Rules Will Keep Us Together
Written by Don Drooker
Friday, 05 September 2014 00:00
Earlier this year, an Internet story reported that Captain & Tennille had filed for divorce. My sarcastic gene kicked in and the result was a Facebook post about the story and the comment that they probably can't expect many more downloads of "Love Will Keep Us Together." The response from friends was overwhelming. Not so much about the split, but the amazement that Captain & Tennille were even still alive.
A similar reaction takes place when I cross paths with any long-time acquaintance after a decade or two and they find that the Old Duck is still the Commissioner of the same Rotisserie Fantasy Baseball league that started in 1984. They are genuinely surprised that in today's age of people drifting away from group activities (summarized brilliantly in Robert Putnam's book, "Bowling Alone"), this group has held together. Certainly, many of the participants have changed and just this year, we lost two charter members for health and/or personal reasons, but in the end, the league is still strong and maybe even more competitive than ever.
Growing up as a prolific sponge of baseball statistics from books, magazines and baseball cards, I can still remember opening the March 1981 issue of the now defunct magazine called Inside Sports. The article by Daniel Okrent titled, "The Year George Foster Wasn't Worth $36" was the first glimpse into what has become a vibrant industry intertwined with American sports. It outlined a baseball game developed by a group of New York writers that allowed fans to "own" their own team by having a pre-season auction and bidding on players whose stats would generate standings within the framework of the league. While the piece was exciting and interesting, Okrent and the others didn't really detail the rules until 1984, when they published the book "Rotisserie League Baseball."
Seeing that publication at the book store brought back the memory from the magazine article and I read the book cover-to-cover that night. The next day, I got on the phone and started calling friends saying only, "Go get this book and tell me if you're in." Within the next few days, they all said yes and we began this journey. That first season was so much fun, it can't really be described to people who don't play some form of fantasy sports and I even had numerous phone calls with author Glen Waggoner in New York as we ironed out questions regarding rules interpretations. The result is that we are at least tied for the longest-running Rotisserie League in the country and when people ask about the longevity, I respond by saying that we have very seldom changed any of the rules.
The newer generation of fantasy players would probably feel that the book's "old school" rules are too restrictive or that they require too much of a commitment to time and effort. For us, that is exactly why we love the game as it was originally developed. As with the U.S. Constitution, we refer to those pioneers of the first Rotisserie League as "Founding Fathers" and it is incredible how often we look back at what they wrote 30 years ago and realize the wisdom they showed. For a brief summary, here are the basics.
> 23 man rosters chosen auction-style with a budget of $260.
> Position eligibility guidelines must be met at all times...1B, 3B, 1/3, 2B, SS, 2/S, C (2), OF (5), Utility & Pitchers (9).
> Trading available from Draft Day to August 31st.
> No initial reserve list, but injured or demoted players can be replaced from the free agent pool. Replacements are "linked" if the original player is reserved.
> Statistics based on eight (4x4) categories...BA, HR, RBI, SB, W, SV, ERA & Ratio (WHIP).
> With minor exceptions, FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) is only used after the All-Star break.
> Each team is allowed three Farm (minor league) players that do not count toward the 23-man roster.
> You can keep up to 15 players from season-to-season, but in most cases, contracts expire after three years.
Over the years, many fantasy players have asked me about our approach and the rationale behind rules decisions. Here are some of the things we haven't changed.
> "Linking" players is something most leagues don't want to deal with and there have certainly been a few complaints over the years about it being a pain in the posterior. The truth is that it's only a pain for the Commissioner and the reasoning behind the idea is one that we hold dear from the 1984 book - the decisions you make on Draft Day should be meaningful and the benefit a team might derive from an injury should be minimized. So, if you replace an injured player with a good performer in April, you can't just dump some bum you drafted when the injured player comes back.
> We've stayed with the 4x4 concept instead of going to currently popular 5x5 because while adding Runs makes some sense, Strikeouts never seemed to belong with the other statistical categories. Even in a later edition of the book, the authors suggested using Innings Pitched instead of K's because it at least represented a pitcher getting outs.
> By not having FAAB bidding early in the season, we assist the parity of the league because free agent call-ups are in reverse order of the standings and the lower teams have a chance to bolster their rosters.
> There are no restrictions on trading other than the salary cap of $305 for the active 23-man roster. That allows teams to replace low-cost draftees who get hurt or sent down and to make reasonable trades, but it puts a damper on "dump" trades. We don't have a committee to approve trades (how can anyone be objective when they have a team in the league?) and even though every trade solicits whining from somebody, the Commissioner doesn't pass judgment. The closest I came to voiding a deal was in 2003 when a team fighting for the pennant seemed to be taking advantage of a team that had just joined the league, but after speaking to the new team and getting perspective on their re-building plan, I backed off. The decision was verified when that team won the league championship in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
So, what rules have we tweaked or added and have they been positive?
> The original book suggested paying four (4) places - 50%, 25 %, 15 % and 10%. We expanded that years ago so that finishing in the first division of our 12-team league was worth something - 45%, 22.5%, 13.5%, 9%, 6% and 4%. In other words, we took 10% from each of the first four spots to add 5th and 6th.
> If a team activates one of their Farm players during the season and he doesn't exceed the rookie status levels (130 AB's or 50 IP), the team can put him back on the Farm the following year if he isn't on a major league roster. They do lose one year of his eligibility, but we didn't want teams penalized when they had nurtured a prospect over time.
> The worst decision ever made in our league was to allow the trading of future Farm picks. While it seemed like a fun idea at the time, the rule has unintended consequences. In 2009, a long-time member of the league let it be known on Draft Day that he was not going to be able to participate beyond the current season. Needless to say, he played to win that year and made bold moves along with countless trades. Early in the season, he indicated that he wouldn't be making any trades, as he didn't want to "leave the cupboard bare" for a prospective new owner. Less than a week later, he proposed a couple of trades that were to include his team's Farm picks for the following year. I ruled that he couldn't do that because those assets were being taken away from a future owner and weren't really his to trade. My ruling applied to all teams and didn't need to be retroactive, as no other trades of that nature had transpired since the draft. He pontificated to all the owners about how selfish I was and that my decision was made to help my team (which was never in the pennant race and finished 6th). Of course, one could argue that he didn't need to tell us he was quitting in the first place and while that's true, it just confirms that the rule was a bad idea. He also made some outrageous FAAB bids late in the season, knowing that he wouldn't be around to pay the penalties the following April. He did win the league and I made a deal with him...I would pay the penalties myself for his promise to never speak to me again. 15 years earlier, I should have been smart enough to re-read the original book and the comment about trades..."Unless you want knife fights to break out among owners, prohibit all trades involving cash, players to be named later or future considerations. Trust us." We no longer allow the trading of future picks.
> Another area that the book doesn't cover is what happens in September. This has been a problem for many leagues across the country and of all the ideas we've developed, this one has been shared the most. The problem arises when major league teams are allowed to expand their rosters as of September 1st. For fantasy purposes, the main area of consternation has to do with injuries. If a player gets hurt on 9/2, there's a reasonable chance his MLB team won't even bother to put him on the DL because they're no longer limited to 25-man rosters. If that player is on your fantasy team, what do you do? With today's proliferation of baseball information on the Internet, you'll see conflicting reports and inaccurate speculation. For a Commissioner, it is clear that the league needs clear guidelines to handle these situations. Here are our guidelines for replacing a player in September.
1) Currently on the DL
2) Gets placed on the DL
3) Hasn't played for at least 15 days
4) Is reported by MLB, ESPN or a team's official website as being "out for the season" - this must take place by September 13th (15 days before the end of the season).
If a league doesn't have something like this in place, the Commissioner will get e-mails with ten (or nine, or eight, or four) days left in the season from owners wanting to replace an "out for the season" player. Also, teams will get upset because some "report" on the Internet says a player is "probably out for the season" even though the writer has no specific knowledge of the injury. Having guidelines usually (but not always) keeps the rhetoric within reason.
Of course, every league will have members who try to push the envelope on rules and lobby for new interpretations. We have one original franchise that prides themselves in finding loopholes, but our youngest owner is throwing down the gauntlet in an attempt to take away their title. His questions are almost always about something that can't possibly happen and usually require at least five or six e-mails to answer. After I'm long gone, this 20-something will probably be a very rich man once he conjures up a super-hero called "Hypothetical Man." In the meantime, the Old Commish is the final arbiter.
Written by Don Drooker
Friday, 29 August 2014 00:00
Are you aware that each year's MVP winners receive an award called the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award? As the Baseball Writer's Association has never really defined "most valuable", would the results have been different over the years if it was just called the "Landis Plaque" and went to the most outstanding player in each league. In other words, do fans think in terms of most valuable player or player of the year? And, do you agree that the MVP is for position players and the Cy Young Award is for pitchers?
While there have been some examples over the years of MVP winners on losing teams, like Ernie Banks of the Cubs in '58 and '59, the general consensus is that the award should go to a player on a contending team. Ted Williams won the Triple Crown (HR, RBI and Batting Average) in both 1942 and 1947 but didn't win the MVP Award in either year. In both seasons, he also led the AL in Runs, Walks, On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. The winner in '42 was Yankees 2B Joe Gordon and in '47, it was Joe DiMaggio. The Red Sox finished nine games behind the Yanks in 2nd place in '42 and 14 games behind in 3rd place in '47. If there were more than just two teams going to the playoffs in the 1940's, maybe the results would have been different.
Now that just about any team at .500 or better still has a chance for the playoffs at the end of August, will the voters expand the list of players considered for MVP? And, if "most valuable" is really the criteria, how is that defined? It seems that there is some logic in value being related to teams winning games, so maybe WAR (Wins Above Replacement) can help us determine the real contenders. After all, being a difference-maker in team wins certainly equates to a player's true value. As a reminder, WAR represents a statistical analysis of how many wins a player is worth to his team over that of a replacement level player (think Triple-A or Quad-A). As you'll see in the ratings, WAR isn't just about hitting stats for position players. It also includes advanced defensive metrics. Stats are as of Sunday, August 24th and the WAR numbers are from Baseball Reference.
> Josh Donaldson of the A's leads the AL with a WAR of 6.3 and his team is battling for the division title.
> Mike Trout of the Angels had the best WAR in baseball in both 2012 and 2013 but didn't win the MVP either season. This year, he's at 6.1 as the Angels jockey with the A's in the standings.
> Felix Hernandez of the Mariners is also at 6.1 and his team appears to have a good playoff chance, but the Cy Young Award might be the end result.
> Corey Kluber is having a breakout season for the Indians and his WAR of 5.8 verifies the performance, but a top-five Cy Young finish might be the best hope.
> The Tigers’ Max Scherzer won the AL Cy Young Award in 2013 and he's followed up with another stellar campaign and a WAR of 5.7.
> King Felix's teammate, Robinson Cano, has quietly been the offensive catalyst in Seattle and his 5.5 WAR can't be overlooked.
> Adrian Beltre has also produced a 5.5 number, but the Rangers dismal season diminishes any chance for MVP consideration.
> Another excellent player on a mediocre team is Chris Sale of the White Sox with a WAR of 5.4.
> The Royals could be playoff-bound for the first time in decades and their best contributor is Alex Gordon with a 5.2 WAR.
> The 1st place Orioles have had productive seasons from Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz and even Steve Pearce, but none are MVP candidates. The Yankees’ best player has been Brett Gardner at 4.2 and Ian Kinsler's number of 4.0 for the Tigers is better than Miguel Cabrera at 3.6.
> The best WAR so far belongs to Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers at 6.5, despite missing time on the DL early in the season. His type of dominance may well transcend to MVP consideration.
> From an offensive perspective, Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins leads the pack at 6.3 and even though their chances of a playoff spot might be slim, the fact that they're in the Wild Card race will keep the focus on his performance.
> A surprise at this spot is Jason Heyward of the Braves at 6.0. Even though his offensive numbers aren't that gaudy (10 HR, 14 SB and a .270 BA), much of this value comes from defense. We don't see fielding stats in the box score, but according to Baseball Info Solutions, he's saved the Braves 33 runs with his defense so far in 2014.
> Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies had a 5.6 WAR when injuries ended his season.
> The Brewers success has been fueled by their All-Star Catcher Jonathan Lucroy and his 5.2 WAR.
> Johnny Cueto of the Reds has also contributed a 5.2 number but the team's lack of success and the fact that he's a pitcher eliminates his impact on MVP voting.
> Last year's MVP Andrew McCutchen is having another sensational season and has a WAR of 5.0 even with being on the DL recently for a couple of weeks.
> The Cardinals are in the hunt as usual and their top contributor is Jhonny Peralta with a WAR of 4.8. Adam Wainwright leads the pitching staff at 4.3.
> The Nationals are looking solid for the playoffs and this well-balanced team includes Anthony Rendon with a 4.5 WAR rating.
> And who is the best offensive player on Kershaw's Dodgers? It is Yasiel Puig at 4.1.
If you had a vote, would it be Trout and Stanton?
Just for the record, in 1942 Ted Williams led all of baseball with a WAR figure of 10.6. MVP winner Gordon had an impressive number of 8.2. In '47, Teddy Ballgame once again led the Majors at 9.9 while DiMaggio wasn't even close to the top ten at 4.8.
Written by Don Drooker
Friday, 22 August 2014 00:00
As Joe Pesci might say, as a "Yute" growing up in a suburb of Boston, it was pre-determined that I would be a Red Sox fan. After all, my uncle had seats behind the home-team dugout at Fenway Park and, along with my dad, instilled in me the history of the team and the tradition of the franchise. Some of that tradition wasn't always positive, like waiting until 1959 to roster a player of color, but my roots will be forever tied to the Green Monster and that 100-year-old ballpark.
The Braves left Boston for Milwaukee after the 1952 season, which was just on the cusp of my baseball fandom. I have no recollection of National League baseball from that era but occasionally, when we drove past Warren Spahn's diner on Commonwealth Avenue, my dad would recite some limerick that included the words "Sain & Rain." By 1954, I had become a full-fledged baseball fan and started consuming all the information available in the print of newspapers, magazines and baseball cards. I also had the chance to see the likes of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Al Rosen, Minnie Minoso and others in person. However, with no telecasts of regular season games available, the images of players like Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson and Ted Kluszewski were left to my imagination.
For all of us who occasionally dabble in the realm of sports journalism, we are always humbled to read the words of writers who achieve another level like Jim Murray or Joe Posnanski. In the recent 60th anniversary issue of Sports Illustrated, reading the eight-part essay by Steve Rushin on the evolution of sports over the last six decades was such an experience. His words reminded me of the impact that baseball can have on a young boy and how that interest can help define a life as it comes full circle. There are two seminal moments from 1954 that were of lasting significance to that young boy sitting in Fenway Park. The first was in August, when Sports Illustrated published its first issue with Eddie Mathews on the cover. The second happened toward the end of the year, when a company called Texas Instruments introduced a revolutionary product called the Regency TR-1. TR stood for transistor radio and it changed the sports world forever.
Sometime in the following year or two, my parents (who were of modest means) finally caved in to my constant whining and purchased one of these "new-fangled contraptions" and it immediately made me more knowledgeable and connected to baseball. Not only could I listen to Curt Gowdy do the play-by-play of Red Sox games (home and away), but this amazing little device actually functioned even better in the evening and picked up Dodger broadcasts from 200 miles away in Brooklyn. The beautiful voice on the other end of that pocket-sized radio belonged to Vincent Edward Scully and he taught me about the "Boys of Summer"...Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Don Newcombe and so many others. Not only that, but Red Sox and Dodger fans had something in common...we both hated the Yankees!
The mystique of those Brooklyn "Bums" ended when the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958, but in a weird bit of symmetry, the young boy from Boston followed them there in 1960. Ted Williams retired that same year and keeping up with the BoSox from 3,000 miles way wasn't an easy task for a teenager, but becoming a National League fan was easy because the voice of Vin Scully was back on my radio and could now tell me about Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Wally Moon and Frank Howard. When Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, I had just barely managed to pass the test for a driver's license, and going to games at that beautiful ballpark was a passion of mine for the next 40+ years. During that entire time, Vin Scully was always there guiding all of us through the nuances of the game and making us smarter just by sharing his knowledge.
As the years have passed, my understanding of what Scully brings to the airwaves has increased exponentially. Just the inflection in his voice can impact the fan's experience of the action on the field. If Vin says (in a soft-toned voice), "It's a bouncer to third, bobbled by Santo and the runner is safe at first", we know it is an error. If he uses a slightly louder tone and says, "Ripped to third, off the chest of Santo and the runner is safe at first", we know it is a hit. Dodger fans listening on the radio could be official scorers of a game without actually seeing it. In addition, he brings an educated viewpoint to broadcasts, including an occasional quote from Shakespeare. If you mentioned "The Bard" to most play-by-play announcers, they'd probably think the team signed Daniel to a minor league deal.
Best of all is that Vin manages to retain his objectivity, style and grace. Since the addition of satellite radio in my car about a decade ago, the pedestal he is on has become even higher as I've listened to the home-town broadcasts of other major league teams. Can you even imagine Vin Scully screaming that an umpire's call was "total BS"? Of course not, because he says things like...
> "Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day (pause). Aren't we all?"
> "Bob Gibson pitches as though he's double-parked."
> "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened." (Gibson's HR)
> "How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away."
> "It's a mere moment in a man's life between the All-Star game and an old-timer's game."
> "It's easier to pick off a fast runner than to pick off a lazy runner."
> "Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination."
> "The roar of the crowd has always been the sweetest music. It's intoxicating."
> "The passing of Ted Williams so close to a national holiday seems part of a divine plan, so we can always remember him not only as a great player but also a great patriot."
> "There's 29,000 people in the ballpark, and a million butterflies."
> "Good is not good when better is expected."
> "All my career, all I have ever really done, all I have accomplished, is to talk about the accomplishments of others. We can't all be heroes. Somebody has to stand on the curb and applaud as the parade goes by."
> "Let's all take a deep breath as we go to the most dramatic ninth inning in the history of baseball. I'm going to sit back, light up and hope I don't chew the cigarette to pieces." (Larsen's perfect game)
> "Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away. Sandy into his windup, here's the pitch: swung on and missed, a perfect game." (All you heard for the next 38 seconds was the crowd cheering)
In the movie "Field of Dreams", James Earl Jones' character says, "The one constant through all the years has been baseball." That is true for that young boy from New England, but two other wonderful additions to my constant have been Sports Illustrated Magazine and the voice of Vin Scully. The Dodgers recently announced that my pal Vinny will be back in 2015 for his 66th season behind the microphone. I renewed my SI subscription on the same day.
1980 Topps Baseball Cards - The Back Story
Written by Don Drooker
Friday, 15 August 2014 00:00
In a recent visit, we talked about the business / hobby of buying baseball card collections and the phases involved in the process. Based on the numerous responses, many of the obscure player names from the 1961 Topps set resonated with a number of the Baby Boomers in the audience. E-mails and notes have talked about the vivid memories of Charlie Maxwell, Luis Arroyo, Moe Drabowsky, Steve Barber and Vic Wertz.
As the sorting process continues, today we'll move the calendar up almost a generation for those of you born in the 60's and 70's. The Topps Company issued its first full baseball card set in 1952 and had exclusive rights with MLB until 1981, when Donruss and Fleer entered the market. The final year of the Topps monopoly was 1980, so let's see what information can be gleaned from the backs of cards from that year and if some of the names sound familiar.
> #327 Ray Fosse, Brewers C - "Had RBI in 1970 All-Star Game." They neglected to mention his collision with Pete Rose in the same game.
> #698 Oscar Gamble, Yankees OF - "Walloped a 2-run Homer in 7th inning to help Rangers defeat Yankees on 6/17/79." Seems like an odd comment considering he was traded to New York later in '79. In any case, it's all about the hair.
> #237 Scott McGregor, Orioles P - "Was credited with Save without throwing a pitch vs. Boston, 9/5/78, picking runner off 1st base."
> #308 Mike Hargrove, Indians 1B - "Batted .323 at Texas in 1974 and was named AL's Rookie of the Year." He also had one of the great baseball nicknames based on how often he stepped out of the batter's box...The Human Rain Delay.
> #63 Bob Stanley, Red Sox P - "Hurled masterful 4-0. 10-inning Shutout vs. Royals, 6/11/79."
> #445 Mark Fidrych, Tigers P - "Named AL Rookie of the Year for 1976 season." He threw 250 innings in that rookie year and only 118 combined for the next three seasons.
> #558 Alfredo Griffin, Blue Jays SS - "Went 2-for-5 in Blue Jays' 5-4 triumph over Yankees, 6/19/79." Currently the first base coach for the Angels, his 15th season in that organization.
> #337 Carney Lansford, Angels 3B - "Finished 3rd in balloting for AL Rookie of the Year for 1978 season."
> #530 Jim Sundberg, Rangers C - "He has picked 28 runners off 1st base in his first 5 years with the club."
> #608 Alan Bannister, White Sox 3B - "Set NCAA records for Hits, RBI's and Total Bases during his career at Arizona State University."
> #275 Jerry Koosman, Twins P - "Has 4-0 post-season record." His baseball card claim to fame is that he was the other player on Nolan Ryan's 1968 rookie card. Did you even remember that he won 20 games for the Twins in 1979 after winning only 3 for the Mets in '78?"
> #461 Dwayne Murphy, A's OF - "Made major league debut for the A's against the Angels, 4/8/78." His collision with Mike Davis on a fly-ball in early 1987 opened up playing time for a back-up 1B named Mark McGwire.
> #389 Pete LaCock, Royals 1B-OF - "His first AL Homer won game vs. Orioles, 4-3, 6/5/77." His dad is Peter Marshall from Hollywood Squares fame.
> #652 Mario Mendoza, Mariners SS - "Went 2-for-4 with 2 Runs and 3 RBI's as Mariners shellacked Yankees, 16-1, 6/11/79." 1979 was also the birth of the "Mendoza Line", as he hit .198 in 373 AB's.
> #573 Kent Tekulve, Pirates P - "Pitched in 91 games to shatter Pirates club record in 1978." They neglected to mention that he broke the record again with 94 appearances in '79.
> #120 Greg Luzinski, Phillies OF - " His 3-run Homer put Phillies ahead to stay in division-clinching game vs. Pirates, 9/29/78."
> #395 Ellis Valentine, Expos OF - "Was awarded Gold Glove for fielding excellence during the 1978 season."
> #240 Dave Kingman, Cubs OF-1B - "Narrowly missed tying record with 28 Homers through June 30th, 1979." He finished the season with 48 round-trippers.
> #85 Ted Simmons, Cardinals C - "Was selected as catcher on NL All-Star Team, 1979."
> #25 Lee Mazzilli, Mets OF - "Became first player in All-Star Game history to Homer in 1st At-Bat when he belted pinch-Wallop in the 1979 Classic at Seattle."
> #359 Randy Moffitt, Giants P - "Had 0.64 ERA during May of 1978." He's the younger brother of Billie Jean King.
> #584 Kurt Bevacqua, Padres OF-3B - "Had minor league marks of .313 at Portland in 1972, .337 at Spokane in 1976 & .352 at Tucson in 1977." Once, after a beanball battle between the Padres and Dodgers, Tommy Lasorda said that Bevacqua couldn't hit water if he fell out of frickin' boat.
> #146 Bob Welch, Dodgers P - "Was credited with a Win and Save in first 4 days with L.A. in 1978." Passed away earlier this year at age 57. Dodgers fans will never forget his World Series confrontation with Reggie Jackson.
> #370 Cesar Cedeno, Astros 1B - "He ranks in the top 3 in every major offensive category in the history of the Houston franchise."
> #132 Biff Pocoroba, Braves C - "Uncanny in his ability to handle knuckleball, he calls as good a game as any catcher in the NL."
> #325 Dan Driessen, Reds 1B - "Produced 10 game-winning hits for the Reds during the 1978 season."
Hope the backs of all your baseball cards are free from gum stains and that some of these names brought back a memory.