As the baseball season gets under way, tens of thousands of team owners across the country are poring over major league rosters, measuring their bank accounts against million-dollar salaries, and getting ready for the big decisions that will make them champs or chumps come the fall.
While the uninitiated may sneer at this manic display of hope sprung eternal, rotisserie and fantasy league managers are serious about investing their time, money and egos in the best teams their imaginations can buy.
As the season wears on, they'll live and die by the Monday statistics that tell them whether their drafting skill has paid off. They'll wheel and deal, trade and barter, and generally bore everyone else to death with their baseball chatter.
There's hardly an office in the country that doesn't have at least one of these leagues. And there's hardly an office in the country that doesn't have a computer, or someone with a computer at home.
Software publishers are noticing this and realizing that there's money to be made by eliminating the major hassle of rotisserie baseball -- keeping the statistics.
The new MicroLeague Fantasy Manager, by Microleague Sports of Newark, Del., handles the chore with aplomb on IBM-compatible computers.
The company has also teamed up with the USA Today Sports Network, an on-line information service for sports nuts, to provide via modem the weekly statistical updates that fantasy leagues depend on.
The combination makes fantasy leagues easy to manage, and in most cases, it's a lot cheaper than paying one of the statistical bureaus that have sprung up to service make-believe baseball tycoons.
For those who haven't been involved in a fantasy league (or haven't suffered sitting in the same room with fantasy owners), the rules parallel the real thing.
Essentially, a bunch of people (owners) get together and form a league. Each owner chips in a set amount of real money to finance the league's operation, including the cost of statistical services, year-end prizes, beer busts, etc. In return, each owner gets a fixed amount of imaginary money to buy players from major league rosters.
Some leagues auction the players; others conduct a draft using some formula related to the players' actual salaries. This takes more than a bit of skill, because no one has enough money for a team that consists solely of Cal Ripkens, Bobby Bonillas and Roger Clemenses.
As the season wears on, owners can trade players, put them on waivers, call up new players or sign free agents if they have any money left.
Each team's score is determined by a formula based on its players' real-life hitting and pitching statistics. Some league formulas are simple; others are outrageously complex. The problem, particularly for large leagues, is that someone has to spend hours updating hundreds of statistics each week and making the calculations.
Sometimes this falls to the poor guy who knows how to use Lotus 1-2-3. Just as often, leagues turn to statistical services that track everything and fax weekly reports back to the owners. These services typically charge $40 to $60 per team for the season. For a league of 10 or 12 teams, this can amount to $500 or $600.
L With MicroLeague Fantasy Manger, you can have it either way.
You can update the statistics by hand, in which case your only investment is the $39.95 purchase price.
Or, you can use the program's communications capabilities and a modem to log onto the USA Today Sports Network and automatically download each week's statistics. There's a charge for this, of course -- $120 for a package of 30 downloads that should last the whole season, or $25 for a starter package of six downloads. The first weekly download is free.
The statistical and record-keeping functions are thorough and flexible, although the user interface -- obviously based on code from the company's game software -- is a bit quirky for what amounts to a data base program.
You start by defining your teams, recording information about each owner, and defining your scoring and costs. The program allows you to choose up to 15 different offensive stats and 17 different pitching stats and assign whatever weight you want to each.
Likewise, you can determine how much imaginary cash you want each owner to have and assign special charges for making trades, placing a player on waivers, or other transactions.
At this point, it's time to conduct a player auction. You can use the 1991 year-end rosters of the American and National Leagues supplied with the program, modify the rosters yourself, or download the 1992 roster from USA Today Sports Network.
As the weeks go by, you can update stats manually, purchase regular update disks or use the on-line service if you have a modem, which is obviously the easiest method.