I got an e-mail from David Neely, Chino Valley, AZ recently, he was interested in creating his own fictional baseball league but was unsure about how to begin. Could I provide him some tips? Absolutely! The tips that follow are geared more with baseball players and teams in mind, but they are applicable to any fictional league in any sport…
SIMPLE: First of all, I would make it simple. Not too many teams, not too many players. I’ve seen a number of well-intentioned gamers come up with grandiose plans for leagues of 20 or 30 fictional teams, each stocked with 30 or 40 players. Then, soon after they get started, they run out of creative juice and the whole thing becomes a chore. When I was play-testing HMB back in 2005, I made a “condensed” version of the '59 American League, eight teams, with 10 batters and 8 pitchers per team. That’s fewer than 150 players total. Start small and simple. You can always make more players as you go, if you need or want to.
HISTORICAL NUMBERS: It usually makes it a lot easier if you use an existing season's stats as your "base." By that I don't mean that you're trying to replicate that season. I just mean it will give you some good benchmarks and structure and will assure that you have the right amount/mix of players. You don’t have to use an entire league—you could choose, say, eight teams from the ‘70s or ‘80s big leagues. It’s not even necessarily crucial that you use a mix of winning and losing teams, as long as you’re willing to accept the results. You could make the player ratings in any number of ways—I’ve known many gamers who write out player ratings long-hand in a plain spiral-bound notebook, and play games that way! (And that’s the way I did my ’59 American League, with hand-written qualities in a notebook!) If you want to make nice-looking cards, though, a spread sheet of some kind is great to arrange and tweak the data. Then, once you've got your qualities, assigned based on real-life players and stats, you can change the player names to your liking and also tinker with the qualities.
NAMED APPROPRIATELY: In my opinion, having the right player names makes a fictional league hum. Even if the ratings are goofy, if you like the players, much can be forgiven! There are lots of ways to come up with great names, but I think one of the best ways is to just go through names from the era listed in a baseball registry of some kind. Use that to choose interesting or typical last names. Then, do the same thing again, with first names. This way, you’ll get the right mix of nationalities and ethnicity, and your rosters will “sound right.” For example, mixing and matching the names of the first four players of the ’66 Cubs (first names) and Dodgers (last names), you’d get names like Randy Roseboro, Ernie Parker, Glenn Lefebvre and Don Fairly. Names that have a familiar ring to them and are consistent with the era.
...but these won't give you names that "sound,” for example, like the early 1900's. You can use the official Social Security site for names for a specific era...
...and that will work really well.
KEEP IT REASONABLE: Our hobby is well-known for good game intentions that end up unfulfilled. That’s not an indictment—personally, I see nothing wrong with starting a project and not finishing it, as long as fun was had! But, there IS a certain satisfaction that comes from completing a tabletop project. So, in that light, it makes sense to so some advance planning. Figure out how many hours you want to devote to this project, and build your league from that premise. In other words, let’s say you want to spend 50 hours on a baseball season, and let’s further assume it takes an average of 40 minutes to play a game. That means you’re talking about a 75 game season. To me, the best choice would be to create a six or eight team league, and then take the role of managing ONE team in a 75-game season vs. the other teams. Otherwise, you’re talking about a 10 or 12 game season, maybe two games, home-and-home, each team in the league. If you want to complete a full season with a full league, that’s great—just, realize what you’re asking of yourself. I remember back in the late ‘70s, me and a buddy decided we were going to do a full-season baseball project between us one summer. We settled on six teams, 100 games, figuring that would be pretty easy. We finished it, but in thinking back on it, I remember there were many grueling hours of dice-rolling!!
KEEP IT FUN: Don't let the process "daunt" you. You're creating your own baseball universe, but it’s not life or death. If there are more/fewer walks than normal, or home runs, or stolen bases--so what? You can always change on the fly if you begin to see something's "off" say, ten games in. The idea is to have fun! So don't stress out about results. Just let them happen.
Hope these suggestions help!