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 19th 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 four championships and the best overall record.
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 or two 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. This year’s auction draft was done on-line but the parameters were the same. 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 (“K” for keepers, “D” for drafted) following the December 2020 draft…
C – Willson Contreras $16 (K)
C – Sean Murphy $19 (D)
1B – Jose Abreu $22 (K)
3B – Yoan Moncada $13 (K)
1/3 – Pete Alonso $7 (K)
2B – Cesar Hernandez $1 (D)
SS – Gleyber Torres $10 (K)
2/S – Marcus Semien $24 (D)
OF – Ian Happ $6 (K)
OF – Dylan Carlson $4 (K)
OF – Teoscar Hernandez $6 (K)
OF – Randy Arozarena $8 (K)
OF – Brandon Nimmo $18 (D)
U – Wilmer Flores $6 (K)
P – Brandon Woodruff $16 (K)
P – Tyler Mahle $3 (D)
P – Kevin Gausman $6 (K)
P – Drew Pomeranz $1 (D)
P – Rasiel Iglesias $16 (D)
P –Cristian Javier $15 (D)
P – Joe Musgrove $12 (D)
P – James Karinchak $4 (K)
P – Zach Wheeler $25 (D)
FARM – Royce Lewis (K)
FARM – Christian Pache (K)
FARM – Triston Casas (K)
To lend some insight into the keeper salaries, players drafted in the auction have their salary increase $5 each season. So, for example, Woodruff was drafted for $6 two seasons ago. Any player who qualifies as a rookie has his salary increase only $3 each season. So, because the Dux drafted Moncada in 2017 before he appeared in an actual major league game, he is entering his 5th year on the roster. The league plays the season with 40-man rosters (23 active each week) and prior to opening day 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 December & March. For the teams that drafted (or kept) Mike Clevinger, Nick Anderson, Carlos Carrasco, Eloy Jimenez & others, the first few rounds of this supplemental phase are critical to their team’s ability to contend.
The Dux had a strong 4th place finish in 2020 and didn’t have to give up too many assets to get their 101 points. The keeper list was strong, so we were able to be aggressive in the auction. As of the moment (3/30), there are no obvious holes on the roster. The current projections from a two well-respected sites have the squad finishing in 2nd place with the major weakness seeming to be in SB’s. What strategy would you employ? We have the 3rd pick and while 345 players are already gone, there is still some talent available. Get the best speed guy with the Round 1 pick or try to bolster the rotation? How about a prospect for the future?
Now, a word about prospects. Due to deep rosters, teams are not shy when it comes to drafting 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, international players, college players and even an occasional high-school star. This year, for example, I looked at a top 100 prospect list from a Fantasy site and found that the first 44 players were already gone! Would you spend a 1st Round pick on #45?
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 on March 30th, the wheels were turning for 15 separate owners and here are the Round 1 results…
> 1.01 Josh Jung – A former member of my team but didn’t have enough room on the roster to keep him in December. Will miss time due to injury but should be the Rangers 3B in 2022.
> 1.02 Garrett Hampson – One of the four speed guys on the Dux list, it comes down to playing time in Colorado.
> 1.03 (Dux Pick) Ramiel Tapia – Not a very glamorous addition, but he’s penciled in to play everyday and bat lead-off. 15-20 SB’s and a .350 OBP would be just fine.
> 1.04 Elijah Green – Still in High School, he’ll be eligible for the MLB Draft in 2022…has committed to the University of Miami.
> 1.05 Robbie Ray – A logical choice for a team with Lamet, E. Rodriguez & Carrasco in their rotation.
> 1.06 Freddy Peralta – Just added to the Brewers rotation.
> 1.07 Garrett Mitchell – This 20 year-old is the Brewers # 1 prospect.
> 1.08 Jonathan India – The Reds starting 2B.
> 1.09 Brailyn Marquez – A 22 year-old Pitcher, he’s the Cubs #2 prospect.
> 1.10 Robbie Grossman – The Tigers signed him to play everyday…should provide double-digit HR’s & SB’s.
> 1.11 Josh Rojas – Very impressive this Spring, he’ll play all over the diamond for the D’Backs..
> 1.12 Willi Castro – The Tigers everyday SS.
> 1.13 Luis Matos – A 19 year-old OF in the Giants organization…this is what a “dynasty” league is all about.
> 1.14- Josh Lindblom – 40-man rosters are all about pitching depth.
> 1.15 Alex Manoah – Could be pitching for the Blue Jays sometime this season.
Last year, 13 of the 15 choices in Round 1 were prospects…this time around, it was only six.
Additional picks for the Dux roster…
> 2.13, Logan Webb – There were 7-8 SP’s in the same tier…maybe at age 24, he’s found the right formula.
> 3.03, Gregory Soto – Possibly the Tigers Closer?
> 3.07 (acquired thru a trade), Yandy Diaz – Needed a back-up 3B and he was the best available.
> 4.13, Nico Hoerner – Cubs sent him down, but it could be a service-time move.
At this point, the Dux were satisfied with acquiring some SB’s, adding a rotation SP, a potential Closer and an extra body at the hot corner. Now it was time for depth and a few rolls of the dice.
> 5.03, Carlos Martinez – Can he succeed with diminished velocity?
> 6.13, Emmanuel Clase – Strictly an insurance policy for Karinchak.
> 7.03 , Jose Garcia – A Reds SS prospect….is Suarez the long-term answer?
> 8.13, Victor Caratini – In this format, you need a 3rd Catcher.
> 9.03, Michael Wacha – Healthy at the moment…this is organizational depth.
> 10.13, David Bednar – Richard Rodriguez is the new Pirates Closer…if that doesn’t work?
> 11.03, Ivan Herrera – In a league that rosters 30 Catchers, finding young possibilities is worth the flyer. He won’t be 21 until June and someone needs to replace Yady…someday.
> 13.03 Nico Goodrum – Multi-positional depth.
> 14.13, Miguel Amaya – Reference the comment about young Catchers.
All in all, a fairly productive draft. The Dux have 9 SP’s to choose from each week, an extra Closer and back-ups for each position to cover injuries and/or poor performance. Hopefully, the GM won’t be sitting in the back of a cab saying “we coulda’ been a contendah”.
More information and the league history can be found at fantasyxperts.com
With the original “Rotisserie League Baseball” book having been published in 1984, some of us are coming up on our 38th year of auction drafts in the spring of 2021. Almost everything has changed for the Fantasy player since those days of the analytic pioneers, but one trait has remained constant. My attendance at almost 90 of these soirees over the years in multiple leagues indicates that while the people around the table have changed, the personalities haven’t.
As with “Dragnet”, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, but you should recognize some of these types from your own league.
> “The Hypester” – Not to be confused with a “hipster”, this guy automatically buys into all the hype he reads about minor league prospects, rookies, refugees and players from the Pacific Rim. If you told him confidentially to look for a Korean phenom named Sum Yung Guy, he’d probably bid on him. This guy drafted Candy Maldonado in the 80’s, Kevin Maas in the 90’s, Jesus Montero10 years ago and Jung Ho Kang 5 years ago. He also owns a collection of Gregg Jeffries baseball cards.
> “The Limited” – Not to be confused with a train, this player is literally stuck at the station. He’s created some guidelines for the bidding process and doesn’t have the courage to go beyond his set values. Invariably, he’s the next-to-last bidder on numerous players and ends up leaving money on the table. In poker, this guy is defined as “tight passive” and can be bluffed out of the hand.
> “The Smart Ass” – This smirking fellow has figured out that the game is supposed to be entertainment and his goal is to bring out a player obscure enough to be unknown to half the league…and the other half doesn’t even want to bid. It doesn’t matter because he relishes the moment when people are scrambling through their paperwork to locate the bum. We once had an opposing player turn to his partner and say, “Keep bidding until I find the guy”. The Smart Ass is willing to have a nobody on his roster in order to bask in the glory of that remark.
> “We Are Family” – This team owner “becomes as one” with the players he drafts. As soon as a player is rostered on his squad, he no longer refers to them by their last name. During the season, he talks about “Von”, “Glenn” & “Rick” as if they’re all foster children who have been taken into his home. Their injuries impact him on an emotional level and approaching him about a trade is a waste of time.
> “The Pencil Breaker” – This is the well-organized, methodical man who has worked diligently on his plan. The issue at the table is that everyone’s strategy is usually blown-up in the first half-hour and the words “flexible” and “spontaneous” aren’t in his vocabulary. So, he allocated $18 for any one of three Shortstops and after they all go to other teams for over $20, he can be seen breaking pencils in frustration.
> “The Paper Pusher” – In the early days of this pastime before magazines & websites gave us player projections, this player was too lazy to do any real homework and would come to the table with a small piece of paper that had three or four names. His goal was to draft those players, no matter the cost. He could always be seen during the last three hours of the proceedings looking through the Baseball Register trying to find warm bodies to fill those eight $1 spots left on his roster. He never contended, but he would always ruin everyone else’s strategy. This is the twin brother of the gambler who hits 17 at the Blackjack table and makes sure the dealer doesn’t bust.
> “The Homer” – In a league based in Southern California, you can assume there will be a certain inflation factor for Dodger & Angel players due to the constant barrage of information. This fellow, however, is a fan of a particular team and has never been able to separate himself from that connection. His opponents know that they can always get an extra dollar of his budget spent on that player from the Red Sox or (insert the team of your choice). In addition, his level of interest in that team assures the fact that he’s reading about them in March and he becomes a mini-version of the “Hypester”.
> “The Enforcer” – Not to be confused with “Dirty Harry” Callahan, this is the person who feels a moral obligation to make sure no other team gets a bargain. If they sense a lull in the bidding for a decent player, they will jump in with a bid at the last moment even if that player isn’t a good fit on their team. This type of strategy will almost never succeed, but is guaranteed to always aggravate. The first cousin of the guy who plays every hand at the poker game.
> “The Math Minor” – Managing your money at the table is a necessity. Budgeting certain amounts for positions and/or categories gives you the best chance to win. This guy, however, essentially has no plan and just bids by the seat-of-his pants. An example would be having only one pitching spot left open and getting into a bidding war over a rotation ace when his team has no offense. This is the team that might spend 50% of their budget on pitching and then wonder why they ended up with so many back-up outfielders.
> “The Know-It-All” – This fellow may be a good player, but he is barely tolerated by the other members of the league. They’re not concerned with his success, only with his attitude. He has no patience for anyone who doesn’t know that Ketel Marte qualifies at 2B but not OF. When opponents are slow to nominate player’s names late in the day, he shows his frustration, as if he has somewhere important to go. The truth is, he has nowhere to go because he doesn’t have any friends.
> “The Vacillator” – If you’ve played in the same league for a succession of years, you certainly understand that thinking you can contend every year is a fool’s game. If your keeper list is weak a season following a championship, then rebuilding might be part of your thought process. This player knows all that, but gets caught up in the exhilaration of the Draft and starts rostering players that don’t fit his strategy. For example, if you’re in a NL or AL only league, maybe he shouldn’t be taking players who will be free agents next year. This also applies to rebuilding teams who find themselves in the first division in May and change course (and make trades) because they’re fooled by stats that represent only 30% of the season. Usually, by the All-Star break, reality has bitten them in the posterior and they no longer have those young building blocks they acquired at the table.
We’ll call our league the “Keyser Soze” Invitational and there you have 11 examples of the kind of opponents you might encounter. If you’re the 12th team, there’s a name for you too…”The Winner”.
Many thanks to Mike Ricigliano for the beautiful artwork.
If you’re even an occasional reader of this space, you know that the Old Duck is a 35+ year veteran of Rotisserie Style (Fantasy Baseball) Auction Keeper Leagues. With over 30 championships in about 80 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 Racing 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 is 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 Juan Soto 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.
> And this year’s favorite, “Get One Of The Big Four”…meaning deGrom, Bieber, Cole or Bauer.
In order to avoid having my brain explode, I’ve used none of those strategies and still managed two championships (including 2020), two 2nd place finishes and a 3rd place finish in the 10 year history of the league. In 2020, the Long Island Ducks finished in a tie for the title despite picking Yordan Alvarez in the 3rd round and having ESPN projecting the team to finish last!! The keys were Trevor Story (Round 1) and Jose Abreu (Round 5).
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 Ducks do have a tendency to wait on pitching, it is more about balancing the roster to leave flexibility as the Draft progresses. I also pay little or no attention to ADP (Average Draft Position) because I’m more concerned about my opinion of players than that of the “crowd”. This will be quite obvious when you see how many of my choices seem to be a “reach” compared to ADP. 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. One hour prior to the festivities, the randomizer gave the Ducks pick #5. I felt good about the position because there were at least 10 players worth $35+ in an auction format and it seemed like #5 could be as valuable as #1. Is there really a consensus #1 this year? My projections had Tatis, Turner & deGrom at the top but no clear choice. As we work our way through the results, you’ll see both the ADP and the Roto$ projection for each player as a point of reference. The ADP and dollar projections rankings are as of the date of the Draft (3/14).
Fantasy players are always interested in the first round, so here’s how this league shook out…1) Ronald Acuna Jr….2) Mookie Betts…3) Juan Soto…4) Fernando Tatis Jr….5) Mike Trout…6) Gerrit Cole…7) Trea Turner…8) Jacob deGrom…9) Jose Ramirez…10) Trevor Story…11) Shane Bieber…12) Cody Bellinger…13) Freddie Freeman…14) Francisco Lindor…15) Christian Yelich.
Here’s the Ducks’ roster for 2021…
* Round 1, Pick 5 – Mike Trout (ADP 6, $38)
Despite the fact that SB’s don’t seem to be part of his game any longer, getting this generational talent was too much of a temptation. Would you have picked Turner or deGrom instead?
* Round 2, Pick 26 – Lucas Giolito, P (ADP 19, $24)
In addition to Cole, deGrom & Bieber in Round 1, Bauer, Darvish & Buehler were gone in Round 2. Couldn’t wait on an elite SP.
As Hedley Lamarr (or maybe Chase Headley) once said, “My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.” So, with Spring Training upon us, and with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy –
> If the sign in the supermarket said “Rotisserie Chicken” and it caused you to not spend that extra dollar on groceries, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your Pitchers have allowed so many home runs that you’ve installed a humidor in your house, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you are secure in the fact that Brusdar Graterol (265 lbs.) vs. Rowdy Tellez (255 lbs.) is not part of Wrestlemania, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your elbow was fine but you decided to have Tommy John Surgery in order to see how long the rehab takes, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If life is confusing because your pill box starts with Sunday but line-up changes are due on Monday, you just might be a Senior Fantasy player.
> If you think that “Aqualung” is only an album by the wrong Ian Anderson, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Willi Castro is missing an “e” and Starlin Castro is missing a “g”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Kyle Seager was shifted on more than any other hitter in 2020, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your neighbor brags about his 4×4 and you reply by saying you prefer 5×5, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’re aware that Jo Adell struck out 44% of the time in his rookie season, you just might ne a Fantasy player.
> If you went to the unemployment office in late February and ending up standing in line behind Yasiel Puig, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you are sure that Daniel Bard is not a descendent of William Shakespeare, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know what Shohei Ohtani, Brendan McKay & Michael Lorenzen have in common, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think you spotted Robinson Cano leaving through the back exit of your pharmacy, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’re acquainted with “Lenny the Legend”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Giancarlo Stanton used to be Mike Stanton but there’s also a Mike Stanton with 31 life-time Saves, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you didn’t invite Justin Turner to your birthday celebration, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you lost 20 pounds during the off-season but it didn’t help your performance, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you invited Blake Snell to your house for the Super Bowl but made him leave before the 3rd quarter, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If it wouldn’t surprise you to find that Pirate infielders Kramer & Newman have the clubhouse TV tuned to Seinfeld reruns, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think it is ironic that Anthony Bass signed with the Marlins, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Fernando Tatis Jr.’s Dad once hit two Grand Slams in the same inning, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you wonder why a $7 Million Joc Pederson is replacing an $8 Million Kyle Schwarber, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you wonder whether Dakota Hudson’s career is going North or South, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’ve applied for the job as Johnny Damon’s designated driver and got a referral from Tony LaRussa, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you Ynoa player named Michael and Ynoa player named Gabriel, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that the weight loss total of Vlad Jr. & Avisal Garcia equals one Jockey, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know the difference between Will Smith the Pitcher, Will Smith the Catcher and Will Smith the Actor, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you feel that when Joey Bart gets called up by the Giants it would be appropriate for him to travel to the ballpark on BART, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know Brett Phillips’ middle name is “Maverick”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Myles Straw has 16 SB’s in 199 big league AB’s, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’re fairly sure that Kyle Funkhouser owns a Kool and the Gang album, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you discovered Buck & Kyle are the same age by browsing at farmersonly.com., you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’re walking through the woods when someone yells “Snake” and you yell back “I prefer Auction”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Bryan Garcia stranded every baserunner he inherited in 2020, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If the Dodgers skip a spot in the rotation and you think it should be called “Walker Buehler’s Day Off”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If everyone at Starbucks is looking at their cell phones but you’re the only one scrolling for Spring Training box scores, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that one Lourdes goes on tour with Madonna while another Lourdes patrols the OF at SkyDome, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you told your fiancé that you’re willing to marry her but that you want an opt-out after two years, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think that smirk on the face of Scott Boros is creepy, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your religious commitment is limited to drafting Jesus Aguiler, Noah Syndergaard, Adam Eaton, John Moses, Christian Arroyo, Braden Bishop & Travis Baptist, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If someone refers to a girl as a “Keeper” and you ask if she qualifies at more than one position, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your bowling team includes Lane Thomas and Gene Alley, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Trea Turner hit .407 on the road last season, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’re aware that Teoscar Hernandez & Jesse Winker were in the top five in “hard hit’ percentage for 2020, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’ve cheered for Brandon Lowe, Nate Lowe, Mark Lowe or Derek Lowe, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If the team names “Okrent Fenokees”, “Sklar Gazers”, “Cary Nations” & “Pollet Burros” are familiar to you, you just might be a long-time Fantasy player.
> If you confessed at your AA meeting that you drafted Seth Beer, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think the best thing about the Super Bowl is that it’s the last Football game of the season, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you attended Corey Kluber’s showcase day in January, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think that Homer Bailey has the worst first name for a Pitcher, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’ve been scouting Jazz Chisholm and found out that he listens to Coltrane, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know the whereabouts of Kyle Seager, Kyle Elfrink, Kyle Hendricks, Kyle Gibson, Kyle Freeland and Kyle Schwarber, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’re confident that Tim McLeod will teach George Springer how to say “EH”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you watch a movie that stars Ben Kingsley and you’re motivated to check Trace Wood’s Long Gandhi website, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think the Mayo Clinic is where Jonathan spends the off-season looking at minor-league video, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know the whereabouts of Maikel Franco, Wander Franco, Julio Franco, John Franco and Generalissimo Francisco Franco, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think “Black Magic Woman” is only a song by the wrong Carlos Santana, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Jose Iglesias finished ahead of Mike Trout in RBI % last season, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your podiatrist diagnoses you with a callous and it causes you to wonder if Jim has finished the top 100 prospect list yet, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Joey Votto has the highest lifetime OBP of any active player (#18 all-time), you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’ve signed a petition to have Bill James’ countenance added to Mt. Rushmore, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your DVR doesn’t play movies but does give statistical projections, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If the term “Pleskoff Prospect” is meaningful to you, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you are clear on the fact that Chaz Roe is not Sushi, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you see graffiti that says “Jesus Is The Answer” and you wonder if the question is, “Who Is Matty & Felipe’s Brother?”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Schoop is pronounced “Scope”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’ve discovered that Javier Baez & Adalberto Mondesi tied for the most “unproductive outs” last season, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you believe that Willians, Welington, Wilkin, Willson and Yasmani are all Catchers, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you wouldn’t hire Mickey Callaway to manage your food truck, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think Ranger Suarez should be traded to Texas, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think Sean Doolittle’s nickname should be “Doctor”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you are secure in the fact that Lord Zola is not a character created by J.R.R. Tolkien, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think Brad Hand could be the next Rollie Fingers, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you understand that Yadier is the slimmest & fastest Molina, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’re more impressed with Nelson Cruz & Raisel Iglesias than you are with Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If it doesn’t surprise you that Pat Valaika has a lifetime .851 OPS as a pinch-hitter, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you subscribe to Sports Illustrated just to read Joe Sheehan’s articles, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think that Kevin Quackenbush should pitch for the Long Island Ducks, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If none of your friends would even consider tuning in to “Mad Dog” Russo, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you refuse to add “Holds” to your league’s stats until someone can actually explain what constitutes a “Hold”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Cesar Hernandez led the AL in Doubles last year, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’re aware that Yu Darvish & Chris Sale are the only two Pitchers in history to strike out over 11 batters every nine innings, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that there have been two major league players named Boog Powell, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Miguel Sano struck out 90 times in a 60-game season, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Clayton Kershaw has the highest winning percentage of the modern era (69.72%), you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that the LOOGY is an endangered species, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If a conversation with Jason Collette would be more interesting than one with Toni Collette, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If someone you know named their son Heliot and you didn’t find it unusual, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Delino DeShields (Father) hit .250 after being traded for Pedro Martinez and Delino DeShields (Son) hit .252 after being traded for Corey Kluber, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Bo Bichette is Dante’s son and was named after Bo Jackson, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you believe that the new “Rotoman” Superhero action movie will be in 3-D, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’d rather watch Shane Bieber than Justin Bieber, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you wonder when the Mexican restaurants in Cincinnati might start serving Moose Tacos, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think that meeting Billy Beane would be more exciting than meeting Brad Pitt, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your annual literary schedule includes the publications written by Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Jonathan Kellerman and Ron Shandler, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think about the fact that Juan Soto led the league in Intentional Walks at age 21, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you don’t give a rat’s patootie about a $200+ Million player feeling disrespected, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your professor said, “Ponce de Leon was a Spanish explorer who became the first Governor of Puerto Rico” and you replied, “He also pitched 33 innings for the Cardinals last year”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Kyle Hendricks had the slowest average fastball (87.4 mph) in the NL, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your wife isn’t concerned about you visiting Asian websites because she knows you’re scouting baseball prospects, you are obviously a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Ke’Bryan Hayes is the son of Charlie Hayes, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you see the movie “Platoon” and immediately start thinking about Dave Roberts, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If Jennifer Lopez is dead to you, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you got an 80-game suspension for too many carbohydrates in your system, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know more quotes from Dylan Bundy than from Al Bundy, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If the total bill every time you shop at Costco is $260, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If the Devo song “Whip It” comes on the radio and you think about walks, hits and innings pitched, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your only link to opera is that you once saw Alfredo Figaro pitch in a major league game, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you miss Steve Moyer & Lawr Michaels, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you decided to change your “Font” but it’s because his ERA was 9.92, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you absolutely hate it when Managers decide to give their Closers some work in non-save situations, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you drive all the way to Las Vegas in March to see Greg Ambrosius, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think that Brett Gardner might be in the twilight of his career, but you’re sure that Steve Gardner isn’t, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Brian Kenny is the smartest guy on MLB Network, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> On a related note, if Harold Reynolds drives you bonkers, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think Perry is a better Capt. Hook than Christopher Walken or Dustin Hoffman, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Ryan Mountcastle is not a character from Downton Abbey, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you understand that Marquez is named German but Max Kepler is German, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you are perfectly clear on the fact that “DeSclafani” is not tonight’s special at that upscale Italian restaurant, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Miguel Cabrera & Oliver Perez have both played 18 seasons, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you go to a seafood restaurant and wonder if Mike Trout, Tim Salmon, Kevin Bass, Mike Carp, Catfish Hunter and Bobby Sturgeon knew that there was a major league player in the 1930’s named George Gill, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Mookie Betts has bowled a perfect 300 game, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think that Doug Dennis is funnier than most stand-up comics on HBO, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you got arrested after admitting that you “handcuffed” two Relief Pitchers, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you once had Bobby Bonilla on your team and you’re still paying his salary, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If a politician brings up the topic of inflation and you wonder why he isn’t also concerned with position scarcity, you just might be a keeper-league Fantasy player.
> If you’ve never forgiven Barbara Hershey for shooting Roy Hobbs, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If Brian Feldman has ever been your auctioneer, you just might be an expert-level Fantasy player.
> If you think that Scott Blewett is the worst name ever for a relief pitcher, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you were confused and tried to roster Bubba Starling Marte, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Joe Montana was a football player but also know that Steve Nebraska was a baseball player, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you suffer a personal injury and call Rick Wilton for a diagnosis, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you think that Tyler Flowers could be related to Ray Flowers, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’re aware that Elvis has left the building and is heading for Oakland, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you know that Jean Segura, Dee Gordon, Kike Hernandez, Jo Adell & Didi Gregorious are not females, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you and your wife exchanged dollar figures but still ended up going to arbitration, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If Jeff Erickson is your favorite radio personality, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’ve ever sent an e-mail to Brian Walton asking about the #30 prospect in the Cardinals organization, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you no longer allow trash cans at the Draft table, you just might be a Fantasy Commissioner.
> If you think that “Sheriff” would be a good nickname for Jacob Nottingham, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you’ve ever tried to buy something with “Patton Dollars”, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you offered your girlfriend a qualifying offer but she still opted for free agency, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If you closed one eye while looking at your Trevor Bauer baseball card, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If your grocery list includes Ketel Corn, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If Jeff Winick represented you in salary arbitration, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> If despite the lack of a medical degree you can easily diagnose a strained oblique and plantar fasciitis, you just might be a Fantasy player.
> And, finally, if Draft Day is your favorite day of the year, you have become a true Fantasy player.
If you’re old enough to have seen Sandy Koufax pitch in the 1960’s, it is surely an experience you won’t forget. With essentially only two pitches, he was a completely dominant figure in the sport. His 97 mph Fastball had unusual movement (some batters said it “hopped”) and his 12-to-6 Curveball would drop 10-12 inches “off the table”. If advanced statistics were available then, we can only speculate on the outcome of characteristics such as the “spin rate” of his two offerings.
In the seasons from 1961-66, Sandy’s record was 129-47. He won three Cy Young Awards and led the NL in ERA for five consecutive years. His final year may have arguably been his best…27 Wins and a 1.73 ERA before retiring at age 30 due to a sore arm.
I was fortunate to live in Southern California at that time and fans that couldn’t get to the ballpark or watch the game on TV would huddle around a radio to hear Vin Scully describe Sandy’s prowess on the mound. In 1963, he went 25-5 and then pitched two complete games against the Yankees in the World Series striking out 23 batters in 18 innings. Yogi Berra’s quote was, “I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost 5.”
These memories of the 60’s were jogged by a recent memorabilia collection that came across my desk. In addition to baseball cards, there was a large envelope in the bottom of a box that had a postmark of 1966 and the return address was the Topps Chewing Gum Company of Brooklyn, New York. Opening the envelope was akin to finding a time capsule that had been buried for 55 years.
The most obvious item was a three panel baseball card depicting the 1966 Topps cards of Koufax, Jim Fregosi & Don Mossi. Turning the panel over brought a revelation, as there were no card numbers or statistics. Instead, it was a solicitation enticing the reader to order Topps cards NOW!
After some research, it became clear that this was a sales tool for the Topps Company. Thinking back, this era didn’t have baseball card shops and big box stores were somewhere off in the future. So, where did kids (of all ages) purchase baseball cards? The answer in those days was drug stores, variety stores and other independent retailers. And how did you get them to carry your product? By having salesmen go out into the marketplace with samples of the latest cards. And who better than Sandy Koufax to promote your product?
The envelope also contained some other fascinating artifacts. Check out this copy of the “Topps Baseball Agreement”. Players received $5 for signing their contract and then $125 in payment or credit toward items in a gift catalog. Don’t forget, these were the days before a player’s union and free agency.
In fact, in 1966 Koufax and teammate Don Drysdale held out prior to the season because the Dodgers offered each them only a small raise after a championship season. This was the only leverage a player had and the actions of these two All-Star pitchers may have been the catalyst for future change.
As for the gift catalog, one of those was also in the envelope. It had 15 pages of merchandise including formal wear, stereo equipment & TV’s, furniture and more.
This entire experience has motivated me. Maybe I’ll try to sell baseball cards?
For real collectors of vintage baseball cards, being able to open an album and look through the collectibles is the real fun. To enjoy your collection, putting the cards in protective pages gives you the best of both worlds…with the pleasure of viewing the cards while also maintaining the condition. Depending on the era (card sizes changed slightly over the years), these pages had either eight (8) or nine (9) slots and every page has stories to tell.
One of the crown jewels of my personal collection is the 1954 Topps set, which consists of 250 cards that include a large team logo, a facsimile autograph of the player and two pictures…a bright color photo with a smaller likeness of the player in an action pose. If you were to visit the “Duck Pond”, a few minutes looking through the binder that holds this set would bring back baseball memories of players you might have seen…or just heard about from your Dad or Grandfather. It is one of the most beautiful sets ever produced and was the third entry for Topps in its legacy of modern baseball cards. For purposes of valuation, we’ll assume a graded condition of “EX” (5) which is about the average for my set.
Topps was embroiled with the Bowman Card Company over contract licensing of players during this time and it had consequences with regard to this historic set. On the negative side, Topps no longer had the rights to produce a Mickey Mantle card and he is conspicuous by his absence. And Stan Musial, another great of the time, was found only in Bowman issues. The flip side is that, for the first time, Ted Williams was no longer under exclusive contract to Bowman and Topps jumped on the opportunity. His iconic status in the game is evident, as Topps decided to have him be on the first (#1) and last (#250) card in the set…the only time a player has had this honor. His stat line on the back of the card is astonishing…after returning from his military service in Korea at the end of the ’53 season, he played in only 37 games and hit .407! These cards are valued at $300 each.
The number of Hall of Fame players in the set is amazing…
> #3 Monte Irvin, Giants OF ($30) – One of the many outstanding Negro league players to enter the Majors in the mid-50’s, he hit .329 in ’53
> #10 Jackie Robinson, Dodgers OF ($275) – The player who changed the face of the game in 1947
> #17 Phil Rizzuto, Yankees SS ($45) – The “Scooter” followed his career with decades in the broadcast booth…including saying “Holy Cow” when Roger Maris hit #61
> #20 Warren Spahn, Braves P ($50) – The most Wins of any LH Pitcher in history
> #30 Eddie Mathews, Braves 3B ($50) – ’54 was also the year Sports Illustrated magazine debuted and Eddie was on the first cover
> #32 Duke Snider, Dodgers OF ($60) – The “Duke of Flatbush” had 42 HR’s, 126 RBI’s and a .336 BA in ’53
> #36 Hoyt Wilhelm, Giants P ($30) – Possibly the greatest Knuckleball Pitcher of all time, he led the NL in appearances in both ’52 & ’53
> #37 Whitey Ford, Yankees P ($70) – Was the 1950 AL Rookie of the Year before going into the service…returned in ’53 to post a record of 18-6
> #45 Richie Ashburn, Phillies OF ($40) – The 1948 NL Rookie of the Year led the NL with 205 hits in ’53
> #50 Yogi Berra, Yankees C ($90) – Known for his quotes and commercials, let’s not forget that he was a 3-time AL MVP…”It’s Deja Vu all over again”
> #70 Larry Doby, Indians OF ($35) – One of the great Negro League stars, he followed Jackie Robinson to the majors in ’47 and broke the color barrier in the American League
> #90 Willie Mays, Giants OF ($290) – Arguably the greatest all-around player in history, the “Say Hey Kid” made the most famous catch in baseball history in the ’54 World Series
In addition to these legends, four other Hall of Famers had their “Rookie Card” in this set…
> #94 Ernie Banks, Cubs SS ($1,200) – “Mr. Cub”, his career was just getting started in ’54…512 Home Runs and two MVP’s later, he is one of the most popular players of the era…”Let’s play two”
> #128 Hank Aaron, Braves OF ($3,300) – The first card of “Hammerin’ Hank” and easily the most valuable card in the set…755 Home Runs later, he retired after the 1976 season
> #132 Tom Lasorda, Dodgers P ($75) – The first (and last) baseball card of him as a player…his story is that he was sent to the Minor Leagues to make room for Sandy Koufax on the roster
> #201 Al Kaline, Tigers OF ($400) – He was only 18 years old when he debuted in ’53 (Trout-Like) and had 3,007 lifetime hits
In a future blog, we’ll re-visit the ’54 set and look at other players…famous, infamous and unusual.
How old were you when you opened your first pack of baseball cards? For me, it was probably about the age of seven when Topps baseball cards were a nickel…and came with a stick of bubblegum! For boys of my generation, the beautiful fragrance of that gum is something that has stayed with us over the years and would be recognizable even if we were blindfolded.
The wonderful magic of collecting is that the thrill of opening those packs to see if we got Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle is not any different today when collectors look for Mike Trout or Mookie Betts to appear from beneath the wrapper. Of course, the packs are no longer a nickel (and there is no gum) but for a baseball fan, the thrill remains the same.
Card collecting is over 100 years old and the hobby has evolved into a complex and ever-changing marketplace. From the tobacco cards of the early 20th century to the sporadic issues of the Depression era to the post-war cards from companies like Bowman & Leaf, it wasn’t until almost 70 years ago that the Topps Company started the real boom era of sports card collecting. While they issued a couple of playing card style sets in 1951, the 1952 set marked the true beginning of baseball cards as we know them today with over 400 numbered cards that included statistics and player bios. Bowman also issued card sets during this time, but Topps bought them out in 1956 and became the exclusive distributor of major league cards for a period that lasted through 1980.
A court decision in 1980 paved the way for new companies to enter the market and starting in ’81, Donruss & Fleer began to distribute baseball cards and more competitors (like Upper Deck) joined the market during the 1980’s. In the 80’s & 90’s, this highly competitive industry created their own problems by adding too many products and brands, while also over-producing the products they made. Collectors tended to become “investors” (a classic mistake), hoping that cards would increase in value as the players performance improved, but the glut of cards on the market created just the opposite effect. Even today, when I look at collections that people have interest in selling, many of the cards are “bulk junk” from that era.
Out of necessity, the card manufacturers began re-inventing their products in the late 90’s with the advent of higher-priced “premium” items that included autographed cards as well as memorabilia cards (pieces of uniform or bat) and limited edition issues. Today, we have come full circle, with MLB limiting the licenses they issue and Topps once again being the major producer of cards. For fans and collectors, the hobby is still great fun and continues to bring enjoyment to young and old alike.
Interestingly, the hobby has been booming during the time of the pandemic. Could it be that all those people stuck at home spent time finding their cards in closets, garages or storage units? Or did they just miss sports in general and found collectibles to be an outlet? When all the major sports were suspended and ESPN broadcast the 10-part documentary about the Chicago Bulls (“The Last Dance”), the interest in Michael Jordan cards went through the roof. Then in August, the sale of a rare Trout card for nearly $4 Million got everyone’s attention. Now that record price has been demolished as a “Mint” condition 1952 Mickey Mantle card topped $5 Million just last month. While these are certainly exceptions to the rule, even on the eBay platform (where you’ll find my store at id:rotisserieduck), they’ve reported that the trading card category expanded by 142% in 2020.
One of the keys to being a card collector is determining your priorities. Whether you’re a fan of a certain player or team or just enjoy owning a part of the history of the game, be careful to understand the difference between being a collector, an investor or a speculator. If you’re strictly a collector, then fluctuating values are of no consequence to you because you’re buying the item to be part of your collection. If you’re an investor, then future values are also part of your equation for buying cards. The really good news is that you can be a collector and an investor if you concentrate on vintage (pre-1980) cards. With a limited supply and condition differences, a good collection is also a good investment.
Baseball card speculators have been around since the early 80’s and here’s a case study. Recently, a 2019 Bowman Chrome Rookie Card of Wander Franco sold on eBay for about $50. Who is Wander Franco? He’s the #1 prospect in baseball (Tampa Bay Rays) but he’s never had a major league at-bat. For that same $50, you could purchase a ’56 Topps Duke Snider card…or a ’61 Topps Sandy Koufax card…or a ’67 Topps Roberto Clemente card (all in mid-range condition). Would you rather have a Hall of Fame player in your collection or a prospect that might turn into a suspect?
It has been a privilege over the last 16 months to curate an enormous sports autograph collection for the estate of a friend. It has been a labor-intensive project due primarily to the fact these signatures were from 1950-75 and had to be authenticated by a 3rd party company before being offered for sale.
The nice folks who purchased these items from my eBay store were thrilled with their acquisitions. Think how a baseball fan feels when adding Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Home Run Baker or Roberto Clemente to their collection. The project has now entered the home stretch as the remaining autographs will be sold in bulk to a company that specializes in memorabilia. It no longer makes sense for my client to pay $20 (or more) for authentication if the autograph won’t bring a decent return. Numbering over 1,000, these signatures are from players who aren’t famous or particularly popular.
By the time you read this, the deal may be completed but as I organized the collection one last time, it occurred to me that not being famous or popular shouldn’t define these ballplayers. After all, everyone who gets to the major leagues is a great player. They were probably the best player on their High School team and might even be legendary in their own home town. In addition, fans have a way of attaching themselves to certain players that you may not know. A golfing buddy of mine is a Tigers fan and his favorite ballplayer is Chico Fernandez, the Bengals SS of the early 60’s. Another friend is a Red Sox fan who loves Dalton Jones and his lifetime Batting Average of .235. In the 50’s, my best friend would trade his Mickey Mantle cards for ones of Ted Kluszewski.
So, as a small tribute to ballplayers great and not-so-great, here are a few signatures that were pulled at random…
Cecil Upshaw – The Braves Closer in the late 60’s, he had 27 Saves in ’69 and a lifetime ERA of 3.13.
“Sad” Sam Jones – An intimidating Pitcher who won over 100 games in his career. Has the unique stat of leading the NL in losses (14-20 for the Cubs in ’55) and wins (21-15 for the Giants in ’59).
Curt Motton – This OF played parts of eight seasons in the 60’s & 70’s, mostly with the Orioles…his lifetime BA was .213.
Don Nottebart – Pitched in the 60’s and was 11-8 with a 3.17 ERA for the Houston Colt 45’s in ’63.
Howie Schultz – A 1B for the Dodgers in the early 40’s, he had 83 RBI’s for the “Bums” in ’44…at 6’6’”, his nickname was “Stretch”.
Greg Minton – The Giants Closer of the early 80’s, he made the All-Star team in ’82 when he had 30 Saves.
Steve Swisher – A NL Catcher for nine seasons, he made the All-Star team in ’76 while with the Cubs…he’s Nick Swisher’s Dad.
Elliott Maddox – Roamed the OF for multiple teams in his 11-year career (1970-80)…had more lifetime BB’s than K’s.
Charlie Manuel – A beloved baseball “lifer”, he played in the 60’s & 70’s but was best known as the Manager of the Phillies from 2005-2013.
Willie Randolph – The slick 2B of the 60’s & 70’s Yankees, he accumulated over 2,200 hits and made six All-Star teams.
Pepe Mangual – Patrolled the outfield for the Expos in the 70’s and swiped 33 bases in 1975.
George Mitterwald – A big league Catcher for 11 years, he played for the Twins & Cubs in the 60’s & 70’s.
Dick Ruthven – Pitched for 14 years in the 70’s & 80’s winning 123 Games and making two All-Star squads.
Dennis Leonard – Spent 12 years on the mound exclusively for the Royals and posted a record of 144-106…won 20 games in 1977.
Mike Cubbage – Eight seasons as an AL infielder in the 70’s & 80’s, he also managed the Mets for seven games in 1991.
Ken Forsch – 16 seasons as a Pitcher in the 70’s & 80’s, he won 114 games and made two All-Star teams…his brother Bob had 168 victories.
Bob Boken – Played in 147 games during the 1933 & 1934 seasons and spent 17 years in the minor leagues…playing for AA St. Paul from 1935-38, he posted BA numbers of .298, .294, .300 & .297.
Gus Suhr – The Pirates starting 1B of the 1930’s, he was a member of the 1936 All-Star team.
Daryl Spencer – A regular in the line-up for the Giants and was part of the squad who left for San Francisco in 1958.
Jeff Torborg – A big league Catcher for 10 years in the 60’s & 70’s, he also managed for 11 seasons with multiple teams.
Don Money – A 16-year career that stretched from 1968-83, he made four all-Star teams.
Ken McBride – A member of the Los Angeles Angels rotation in their inaugural season (1961), he made three consecutive All-Star teams with the Halos.
Growing up in New England, I had two sports heroes. One was Ted Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball history and the other was Bill Russell, the winner of the most championships in the history of the NBA. For a youngster, watching them play was a privilege but at that age, I didn’t understand that being a hero is much more than just playing a game.
Williams grew up in a ramshackle house in San Diego with a Mother who gave her time to charity instead of her family and a Dad who was seldom there. Russell was born in segregated Louisiana in the 1930’s before the family moved to Oakland when he was eight years old. His Mom passed away when he was 12 and the family lived in public housing while his Dad held things together making a living as a janitor and then a steel worker. This was the history I never knew as a young sports fan.
Looking at the big picture, you have to wonder where these two young men achieved the character to become real heroes. But real heroes they were, as Williams gave up five years of his career to serve in two wars and was then the driving force in establishing the Jimmy Fund, the fund-raising arm of the Dana-Farber Cancer Clinic, which saves the lives of children with cancer. Russell overcame the racism of the NBA to speak up for causes long before it was fashionable. He helped start the player’s union by threatening to boycott the All-Star game and then stood by Muhammad Ali at that famous press conference in 1967 to protest the war in Viet Nam.
All of these memories came flooding back to me last week with the passing of Hank Aaron. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of sports heroes to admire, “Hammerin’ Hank” would certainly be included. Born the same year as Russell in segregated Alabama during the great depression, the family (including seven siblings) didn’t have things like baseball gloves & bats and Aaron’s High School didn’t even have organized baseball. In today’s world of travel teams and personal coaches, can you even imagine the world he lived in?
If his baseball career didn’t make him enough of a hero, think about his life after baseball. Especially when he showed so much class in congratulating Barry Bonds and then going back to quietly putting his focus almost entirely on philanthropic efforts.
Your humble scribe won’t attempt to duplicate all the beautiful remembrances of his life, but maybe we can read the backs of some baseball cards from his 23-year career.
1954 (Rookie Card) – “Henry, in pro ball only two years, came up to the Braves after a sensational ’53 season at Jacksonville, where he won the Sally League’s MVP Award. He led the loop in six departments: Batting, RBI’s, Hits, Runs, Total Bases and Doubles. At Eau Claire in ’52, he hit .336 and was voted ROY in the Northern League.”
1957 – “Hammerin’ Hank was the top batter in the NL in ’56. He won the hitting crown by jumping into the league lead in July and staying there for the last two months. During one week early in the season, Hank got red hot and skyrocketed his average 42 points! A real speedster, he led the league in Hits, Doubles and finished 3rd in Slugging.”
1958 – “Hank was voted the NL MVP last year. And no wonder – he led the loop in HR’s, RBI’s and Runs scored. Hank’s performance was a big factor in the Braves championship drive”.
1960 – “Hank won his 2nd NL Batting Crown last season with a hot .355. His 39 Homers were below his high mark of 44 that he clubbed in ’57. Hank has a .385 mark for 5 All-Star Games and hit .363 in two World Series.”
1962 – “The star outfielder of the Milwaukee Braves has won two NL Batting titles since joining the club in 1954. Hank’s best season was in 1959 when batted .355 and clubbed in 123 RBI’s. Loaded with plenty of power, Hank led the NL with 44 HR’s in 1957.”
1967 – “When one speaks of superstars, Hank’s name is always mentioned. The fabulous veteran reached a milestone in his career on April 20, 1966 when he cracked out his 399th & 400th major league home runs against the Phillies.”
1968 – “The veteran slugging star continued his annual torrid hitting last season as he led the Braves in Batting, RBI’s, HR’s & Doubles. Hank’s 17 Stolen Bases topped Atlanta too.”
1971 – “Hank has led the NL in Total Bases 8 times, had 300 or more Total Bases 14 times, 100 or more Runs 15 times & 150 or more games 14 times, all major league records. Tied Babe Ruth with 16th straight 20-HR year in 1970
“Trying to sneak a fastball past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster.” – Joe Adcock