A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away—technically, it was 25 years ago, in the suburbs of Los Angeles, but whatever—a friend at school showed me a little green book called Rotisserie League Baseball and it blew my mind. I’d been playing Statis Pro for years, and the idea of using actual real-time statistics to track real players that I “owned” was too delicious for words.
That old green book got a lot of use. Toward the end, I needed a rubber band to hold it together. I was, what, 15 years old? Honestly, you’d have thought that damn book was an issue of Playboy or something.
We wagered pennies, not dollars. We were, after all, high school students who had no money.
Draft preparation? Well, there was no Internet. There were no books geared toward fantasy baseball because that industry didn’t yet exist. There were no “expert projections” or dollar valuations. It was difficult, if not impossible, to visually scout most players; baseball on TV wasn’t as ubiquitous as it has become.
Sure, I could watch a few Dodgers road games and game of the week. There might be a highlight or two on the local news. I suppose the Angels were on Channel 5 sometimes, but nobody watched them.
My primary sources were Street & Smith’s and Mazeroski. Those at least had projected rosters and stat lines—not that we knew which stats to look at when considering future performance back then.
The league was AL-only, in the format now known as 4 x 4. We didn’t know know about age curves, position scarcity, MLEs, the importance of peripheral numbers—ISO, BB/K, etc. Batted ball data?
Uh, no. You’re thinking Lamborghini. I’m thinking wheel.
The process, such as it was, lacked sophistication. It went something like this: “Hey, this guy hit .277 with 30 homers last year; he must be pretty good.” Never mind that he’s 37 years old.
Maybe I’m becoming a sap in my old age. Maybe it wasn’t this way at all, but I remember the whole affair as an innocent and exciting foray into something completely new.
I discovered Bill James’ work as a direct result of playing Roto (courtesy of someone I met in the league who much later served as best man at my wedding—thanks, Dan!). James, of course, changed the way I’ve thought about baseball, and life, really, ever since.
The idea that it was possible to question conventional wisdom, to deconstruct it in minute detail and in many cases explode it, appealed to my adolescent mind. That fascination has remained with me for a quarter of a century.
Whatever else has come and gone during that time, the knowledge that we can examine the world around us and make meaningful observations about it that reach beyond “that’s just the way it is” has embedded itself in my brain. I like to think it’s enriched my experience on this here planet.
As for that first draft auction, I don’t remember much. The one moment that stays with me is when a kid named Jordan opened the bidding for Mark Langston. Silence, then laughter. He got Langston for $1. Langston had been a Southern League All-Star the year before and none of us had heard of him. Of course, he cracked the Mariners’ rotation in 1984 and won 17 games.
My team? Somehow it finished in fourth place (10 percent of the prize pool) despite a lack of talent (Milt Wilcox was my best pitcher). Here is what I remember of the team (called “The Young and the Restless” in honor of the horrible name-based puns encouraged by the green book):
Tim Laudner, C
My $1 backup catcher. I thought Laudner was a steal. The guy bashed 42 homers at Orlando in ’81; it was just a matter of time until he turned into a star, right?
Not quite. Laudner hit .206 with 10 homers and couldn’t overtake Dave Engle as the starter. Laudner enjoyed a nine-year career, hitting .225/.292/.391 in the process. He was sort of the Kelly Stinnett of his day.
I think I paid $35 for Parrish. He hit .237 with 33 home runs and 97 RBIs for me, so I got decent value. What’s alarming to me now is to realize how pedestrian his season was. His slash stats were .237/.287/.443, but back then, the homers and RBIs looked so very, very shiny.
Parrish’s career line (.252/.313/.440) suggests a much less dangerous hitter than what I remember. Still, 324 home runs is no cause for shame.
Bill Buckner, 1B
Buckner started the season with the Cubs, so he must have been a waiver claim. I don’t remember who I drafted to play first base (probably someone like Barbaro Garbey), but Buckner was there most of the year. He hit .278 with 11 homers and 67 RBIs.
Damaso Garcia, 2B
Offensively, Garcia was like Adam Kennedy with fewer walks and more steals. I paid low teens for Garcia, and he hit .284 with 46 stolen bases, so no complaints.
He was one of those second basemen (a la Carlos Garcia, Marcus Giles, Quilvio Veras) who did almost all of his damage as a twenty-something before turning into a pumpkin. Damaso finished with a career line of .283/.309/.371 and 203 stolen bases.
Gary Gaetti, 3B
If memory serves (which might be giving me too much credit), I paid around $20 for Gaetti. Oops, wrong year.
You know how sometimes a guy will sacrifice power for batting average? This was like that, only Gaetti sacrificed power for…nothing of value. Well, technically his batting average rose from .245 to .262, but his homers dropped from 21 to five. That hardly seems worth the trouble.
Gaetti went on to have a long and successful career, hitting .255/.308/.434 over parts of 20 seasons. He was terrific in ’86 and ’88 and ended up with 360 big-league homers. But for me, he was useless.
Alan Trammell, SS
Trammell belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I’m not just saying that because he attended high school down the street from where I live. He was my $35 shortstop and was worth every penny. Trammell hit .314 with 14 homers, 69 RBIs, and 19 stolen bases in ’84.
He hit .285/.352/.415 over 20 seasons, finishing with 2,365 hits, 185 homers, and 236 steals. Trammell finished second to George Bell in the 1987 AL MVP voting and, according to the Bill James New Historical Abstract, was the 10th-best shortstop in big-league history through 2002.
Darrell Evans, 1B/3B
If there were a Hall of the Overlooked, Evans would be in it. I drafted him based on the strength of his ’83 campaign (.277, 30 HR, 82 RBI). In a year where almost everything went right for the Tigers, Evans was the exception. He hit .232 with 16 homers and 63 RBI.
Over his 21-year career, Evans hit .248/.361/.431. He finished with more than 2,000 hits and 400 home runs. Among eligible players, only Evans and Andre Dawson have reached those milestones and failed to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Alfredo Griffin, 2B/SS
The main problems with Griffin were that he couldn’t hit, had no power, and didn’t steal bases (despite good speed). In other words, he was a useless Rotisserie League player. I paid $3 for the privilege of watching him hit .241 with four homers, 30 RBIs, and 11 steals.
Griffin was named to the AL All-Star team despite hitting .241/.248/.298 on the season. He can thank two of his Roto teammates, Garcia and Trammell, for that. Garcia made the team based on merit and brought Griffin along for the ride. When Trammell bowed out due to injury, Griffin replaced him “partly because he’s a fine player, but mostly because he was here.”
Kirk Gibson, OF
Gibson was an incredible athlete who was considered a top football prospect at Michigan State before choosing baseball. He could help in all categories if healthy. He made it through the ’84 season unscathed and hit .282 with 27 homers, 91 RBIs, and 29 stolen bases. He had hit .227 with 15 homers the year before and cost me a mere $15.
Gibson went on to win the NL MVP in 1988 and finished his career with a nice .268/.352/.463 line before retiring after the 1995 season. Offensively, he was sort of the original Ray Lankford.
Greg Luzinski, OF
In 1983, “The Bull” hit .255 with 32 homers and 95 RBIs. I paid around $20 for him and he did nothing (.238, 13 HR, 58 RBIs). Luzinski retired after the 1984 season with a .276/.363/.478 line and 307 homers to his name.
Funny how some guys just hit a wall. After posting OPS+ of 154, 136, 156, 153, 107, 113, 144, 130, and 129, Luzinski simply stopped hitting at age 33. Among recent players, he compares well with Tim Salmon, another who cruised until his mid-30s and then disappeared.
Otis Nixon, OF
Right idea, wrong year. I dropped $1 on Nixon, who came to Cleveland from the Yankees just before the season. He had swiped 94 bases at Columbus a year earlier, and it’s not like the Indians had a great outfield. Too bad he couldn’t hit. Nixon finished the season with a .154 batting average and 12 stolen bases.
What a strange career. Nixon hit .225/.290/.272 with 105 stolen bases in his twenties. He then proceeded to hit .276/.351/.320 with 515 steals in his 30s. Most guys don’t do that. Then again, most guys don’t sniff 5000 plate appearances with an .044 ISO. Nixon and Sandy Alomar Sr. are the lone members of that admittedly cherry-picked club.
Larry Parrish, OF
I paid around $15 for Parrish. He hit .285 with 22 homers and 101 RBIs.
Parrish is one of those guys who, 20 years after his career, is all but forgotten. He hit .263/.318/.439 with 256 home runs over 15 seasons and finished fourth in NL MVP voting in 1979. Originally a third baseman, Parrish was sort of like Ken Caminiti, without the walks, defense, and demons.
Kevin Rhomberg, OF
Rhomberg is one of my all-time favorite players. He’d hit .311 and swiped 27 bases the year before at Triple-A Charlotte…at age 27. (We were ignorant; we didn’t know.) I paid $3 for him.
He went 2-for-8 with the Indians in 1984 and ended his brief big-league career with a sparkling .383/.423/.447 line in 52 plate appearances. That’s not why I love Rhomberg. I love him because he felt compelled to touch anyone back who touched him first. I’m also a sucker for folks who chase ridiculous dreams; we should all be so bold.
Jim Beattie, P
Beattie was one of my stronger pitchers, which tells you all you need to know about my team. He won a career-high 12 games in ’84. His 3.41 ERA and 1.332 WHIP (which we called Ratio back then) weren’t too shabby either.
He retired in 1986, with a 52-87 record and 4.17 ERA. After his playing days, Beattie served as general manager for the Montreal Expos and Baltimore Orioles.
I put all my closer eggs in one basket. Fingers was enjoying a fine comeback after missing all of ’83 due to an elbow injury, but he didn’t make it to August thanks to a herniated disk. Fingers finished the season with 23 saves, a 1.96 ERA, and a 1.109 WHIP. I finished the season with Jerry Don Gleaton and Ray Searage as my key relievers.
Fingers came back in ’85 but at age 38, didn’t have anything left. He retired following the season with 114 wins, 341 saves, and a 2.90 ERA to his credit. Fingers was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Ken Schrom, P
I’ve talked about the folly of judging a pitcher based on the number of wins attached to his name. One of my favorite examples comes from the ’87 Astros, for whom Jim Deshaies won 11 games and Nolan Ryan won 8. Deshaies had a 4.62 ERA and 6.16 K/9; Ryan had a 2.76 ERA and 11.48 K/9. Which was the better pitcher?
Fewer people make this mistake nowadays, but in 1984, I sure as heck didn’t know any better. I paid $8 for Schrom on the basis of his 15-win rookie campaign. He actually had a respectable ERA (3.71) in ’83, but if I’d understood how to evaluate pitchers, his 3.67 K/9 would have stuck out like a sore thumb.
Schrom won 5 games for me in ’84, with a 4.47 ERA and 1.438 WHIP. He retired following the 1987 season with a 51-51 record and 4.81 ERA — sort of a poor man’s Rodrigo Lopez.
Milt Wilcox, P
I didn’t pay much for Wilcox—maybe $5 or $6—but he more than earned his keep, winning 17 games. He was a thoroughly mediocre pitcher (4.00 ERA, 1.286 WHIP) who happened to work for a dominant team. I am still not sure how I managed to finish in the money with Wilcox as my best pitcher.
Over the course of 16 seasons, Wilcox went 119-113 with a 4.07 ERA. His numbers would have looked even better except that he kept pitching after that ’84 campaign. Over his final two seasons, Wilcox went 1-11 with a 5.23 ERA.
The rest of the staff? I’m assuming there were others, but I’ll be darned if I can remember who they were.
My approach to drafting minor leaguers resembled nothing so much as a blindfolded kid swinging at a piñata. I grabbed a pitcher, a catcher, an infielder, and an outfielder. I paid no attention to age, park, league, or anything else that might have mattered.
Steve Farr, P
Farr was a junkballer who dominated (13-1, 1.61 ERA) the Eastern League in ’83. Never mind that he was 26 years old, had just completed his fourth season at Buffalo, and wasn’t a prospect.
He did see time with the Indians in ’84 and was terrible (3-11, 4.58 ERA, 1.310 WHIP). Cleveland released him the following spring, and the Royals picked him up. In Kansas City, he began what proved to be a fruitful career out of the bullpen, finishing with 132 saves and a 3.25 ERA over the course of an 11-year career.
Joel Skinner, C
Skinner hit .260 with 12 homers at Denver in 1983. That should have told me something. Actually, it did; I just wasn’t paying attention.
Skinner hit .213 with three RBIs in 80 at-bats for the White Sox in ’84. For his career, which ended in 1991, he hit .228/.269/.311. He later served as manager for the Cleveland Indians.
Steve Lubratich, INF
Lubratich hit .321 with 10 homers in 1983. The year before that, he hit .338 with nine homers.
You should know the punch line by now. Those were his age 27 and 28 seasons, and they came in the PCL, which he called home for the better part of six seasons.
Lubratich was done as a big leaguer by the time I drafted him. He got cups of coffee with the Angels in ’81 and ’83, finishing with a .209/.225/.266 line in a shade under 200 plate appearances.
Dwight Taylor, OF
Taylor’s career consisted of two plate appearances with the Royals in 1986. He hit .302 and stole 95 bases at Buffalo in 1983. Basically he had Otis Nixon’s skill set, less the ability to turn that into anything useful.
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Well, that was fun. Think I’ll go eat some jello now and curl up for a nap.