A Guilty Venture Into Baseball 'Fantasyland' Most fantasy baseball books have no plot, no dialogue, no women — which is just fine with Tony Horwitz. But when Horwitz wants a little story with his stats, he picks up Fantasyland, by Sam Walker.
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A Guilty Venture Into Baseball 'Fantasyland'

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A Guilty Venture Into Baseball 'Fantasyland'

A Guilty Venture Into Baseball 'Fantasyland'

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And now to a literary guilty pleasure. That's part of our series in which authors talk about books that they're embarrassed to love. Tony Horwitz suggests a kind of book that has no plot, no dialogue and no women.

Mr. TONY HORWITZ (Author, "A Voyage Long and Strange): My guilty pleasure is reading fantasy baseball books. Why do I cherish these books? Because I manage a make-believe team. This isn't the kind of fantasy you share on a first date or at most jobs. It's a guilty pleasure for closet geeks. That's where the books come in. They're written by experts who sift endless data to predict the future play of hitters and pitchers. Imagine the Kabbalah for sports nuts: a mix of prophecy and numerology that promises to unlock the secrets of the baseball universe.

I love baseball, the real game, but most writing about it is drowned in nostalgia. Fantasy books are different. They distill the game to its purest elements - hit, pitch, run - and are brutal in their lack of sentiment. Each player's stats come with a blunt summary. An aging but beloved slugger merits two lines: Stick a fork in him. He's done. That scrappy shortstop your 10-year-old adores? No power. No speed. Avoid. Fantasy books also crunch the numbers on existential themes. What's a batter's peak age, the perfect mix of youth and experience? Twenty-seven. Can a pitcher still throw heat in his 40's? Almost never.

The best book on fantasy isn't a players' guide, but a lunatic adventure. It's "Fantasyland" by Sam Walker, a sportswriter who's never tried fantasy but joins its toughest league. Walker stops at nothing to win. He hires a NASA mathematician to analyze ballplayers rather than astronauts. He stalks major leaguers at spring training. By the end of his rookie season, he's blown $46,000, which is why I prefer to manage my team in bed, with a pile of books that cost 50 bucks total. In the world of fantasy baseball, even a loser can triumph.

SIEGEL: Tony Horwitz is the author of "A Voyage Long and Strange." His guilty pleasure is "Fantasyland" by Sam Walker.

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