Bart Giamatti, the late commissioner of Major League Baseball
, had this to say about the game in 1977: "It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."
The "broken heart" stuff is spot on. Only one team's fans ever get to celebrate through the first snowfall. But the "facing the fall alone" statement betrays something else: Bart Giamatti never played fantasy baseball.
When I talked to Dan Okrent about his motivation for inventing this "Rotisserie" game, I wasn't sure what he would say. I assumed he'd probably thought of the idea while drinking. I figured maybe he was just addicted to the process of adding up blinding columns of numbers and needed a cover to make himself look something less than insane. Then again, maybe he was planted here by the same clandestine cell of KGB operatives who tried to destroy our gross domestic product, if not our entire way of life, by giving us Tetris.
But when he's asked this question now (239 times by noon on most weekdays), Okrent has the same ready answer. It was a winter day in 1979 and he was sitting on an airplane feeling "bereft" of baseball. Fair enough. But here's the difference between Bart Giamatti and Dan Okrent. When Giamatti felt barren, he wrote about his feelings and published them in the Yale alumni magazine. Two years later, when Okrent felt the same pangs, he decided to crawl into the game's winter hibernation chamber and poke it with a stick.
So thanks to him, millions of people like me have a relationship with baseball that has no periods of dormancy. As soon as the World Series is over, people like me will pick up their copy of The Bill James Handbook, which has some of the most entertaining statistics about the previous season you'll find anywhere. Next there's the action of the Hot Stove League, then the stats trickling in from winter ball in Puerto Rico and Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, and just before Christmas, the publication of Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster. Before you know it, you're watching the Caribbean World Series on TV to see how the major league prospects are doing, and by the time you're well under way with your preseason player analysis, it's time for pitchers and catchers.
Today, as baseball is just beginning for most people, I am already five months into the season. As of last Saturday, when I stumbled out of a conference room at the Millennium Broadway Hotel after six hours of pinpoint concentration, I had already executed 50% of my baseball devotion for the year. I had chosen my own team.
If you've never had a Rotisserie team, you won't understand this. Some liken it to a freshly unwrapped Christmas present that came as a total surprise. It's true. I don't care who they are, NOBODY can go into a fantasy baseball draft and tell you what players they're going to have on their team by the end. Today, at the midpoint between the draft and Opening Day, I'm in the middle of that delirious week when you carry your roster in your back pocket and glance at it in the day's idle moments. It's like a new relationship, this team of yours, and you're still carrying around the matchbook with that first hopeful phone number.
So here they are, the 2006 Streetwalkers Baseball Club, the defending champions of the American League side of the national expert competition called Tout Wars. The numbers to the right are the prices I paid for each of them from my overall budget of $260.
C Javy Lopez, Baltimore, $13
C Toby Hall, Tampa Bay, $6
1B Shea Hillenbrand, Toronto, $14
2B Aaron Hill, Toronto, $11
3B Troy Glaus, Toronto, $22
SS Juan Uribe, Chicago White Sox, $14
MI Ian Kinsler, Texas, $12
CR Eric Hinske, Toronto, $6
OF David Dellucci, Texas, $8
OF Brian Anderson, Chicago, $7
OF Shannon Stewart, Minnesota, $9
OF Nick Swisher, Oakland, $18
OF Carl Everett, Seattle, $8
DH David Ortiz, Boston, $29
SP Curt Schilling, Boston, $17
SP Vicente Padilla, Texas, $4
SP Javier Vazquez, Chicago, $18
SP Joe Blanton, Oakland, $16
SP Shawn Chacon, New York Yankees, $4
SP Paul Byrd, Cleveland, $6
RP Bobby Jenks, Chicago, $13
RP David Riske, Boston, $3
RP Akinori Otsuka, Texas, $1
Edwin Jackson, Tampa Bay
Sammy Sosa, free agent
Terry Tiffee, Minnesota
Zack Greinke, Kansas City
Brandon Phillips, Cleveland
Jeremy Affeldt, Kansas City
I know what you're thinking. Heavy on power, packed with pitching gambles, sorely lacking in speed and downright endangered in the bullpen department. I know these things. I knew them while I was drafting this team. By my preseason calculations, I should finish strong in home runs, runs, RBI, WHIP and strikeouts while struggling in batting average and finishing dead last in steals. This seems like the sort of team that will either look like a work of genius by May 15, or a monument to the fact that it's very difficult to play fantasy baseball at the highest level when you have a job, a new book to promote and an 11-month-old son named Gus who doesn't seem the least bit interested in heading off to college.
Why did I draft almost the entire Toronto infield? I really don't know. Did I get a bargain by spending $29 to obtain David Ortiz, my favorite ballplayer on Earth? Only time will tell. But in my own springtime of baseball, as I get to know my players, anything is possible. Better yet, the themes of the summer are already shaping up. As I lay on the hammock this summer sharing an afternoon nap with the G-man, the last rational thoughts wafting through my mind will be some combination of these: Is Curt Schilling holding true to his promise to pitch inside? Will Troy Glaus live up to my preseason prediction that he will be a candidate for the American League MVP? And will Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers make me proud by stealing 30 bases and hitting 30 home runs?
Win or lose, I can't wait to find out.