Fantasy Sports

One of the few good-news stories I have to follow – along with the growth and cementing of gay rights around the country – is the legal offensive against FanDuel and DraftKing, the fantasy sports sites that bombard every sports event with ads that are equally boring and deceptive. There is no question, and the legal inquiries have so established, that almost everyone loses money in these ventures; and the incessant “John Smith has won $100,000” claims may be true for John Smith, but if you think you are the next winner, you are the next sucker.

The fantasy that gets me is the claim that these wagers are not gambling, because they involve an element of skill – or so Congress, in its usual lack of wisdom, decreed. By contrast, betting on the outcome of a game is gambling and is illegal, except in Nevada. There is far more “skill” in guessing which team will win a game than in guessing how many touchdowns a particular individual will score on a given day, yet the former is verboten while the latter is permitted.

I will never bet on a fantasy game, so why should I care? As mentioned, there are those ads, which have none of the wit of Geico spots. Now, the rage is spreading to on-air shows: instead of finding the Sports Reporters on ESPN2 on Sunday, I find a whole half-hour of fantasy tips, and this approach to sports is creeping into SI, as well. Concentrating on individual performances in a team game is a distortion of sport. So, go get ’em, attorneys general!

Game 4


One beauty of the World Series is that it magnifies baseball, the most analyzable of sports. Every pitch seems to matter, every run is discussable, every move debatable, and last night’s 5-3 Royals win over the Mets was a perfect example.

First, the Mets’ runs: how did Michael Conforto, a rookie who had looked overmatched in every previous game – playing only because Michael Cuddyer looked even worse – suddenly hit two solo home runs and turn, in front of the viewing public, from prospect to future star? Granted, one was off a mediocre get-it-over-first-strike from mild-throwing Chris Young early in the game, but hard-throwing lefty Daniel Duffy should have been on alert when he faced Conforto later in the game – although Duffy hadn’t surrendered a homer to a lefty in about three years and Conforto had never hit one off a lefty.

The Mets’ middle run, which for awhile loomed as the game-winner, was even more baffling. After a rare passed ball by catcher Sal Perez allowed Wilmer Flores to move to third base with one out, Curtis Granderson hit a medium-short fly to right. Alex Rios came loping forward, with perfect position and momentum to gun out Flores at the plate. But he thought there were two outs and the inning would be over; when he heard his teammates’ cries and belatedly threw home it was too late. But was it? The Royals challenged the run, claiming Flores had departed third too early. An agonizing video replay showed Flores’ foot leaving the bag as the ball entered Rios’s glove, but was there a spike still in contact with the bag? Replays were “inconclusive” and the run stood. Of course, it wouldn’t have been fair to disallow a run on such a technicality that had no effect on the play – but then again the Royals had lost a potential first-inning rally when a clear stolen base by Alcides Escobar was turned into a double play on batter’s interference.

The Royals got their runs in their usual way, pecking here, pouncing there. Mets starter Stephen Matz looked untouchable for four innings – but prior Met starters Harvey and DeGrom had also looked unhittable before they didn’t. The Royals don’t seem discouraged by early difficulties, they just keep hacking and eventually got to Matz and his relief help for two runs in the sixth. The commentators questioned not pinch-hitting for Matz when he batted in the fifth, but that overlooked the fact that he is as good a hitter as almost anyone on the bench at that point.

It was the Royals’ four-run 8th inning that turned the game, and probably wrapped up the Series, that is being discussed today, and here every move has its detractors. After reliever Tylar Clippard got one out he walked two batters, albeit on close 3-2 pitches, leading manager Terry Collins to turn to his closer, Jeurys Familia. Why not bring in Familia after the first walk, asked the TV announcer? Why not bring him in to start the inning, asked the morning-after pundits? Collins was roundly chastised for wanting to save Familia so he could also use him in Game 5 tonight. You’ve got to win Game 4 first!, the critics cry. On the other hand, if Familia had gotten five quick outs, Collins’s use would have been considered wise. And furthermore, given Familia’s lack of success – facing four batters, he only retired one – it might not have mattered at what point he entered the game.

The key topic of discussion, however, was the error by Daniel Murphy on the slow grounder from Eric Hosmer, the first batter Familia faced. Did this lose the game – a la Bill Buckner in 19TK? First, let me note it was not a routine play. Murphy had to charge the ball, with a base runner moving in front of him. Although Hosmer is not among the fastest Royals, the team speed they had shown had to subconsciously put pressure on Murphy to rush the play. Nor is it clear to me that had Murphy fielded the ball cleanly he would have gotten Hosmer out. As the announcer commented at the time, Murphy was probably undecided whether he was going to shovel the ball to first with his glove or transfer it to his throwing hand. Either way, it would be tricky for the less-than-adept Murphy and a close play at first.

Even assuming an out is recorded at first, there are runners at second and third, both of whom would have scored on Moustakas’s ensuing ground ball single to right, let alone the following line drive to right by Perez. The Royals would have taken a 4-3 lead, and while not as comfortable as the 5-3 margin, there’s no reason to believe it would not have been sufficient for Wade Davis, who shut out the Mets over the last two frames.

Still, it is easier to put the onus on Murphy – especially as he is positioned to bear it. He is the single greatest reason the Mets beat the Dodgers and Cubs and reached the World Series. The amazing achievement of homering in six straight postseason games will be dimmed by the memory of his error, but only slightly. What the Murphy error does do, I predict, is make it easier for Mets management to sever ties when the season ends. They were largely predicted to do so before the postseason began, but Murphy’s heroics might have made it seem heartless to not offer him a contract for next year, despite his journeyman past, his mediocre fielding and baserunning (and, dare I say, religious right-wing opinions, out of place in New York). If anything, his defensive deficiencies were more apparent on the Moustakas single that followed the Hosmer error. Murphy dove and just missed the ground ball, and it’s easy to think of a dozen other second basemen that would have gotten to the ball.

My last thought on the game last night is prompted by the final play, a soft line drive from Lucas Duda that Moustakas caught easily and threw to first to double up Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes’ sleepwalking at first, on top of his month-long slump, has undoubtedly clouded the Mets’ determination to resign him as a free agent, especially if there are any more Confortos in the wings. But the Royals’ luck was not just Cespedes’ gaffe, but that Duda’s ball was hit directly at Moustakas, the only fielder on the left side of the infield. The Royals have consistently applied a shift against Duda, a power-hitting lefty, moving shortstop Escobar to the other side of second. Duda, however, has hit at least five balls to the left side against the Royals, including three base hits – far more damage than he has done to the right. Why have the Royals not adapted? Furthermore, the Royals, unlike many other major league teams, have left their third baseman by himself on the left, instead of their more agile shortstop. Moustakas has stumbled over a ground ball and had trouble fielding a pop up behind him. Can’t they see that if they choose to continue their shift – which I would advise against – it’s Moustakas who should be moved, not Escobar.

That’s it until tonight’s Game 5…and maybe one or two more.