July 23, 2004
Can Of Corn
Sometimes a Fantasy
Like any number of other folks with a long-running obsession with all things sports, I've spent a fair amount of time engrossed in simulation games. For much of my youth, I played hours upon hours of Lance Haffner 3-in-1 Football on my trusty and abiding Apple IIe. I once famously led the 1986 Michigan State Spartans and QB Dave Yarema to a majestic Rose Bowl win and a national title by instituting what I believe to be a heady forerunner to the once de rigueur run-and-shoot offense (in real life they were a paltry 6-5....Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, George Perles). Years later, guided by my steady, knowing hand, Max Knake of TCU would pass for more than 800 yards as my Horned Frogs crushed Texas 86-21.
Nineteen eighty-six was also a fine year for my incursions into Lance Haffner Full-Count Baseball. In a stroke of organizational genius, I, as potentate of the Cardinals, engineered trades for Dave Magadan of the Mets (whose card had him hitting a robust .444/.524/.444 in 21 plate appearances) and Mark Ryal of the Angels (.375/.412/.562 in 34 plate appearances). By having the faith and foresight to plug them into the lineup full-time and lavishing the team with "sample size be damned" statistical goofiness that followed, the disappointing '86 Redbirds became pennant winners when fashioned in my image.
I'm going on and on about this for a reason. It's something that runs counter to my stated love of baseball and my fondness for the ever-comfy environs of alternate sports realities, but I've never participated in a fantasy baseball league for a full season. Not once in my 32-plus years on this planet. Shocking, no?
I had a multi-year, unsuccessful and ultimately corrupt run as an owner in Diamond Mind League formed with high school buddies of mine, but that's the closest I've come to traditional roto.
You're no doubt not asking why this is, but I'm going to tell you anyway. I suppose, as someone burdened with a preternatural sense of laziness (albeit a functional and proactive sense of laziness), the daily micromanaging of the roster seemed too much of a Job- or Frodo-like burden. And the various iterations of league rules, much like the documentation to a laser printer, are just nothing I ever cared to wade through. I can think of worse fates than reading rules and enduring the strictures of daily roster maintenance. For instance, I'd rather do that than find myself needing to trade cigarettes for a crudely fashioned prison shank. I'd also rather do that than spend an evening with Danny Gans. But that doesn't mean I want to.
I once joined a Yahoo! (Ichiro!) public league and after perusing my Panzer division of a team, deemed myself impregnable to all comers. But, of course, by not reading the rules, I unknowingly wandered into one of those leagues in which some clown wins it by constantly hustling, say, Les Straker or Joe Slusarski in through the service entrance of the roster because he had a "two-start week" in the offing. I lost interest, drifted further and further from the business end of the standings and eventually spent my time working to ensure no one found out that this team belonged to me.
But, luck would have it, I happened upon a league that seems like a gift from the firmament to indolent buffoons like me the world over. Yes, I'm now a part of the second-half season of Basic Fantasy Baseball at SportingNews.com (ah, "basic" ... a word that warms the cockles of my heart).
The rules (so far as I know them) are simple. You have a $30-million cap which you apportion to eight players. Player values are just that, values, which have nothing to do with their actual salaries (I'm sure this isn't breaking news or novel in the least, but I thought I'd point it out). Apparently, you can make a limited number of trades and even adjust your roster, but I don't want to come unhinged here. What I like is that there's no day-to-day roster shuffling to be done (I don't think, anyway). I don't even know what statistical categories count in tabulating the standings, but I'm sure they're lovely.
As fond as I am of drafts, whether they be real, fake or unfolding in the penumbras of my imagination, there wasn't one here. I wouldn't have minded that, but fantasy drafts seem to correlate highly with fantasy leagues that have the onus of tangible involvement with the running of your team. And that simply won't do.
So I took my $30 million and spent it, in order, on Todd Helton ($8.72 million) as my first baseman/third baseman. Then it was Alex Rodriguez ($8.36 million) as my shortstop/second baseman (that's the position they listed for him). From there it was Craig Wilson ($4.54 million) as my catcher (that's the position they listed for him) and Mark Teixeira ($4.57 million) as an outfielder (that's the position ...), and then I was almost out of money with only half my team cobbled together.
Forced to ramp down my spending, I signed my first pitcher, Oakland's Rich Harden, at $1.96 million. Then it was Eric Milton at $0.5 million, Jayson Werth as my final position player at $0.51 million and Sean Burnett as my final pitcher at $0.55 million. That left me with almost 300 large to spend on scotch and escorts.
Why Helton? Coors Field and his ability to get on base and hit hard, often and well regardless of context. A-Rod? I was able to use him to fill a middle-infield slot despite his current deployment further to the left on the defensive spectrum, and I'm anticipating a big second half for him. Wilson? Broad hitting skills intersecting with playing time, and he's on the list at catcher, a premium position. Teixeira? Oodles of power, solid on-base abilities, hitter's haven. I picked Harden because of his potential, skills progression, ability to pick up wins (I'm guessing that matters in this league) and price tag. I grabbed Milton because, although I'm not high on his stock going forward, I think he'll continue to get wins, and he was cheap. I know Werth has been playing above his abilities thus far, but I do think he's a skilled hitter who can put up some numbers. I'm also betting he's in for more playing time down the stretch even with Juan Encarnacion back from the DL. And he was cheap. I went with Burnett because I had no money and needed another pitcher.
My overarching philosophy was to spend my money on hitters who I knew would produce and then worry about the pitching. I have no idea as to the merits of demerits of this approach. But, at this writing, I'm in second place out of 20 teams. So there.
Will this last? I don't think so, which is why, to safeguard against hemorrhaging credibility, I'm not going to divulge my team or league name. Unless I end up winning the thing, in which case you'll probably be forced to endure another column about my bold foray into the world of fantasy baseball. Heck, I might even find out what the rules are at some point.