Allow me to set a scene. In my deep NL-only league (a fairly standard 5×5 NL-only roto league with 12 teams, 14 hitters, 9 pitchers, a $260 auction budget and weekly transactions) we had a bit of an incident over the weekend. On Sunday June 4, Randal Grichuk’s owner (let’s call him Chris) released him to acquire Atlanta Braves utility infielder Danny Santana with a $0 bid in our FAAB processing. The context for this move was that the Cardinals had demoted Grichuk on May 29 to work on his approach after a rough month in the majors. Chris was trying to fill a dead spot in his lineup with a warm body who might actually get some plate appearances the following week. If you read my weekly column, the Deep League Report, you know how slim the pickings can be in the free-agent pool in deep NL-only leagues. Sometimes, Danny Santana is the best you can do.
Still, this move was curious, especially considering that Chris had given Grichuk a two-year contract at $9 a week before our auction this season. Chris is an excellent roto player, and it’s hard to see why he wouldn’t reserve Grichuk, to make space for Santana, rather than releasing him. However, no one mentioned anything to the league or on the message board and the league kept rolling along.
In our league, the only players available for pickup each week via free-agent bidding are ones in the majors, so Grichuk did not appear in the free-agent pool for the first few weeks of June as he worked through his issues in the minors, first in High A and then in Triple A. On Sunday, he was recalled by the Cardinals and played in their game that day against the Pirates, going 2-for-5 with a homer.
Back in the majors, Grichuk finally showed up in the free-agent pool in our league Sunday, the day our weekly bids get processed. Chris went to the league site the next day to see which players he had acquired the night before and, knowing Chris, let out a few obscenities directed at himself when he saw that a guy he thought that he had reserved a few weeks ago went for $24 to another owner. Chris had not meant to release Grichuk, obviously. Not only had he given Grichuk a long-term contract prior to the start of this season, he also made a dump deal a season ago to acquire Grichuk in the first place. He quickly fired off an email to the league.
Here’s where it gets interesting, though. Chris didn’t plead with the league to get Grichuk back. He owned his mistake, attributing it to using his phone to placing his transactions. He didn’t want or expect the transaction from several weeks ago to be reversed, because he thought it would set a bad precedent and potentially hurt the integrity of the league. Instead, he said that he hoped that no exceptions were made going forward, since this was a clear case where one might be warranted. He also didn’t want the owner who had acquired Grichuk to lose him in a weeks-late reversal of a mistake. A real stand-up guy, that Chris.
Rob, the owner who acquired Grichuk, saw Chris’ email. It confirmed what we had all suspected, that Chris had simply made a mistake a few weeks ago. Rob offered to return Grichuk to Chris’ team since his intent was clear. Good on Rob, another stand-up guy.
Chris wouldn’t let that happen, though. He didn’t want to set a bad precedent for the league with an exception in his case. He also noted that another owner made a similar error earlier this season which cost him a player, and reversing Chris’ mistake while retaining the other one would not be fair. Ultimately, Grichuk stayed on Rob’s team at $24. The only concession made was that we decided to waive the penalty on Chris for releasing a player on a long-term deal (we charge the owner of a player on a long-term deal 40 percent of the remaining salary due, and put that money in the pot for the following season).
I was proud of my league and the way this whole thing played out. It reminded me of something that I’ve taken for granted in the past—truly good leagues are more rare and more fragile than we’d like to think. I couldn’t stop replaying Be True To Your Bar by The Magnetic Fields in my head (replacing the word “bar” with “league”):
Be true to your bar
And don’t let it down
Or else it may not always be around
Be true to your friends
And let your friends know
Without your bar you’d have no place to go
…we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
I’m not going to try to put some sort of grand synthesizing coda on this piece, since Stephin Merritt and Philip Larkin are much more insightful and eloquent than I could ever hope to be. I just hope that the next time something doesn’t break your way in your league, when you feel like lashing out at another owner, or at all of the other owners, you might stop for a second because you half-remembered reading something, somewhere that said that maybe, just maybe, you should do what’s right for the league instead of chasing your own short-term interests.