Ah, the opening of the baseball season. The crack of the bat!
The roar of the crowd! The whistle of modems! Holy Cow, sports
fans, baseball has come to cyberspace.
Baseball, whether the real game or the increasingly popular
form of fantasy baseball called Rotisserie, has become a showcase
for the slugging power of technology and information networks.
For a fee, fans of the game can tap into vast information
databases where millions of bits of baseball news, esoterica and
analysis are stored, dissected and disseminated, pitch by pitch,
minute by minute.
Call it data for the statistically insatiable. If football is a
game of inches, baseball is becoming the game of megabytes.
Equipped with desktop computers, laptops and even hand-held devices
with wireless communications links, the modern fan can absorb
everything about any game, whenever and wherever it is played.
"The passion that baseball fans bring to their real or fantasy
leagues has resulted in the development of an extraordinary number
of computer services, equal to those that arose on Wall Street,"
said Roger McNamee, a portfolio manager for Kleiner Perkins
Caufield & Byers, a high-technology venture capital firm in San
When he is not managing portfolios, McNamee is managing a
fantasy baseball team. In these Rotisserie leagues - named after
the now-defunct Manhattan restaurant where the game was invented in
the early 1980s - the manager of a fantasy team drafts players,
sets lineups and competes with other managers, using the real
statistics of real major league players as the season unfolds.
McNamee said he saw many similarities between his financial
work and his sports hobby.
"They're both large games, interactive, transactional, real
time, and small pieces of insight have great value," he said. "It's
truly amazing to me how much money is spent on this subculture. But
in every case a premium is paid for completeness, insight and
For the companies that compile, collate and crank out the data,
on-line sports statistics have become a multimillion-dollar
industry. The leaders include Stats Inc., of Skokie, Ill.; Allstar
Stats Inc. of Valhalla, N.Y., and the Elias Sports Bureau of
Manhattan, the official statistician of Major League Baseball, the
National Basketball Association and other professional sports.
Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft Corp., the owner of the
Portland Trailblazers basketball team and a sports fanatic, has
formed a company called Starwave Corp. in Bellevue, Wash. Starwave
plans to begin providing sports news and statistics soon on the
Interchange Online Network, based in Cambridge, Mass.
That service will put Allen in competition with Microsoft,
which sells a software program called Complete Baseball. The
program can be updated with fresh statistics through a computer
network for $1.25 a day.
And the Prodigy computer service signed a contract last week
with the ESPN sports television network, reportedly valued at $2
million, to create an interactive sports information network.
ESPN, in turn, has created a pay-per-view cable television
program specifically to appeal to Rotisserie baseball players.
Meanwhile, on the Prodigy network, fans pay $125 a year to
manage their own teams of fantasy players, plus additional fees for
the privilege of insulting rival managers using electronic mail and
electronic bulletin boards.
Baseball's Not The Only Sport
An obsession with sports technology is not unique to baseball's
so-called Roto-Geeks, as Rotisserie players are often called by
Some auto-racing fans long ago learned to use scanners to
eavesdrop on the conversations between the drivers of race cars and
their pit crews. The same will certainly happen in football now
that the NFL has approved the use of radio transceivers in
quarterbacks' helmets. …