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Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe Hardcover – March 2, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Walker, a senior writer for the Wall Street Journal, enters his first fantasy baseball tournament, he aims high: Tout Wars, a competition for guys who make a career out of analyzing stats to find the best Major League hitters and pitchers. He figures that because he can get to the ballparks in his journalistic capacity and talk to the players and coaches, he'll be in a better position to judge the intangibles and pull one over the pure numbers crunchers. But even with the help of a young research assistant and a NASA scientist, things quickly head south. This hilarious diary of the 2004 season includes several encounters with the players Walker has picked; from Jacque Jones's struggle to refute predictions of mediocrity to David Ortiz's razzing Walker for trading him away. Along the way there are mini-profiles of the Tout Wars competition, as well as explorations of the origins of fantasy baseball (predating even the famed Rotisserie League) and the shaky relationship between dedicated statistical analysts and Major League executives. Readers might even pick up a few tips on how to draft their teams this spring, but the real fun is in watching Walker's well-laid plans unravel.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Fantasy sports leagues are ubiquitous. For the uninitiated, fantasy games comprise a competition among individuals based on statistics of players they select in a real sport--in this case, baseball. Walker, a Wall Street Journal sportswriter, initially avoided contact with fantasy baseball--too geeky--but after burning out on such real-life baseball subjects as steroid scandals, labor strife, and contract negotiations, he decided to write about the game's fantasy side after all. He wangled himself a spot in one of the most prestigious fantasy leagues and decided to research in person the team he would pick. The result was a tour of a dozen spring-training sites in Florida and Arizona during which he spoke to players, coaches, general managers, and trainers. And, of course, he availed himself of the fantasy traditionalist's potpourri of statistical reports, online sites, and daily box scores. It's all great fun, written with humor and a twinkling eye directed at the lunacy of it all; but fantasy baseball and its attendant statistical reliance has spawned an internecine baseball war between old-school traditionalists (most scouts, for example) and the numbers people, many of whom have fantasy backgrounds. In offering a fascinating analysis of this underlying conflict within the sport, Walker gives his account of fantasy fanaticism an unexpected and satisfying depth. Fantasyland has a chance to be the Moneyball of 2006. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (March 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670034282
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670034284
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,921,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Hughes on March 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Sam Walker's "Fantasyland" is a terrific book that will appeal to baseball fans, rotisserie league players and anyone who appreciates a great story beautifully told. Walker has the uncanny ability to make us root for him as he seeks to become a star rotisserie-league player (that's a fantasy baseball game, for those who don't follow this addictive hobby) using his insider's pull as a Wall Street Journal sportswriter. Walker is a hapless and hilarious everyman, with the kind of access sports fans dream of. Like a sports-minded Bill Bryson, Walker asks us to join him on his quixotic quest for a nutty kind of immortality. He's also the kind of writer it's a joy to read: lively, smart and self-effacing. Even if his rotisserie days could be hit and miss, Walker is a major new player on the literary front. First rate -- and you don't have to be a sports fan to love it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Efficiency experts are always telling corporate boards of directors (such as at Enron, say), that the way to run a business is by the numbers.

Since the publication of Michael Lewis's MONEYBALL, various baseball executives have taken this philosophy to heart, and this book takes a sample season to show how the numbers are applied variously by the FANTASY BASEBALL experts, several of whom are employed to consult big league baseball clubs.

Sam Walker, baseball columnist for the Wall Street Journal, hired a numbers cruncher on the one side, and a traditional inside scout on the other, and he set about trying to win the TOUT WARS Rotisserie Baseball League, which included some of the nation's top "experts," lawyers, engineers, scholars, zen masters, data crunchers. Walker even hires an astrologer, just to see what she'd say (and whose baseball predictions he found "remarkably accurate").

The efficiency expert's baseball philosophy "is that human perceptions are, for the most part, garbage. When humans watch a baseball game, they give too much weight to first impressions, recent events, and unusual occurrences. They make causal connections when they don't exist, rely too heavily on existing theories, and give too much weight to evidence that confirms them."

"All human observers, the scouts included, are sort of like drunks in a bar brawl: their abilities are severely limited, but the more they indulge, the more confident they become."

But the trouble with numbers is that they do not measure everything and hence they also often lead management astray. Which of course is exactly what happens in the book, and it is a highly humorous ride, full of baseball lore and with many surprises.
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Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book but I consider myself somewhat of a rotogeek and I'm not sure how much the casual baseball/sports fan would enjoy it. A significant part of the humor of the book was its ability to so accurately capture the highs and lows of watching "your" players perform (or not) over the course of several months. The author had the added benefit of being able to spend $50k traipsing around the country not only following his players but talking with them about the fact that they were on his fantasy team! Most of us dream of being able to tour around the country to *watch* the games and here he is chatting with the players. On top of that, he's in a fantasy league with the who's who of fantasy research, guys whose websites I pay money to read! He does a great job of bringing these individuals to life as well as relaying the impact of fantasy baseball on his career, his marriage, his ego, you name it. I found it to be an enjoyable ombination of shared experiences and lay person's dreams but I wonder if someone who doesn't do fantasy baseball could relate to many of the anecdotes and characters in the story.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a genuine, 5 star book. I'm a sports fan, especially baseball, but don't play fantasy sports. What I enjoyed was the great storytelling, details on his hands-on research process, humor, interesting characters (both players and others), and in-depth info on baseball. It's definitely worth the time to read and will make others wonder why you keep laughing out loud.
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Format: Hardcover
Fantasy baseball has become a billion dollar industry. Personally, I gave it up two years ago for some of the same reasons I've read that others have given it up. I got tired of going through box scores not to see whether my home town Tigers won or lost, but to see how many strikeouts Jeremy Bonderman had because I had picked him up late in my draft. At times, especially in 2003 when the score didn't matter, I was forced to actually root against the Tigers in favor of players on my fantasy team. I played in my first league in 1988, way before the Internet or even Microsoft Excel was used to track our league's standings.

"Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe" is a book detailing Wall Street Journal columnist Sam Walker's wild initiation into fantasy baseball. Instead of signing up for his work league, he decided to go all out and join one of the most prestigious expert leagues around, Tout Wars, which was started by Baseball Forecaster author Ron Shandler.

This was the funnest baseball book I've read in a while and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Walker pokes fun at his adversaries and himself throughout the book and he even hires a staff to help him out, including a person who specializes in the astrological evaluation of ball players. The chapter on the auction draft is priceless, and Walker pulls out every trick in the book to try to get a leg up on his opponents.

Along with being a fun story on his experiences in the league, the book is also about his struggle between objective analysis and statistical analysis. He did his own spring training scouting, but he also hired a statistician to help him evaluate players using advanced statistics. His media access to the players also makes for some interesting side stories.
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