The Verdict: how rules became rules in a fantasy baseball league

With the 2011 fantasy baseball season now in the history books, I will be dedicating this column during the offseason to reviewing and analyzing some rules, issues and incidents that have occurred in a fantasy baseball league of which I have been the commissioner since 1999. The Old Bridge Fantasy Baseball League (“OBFBL”) was created prior to the 1999 season when I gathered friends and family together to form a 16-team, non-keeper, mixed AL/NL, H2H, points league (it would be expanded to 18 teams in 2000 where it remains today). Mike Piazza was the first player ever to be drafted in the OBFBL. To really put into perspective for you how long ago this was, I started manually tabulating the statistics and points for each player and team during the first week of the season. Finally, my co-commissioner told me about TQ Stats to host our league on the internet. At that time, I was 20 years old and naïve about how the internet and fantasy sports could mesh. Now the fantasy sports industry could not exist without the world wide web.

Over the past thirteen seasons, I have seen just about anything and everything that could possibly happen in a fantasy baseball league. I authored a league constitution in 1999 and have continued to amend and modify it each year as new issues and scenarios arose. It was imperative that I adjust the rules when issues of first impression came up and needed to be dealt with on an ongoing basis. I also tried doing other different things to add some spice and flavor to the league. Some worked and some did not. These experiences are what I draw from when resolving league disputes and issues for the Fantasy Judgment. I will be sharing with you some of the more interesting issues that arose and how I dealt with them

To kick things off on this new topic within my column, I would like to take you back to 2002. I must forewarn you that this is actually a tragic and sad story, but one that did have an impact on fantasy baseball. I am referring to the untimely and unfortunate death of Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile. As we all remember, Kile was a solid major league pitcher with a no-hitter on his resume. He had resurrected his career in St. Louis after signing a lucrative free agent contract with the Colorado Rockies and enduring a few horrendous seasons in Denver. After a few years of fantasy obscurity, Kile had once again become a viable option for a fantasy baseball pitching staff. In 2002, Kile was on OBFBL member Kurt Morris’s team. Morris, the OBFBL champion in 2000, was a savvy fantasy baseball player who took the league very seriously. I recently spoke to Morris about Kile’s death and how it affected his team and our league. Here is what he had to say:

When Darryl Kile died in mid-June 2002, I was trying to jockey my team to be a legitimate playoff contender. Our league was a very deep 18-team league. While he was not the ace of my pitching staff, Kile was an important piece to my team in a points league where solid starting pitching was critical for contention.

My wife was eight months pregnant at the time, so I wasn’t able to watch ESPN all hours of the day, every day, like I had done in previous years. This was also several years before smartphones and instant information at our fingertips. I remember I was walking from the bedroom to the kitchen, somewhere between getting my pregnant wife a salami sandwich and rubbing her feet, when my good friend and fellow OBFBL member Joe called. The conversation went exactly as follows:

Joe: “Dude, Darryl Kile is dead.”
Kurt: “[expletive deleted] you.”
Joe: “No seriously—he’s missing his start today because he was found dead in his hotel room.”
Kurt: “What? Really?”
Joe: “Yup.”
Kurt: “Somehow, I blame Stein.”

Somehow, I got blamed for Darryl Kile’s untimely and tragic death. While I can assure you that I had nothing to do with it (and I have proof I was working at a law firm in New York City as a summer associate), the fact remained that this horrible tragedy needed to be dealt with in terms of our fantasy baseball league, and specifically, Kurt’s team. He added the following:

“Immediately I was on the phone to the other members of the league asking what this meant. Kile was an integral part of my team and I needed retribution. In a swift act of justice, our commissioner decided that, due to the tragic nature of the situation, I would have the first pick-up rights for the upcoming waiver week. With my selection, I chose a young pitcher from San Diego who made his major league debut on the very day of Kile’s death. His name was Jake Peavy. While Peavy didn’t have a stellar rookie campaign (6-7, 4.52), he was a serviceable starter for me for the remainder of the year and replaced the production that I lost from Darryl Kile. Mike’s decision was swift, in good taste, and made sense given the circumstances.”

When I decided to handle the situation in this manner, not one other league member opposed or challenged my decision. Everyone felt that it was the right thing to do in order to compensate Kurt for the most extreme of circumstances once could imagine. In 2002, there were no rules in place or provisions in the OBFBL constitution for such action. However, as league commissioner, I felt it was in the league’s best interests to handle the situation that way. Since then, the Darryl Kile Rule is entrenched in the OBFBL’s jurisprudence. Fortunately, it is not a rule that has ever been invoked since Darryl Kile. The only time it ever came up as a possibility was in 2009 when Angels’ pitcher Nick Adenhart was tragically killed in a car accident. He was not on anyone’s roster at the time, so there was no need to award a team apriority waiver pick.

Planning ahead in case a professional ballplayer dies while on your fantasy team is a morbid and cynical thought. But before June 2002, I never would have thought it could be a possibility. While the chances of this happening again are extremely remote, the fact remains that there is now precedent and a rule in place to deal with such a situation within the league should it arise again. As a league commissioner, all that can be asked of you is to be in the best position possible to deal with an unforeseen circumstance. That is exactly what I did.

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  1. David Wade said...

    I agree with Brandon. 

    I think one of the best things about using a site to run your league is that the computer doesn’t know or care about a situation and just runs the waiver per league parameters no matter what.  No pity or bias in there.

    I suppose I should say that I don’t mean this to sound like I have no pity for Darryl Kile.

  2. Michael A. Stein said...

    Back in 2002, the hosting league website did not handle transactions.  Each team submitted transactions to me every week and I manually tallied the waiver order.  No, there was no other priority picks for players retired, deported, or released.  That had never happened. 

    I don’t think Kurt was being selfish.  He didn’t ask for the first priority in waiver pickups.  That was my decision.  He was simply inquiring as to what can or could be done given this issue of first impression.  It was a circumstance that had never come up before (and thankfully has never come up again since).  I felt I needed to do something at the time to compensate him for the loss of a player that was so dramatic and unforeseen.  A player dying in mid-season is exponentially more unlikely than any other circumstance (i.e. retiring, released, deported, etc.).  Had there been opposition to the ruling from other league members, I may have acted differently.  But given the extenuating circumstances, it was my opinion that Kurt needed some sort of compensation at the time.

  3. Greg P said...

    I run a 24-team dynasty league and experienced a similar situation with Nick Adenhardt a couple of years back (he was on my own team).

    I found no reason to do anything out of the ordinary when he passed, other than to grieve a little bit for him, his family, and the Angels.

    However, from a fantasy perspective, it was no different than a player going on the DL or leaving baseball.

    With Kile in an annual redraft league, I see no difference between his circumstances and someone needing TJ…neither will pitch again that season. The only difference is that one is just more emotional than the other.

  4. Kevin Wilson said...

    To each league their own, but I agree with the other commenters that this was the wrong decision, and one that I would have argued against profusely.

    The issue is that you are factoring in the quality of player Darryl Kile was in your decision, which is entirely subjective. What if his 7th best pitcher died, would your decision have been different? How about his 3rd best bench player?

  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Not to pile on, but I agree with the commentors as well. Practically speaking in this sense, death is really just the most serious of all possible injuries. There may be an argument to be made in keeper league, but I think even in that situation it would be a remarkably weak one.

    That said, this is a very rare instance, and the important thing is to treat similar outlying incidents consistently. So, I’m not going to bet Michael up here, especially since the league as a whole didn’t object to his decision. He was decisive, quick, and transparent, all of which are best practices. Perhaps some of us disagree with the decision, but there is now a clear policy in place, and I’m happy to just chalk it up as a minor wrinkle in the system. I think most of us have a few rules that may not make absolute logical sense but are established as part of the league. In a sense, these quirks collectively give a league it’s identity.

    Even baseball itself has rules that don’t make any sense – basically the entire section about crediting stolen bases, caught stealings, errors on attempted steals, etc. is insanely illogical, but what are you going to do… blog about it, I guess.

  6. Brandon said...

    Sorry, but “was an integral part of my team and I needed retribution” was selfish and Kurt actually took advantage of a tragic situation.  I could see how it would be hard for league members to say no in that situation. 

    Do you give retribution when your player hits the DL, gets suspended for PEDs, retires, gets deported, gets released?

  7. Nate said...

    I traded Darryl Kile to my brother and the trade went through the day he died.  Nothing was done just as no compensation was given to the Cardinals.

  8. Corvelay said...

    Beyond using terms like ‘issue of first impression’, I fail to see how you used your legal education to arrive at an intelligent result here.  What were the principles that you relied on?  If there were no prior rules in place for compensating an owner when a player was lost due to something that occurred off-the-field, why should this situation be any different?  The fact that he died coronary disease is not meaningfully different than if he had a season / career ending injury from cancer, or a car accident, or falling down a flight of stairs.  It is not really an issue of first impression – players have been ‘retired’ b/c of off-field occurrences before, which is really all that happened here.  While otherwise healthy people suddenly dying of coronary disease in their 30’s is relatively rare, it is certainly more common than things like ‘injured while moving boxes from attic b/c of approaching wildfire’ (Joel Zumaya)or ‘stabbed in butt by wife’ (Nick Harper plays NFL, but could easily have been a baseball player instead).  Whatever rule your league takes from this must be terribly ambiguous ‘if your best pitcher (gray area) dies (from disease / medical condition only?  murder? suicide? OD? car accident while they are drunk driving? incapacitated by a stroke but still breathing?) then you get first waiver claim’. 

    Essentially, you were swayed by the emotion of the incident – personally I think it is a bit screwy that the tone of the post is like Kile was a personal friend of the owner, or a beloved pet or something, but whatever – to implement a rule that flies in the face of every fantasy league principle, and opens the door to all sorts of requests for compensation whenever something an unlikely event adversely effects someone’s team.

  9. Michael A. Stein said...

    @Corvelay – Given that I had just completed my first year of law school at the time, I did not use any of my truncated legal education to arise at this decision back in 2002.

    Everyone here raises fair points, and truth be told, I do not completely disagree with them.  However I find it ironic that no one brought up the one scenario I envisioned could possibly blow this rule up.  That situation is if, for example, a team plane crashes and multiple players die at the same time.  Then I would find myself in a bind with the wording of the rule.  It is a morbid thought, but was always something I knew could be an issue if it ever occurred.

    Irrespective of all this, the fact remains that the rule was implemented at a time almost 10 years ago when no precedent existed.  True, Kile dying had the same net effect as if he sustained a season-ending injury.  However, at the time, I felt something else needed to be done for the team that lost the player.  Given every other league member supported this decision, I had no reservations making the rule. 

    Had this incident happened in 2011, perhaps I would have ruled differently.  But it happened in 2002 and has been codified as a rule ever since.  There has been no reason to abolish the rule as it hasn’t come up again since (and hopefully never will again).

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