John McGrath

John McGrath: It’s possibly a nightmarish scenario for a sports fantasy league

Column as I see ’em …

The day after baseball’s All-Star Game is known as the least eventful date of the calendar year for sports. Thursday offered a flip side to those desolate hours without a major sports team on television.

Two baseball playoff games, two college football games, an NHL game, an NBA exhibition game, and golf’s Presidents Cup were scheduled Thursday along with an NFL game between Indianapolis and Houston. The TV audience for the Colts-Texans contest likely will be higher than all the other events put together, and not because following pro football is America’s pastime.

America’s pastime is the quest to make money on pro football, either through conventional gambling or its offshoot, fantasy competition.

▪ With billions of dollars at stake in that unregulated industry, geez, what could go wrong? I am shocked — shocked! — about accusations that an employee of the fantasy site DraftKings participated in what amounted to insider trading.

▪ The concept of the fantasy league was invented by writer Daniel Okrent. En route to Austin, Texas, on a 1980 plane trip, Okrent thought about how fun it would be to generally manage an imaginary baseball team. He pitched the idea to some friends at Texas Monthly — all thumbs were down— but found colleagues in New York more receptive.

“In the first year or two you’re playing, you are much more engaged with baseball than you’ve been since you were seven years old,” Okrent told The New Yorker in April. “By your fourth or fifth year, the actual game has lost meaning for you. You’re engaged in the numbers that the game spins out and engaged with millions of others in the same way. It has no relationship to the fan attachment you may have had to a particular team or what’s taking place on the the field. It’s the importance of a number that’s what’s important.

“When people say, ‘How do you feel, having invented this?’ I say, ‘I feel the way that J. Robert Oppenheimer felt having invented the atomic bomb. I really do. I mean, pretty terrible.”

▪ Best sports movie I’ve seen in a while? “Pawn Sacrifice,” based on the true story of Bobby Fischer’s 1972 chess showdown against the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky. Creating riveting theater from a game that requires its contestants to sit still and think poses an almost impossible challenge, but Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Fischer as mad-scientist grandmaster is sensational.

Maguire, by the way, also had a prominent role, as jockey Red Pollard, in “Seabiscuit,” another terrific sports movie.

▪ Speaking of sports-movie classics, the fight between Calgary’s Michael Ferland and Vancouver’s Derek Dorsett — two seconds into the new NHL season — could have been a scene in “Slap Shot.” Seems Ferland and Dorsett were determined to continue a feud simmering since last season’s playoffs.

Hockey is the sports equivalent of what Louis Armstrong once said about understanding jazz: If you gotta ask, you’ll never know.

▪ If Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor resembled Superman on the forced fumble that prevented a touchdown Monday night, what comic-book hero can be linked to linebacker K.J. Wright?

Duh.

Batman.

▪ The Pittsburgh Pirates won 98 games in 2015 — only their rivals in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals, won more — but the Bucs’ season is destined to be remembered for the dugout fight utility infielder Sean Rodriguez picked with a Gatorade cooler Tuesday night.

Rodriguez looked pretty silly, but then again, so did the rest of his teammates against Chicago Cubs’ ace Jake Arrieta. A minor-league journeyman in the Orioles system as recently as two summers ago, Arrieta appears poised to become this October’s version of Madison Bumgarner, who single-handedly transformed the 2014 San Francisco Giants from loser-out wild cards on the road to World Series champions.

Pity the Pirates, whose home-field advantage in the wild-card game proved insignificant for the second time in two seasons.

“Sports is hard,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said after the 4-0 defeat. “Life’s not fair. You go out and play. You get beat, you move on.”

As Hurdle moves on, he might think about changing his first name to Clear.

▪ On my list of People I Wish Would Go Away Even Though I’ve Never Met Them, none ranks higher than Sepp Blatter, president of world soccer’s governing body. When a sport’s most high-profile executive is a fraud, a bully and a goof, it can’t be good for the sport.

▪ Meanwhile, the NFL isn’t budging on its long-term plans to take over the world. The league’s owners on Wednesday reaffirmed their commitment to schedule games outside the U.S. through 2025. I get it: Expand the market, sell jerseys across the planet, everybody wins except the Detroit Lions.

No big deal. But if a future Super Bowl ever is scheduled in London, Berlin or Beijing, I’ll make a personal visit to the commissioner’s office and pretend I’m Sean Rodriguez, and he’s the Gatorade cooler.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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