Single Digit Uniformity

Mantle Bowman RC PSA

As kids, we all had a favorite baseball player and even though we may not have known everything about him, we certainly had a firm grasp on his uniform number. In the 50’s, if Ted Kluszewski was your guy, you knew that his sleeveless Cincinnati Reds Jersey had #18 on the back. If Pete Rose was your idol in the 60’s & 70’s, it was a pretty good bet that #14 was on the back of your Little League jersey. Thanks to MLB, we all know that Jackie Robinson wore #42, while the younger fans might covet Mike Trout’s #27 or Bryce Harper’s #34.

 

Uniform numbers weren’t really utilized in Major League Baseball until the 1929 season. The Indians & Yankees were the first two teams to make the decision and other teams eventually came around to the idea during the 1930’s with the Philadelphia Athletics being the last hold-out until 1937. The idea was so much of an afterthought, the numbers were originally assigned by the batting order (1-8) of the teams. #9 would be given to the back-up Catcher and the starting pitchers wore numbers 10-14, not including the bad luck #13.

 

Today, we’ll look at the best players who wore a single digit number on the back of their uniform and what it might take to collect all of their rookie (or early) baseball cards. As always, the values are based on a card in “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.

 

> #0 Al Oliver – It is a slight stretch to include this one on our list because the player was really wearing the letter “O” on his back rather than a zero. An outstanding hitter in his day, Oliver wore the number from 1978 until his retirement after the 1985 season. In 18 seasons, he hit .303 and accumulated over 2,700 hits. He shares his rookie card with Richie Hebner in the 1969 Topps set and you can find it for about $10.

 

> #1 Ozzie Smith – This Hall-of-Fame Shortstop known as “The Wizard” wore the number for his entire 19-year career…first with the Padres and then with the Cardinals. His rookie card from the 1979 Topps set is difficult to find in nice condition due to quality-control issues and will set you back at least $75.

 

> #2 Derek Jeter – The first Yankee to wear this number (in 1929) was Outfielder Mark Koenig. Jeter’s 3,000+ hits and multiple World Series rings makes him a first ballot Hall-of-Famer when he becomes eligible. A number of his rookie cards from 1993 can be had in the $10-$20 range but the more scarce one from the SP set is valued at almost $200.

 

> #3 Babe Ruth – “The Bambino”, “The Sultan of Swat” and the most legendary player of all time. His career statistics, as a Pitcher and a Hitter, are mind-boggling. His actual rookie card from the 1916 Sporting News set would cost you the price of a decent house,  but a more mainstream one from the 1933 Goudey set is only worth $25,000.

 

> #4 Lou Gehrig – “The Iron Horse” hit behind the Babe in the Yankee line-up and will forever be remembered for his consecutive game streak and the tragic illness that took him much too early in life. If you’ve never seen “Pride of the Yankees” (1942) starring Gary Cooper, you can’t really call yourself a true baseball fan.  There are some obscure Gehrig cards from the 1920’s but the 1932 U.S. Caramel version can be had for around $6,000.

 

> #5 Joe DiMaggio – “Joltin Joe”, “The Yankee Clipper” and a hero to Simon & Garfunkel, this CF will always be legendary due to his 56-game hitting streak, three MVP awards, 10 World Series appearances and marriage to Marilyn Monroe. He only played 13 seasons due to three years serving in the military during World War II, but his .977 lifetime OPS tells the story. The 1938 Goudey set has two Joe D. cards and they’re worth about $5,000 each.

 

> #6 Stan Musial – Arguably, the most under-appreciated player ever, “Stan The Man” wore this number for his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals. A lifetime batting average of .331 and over 3,600 hits gives some perspective on his career. His rookie card is in the 1948 Bowman set and books for $1,500.

 

> #7 Mickey Mantle – “The Mick” actually wore #6 in his 1951 rookie season, but became synonymous with #7 in baseball lore. One of the great natural talents to ever play the game, his three MVP awards in the 50’s & 60’s only touch the surface of his impact on the game. His rookie card from 1951 Bowman is valued at over $30,000 but the second-year card from the iconic 1952 Topps set can be yours if you’re willing sell your house for $170,000.

 

> #8 Cal Ripken Jr. – “The Iron Man” wore this number for 21 seasons with the Orioles and his 2,632 consecutive game streak eclipsed Gehrig’s record. Rookie of the Year in 1982, two MVP’s and 19 straight All-Star games prove his consistency. His 1982 Topps Traded rookie card is about $60.

 

> #9 Ted Williams – “The Kid’, “Teddy Ballgame” and “The Splendid Splinter”, he was the greatest hitter of all time. Missed five full seasons in his prime due to military service and still hit 521 Home Runs. The last player to hit .400, his lifetime OPS of 1.116 is 2nd only to Ruth. His rookie card from the 1939 Play Ball set is valued at around $5,000.

 

There are certainly valid arguments on some of these numbers. Harmon Killebrew is a great runner-up on #3, as is Duke Snider at #4. Some may feel that Al Kaline gives Musial a run for his money at #6 and Carl Yastrzemski, Yogi Berra & Joe Morgan all wore #8.

 

Down the road, we’ll look at more uniform numbers and the stars who made them famous.

60 Year-Old Tobacco

Red Man Duo

Over the years, many individuals have questioned my unbridled enthusiasm for all things baseball…live games, televised games, movies, cards & collectibles, statistical analysis and, of course, Fantasy Baseball. I’ve always been understanding of their skepticism because, after all, it takes a certain level of intelligence to really appreciate the game. The strange part is that most of these people probably have a love of something in their life that doesn’t really relate to their day-to-day existence. It might be stamps, comic books, salt & pepper shakers, art objects, model trains, holiday ornaments (remember Clark Griswold), coins or one of a myriad of other things.

 

Someone much smarter than me once said, “Life is more worthwhile when you can be passionate about something trivial”. I firmly believe that to be true and my relationship with baseball has brought countless wonderful memories, but it has also helped me through some very difficult times. Recall what James Earl Jones’ character said in Field Of Dreams, “The one constant throughout the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s part of our past. It reminds us of all that was once good and could be again”.

 

So, today’s visit is for all of you who know the “secret handshake” or the “password” and understand how we feel about baseball. One of the really remarkable things about buying and selling baseball card collections isn’t the profit (it’s more of a hobby than a business), it’s watching history go through your hands. In the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of helping clients with a collection of 100 year-old cards that included the likes of Walter Johnson & Christy Mathewson. Just last year, I assisted a friend with his collection that had a Jackie Robinson Rookie Card from 1948. You can’t imagine the feeling of having such history in your hands. Imagine a Civil War buff getting the opportunity to hold a copy of the Gettysburg address.

 

This wonderful experience has unfolded once again over the last few days as I reviewed a valuable sports card collection that my partner and I purchased. The cornerstones of the group are some mid-50’s classics including Hank Aaron’s Rookie Card from ’54 Topps, a ’53 Topps Willie Mays and a ’55 Topps Jackie Robinson.

 

While all those cards are great, the most fun was looking through over 50 cards from an obscure manufacturer. Starting in 1952, the Red Man Tobacco Company produced the first national set of tobacco cards since the early 20th century. They picked 25 players and one Manager from each league to fill their 52 card set and continued with the endeavor through 1955. The cards were larger than standard cards (3 1/2″ x 4″) and were sealed in plastic before being attached to the outside pouches of the tobacco product. They had a colorful and artistic likeness of the player on the front and company advertising on the back. The cards also had a 1/2″ perforated tab on the bottom of the card that could torn off and sent in for premiums such as a “Big League Style Baseball Cap”. To have full value in today’s market, the tabs need to still be attached to the cards. All four years were nearly identical in design but the player mix varied from season-to-season. While these 60+ year-old cards don’t have the same cache (or value) as the Topps issues of the era, they are certainly scarce and incredibly beautiful.

 

All the ones from this particular collection are from ’54 & ’55, so let’s see who I found and what their cards might be worth assuming Near-Mint (NM 7) condition.

 

1954 Red Man Tobacco

 

> #1 Richie Ashburn, OF Phillies (HOF), $100

 

> #6 Ted Kluszewski, 1B Redlegs, $100

 

> #11 Warren Spahn, P Braves (HOF), $125

 

> #13 Roy Campanella, C Dodgers (HOF), $220

 

> #16 Edwin “Duke” Snider, OF Dodgers (HOF), $220

 

> #17 Phil Rizzuto, SS Yankees (HOF), $135

 

> #18 Robin Roberts, P Phillies (HOF), $100

 

> #20 Larry “Yogi” Berra, C Yankees (HOF), $185

 

> #22 Gil Hodges, 1B Dodgers, $90

 

> #23 Eddie Mathews, 3B Braves (HOF), $125

 

> #25 Willie Mays, OF Giants (HOF), $450

 

 

1955 Red Man Tobacco

 

> #1 Ashburn (same portrait, different background color), $100

 

> #3 Ed “Whitey” Ford, P Yankees (HOF), $125

 

> #4 Nelson Fox, 2B White Sox (HOF), $100

 

> #7 Mays (same portrait, different background color), $375

 

> #12 Hoyt Wilhelm, P Giants (HOF), $90

 

> #18 Larry Doby, OF Indians (HOF), $90

 

> #19 Snider (same portrait & color), $175

 

Of course, we won’t know the real value until after the cards are graded but just seeing this cardboard up close and personal is priceless. Hope your hobby is just as much fun.

 

The Heritage Of Topps

'68 Heritage

Everyone you know probably considers themselves an expert at something, but Fantasy Baseball players are at the top of the food chain. Even though we play the game for money and bragging rights, the real truth is that we actually think we’re smarter than MLB GM’s & Managers. After all, would Jared Weaver be in your rotation? Or would Fernando Rodney be your Closer? Or would you take on $10.5 Million in salary to have Matt Wieters replace Derek Norris? Or would you pay Billy Butler $11 Million to spend the season at home watching Golden Corral commercials? Or would you give a two-year contract to a Catcher who might not be able to crouch until the All-Star break? Or did you really think that Franklin Gutierrez could get through April before going on the DL? The Old Duck participates in a 15-team Fantasy Baseball “experts” league where it is abundantly clear that each owner considers himself to be smarter than the other 14, but none of them would make those moves. It isn’t arrogance, only knowledge gained from experience.

 

Avid baseball card collectors are no different in their approach to the hobby. After watching card manufacturers flail away at each other in the 80’s and overproduce products in the 90’s to the detriment of the industry, it’s easy to criticize almost any product offering. Card enthusiasts are quick to complain about too few autograph cards, but also aren’t happy when the autographs are on stickers applied to the cards because they want the authenticity of “on-card” signatures. They also don’t like redemption cards (when players have not yet had the opportunity to sign), but also whine when the better players aren’t included in a product. It is the nature of the consumer to always want more for less and consider themselves smarter than the folks in charge.

 

In an attempt to remove myself from this category (even temporarily), I’m willing to admit that the people at The Topps Company are brilliant!

 

In 2001, Topps was celebrating the 50th anniversary of their entry into the baseball card business. They utilized the framework of their historical 1952 set to develop a new product. Topps Heritage came into the marketplace with current players pictured on cards that had the format of the iconic 1952 set. The detail of the set and the photography took collectors back to the time when packs were a nickel and included a stick of gum. The set was designed for card enthusiasts to build it completely by opening packs and sorting through the cards. It even had some of the quirks of the original like short-printed cards, checklist cards and even bubble gum…even though the gum was enclosed in a plastic wrapper. To all of this, Topps also added some autograph & relic cards to make the set even more attractive. The real draw, however, was the 1952 look and the opportunity for kids of the 50’s to build a new set of cards for the 2000’s.

 

Topps Heritage has been a consistent top-selling product at a mid-range price (around $3+ per pack) ever since. Each year, the cards mirror the old design of the appropriate Topps set with new players and this year’s release (which just hit stores last month), uses the 1968 card as its platform. If you collected cards in the 50’s & 60’s, this is the product for you.

 

In the last few years, Topps has added a few more twists with short printed cards that have variations of throwback uniforms or an action image. They even tugged at old-timers’ heartstrings by randomly adding a section of white on some of the card backs emulating how they would have looked had a dusty piece of gum been sitting against the card…very cool!

 

The Old Duck purchases a few boxes each year and builds the set from scratch. Of course, you never really know what might appear inside the packs and the first couple of boxes yielded two Clayton Kershaw variations, game-used memorabilia cards of Evan Longoria & Bryce Harper, as well as an actual 1968 Topps card of Angels Catcher Hawk Taylor (#52).  Hawk played parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues with a lifetime BA of .218…sounds like a perfect fit for my Fantasy Baseball roster.

 

In honor of this year’s release, let’s look back at that beautiful 1968 set of 598 cards, which includes over 25 Hall of Famers. The card values are based on “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.

 

> #45 Tom Seaver, $55 – This was the second year card of “Tom Terrific”…his rookie card from ’67 is worth $900.

 

> #50 Willie Mays, $80 – The “Say Hey Kid” was still a productive player in his mid-30’s…he won the Gold Glove in both ’67 & ’68.

 

> #80 Rod Carew, $55 – Was AL Rookie of the Year in ’67 on his way to over 3,000 hits.

 

> #110 Hank Aaron, $70 – Still in his prime at age 33, he led the NL with 39 HR’s in ’67.

 

> #150 Roberto Clemente, $80 – The previous season, he led the NL in BA (.357) & Hits (209) while winning the Gold Glove.

 

> #177 Nolan Ryan, $1,200 – No, that’s not a typo. This is the “Rookie Card” of the still popular power pitcher. He even had to share the card with teammate Jerry Koosman, but collectors don’t seem to care.

 

> #230 Pete Rose, $70 – ’68 would turn out to be a great year for “Charlie Hustle”…led the NL in BA (.335) & OBP (.391) while finishing 2nd in the MVP balloting.

 

> #247 Johnny Bench, $185 – The other key rookie card in the set, the player sharing the card was Ron Tompkins.

 

> #280 Mickey Mantle, $230 – ’68 was the last season for “The Mick” as age and injuries had taken their toll. His .237 BA for the season dropped his lifetime average below .300 and he admitted in later years that he was always bothered by that stat. Here’s the quote…”But god-damn, to think you’re a .300 hitter and end up at .237 in your last season, then find yourself looking at a lifetime .298 average – it made me want to cry”.

 

> #490 Super Stars, $130 – Topps scattered multiple player cards throughout the set and this one featured Mantle, Mays & Harmon Killebrew.

 

The “Heritage” will continue next year with memories of the ’69 set…

 

 

 

The Littlefield Effect – 2017

Littlefield

John Littlefield is now 63 years of age, but his name still resonates with baseball card collectors and Rotisserie League Baseball team owners. He only spent two seasons in the major leagues but what wouldn’t the rest of us give to always be known as “a former big league Pitcher”?

 

The baseball card connection is easy to explain, as Littlefield played in the early 80’s when the card industry exploded with new manufacturers. The Topps company had a virtual monopoly on baseball cards from 1956 – 1980 but in 1981, licenses were given to both Donruss & Fleer and despite the competition, all three companies were guilty of less-than acceptable quality control of their products. There were numerous examples all through the 1980’s of mistakes, misprints, corrections and embarrassments. The most infamous incident involved the now legendary 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken card that was distributed with a picture of the player holding a bat that had an obscenity written on the bottom of the barrel. Fleer tried to correct the card quickly but never really got it right, producing a total of five different variations.

 

Littlefield’s card legacy was early in the cycle, as his 1982 Fleer card was originally distributed with a reverse negative of the picture, turning the 27 year-old right-hander into a southpaw. Fleer corrected the card, thus making the original a very scarce item. Even today, the corrected version is a “common” card worth about a nickel, while the difficult-to-find “error” card will set you back about $45.

 

Littlefield’s enduring legacy to Fantasy Baseball comes from the original 1984 “Rotisserie League Baseball” book that started this amazing hobby played by millions of fans. As the founding fathers of the game had actually started playing a form of the game in 1981, they shared many stories of the fun, camaraderie and strategy they had experienced in those early years. A segment of the book talked about “The Littlefield Effect”, an interesting factor that impacted the value of players at their first few Drafts. While the early 80’s isn’t really that long ago, it was long before the digital age of affordable PC’s, the Internet and instant information. The Roto inventors decided that the best time to have the player Draft was on the weekend following opening day in order to have reasonably valid information about the official MLB 25-man rosters. After all, stats were only published weekly in the USA Today and league standings were always at least a week behind the actual games.

 

The timing of the Draft, however, led to 4-5 games being played prior to the auction / player selection and box scores were readily available in daily newspapers. Could a few games really have a major impact on the value of a player in a 162 game season? John Littlefield answered that question in 1981. In 1980, he had a very productive rookie campaign with the Cardinals, appearing in 52 games with a 3.14 ERA, 5 Wins & 9 Saves. In December, the Cards made an 11-player trade with the Padres and Littlefield headed west. To say that the ’81 Padres were terrible would be a compliment. In the strike-interrupted 110 game season, they went 41-69 and the entire team only hit 32 home runs. Ozzie Smith was the Shortstop and despite leading the NL in At-Bats, he hit .222 with 0 HR’s & 22 RBI’s.

 

The Padres opened the year in San Francisco and Littlefield saved the 4-1, 12-inning win. The next day, he registered another Save in a 4-2 victory. So, by the time the Rotisserie owners showed up for the Draft, it seemed logical that the Padres had anointed him as their Closer. With Saves being one of only four statistical pitching categories in the standings, his auction price ended up being $34, equal to 13% of the total 23-player budget of the winning bidder. As you might guess, the remainder of the 1981 season was very forgettable for Littlefield, as he suffered 2 losses and a blown Save later in April and was replaced as the Closer by a Pitcher named Gary Lucas. He pitched in 14 games at AAA Syracuse in 1982 with an ERA of 7.49 and his career was over at age 28.

 

For those of us who still play “old-school” Rotisserie Baseball and draft our teams on the Saturday following opening day, we also have memorable “effects” of our own. One of the classics was in 1994, when a Cubs outfielder named Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes hit 3 Home Runs on opening day. Even though he had never played more than 50 games in any major-league season, his price on Draft day was $22. He ended up with 8 HR’s for the season and never hit another one in his MLB career.

 

This past weekend, we gathered for the 34th annual Draft of our original Rotisserie league from 1984 and the Littlefield effect was still floating around the room. Using projections from a highly-respected Fantasy site, let’s see how things played out at the table. As this is a keeper league, we’ll assume that there could be an inflation factor of 20% added to the 4 x 4 projections.

 

> The most obvious example for 2017 was starting pitching. With all the big gun SP’s already rostered (Kershaw, Scherzer, Bumgarner, Cueto, Lester, etc.), the remaining ones would naturally have prices that were inflated. The best available was Kyle Hendricks and because he hadn’t yet pitched during the first week of the season, his $23 projection yielded normal inflation and a $27 price. Zack Greinke had a $15 projected value and his diminished velocity in March kept his $18 price in the same category. After those two, the Littlefield effect was in full bloom. Carlos Martinez hurled 7+ shutout innings on opening day and his $14 projection turned into $24 at the table. Coming off surgery, Matt Harvey had a $12 projection but his quality start on 4/6 alleviated concerns and it took $17 to buy him. Numerous other SP’s with single-digit projections went for higher prices due to first week outings…Tanner Roark from $7 to $16, Adam Wainwright from $4 to $12, Gio Gonzalez from $3 to $13 and Michael Wacha from virtually no positive projected value to $15.

 

> Closers are always inflated in a 4×4 format, but early-season results created even higher prices. As of opening day, the only three established Closers available in this Draft were Mark  Melancon, Wade Davis & Neftali Feliz. Within the first few days of the season, Greg Holland joined that group. My team had zero Saves on their keeper list, so getting a Closer was imperative and my budget had set aside $30 to make it happen. Interestingly, Melancon was the first player brought up for bid, but he’d blown a Save on opening day and hadn’t pitched since. Despite a projection of $34, I got him for $31. Decisions like this are always difficult, but within a few minutes, Davis cost $35 (projection $27) and then Holland almost doubled his $14 projection by going for $25. Once Feliz was the last man standing, his projection of $11 didn’t get in the way of teams bidding him up to $26.

 

> Injuries also factor into this equation, as the sore hip that caused Denard Span to miss a couple of games lowered his price to $12 instead of the $17 projection.

 

> Hot starts are always the key to this phenomenon costing teams more money. Examples include Travis Shaw for $22, Eduardo Nunez (and his three SB’s) went for $25, Matt Kemp (and his two HR game) cost $27, Brandon Belt (and his three HR’s) increased to $31 while Yasmani Grandal’s two HR-game on opening day doubled his projection to $16.

 

> The Littlefield effect also rears its ugly head in the end game as owners are looking for bargains and stats. Would Jake McGee have been a $1 player if he hadn’t recorded a Save two days prior to the Draft? Amir Garrett pitched six shutout innings in his first major league start and was drafted for $2, Daniel Nava also went for $2 after a two-HR game on 4/6 and Clayton Richard’s eight shutout innings against the Dodgers on 4/4 got him rostered for $1.

 

> The effect also can work in the opposite direction. Starting Pitchers who have a bad outing prior to the Draft often go for reduced prices or don’t get drafted at all. Scott Feldman’s six shutout innings (and Win) the day after the Draft didn’t belong to anyone in our league.

 

 

> While “newbies” to the Roto game might think that we are dinosaurs, don’t forget that the timing also allows us to know who has the job on opening day. And the teams that were influenced by box scores may have to deal with the consequences as the seasons rolls on.

 

The good news for all of us is that whenever you hold your Draft, it’s your favorite day of the year.

Legal Supplements

Herrera

How would you like to be invited to participate in the most unique Fantasy Baseball league in the industry? Looking back to 2002, the Old Duck was thrilled to be part of the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL), the vision of Ron Shandler and the first industry keeper league. Some of the most respected pundits and players of the game were kind enough to invite three “challengers” to be included as part of the 12-team group. As one of these home-league players, I was nervous and excited to sit down at the draft table that November and test my skills against the best.

 

As we enter our 15th season, it has been a great ride for this lifetime baseball fan. We’ve expanded to 15 teams and the camaraderie established over the years has led to genuine friendships with a great group of guys. And, to my surprise, the Quacker has turned out to be a decent player with championships in 2005, 2009, 2011 & 2012.

 

The XFL is a 5×5 keeper league (with OBP instead of BA) that has an auction budget of $260 for 23 players. We conduct the draft only a month after the baseball season ends and no research (or computers) are allowed at the table. Utilizing just MLB depth charts handed out prior to the first player being nominated, it is a test of your player-pool knowledge and prognostication. There is a significantly high inflation factor because many of the players on the keeper lists have salaries much lower than their projected values. Here’s the roster of Donald’s Dux following the November draft…

 

C – Willson Contreras $4 (K)

C – Derek Norris $5 (D)

1B – Anthony Rizzo $28 (K)

3B – Hernan Perez $5 (D)

1/3 – Jose Abreu $10 (K)

2B – Cesar Hernandez $7 (K)

SS – Brandon Crawford $11 (K)

2/S – Jonathan Scoop $6 (K)

OF – Yasiel Puig $13 (K)

OF – Nelson Cruz $35 (D)

OF – Odubel Herrera $16 (K)

OF – Domingo Santana $11 (D)

OF – Jayson Werth $10 (D)

U – Leonys Martin $1 (D)

P – David Robertson $15 (D)

P – Matt Moore $14 (D)

P – Julio Urias $4 (K)

P – Jeff Samardzija $9 (D)

P – Tyler Thornburg $9 (D)

P – John Lackey $6 (D)

P – Gio Gonzalez $7 (D)

P – Jerad Eickhoff $6 (K)

P – Zack Greinke $19 (D)

FARM – Willy Adames (K)

FARM – Gleyber Torres (K)

FARM – Yoan Moncada (K)

FARM – Alex Verdugo (K)

 

To lend some insight into the keeper salaries, players drafted in the auction have their salary increase $5 each season. So, for example, Eickhoff was drafted for $1 the previous year. Any player who qualifies as a rookie has his salary increase only $3 each season. So, because the Dux drafted Puig in 2013 before he appeared in an actual major league game, he is entering his 5th season on the roster. The league plays the season with 40-man rosters (23 active each week), so at the end of March there is a supplemental, on-line, snake draft to fill the remaining slots. These legal supplements can have a huge influence on the success of your team because so much can happen between November & March. For the teams who drafted (or kept) Roman Quinn, Lucas Giolito, Alex Reyes, David Price, Yordano Ventura, Steven Matz, Luis Valbuena, Sonny Gray & others, the first few rounds of this supplemental phase are critical to their team’s ability to contend.

 

As the result of finishing 7th in 2016, the Dux had the 6th pick in this supplemental phase as the first of 13 players to be added to the roster. As always, it becomes a lesson in strategy as to the utilization of scarce resources from a pool where over 350 players were already rostered . Looking at the Dux team, the obvious hole was created when Thornburg was traded to the BoSox and lost his opportunities for Saves. That was a critical issue because having only one Closer is a distinct disadvantage. The priorities easily became crystal clear. If there was an established Closer at #6, grab him! The key was identifying if any available Pitcher fit the bill. It didn’t take much research to find that Kelvin Herrera was the only choice. All the other “Save” guys had enough question marks to make them a risk in the 1st round. Examples at that time (March 21st) were Shawn Kelley, Cam Bedrosian, Greg Holland, Jim Johnson and Neftali Feliz. So, if Herrera was taken ahead of me, what other players were the priorities? Clay Bellinger & Eloy Jiminez were the two best available prospects and there were a few everyday players who might be good enough to keep for two seasons ($1 this year and $6 next year)…Eric Thames, Yangervis Solarte, Didi Gregorius, Josh Reddick, Joe Panik and a few others. That gave me enough names to cover the #6 pick if Herrera was gone.

 

Now, a word about prospects. Due to deep rosters, teams are not shy when it comes to rostering young players low in the minors and holding them until they’re ready. This is one of the key elements to a “dynasty” format and the owners in this league know everything about projectable minor leaguers, college players and even an occasional high-school phenom. In any given year, you could take a top-20 prospect list from your favorite publication or website and about 18 of them are already on one of the XFL rosters. The real gems in the 1st round of the supplemental draft are players who have rookie status and a major league job like Jose Abreu, who I selected with the first pick in 2014.

 

Teams have very difficult choices in the initial rounds, as they need to balance filling holes on their roster with also acquiring some long-term talent. This year, as we gathered at our computers, the wheels were turning for 15 separate owners and here are the 1st Round results…

 

> 1.01 Seth Beer – As mentioned earlier, some teams love to dig deep…he’s a 20 year-old OF at Clemson University.

 

> 1.02 Eric Thames – 50% of his Korea numbers make him a good choice.

 

> 1.03 Cody Bellinger – Dodger’s 1B in 2018?

 

> 1.04 Eloy Jiminez – Another great Cub prospect.

 

> 1.05 Ronald Acuna – A 19 year-old Braves OF with lots of upside.

 

> 1.06 Kelvin Herrera – This was the Dux #1 choice based on roster need and we were happy to get him in this spot.

 

> 1.07 Howie Kendrick – This team has a great keeper list and was looking for an everyday player to add counting stats.

 

> 1.08 Michael Kopech – Traded to the White Sox in the Chris Sale deal, he’s a SP who lights up the radar gun.

 

> 1.09 Brent Honeywell – Will probably be in the Rays rotation sometime this season.

 

> 1.10 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – An 18 year-old slugger, I’m guessing he’s a free swinger.

 

> 1.11 Hisashi Iwakuma – Arguably, the best SP on the board.

 

> 1.12 Francisco Mejia – Catchers are a scare commodity in this format and getting one early in their career is a good idea.

 

> 1.13  Ramon Laureano – There’s always at least one player taken in the 1st round whose name I don’t recognize…that has a tendency to keep you humble. He’s a 22 year-old Astros OF who had a .955 OPS in the Minors during 2016.

 

> 1.14- Mitch Keller – A 20 year-old Pirates SP who had 138 K’s and only 19 BB in the Minors last season

 

> 1.15 Cam Bedrosian – Saves are always a valuable commodity.

 

The Dux didn’t have a 2nd round pick due to a trade made last season, so we had to watch while Closers like Johnson & Holland went off the board along with a bunch of prospects including Mickey Moniak, Amir Garrett, Jason Groome & Zack Collins. SP’s such as Michael Wacha & Ivan Nova were also gone before our next pick at 3.06 but I was surprised to see that Solarte was still available. His addition gives the roster some flexibility, as Perez can be shifted from 3B to OF in case one of those guys doesn’t perform.

 

Additional picks…

 

> Round 4 Lourdes Gurriel – With the opening day roster now intact, it was time to add a long-term prospect. The 2017 season should give us a good idea of his potential.

 

> Round 5 Jaime Garcia & Jason Castro – Garcia will fill in for Urias for the first month and every team needs a back-up Catcher.

 

> Round 6 Brandon Moss – Surprised to see him here…power bat and dual position eligibility.

 

> Round 7 Joe Jimenez – Will KRod still be the Tigers Closer after this season?

 

> Round 8 Didi Gregorius – Only his DL stint let him drop this far and he could be a keeper in ’18.

 

> Round 9 Kyle Lewis – The Mariners #1 prospect.

 

> Round 10 Thomas Szapucki – Young SP in the Mets organization.

 

> Round 11 Brad Hand – The Padres version of Andrew Miller?

 

> Round 12 Dylan Cozens – I don’t know much about him either.

 

> Round 13 Kolby Allard – Braves pitching prospect.

 

Obviously, the management team for our franchise has an eye on the future with ten Farm players on our 40-man roster.

 

How will the Dux fare? Our stat website projects a highly competitive league with four teams having 98+ points. The Dux are in the next group with 80+ points, so as Marlon Brando once said (sort of), “we could be a contendah”…or we could be re-building by the All-Star break.

 

More information and the league history can be found at fantasyxperts.com

 

 

Same Time Next Year

Brad Ballpark 17

In 1978, there was a movie titled “Same Time Next Year” starring Alan Alda & Ellen Burstyn. It wasn’t a classic film but was certainly entertaining, which is confirmed by its 7.2 rating on imdb.com. The plot was about two people, both married to others, who meet by chance at a romantic inn and end up sharing a night together. The next morning, they are wondering how this could have happened but decide to an agreement. They will meet each year on the same weekend at the same place and renew their relationship. Originally a stage play, the story takes the audience through the years with the same couple in the same room. The episodes take us from the early 1950’s to the mid 1970’s, as the changes in the world and their lives impact their relationship.

 

As I sat behind home plate at Surprise Stadium for 30+ games this March, the title of that movie popped out of my aging grey matter and wrapped itself around this wonderful annual experience. The girl I love each year is named Spring…it just so happens that her last name is Training. With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Of course, it was Sonnet 43, so she probably had a Dennis Eckersley jersey.

 

> The weather in Arizona this time of year is absolutely beautiful. Azure blue skies and emerald green grass greet you everyday at the ballpark.

 

> The ballpark is the most comfortable and fan-friendly of all the Cactus League facilities. Even though it opened in 2003, the newer parks with all the whistles and bells can’t compare with the sightlines and intimacy of this gem. It has a single concourse, allowing easy access for all fans. The concessions are on the concourse, so you don’t miss any game action while feeding your appetite or quenching your thirst. There are small upper-decks above 1B & 3B that hang out over the lower seats and add another viewing  perspective to the game. And, a local group of over 500 volunteers called the Sundancers are always there to assist you with everything from parking to charity raffles to wheelchair access for disabled fans to being at the top of every aisle helping fans find their seat.

 

> What isn’t apparent to most fans is that the ballpark has a second name…Billy Parker Field. When Billy Parker made his major league debut with a game-winning home run for the Angels on September 8, 1971, you probably could have completed the census of Surprise by yourself over a weekend. After his baseball career ended, Billy worked with youth programs for the city and was much beloved for his volunteerism before he passed away in 2003. Today, he would be proud to see the thousands of Little League players who attend youth day at the ballpark every March. The city’s current population is over 115,000.

 

> One of the first things you see when entering the leftfield gate for a game is a small tent hosted by Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins and his charity foundation. Almost everyday in March, you will find great ballplayers from the past signing autographs in exchange for a donation to the foundation. This Spring, you would have seen Rollie Fingers, Gaylord Perry, Bert Campanaris, Willie Wilson, Mudcat Grant and many others greeting fans and talking baseball with them.

 

> Speaking of autographs, these games obviously offer fans greater access to ballplayers and many hope to get signatures from their heroes. Some players sign a limited amount, some don’t sign at all but the nicest memory is the generosity of Josh Hamilton during his first go-round with the Rangers (2008-12). Typically, the regulars come out of a Spring Training game around the 5th inning and head down the foul line toward the clubhouse. Fans congregate in the area hoping that players might stop and sign, but most just take a circuitous route to avoid the inconvenience. For those five years he spent with the club, Josh stopped every day and signed autographs for as long as he could, even standing in foul territory while the game proceeded just to accommodate the fans. We’ve all had someone in our life who has battled addiction and can clearly understand how difficult it can be to overcome. This is a guy we should all root for because he understands what the game is all about.

 

> The National Anthem is a traditional moment at every baseball game and we’re privileged to have talented people perform at the Stadium each day during March. At least a half dozen times each Spring, however, we’re treated to a very special moment when Jesse McGuire gives us his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on the trumpet. He has played the Anthem in front of three U.S. Presidents and at the 2001 World Series, but this time of year, he is our special guest. No matter your background or political persuasion, you are guaranteed to feel chills and treasure the moment. Then, as the home team takes the field, John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” pipes in over the loudspeakers and we’re ready to “Play Ball”.

 

> The other people in the ballpark also make the experience memorable. For me, it never gets old to engage long-time friends and new acquaintances in baseball conversation. My closest friend and his beautiful wife have had seats in the first row behind the 3rd base dugout since the ballpark opened. Sometimes I go down and join them for a couple of innings but even when we’re at a distance we’re still close. Each day, when he arrives at the park, we catch each other’s eye and say “hi” by flashing baseball signs to each other. My season seats are right behind home plate and even though they are about eight rows up from the field, they are on the railing above the tunnel used by visiting teams. The result is that there is no one in front of me to block the view…the best seats in the house! “Duke” is my wingman for about 2/3 of the games and we talk baseball for hours each day before reaching our pitch count and heading home for a nap (me) or “honey do’s” (him). For the other 10 games, the adjacent seat is occupied by golfing buddies, out-of-town guests or an occasional pretty girl who hasn’t figured out how old I am. The last two years have been even more special, as my Son has made the trek from SoCal for a morning round of golf followed by being part of a sell-out crowd for an evening game at the ballpark. Right across the aisle is a dear friend who makes an 11,000 mile round trip from the south coast of England each March to watch baseball. After many years of making the journey, the Customs agents at the Phoenix airport refer to him as the “British Baseball Guy”. This same section is also where the scouts sit with their notepads and radar guns. This allows me the opportunity to visit with really smart guys like Deric McKamey, Kimball Crossley, Jason Grey & John Cox while also playing the recognition game by spotting former players like 1982 Cy Young Award winner Pete Vukovich and Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa.

 

> As most of the seats around mine are not season tickets, each day also brings new opportunities to talk baseball. With both teams making World Series appearances in recent years, there are always lots of Royals & Rangers fans in for a long weekend or extended visit.  We talk baseball for the whole game, agree that people who are bored by baseball just aren’t very intelligent and pledge to see each other again next year. Of course, each visiting team is also represented by folks with jerseys from the Giants, Dodgers, Angels and others. Unlike pro football, there is never any animosity regarding loyalty. Everyone in the park is there for a good time enjoying the national pastime.

 

> Cactus League facilities have standard food menus and a few more upscale items, but this ballpark has two kiosks on the concourse called the Diamond Grill. They only have one item, a freshly grilled Italian Sausage on a soft bun with grilled onions & peppers. When the e-mail invitations are sent in February to my once-a-year guests, they seem more excited about the prospect of consuming this culinary delicacy than they are about the ballgame itself.

 

> As a Fantasy player, the games themselves are always exciting, interesting and informational. You can read all the scouting reports you want on the Internet, but the personal stories make the game a joy. Last Spring, a former #1 pick from 2004 was attempting a comeback after battling alcoholism and serving a jail sentence for drunk driving. He hadn’t played since 2011 and was originally a Shortstop, but now he’s a Pitcher and last year, 30 year-old Matt Bush had a 7-2 record with a 2.48 ERA for the Rangers. You can’t make this stuff up.

 

> There is also the occasional sad moment. A few weeks ago, Giants coach Jose Alguacil was hit in the face by a check-swing foul ball while sitting with Manager Bruce Bochy near the on-deck circle. He had to be air-lifted to a Phoenix hospital with a broken nose and an eye-socket fracture. Hopefully, he’ll recover in time for opening day.

 

> And, of course, there are always a few enthusiastic fans applauding for an unknown prospect wearing #87 with no name on the uniform. You realize quickly that they’re members of his family and just hope he doesn’t strike out or give up a 3-run homer.

 

The Old Duck has only been in love a few times over the years, but the relationship with this girl I call Spring is the most enduring. She is beautiful, loyal, consistent and always in a good mood. I will miss her very much over the next 11 months, but knowing that she’ll be there “same time next year” makes it easier to bear.

 

Charming The Snake Once A Year

Donald Duck Snake

If you’re even an occasional reader of this column, you know that the Old Duck is a 30+ year veteran of Rotisserie Style Auction Keeper Leagues. With over 25 championships in about 70 Drafts, it is what I relish and look forward to each year. However, once a year, the dreaded Snake Draft enters my life for one very good reason. The young man who hosts the league (on ESPN.com) is like a son to me and if he asked me to join a Camel Race Fantasy League hosted by Al Jazeera, I’d probably say yes.

 

Even though I know a beautiful girl who once had a pet Boa Constrictor named “Julius Squeezer”, I hate snakes…both in person and of the Fantasy variety. To me, having 10 or 15 or 20 players go off the board without the opportunity to bid, just penalizes me for doing solid research. And, if one of the Roto combatants forgets to show up on-line, you can bet the “auto-draft” spot will be right in front of me.

 

This time of year, if you follow Fantasy Baseball at all, it is impossible to avoid Snake Draft advice. It comes at you from everywhere…newspapers, websites, magazines, Satellite Radio and friends. The number of strategies are mind-boggling and include…

 

> Memorizing the average draft position (ADP) of every player in the universe.

 

> The “Don’t take Pitchers early” philosophy.

 

> The “Take Clayton Kershaw now” philosophy.

 

> The “Don’t take Closers until later” philosophy.

 

> Prioritizing position scarcity

 

> Getting 50 HR’s & 50 SB’s from your first two picks (50/50 Plan).

 

> Getting 75 HR’s & 75 SB’s from your first three picks (75/75 Plan).

 

> Picking two stud starting pitchers early, also known as the “Dual Aces” plan.

 

> Drafting players for their future instead of their past, also known as the “Upside” plan.

 

In order to avoid having my brain explode, I’ve used none of those strategies and still managed a championship and two 2nd place finishes in the short history of the league. In 2016, the Ducks managed a 3rd place finish despite Dee Gordon being our 1st Round pick and then getting busted for PED’s. Solid seasons from Yoenis Cespedes, Carlos Correa & Matt Kemp helped the power categories while Zach Britton, A.J. Ramos & Alex Colome slammed the door on 124 Saves.

 

Part of my occasional past success is from a fairly good knowledge of the player pool, as I’m boning up for NL & AL only Drafts that take place in late March and early April. Logically, however, it seems that the overall approach of the last 30 years still works and it is a mind-set of “balance”. So, while the Long Island Ducks (we all incorporate the name of a minor league team) do have a tendency to wait on pitching, it is more about balancing the roster to leave flexibility as the Draft progresses. Ideally, after ten rounds, the roster should include at least one player at each position (C, 1B, 3B, 2B, SS, OF, SP & Closer) along with a 2nd OF & 2nd SP. After that foundation is established, looking for value is the priority. If you’ve already read columns from multiple sources about the players they drafted, this might be a cure for insomnia. With that disclaimer, my hope is that the strategies and player choices will be of value to you in your upcoming draft.

 

 

This is a 15-team mixed league with 22-man rosters (1 Catcher) and three reserve picks. The random order one hour prior to the Draft gave the Ducks the 10th pick, which didn’t seem great at first, but a close analysis of the top 15-20 players made me feel better. Even though this a Snake Draft, my logic is to use dollar projections as if it were an Auction Draft. What I found is that there were 17 players on my list that projected to be worth $30 or more, so I was guaranteed to acquire one of those guys in Round 1…and possibly another in Round 2. As we work our way through the results, you’ll see the ADP (Average Draft Position) for each player as a point of reference. The ADP rankings are as of the date of the Draft (3/19).

 

Fantasy players are always interested in the first round, so here’s how this league shook out…1) Mike Trout…2) Jose Altuve…3) Mookie Betts…4) Nolan Arenado…5) Kris Bryant…6) Paul Goldschmidt…7) Manny Machado…8) Clayton Kershaw…9) Josh Donaldson.

 

It didn’t take me long to deviate from the original plan as I passed on a few $30 players to take one projected slightly lower…

 

Round 1, Pick 10 – Bryce Harper, OF (ADP 10)

 

Even though Miguel Cabrera, Charlie Blackmon and a few others had higher projections, you’d like to think a 24 year-old still has another possible MVP season in his sights.

 

Round 2, Pick 21 – Jonathan Villar, SS (ADP 24)

 

All the usual suspects were taken between 11-20, but he’s still a $30 projected player with 50+ SB capability.

 

Round 3, Pick 40 – Johnny Cueto (ADP 42)

 

As expected, the SP run started early…Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner & Max Scherzer in Round1 – Corey Kluber, Chris Sale & Noah Syndergaard in Round 2. In Round 3, Justin Verlander and Jake Arrietta went early and when Jon Lester was taken right in front of me at #39, I couldn’t wait any longer for an ace. Chris Archer was gone two spots after this pick and Darvish went at the beginning of Round 4 and would have been gone before my next pick.

 

Round 4, Pick 51 – Eric Hosmer, 1B (ADP 105)

 

This seems like a horrible pick in comparison to the ADP but every snake draft has unpredictable moments. I viewed 1B as having a shallow pool of top-notch choices and Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Cabrera, Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion, Freddie Freeman, Daniel Murphy, Wil Myers and Jose Abreu were all gone in the first 49 picks. Hosmer was in a tier with Hanley Ramirez, Eric Thames and Matt Carpenter, so I went with age (27) and durability.

 

Round 5, Pick 70 – Dustin Pedroia, 2B (ADP 138)

 

Going against the tide again but I needed to fill a relatively scarce position and the other choices were DJ LeMahieu and Jean Segura, who both went in Round 6.

 

Round 6, Pick 81 – Roberto Osuna, RP (ADP 88)

 

 

By this point, the run on Closers had begun and the Ducks couldn’t wait another 18 picks to make this decision. I had him projected as the 6th best Closer overall.

 

Round 7, Pick 100 – Jose Ramirez, 3B/OF (ADP 104)

 

I’m a believer in this guy after he helped me win my AL-only league in 2016…and the position flexibility is a bonus.

 

Round 8, Pick 111 – Willson Contreras, C (ADP 94)

 

In a one-Catcher league, get someone good…there are not 15 good ones in the draft.

 

Round 9, Pick 130 – Kenta Maeda, P (ADP 104)

 

The team’s 2nd SP…not an ace but solid.

 

Round 10, Pick 141 – Dexter Fowler, OF (ADP 178)

 

The Cardinals gave him too many years, but we only need him this year.

 

At this point, the original strategy was in place…the Ducks had a 1B, 3B, 2B, SS, C, 2 OF, 2 SP & 1 Closer.

 

Round 11, Pick 160 – Randal Grichuk, OF (ADP 218)

 

Another reach compared to ADP, but the basic squad was short on power.

 

Round 12, Pick 171 – Jameson Taillon, SP (ADP 152)

 

If two SP’s look the same, take the Pirate.

 

Round 13, Pick 190 – Eric Thames, OF (ADP 194)

 

The Fantasy community is conflicted on this player, but you don’t win leagues without some upside components…will also be 1B eligible.

 

Round 14, Pick 201 – Sam Dyson, RP (ADP 154)

 

In this format, you need a 2nd Closer.

 

Round 15, Pick 220 – Lance Lynn, SP (ADP 284)

 

Looks healthy in March…at this point in the draft, pitching is a crapshoot.

 

Round 16, Pick 231 – Ryon Healy, 3B  (ADP 202)

 

Investing in a lottery ticket, looking for HR’s.

 

Round 17, Pick 250 – Julio Urias, P (ADP 163)

 

Only went this low because he’ll probably start the year at AAA…the Ducks will settle for 25 starts.

 

Round 18, Pick 261 – Yangervis Solarte, 3B  (ADP 277)

 

Sorry, but this seems like a steal at this point in the proceedings…the Padres will be lousy but he could be the clean-up hitter.

 

Round 19, Pick 280 – Michael Wacha, P (ADP 332)

 

Let’s hope the Cardinals training staff is better than their IT department.

 

Round 20, Pick 291 – Hernan Perez, 3B/OF (ADP 211)

 

Doesn’t have a starting job yet, but emerging skills (13 HR’s & 34 SB’s) could force his way into the line-up.

 

Round 21, Pick 310 – Kolten Wong, 2B (ADP 326)

 

Post-hype sleeper?

 

Round 22, Pick 321 – Jamie Garcia, SP (ADP 350+)

 

I’d love to tell you that the new Atlanta facility will be a Picher’s park, but I’m not that smart.

 

Round 23, Pick 340 – Devin Mesaraco (ADP 292)

 

The first of 3 reserve spots, this guarantees not having to find a Catcher on the free agent list in case of injury.

 

Round 24, Pick 351 – Matt Adams, (ADP 350+)

 

Searching for HR’s.

 

Round 25, Pick 370 – Wei-Yin Chen, SP (ADP 350+)

 

A replacement for Urias.

 

The Ducks projected stats have the team in the middle of the pack with too-few HR’s & RBI’s and an over-abundance of SB’s. Of course, last year the squad was projected to be in 14th place with 63 points and finished 3rd with 101…despite losing Gordon. In this column a year ago, I predicted 95-100 points…maybe the Old Duck isn’t as dumb as he looks.

 

The really good news is that I don’t have to do this for another year. Best of luck in your Draft.