thought to produce an experience which is more akin to that of being a real general manager.
Any fantasy baseball pool that "rolls over" into other years is called a "Keeper" or "Dynasty" league. The leagues can be run each year in any of the above formats with a winner declared at the end of each season. At the end of the year team managers decide which players they wish to protect (the number varies – from protecting and keeping all players, to keeping just one player). Before the MLB season opener, a fantasy draft is held to fill out the rest of the roster.
Many keeper leagues, as well as some single season leagues, have adopted salary cap rules similar to the NBA. In a "Salary Cap League", a salary is assigned to each player before the manager selects his team. Salaries are usually determined by the MLB player's real salary. Otherwise a number value is assigned – usually by an online baseball pool program – or it is determined through an auction process. Each manager must ensure that they do not go over the predefined salary cap when selecting players.
One emerging option for a keeper league is the Draft Round Values system. This is a Sabermetric approach for determining the values of players selected in a particular round. The round a player was selected in the previous season is conceded in the upcoming seasons draft when they are elected to be carried over. Tables are provided with these values and a conversion chart that calculates the rounds to be conceded when multiple players from the same round selected as keepers. These tables also work for balancing multiple player trades.
Keeper leagues are especially easy in auction formats, where last year's dollar values can be used to calculate keeper values. At least one league uses this system in combination with a minimum rookie keeper wage scale with great success.
Also some leagues have introduced a rookie draft into their fantasy league. By using the rankings from the last season to determine the draft order, last place gets first pick and so on. Also in some leagues, trading picks is allowed, but sometimes, a penalty may be accused for this.
- An online photo gallery of Kerouac's fantasy baseball writings is available at http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/05/15/books/20090515_KERO_SLIDESHOW_index.html
- A paper on this is available on Wikipedia under the name File:1620 baseball.pdf and also at the website http://www.burgy.50megs.com/bbc.htm.
- Kalb, Bess. "The Lost Founder of Baseball Video Games". Grantland. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
- Chicago Baseball League archives; The New Yorker, Letters, May 25, 2015
- Kelly, Jonathan. "Q&A: Fantasy Baseball Creator Daniel Okrent". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
- Thirty-Five Years Later, Fantasy Baseball's Creators Remember Thrilling Beginning
- "The History of Fantasy Baseball", by Fantasy Baseball Dugout
- "Tips from fantasy baseball's best", Forbes (via Yahoo! Sports) 2/28/2009
- Annet, Eric. "Fantasy Baseball Auction Draft". Fantasy Knuckleheads.
- The Magna Carta Fantastica: https://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AZ16kBWh0mQgZGd6NGQyY3RfMGZ2cWpjcWZw&hl=en