Saturday, October 10 , 2015, 1:22 pm | Fair 89º

Max McCumber: Brackets and Fantasy Leagues Can’t Tell the Whole Story

By Max McCumber |

Late March to early April is one of the best stretches of the Gregorian calendar to be a sports fan. The March Madness of college basketball followed by the first pitches of a new baseball season are comforting reminders that spring is here. For many, this constitutes filling out brackets and fantasy drafts, both of which involve number crunching.

Max McCumber
Max McCumber

I tend to shy away from those statistical activities this time of year while still appreciating what the sports schedule has to offer.

Since the NCAA expanded the tourney field a few years ago, there are obviously more brackets to keep track of. More odds to wager, not to mention more possibilities of upsets. Perhaps I lose opportunities to win a few bucks in some pools without filling out brackets. I just prefer to wait for a possible Cinderella story — say, a random school like Mercer knocks out Duke — to play out and let it happen.

To say statistics mean nothing to me or anyone else as a fan is not entirely true.

If a hoopster already has 30 points by halftime or 50 by the end of the third quarter, it intrigues me to see how much they end up with. No one has cracked 100 since Wilt Chamberlain did, but to see Kobe Bryant come close back in 2006 was worth keeping tabs on.

Similar scenario in baseball: Perhaps no one will ever pass Joe DiMaggio with a hitting streak over 56 games. But anytime someone has one in the works up to 20 or 30 games, it's entertaining to see how long it lasts.

Two years ago, I was in Detroit and got to see Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera go yard for one of his homers that helped him win the first offensive triple crown in over 40 years. The more numbers are steeped in such lore, the more they enhance the moment.

March Madness has followed me on two travel occasions. In Kansas City there is no NBA team, but to compensate, the state-of-the-art Sprint Center houses the College Basketball Experience, an interactive Hall of Fame museum I paid a visit to. Last year I was in Atlanta for an early season Braves game, when coincidentally the Final Four was about to be held there at the Georgia Dome. While the Coca-Cola museum was of little interest to me, the championship trophy was on display there and I got to touch it. A few days later, that trophy was awarded to the Rick Pitino-coached Louisville Cardinals. On both occasions, the sheer exhibition without anything riding on brackets did it for me.

When I find a seat at stadiums anywhere from Santa Barbara to the Florida Keys or Great White North of Canada with a veggie hot dog, peanuts or a pretzel and a beer on tap, I deem it a time of meditation. It's at summer dusk in a vibrant city, where a pennant race is heating up. Music pumps from the speakers as the pitching staff gets loose in the bullpen and the cage is up for batting practice. The ambiance endures even in a day and age marred by steroids. I just prefer not to think about VORP, WAR, WHIP or whatever obscure stats relate to the game at those moments. Nor do I care to fret about someone in the lineup on my fantasy team going 0 for 4.

I don't dispute the merits of the more technical ways to follow sports. If you can garner some cash by correctly filling out part of the NCAA bracket, more power to you. Ditto with fantasy baseball, especially if it helps you enjoy the sport as a whole over one team. For more on that, click here for my last article. Furthermore, where would the Oakland A's be without the Moneyball sabermetric strategy employed by Billy Beane?

However, too often the simplicities that make spectator sports so enjoyable are lost in the numbers. The action immortalized in CBS' "One Shining Moment" montage once the Final Four victor cuts down the net cannot be scripted by brackets alone. Not all stats used to accumulate fantasy league points can do the thrills of a 162-game season, October playoffs and the spectacle of the World Series justice.

So much of our lives outside of sports is dictated by numbers. I see so many numbers at work everyday that I'm ready to let loose when I get home and turn on the game. Aren't we all? Then comes rent or the mortgage, student loans, property taxes, utility bills and the like. No dire need to add keeping track of your cleanup hitter's OPS and middle reliever's ERA to that list of burdens.

— Max McCumber is a Santa Barbara resident.

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