ESPN 30 for 30: Silly Little Game (2010)

Directed by Lucas Jansen & Adam Kurland

I am a big time lover of sports, which is why I so wanted to embark on this marathon of sports documentaries from ESPN. At the same time, baseball is, was and always will be my favorite sport and even now in the dead of winter with snow gently falling onto the frozen ground I long for the boys of summer who are men playing a child’s game. I long for the smell of freshly mown, perfectly manicured green grass and the hot sun beating down me as I sweat like a pig up in the nosebleeds, longing for just a glimpse of greatness from one of my favorite players. My love of baseball knows no end so I can definitely say that my view of this particular episode of the series will be slightly biased.

For those that don’t know, the film is about the development of the wonder of fantasy sports. Back then it was exclusive to the sport of baseball having been developed by one baseball nut in a French restaurant. Dan Okrent, whom I had only known before as a commentator in Ken Burns’ great documentary series simply titled Baseball, thought up an idea where you could own your own team and compete against your friends to prove your baseball knowledge. They called it Rotisserie League Baseball and created a phenomenon when their publishing connections broke the story to America. But slowly their obsession grew and left them behind, developing into a multi-billion dollar industry, but they saw none of that money.

The film works for me on a number of levels based solely on my nuttiness for the sport and my ability to connect with the equally, if not even more, nerdy baseball fanatics who are chronicled in the film. These guys, and the token one girl, are crazy and were obsessed with the game, spending countless hours out of their day to concentrate on making trades and following the stats of their teams. But what makes this all so special is the fact that they enjoyed what they were doing. They enjoyed the long hours of research. Dan Okrent at one point says that he started compiling stats on a daily basis instead of weakly, saying that it was awful. He quickly follows with the statement, “No, it wasn’t awful, I loved it.”

The film is simple and told in a very straightforward, history style with no extra fireworks apart from the dramatizations of the past. These dramatizations were outrageous but in the best way possible. They are completely overblown and depict the participants of this league as crazed sports fanatics, but that is probably because they were. They created something very special with millions of Americans obsess over every year. But it is remarkable to think they were working in an era before the internet. They had to have their drafts in person and compile their stats by themselves. Now the internet has become a major contributor to the success and prominence of the “sport”.

These men, and the token girl who was included, should be recognized for their contribution to the sport of baseball but also to all the sports that are now included under the fantasy umbrella. ESPN fantasy expert Matthew Berry makes a comment near the end of the film which really surprised me at first, but when he explained, it made more sense than anything else to me. He said that these people deserve to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I was shocked at first, but when you think about it, they have contributed more to the consumption of the game, more to the knowledge of the average fan, than just about any player, manager, or executive over the last 30 years. It may not be an obvious choice, but who among you can say that you have not partaken in fantasy sports, and becomes even a little more knowledgeable about the sports you love?

*** – Good

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