30 for 30: Silly Little Game

ESPN took a break from its coverage of the NFL draft to acknowledge the National Pastime in Silly Little Game, a part of its 30 for 30 series of films. Silly Little Game is a documentary about the founding parents of Rotisserie baseball. The story is re-told through the magic of interviews with scions and gauzy reenactments.

Both Eric and I are on the heels of reading and discussing Fantasyland, a book about fantasy baseball from ancient times through this very second, so this recent renaissance of the history of Rotisserie just seems to keep going and going.

I’m not totally up on the public’s view of the 30 for 30 series, except for the occasional bout of extreme praise that I’ve heard here and there. I’m not much for college sports or Al Davis stories, so I haven’t made a solid effort to watch any of them until Silly Little Game predictably caught my eye. I consider it a success when long form storytelling makes it into the popular culture.

The production value of Silly Little Game is a few notches above the typical Behind the Lines or whatever crappy Fox Sports docudrama of the week that they used to show after I got home from baseball practice. The goofy, improvisational dialogue and fast and loose historical reenactment style definitely owes something to the drowsy recreations of Drunk History. And I am surprised at how funny this film actually is. I haven’t–since the days of Olbermann and Patrick riffing on highlights on Sportscenter–associated ESPN with laughter.

The many interviews with the founding fathers and mother are the highlight, though. Dan Okrent and his compadres reminisce about the first draft, the unanticipated obsessions that developed around Rotisserie baseball, and the labor involved in gathering statistics. They are joyous reminisces, too, which for some reason the film decided unnecessarily to sour by including the subsequent failure to monetize the game. I’d have been happier with the narrower story scope, and Okrent himself admits near the end–refreshingly–that it was probably better off that they made no money, as they had only started out to have fun.

The film not only tells the story of the first Rotisserie season, but it also addresses the challenge of visualizing fantasy baseball in a creative way. Floating numbers and actors playing Bill Buckner and random relief pitchers, and the film gleefully cheesifies the mental life of a Rotisseries baseball addict. A little self-consciousness can go a long way, and it separates this cheerfully schlocky dramatization from, say, an episode of Rescue 911. Directors Adam Kurland and Lucas Jansen don’t truly believe that a mad rotiserrieman spun madly at his gyrating poultry as Dan Okrent narrated the nascent rules of the game that would rule the world, but it makes for good documentary.

I’m a sucker for nostalgic gatherings of intellectual types, so this is all right up my alley and I could listen to these folks tell stories all day long.

5 Responses to “30 for 30: Silly Little Game”

  • Yes! My first thought after watching the re-enactment of the first draft was, “am I watching another Drunk History?”

    I’ve seen most of the 30for30 docs so far and this was my favourite of them all. I’ve heard some people say they didn’t like it visually with the numbers flying around and what not but I thought it fit perfectly! It suited Roto baseball so well; bizarre, goofy, fun and kind of scary. That’s Roto in a nutshell.

    It’s probably the only 30for30 Doc I’d buy on DVD thus far.

  • I need to watch this. I’m also stoked about Run Ricky Run.

  • The very unique presentation, which you alluded to, seems to make this documentary the most polarizing of 30 for 30 docs presented so far (this is purely a guess on part, and is backed by nothing at all). I am in the camp that did not enjoy this one though. I can’t really pinpoint why I didn’t enjoy though, although I can say that the overly cheesey re-enactments definitely contributed.

    I loved me some Rescue 911 back in the day. Awesome, awesome show.

  • @dlbrows I think you make a great point about the tone of the film fitting the tone of Rotisserie. The founding members were nothing if not goofy and dramatic, like the film itself. I have to say that once I bought into it, I really enjoyed it. Just like fantasy baseball.

    @Kenneth Perhaps your impatience with the movie has something to do with the proclivity for New York intellectuals, or lack thereof, that I mentioned. How often do you watch the Glenn Beck Show? Just kidding, you like Rescue 911, so you can’t be all bad.

  • Wow. It was actually good? I would have imagined a ESPN-produced Rotisserie documentary to be silly and smug and self-important.

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