By Andrew Kahn
I’ve long recognized Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak as one of the most impressive in sports history. Trying to beat it has only increased my appreciation.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re not alone. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates that of the 59 million fantasy sports participants this past year, 49 percent played a fantasy baseball game. That’s the second most popular fantasy sport, but a distant second to football (66 percent).
The Fantasy football chatter that has ramped up now that the NFL preseason is underway is evidence of that. And football, in general, is the most popular sport in the country. Throw in the fact that players only compete once a week, most of them on the same day, and it’s easy to see why fantasy football is widespread.
Baseball, on the other hand, is a long season. There are games pretty much every day for six months, and the weather is good for much of that period, perhaps influencing people to get outside and not spend as much time monitoring a fantasy team. And there is a fair amount of monitoring. A rotisserie—or, as the kids say, “roto”—league makes the most sense for baseball, as opposed to a weekly head-to-head competition. That means a simple Sunday-morning roster update won’t suffice.
But in case you didn’t know, there are fantasy baseball alternatives that don’t require nearly the same time commitment. My favorite is Beat the Streak. Run by MLB.com, it is simple: Pick a batter, any batter. If he gets a hit, your streak is at one. The next day—or a later date; you’re not punished for skipping a day—pick a player and try to extend your streak. You can repeat players as often as you’d like. The ultimate goal is to pass DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak. If you do, MLB will give you $5.6 million.
Sounds easy, right? You can rotate your selections among the game’s best hitters based on opposing pitcher, ballpark, and other factors. And yet, the contest has existed since 2005 and the longest streak is 51, achieved earlier this season. At any given time, the best streak is typically in the mid-30s (the current leader is at 33). The participant with the longest streak of the season earns $10,000, and much smaller streaks earn competitors entries into drawings for free World Series tickets, MLB.TV subscriptions, and apparel discounts.
I’ve been playing all season and my 15-game streak leads my four-person group. I’ve taken advantage of the contest’s “double down” feature in which you can choose two players a day—if each gets a hit, your streak increases by two; if either player records an at-bat and fails to get a hit, the streak ends. (I ended up at an odd number because one of my picks took the day off.)
The Beat the Streak mobile app makes it easy to input selections, especially since it provides a handful of “top picks” (players with high batting averages facing underwhelming pitchers) each day. But no player is a sure thing, as evidenced by my picks’ cumulative .276 batting average. In other words, even with the entire league at my disposal, I can’t do any better than Baltimore’s Adam Jones (a lifetime .276 hitter).
There are still six-plus weeks for you to join Beat the Streak and hope to catch fire off the bat or sharpen your skills for next season. And don’t give up on standard fantasy baseball, which is a better product than fantasy football, if not a better experience.*
*Football is far more of a team sport than baseball, and one in which individual stats do not always reflect value. Baseball is a team sport mostly in name only. In reality, it is a game comprised of individual match-ups. Runs scored and driven in are partially dependent on teammates, but most countable stats are not. In football, not only is a player’s success greatly influenced by his teammates—in a quarterback’s case, his offensive line and receivers—but the numbers lie. Tom Brady could complete all 25 of his pass attempts for 400 yards and get crushed, fantasy-wise, by Jay Cutler’s 16 of 32, three-touchdown stat line. “Vulture” running backs take points away from more deserving teammates. There’s no baseball equivalent for that kind of unfairness.
Alas, there is no getting around the time commitment necessary to oversee a successful fantasy baseball team. Beat the Streak and other one-day-at-a-time contests are attractive alternatives. DiMaggio had to play in 56 multi-hour games, spread out over two months in 1941, to achieve his streak. His salary that year was $37,500. You can make 150x that with just a half minute of consideration every day for a few weeks.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn