Fantasy helps fans keep it real, adds spice to sports arguments

ON FANTASY SPORTS

Commentary

November 10, 2005|By CHILDS WALKER

So one of my colleagues argued the other day that fantasy sports have warped the way we look at real sports, especially football and basketball, where individual statistics fail to measure the interplay between complementary parts.

It's something you hear from people inside sports, too. "So-and-so's a rotisserie manager," they'll say when deriding an executive who has ignored team chemistry while building a roster.

I put a lot of stock in numbers, which help us get past the fallible human eye (I mean, for generations, we were sure the world was flat and located at the center of the universe). And yes, that probably correlates to my love for fantasy. But let me tell you why that's a good thing.

To my coworker and countless football traditionalists, it's patently obvious that Tom Brady is a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. He has three Super Bowl rings, after all, and even after Monday night's loss to the Colts, he's 6-1 in head-to-head contests with Manning.

Beyond that, Brady just looks like a guy you'd want at the helm in a big game, firing accurately into the teeth of blitzes he knows will batter him play after play.

His numbers are good but not exceptional, something you could've also said about Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.

Manning, by contrast, has led his teams to the playoffs consistently but has never reached the Super Bowl and never played his best in January showdowns with New England.

But Manning's numbers are astounding. He has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns in each of the past six seasons. His 2004 season was probably the best ever by a quarterback.

As such, there are those who say Manning is clearly the best quarterback in the league, that if he had led those Patriots teams, they wouldn't have missed a beat.

Fantasy didn't create arguments like this (remember Marino vs. Montana), but it makes fans more aware of statistics and thus adds layers. I'm sure it leads some to think a quarterback with 30 touchdown passes is automatically better than a quarterback with 20 touchdown passes. But such stupidity is a byproduct of any human endeavor.

Arguing is fun, and if I had to sum up the best contribution fantasy sports have made to real sports, that would be it: more, better, fiercer arguments.

Consider another tried-and-true favorite: Derek Jeter vs. Alex Rodriguez. Many New York Yankees writers and fans seem convinced that Jeter's the better player, the guy you'd want up with men on base in the late innings of a playoff game.

But many of the rest of us look at Rodriguez's production over the long haul, his superior fielding, power and plate discipline, and we think they're crazy. Would you trade a perennial Most Valuable Player candidate for a guy whose alleged superiority rests on intangible qualities?

I wouldn't. Others would. Again, fantasy probably has something to do with this argument. The debate would've existed before (it did in the form of Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams) but certainly, more people seem aware of more statistics.

Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell is another great one. Chamberlain would be the greatest fantasy basketball player of all time, a true statistical monster. But Russell won all those titles, making more subtle contributions on defense and starting Boston's vaunted fast break.

My generation of fans didn't see these guys. We only know the numbers, and so it seems hard to imagine anybody was better than Chamberlain. But is that right? Is that the fantasy player in me talking? Maybe.

Our greater awareness of statistics has changed the way we talk about sports. And fantasy encourages that. This might frustrate some, but I say it's terrific because it adds elements to the great arguments.

To me, half the fun of sports (probably more) is talking it, arguing it. By forcing fans to seek more information, fantasy arms them for those debates. And I don't see how that can be a bad thing, even if it sometimes leads us to erroneous conclusions.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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