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Fantasy Baseball History

Six to seven million people play fantasy baseball today, according to Gregg Rosenthall, fantasy sports editor of Rotoworld and NBCSports.com.

But, how did this fantasy baseball epidemic get started?

The passion for fantasy baseball today came from a group of men who grew up playingMark Grace Strat-O-Matic card baseball board games, namely APBA (American Professional Baseball Association) and Strat-O-Matic. APBA, invented by Dick Seitz in 1951, was the first baseball board game to base its results on statistics of actual major league players. Strat-O-Matic, invented by Hal Richman, followed with its new game in 1963 and a new phenomenon was born. If you grew up in the 60′s or 70′s, you no doubt played one of these baseball board games. (I still have a set of Strat-O-Matic game cards from the first season my brothers began playing in 1966).

The day the cards arrived, usually about in February, was the biggest day of the year. While we all had our orders in, we would rush over to whomever was the luckiest to get the cards first. Then, we would help him separate the cards (they came in one big sheet with nine cards attached to each other as I recall) and place them on the proper teams.

Houk APBA With outcomes based on the roll of the dice, the game was statistically very accurate. There was, however, one major problem with APBA and Strat-O-Matic: do we replay last season or use last season’s stats to replay this season? Some guys (this is how I did it) would get the new cards and immediately make the trades that had happened over the Hot Stove League; others replayed the previous season.

The rudimentary game played with cards and dice is boring by today’s video standards. APBA and Strat-O-Matic moved to a computer-based game in the 1990′s, but it was still basically the card game played via a computerized dice roll. Stacked up against the graphics of MLB 2008, I couldn’t see today’s video generation getting into a baseball board game for very long.

No doubt, however, that it was a love for baseball statistics learned by many young men from playing APBA and Strat-O-Matic that made fantasy baseball such an instant hit. That, and a 1981 baseball strike that left the original managers, who were all journalists, scrambling for something to write about.

OKRENT: The father of Rotisserie Baseball

OKRENT: The father of Rotisserie Baseball

Daniel Okrent, of The New York Times, is credited with establishing the concept for fantasy baseball in 1980. There seems to be significant proof that Okrent invented the game as opposed to Abner Doubleday’s claims which are purely legend. Back then, it was called Rotisserie Baseball because the origins of the game began at La Francoise Rotisserie–a restaurant in New York City where the original fantasy baseball managers met.

A little known fact about fantasy baseball is that Okrent came up with the idea on a flight from Connecticut to Texas. When he arrived in Austin, TX, he created the first set of rules that developed into roto baseball and pitched the idea to a group of friends at a restaurant in called “The Pit.” That group wasn’t interested.

Good thing… or we’d all be playing PitBall today. Doesn’t sound as nice, does it?

Okrent was born in 1948 and was graduated from the University of Michigan. Okrent began the tradition of naming teams after the manager’s name. Okrent’s original team was the Okrent Fenokees. More recently, he managed the Dan Druffs.

Several other managers from the original Rotisserie League have gone on to become very famous journalists. Glenn Waggoner is publisher of ESPN The Magazine. Rob Fleder, then manager of the Fleder Mice, is executive editor of Sports Illustrated. Valerie Salerbien is vice president of Esquire magazine.

Statistics from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association indicate that 16 million people playFSTA licensees fantasy sports in the United States. Fantasy football is the biggest part of the fantasy pie with an estimated 10 million players. Fantasy baseball managers spend, on average, three hours per week managing their teams. They invest $175 per year on fantasy sports for software, research, magazines, and league prize money. That makes fantasy sports a $1.5 billion industry.

Back in the days when the pastime was known as Rotisserie Baseball, it wasn’t quite as easy to run a league. Statistics were not as easy to come by and league standings had to be kept by hand. USA Today is credited with making it a lot easier to be a Rotisserie manager through its extensive and easy to read box scores and statistics.

Today, CBS Sportsline, Yahoo, and ESPN make running a fantasy baseball team and league a snap. The three entities pay Major League Baseball Advanced Media $2 million per year for the rights to use player statistics, photos, and logos on their sites. Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which collects licensing payments on behalf of the MLB Players’ Association, now works with only seven licensees for fantasy baseball as opposed to 19 as recently as 2004.

Today, fantasy baseball is everywhere and shows no sign of declining. Heck, even if you watch the movie Knocked Up, you’ll see a reference to fantasy baseball.

“Hey, I got Matsui. I got Matsui.”

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