Two Decades of Bringing the Crazy
This April will mark the 20th anniversary of my descent into madness, I mean, my foray into that wild and crazy world of rotisserie baseball.
I write this column with some trepidation. Because, frankly, I know full well that there are few things more boring than listening to someone else talk about their rotisserie league team. So I promise right off the bat that this will not be a litany of recollections like "and then I traded Joe Schlabotnik for Pedro Martinez and Albert Pujols."
It was spring training 1987 when a sportswriter friend of mine happened to mention that the fledgling National League-only Rotisserie League being started up by the commissioner of his AL league was short one team and did I know anyone who might be interested in giving it a shot.
I'd recently read an article about the phenomenon, had been intrigued, and had nothing to do that following Sunday so I said, "what the hell." If I'd known then what I know now. . .well, I suspect I still would have done it.
I spent the next few nights copying down the names and 1986 stats for pretty much every single player on a National League roster that had not yet been sent down from spring training into one of those accounting ledger books. This was, of course, way before the days when you could download all of this from the internet. In fact, I think it may have been before the days of the internet.
When Draft Day (MUST be capitalized) dawned, I was stoked. I was geeked. And I had to buy Cincinnati Reds phenom shortstop Barry Larkin.
To some, there's nothing like the smell of napalm in the morning. To me, there's nothing like the smell of Bobby Valentine's restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut, at 1 p.m. on the first Sunday of the regular season. That first sip of a pungent Bloody Mary, the first (and probably only) bite of a barely-nibbled cheeseburger (I was too nervous to eat because I might get burger juice on my intricately-written stat sheets).
I was ready to be savvy, to be wary, to take my time and not jump into any stupid purchases. Which is why I spent $41, the highest salary in that year's draft, on the very first player whose name was brought up, Darryl Strawberry (full disclosure: the Dinner Table rules I mention below were not yet in effect).
Oh right, Barry Larkin. I bought him for $22, and on our first break ran to the restaurant payphone (remember those?) to call my husband and share the good news. Before I had gotten a word out, he said "Oh God, please tell me you didn't get Barry Larkin!" Turns out he had injured his knee probably at the exact same moment the auctioneer was saying "Sold for $22!"
Because I apparently had nothing better to do with my free time (this was pre-motherhood), I am going to make a really embarrassing confession here. I actually made a poster of my team by scrounging up baseball cards of all of my players and displayed them on a big piece of black oaktag. Well, all of them except Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Bob Patterson.
I couldn't find a card of him and had no idea what he looked like (remember, pre-internet) so I drew a cartoon of what I thought he would look like, in a generic "Topps Woody" card format. And it actually turned out to look a lot like him.
I'm told, though, that what I thought was a complete descent into lunacy was mild in comparison to some people. . .at least I don't scour eBay to complete an entire lineup of bobblehead dolls of all of my players.
20 years of keeping this league intact has not come easy. Our original commissioner was just crazy enough to run not just our National League-only circuit but also a brother American League one, and finally he'd just had enough.
Rather than opening up the commissionership to a vote by the remaining members, he simply handed it over to a league member nicknamed "The Pitbull." In a nutshell: the majority of the league money mysteriously disappeared. (Doesn't it figure that it would have been the year I won???)
No surprise, the league came close to disbanding before some stupid schmuck (who will remain unnamed but is writing this column) took over the commissionership to save the league. "The Pitbull" actually thought he should be allowed to remain in the league as an active team. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.
The league went through its share of growing pains in other ways, most notably geographic. Initially made up of team owners local to the Westchester-Connecticut area, members started moving and yet the league still remained intact.
The Bobby Valentine draft era ended when the restaurant staff decided to give our regular space to a Little League party, and we were stuck crowded in a back corner, three or four teams to a table. Well, you can imagine the dilemma that caused, since it meant the enemy could see your super-secret draft notes.
After that, the drafts moved to different owners' conference rooms, with beautiful views of the New York skylines and comfy office chairs, but no Bloody Mary's. I draft much better with Bloody Mary's. Or at least I think I do.
And finally, when that blasted internet thing finally got going thanks to Al Gore, we made the big leap to online drafts.
Thanks to that latter technological advancement, we currently have league members stretching from Las Vegas to Kansas City to Washington D.C. to the entire northeast corridor. Finding a draft time that spans three time zones is sometimes a little tricky, but so far it's managed to work out okay.
The worst thing about online drafts, though, is the elimination of what I call "the 'who?' factor."
To me, always the Minor League/sleeper prospect fan, a draft was not a success for me if I didn't bring up at least one player's name where the response was a resounding "who???"
Of course, I don't think the possibility of a "who factor" exists anymore, not with the existence of at least ONE ABSOLUTELY STELLAR WEBSITE WHERE YOU CAN FIND ANYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ANY MINOR LEAGUE PROSPECT SO THERE ARE NO SECRETS ANYMORE (gratuitous plug).
One of my concerns, once I started writing baseball on a full-time basis, was that eventually I might get totally burnt out and not enjoy "roto" as my hobby anymore. And in fact I did drop out of the league for a few years.
But I rejoined the league last year, when the owners kicked out a delinquent owner (as in payment, not as in sending him to juvie hall). I took over his team and spent the 2006 season rebuilding with - what else? - rookies.
I guess that everyone has certain little "draft idiosyncrasies" . . . you know which guys are going to pay big bucks for Mets, or Dodgers, or whoever their favorite teams are. I, for some strange reason, have a reputation for overpaying for rookies. My eternal motto has been "Wait 'til next year!"
I also have one important rule I abide by: The Dinner Table Rule. Being a sportswriter, I have the advantage (or disadvantage) of actually knowing a lot of the players I'm bidding on. And frankly, I will not bid on a guy I think is a jerk. My rule is if I wouldn't want to share a dinner table with him, I do not want him on my team. On the other hand, there are certain players who will always have a place on my team or at my dinner table.
For example, not only do I always try to get Eric Young, this year I also picked up Eric Young Jr. in our ultra/minor league phase. (I think I may be the first person in the league's 20-year history to have a father-son pair on my team).
Hey, I didn't name my team Puff Mommy for nothing.
By the way, did I mention that I traded for Anibal Sanchez, Homer Bailey, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, for a handful of high-priced injury-prone veterans?
I think I may change the name of my team to: This IS next year!
Lisa Winston writes for MiLB.com, where you can read about any Minor League player she would ever consider getting for her roto team.