Whenever I cross paths with any long-time acquaintance after a decade or two and they find that the I’m still the Commissioner of the same Rotisserie / Fantasy baseball league that started in 1984, they find it hard to believe. It is genuinely surprising 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 last year, we added a new owner, 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 (4×4) 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 4 X 4 concept instead of going to currently popular 5 X 5 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 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 new team won the league championship in 2005, 2006 & 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 % & 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% & 4%. In other words, we took 10% from each of the first four spots to add 5th & 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 had 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 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 essential that the league have 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 at least15 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. In the meantime, the Old Commish is the final arbiter.
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 and our youngest owner has thrown down the gauntlet in an attempt to take away their title. Both teams are in contention as the calendar turns to September, so the Old Duck needs to be alert.