Monday, 19 May 2003
Rivalries Do They Really Exist?
There a few teams I consider
myself a fan of, the Cardinal being one of them. St. Louis is a
great baseball city, the uniforms are classy, and they’ve done
wonders breathing baseball life into the cookie cutter by the Arch.
Mark McGwire was my favorite player while he was playing, and Eck
before that, and I’ve loved the A’s for a long time, so when Tony La
Russa and Dave Duncan traveled to the Midwest, that just increased
my interest in the Cards.
Then as a
fantasy owner, I waited quite a while for Matt Morris to arrive, I
went over the edge to trade for JD Drew, and I fell in baseball love
with a single-A prospect who you might know by the name of Albert
Pujols. And I knowingly smiled at the snickers my pick of Woody
Williams collected this spring.
I’m a born and
bred New Englander, and first and foremost a citizen of Red Sox
nation, but as a baseball fan and as a fantasy owner, I also follow
the Cards, among other teams.
So I was
naturally watching the Cubs and Cardinals this weekend, taking in
the Cubs broadcast on Direct TV, and there were more than a few
declarations over the weekend, that this match up was “the best
rivalry in baseball.”
That’s where I
have to draw the line.
I understand my
biases, and I acknowledge them, and allow for them when needed, but
in this case, it’s not a bias. It’s simple truth. The best rivalry
in baseball is the Red Sox and Yankees. Period. To borrow from Bill
Simmons, I will not argue about this.
fans and team will try to tell you that, sure, they get up for the
Red Sox, but every team considers the Yankees a rival and the Red
Sox aren’t much different than, say, the Orioles or any other team.
it. One need only think back to this spring’s Jose Contreras
operetta to understand how much pleasure these two teams get in
sticking pins in each other.
But while we
are at it, let’s be honest, even the players don’t buy into any
rivalries as much as they used to. This is just another stage
performance with their brothers in the MLPA for the vast majority of
players, at least in the cool of the show’s staging.
Still, when the
lights come up on a Red Sox/Yankees series at Fenway, with the two
teams tied for first place in the AL East, the ballpark will be
buzzing, the fans will be stoked, and the electricity and adrenaline
will wash down onto the field and fuel the game. Suddenly a night in
May becomes a pitched battle, the likes of which we will not see
until the days dwindle in September and the pennant races reach a
The newbies on
both teams will realize, by the second inning of the first game,
what the veterans already know. These aren’t just 3 games in 162.
These games mean everything to everyone at Fenway. Heroes and goats
will be forever labeled in these games. The way Red Sox fans view
their players will be formed by the lasting impressions of every
game they play in the Red Sox uni against the dreaded Yankees.
Stories of these seemingly innocuous May games … just 3 in 162 … in
1 year of 100 … will be told for four score and seven years.
On any given
day Red Sox Nation would rather see the Yankees lose than the Red
Sox win. But when you get to see the Yankees lose at the hands of
the Red Sox, well, that’s better than finding a parking spot on
Newbury Street with some meter left. And any Bostonian will tell you
that you have to go a long way to beat that.
And when the
Yankees and their fans see how important this all is to Boston and
it’s fans, the blood gets in the water and then you have a street
fight. Nothing gets you interested in a series faster than some
leather-lunged fan at Fenway or The Stadium questioning your
ancestry after he’s gone three innings against Milwaukee’s Finest.
Baseball has a
unique flavor in the Northeast. There’s an edge that you don’t find
anywhere else. The Giants and Dodgers, the Cards and the Cubs, the
Mets and the Braves … There are a lot of great rivalries in
baseball. But the greatest rivalry is that between the Red Sox and
Yankees. Sorry everyone … that’s just the way it is.
Roger will be
pumped. Pedro will be pumped. Nomar and Derek will share some
laughs. Kenmore Square will be alive. The crowd will be explosive.
And the beer and dogs will be a little bit sweeter in this series.
All will be
right with the baseball world for three days. Win or lose.
Then we get to
go to the Stadium and do it all over again.
Which brings me
to the first of my soon-to-be-considered pretentious series of “Play
it my way” pieces that will show up in the First Pitch from time to
time. I’ve received a lot of e-mail in the last week and much of it
deals with finding ways to maximize an owner’s advantages under
their league’s set of rules. To me, many of the more popular styles
of play in fantasy baseball are ill-conceived.
I started, and
I still run my 17-year-old league and I try to design the rules so
that it’s as close to running a real baseball team as possible. I
try to force my owners to have to construct teams that are balanced
similarly to real MLB teams. I tweak the roster limits, scoring, and
lineup format so that you need to have depth, and balance to win.
And I make it hard to fill your 4th and 5th
starters slots, and your second catcher slot and your 5th
OF slot, just like it is in “real” baseball.
Later in the
year, we’ll get into some of the rules I see in other leagues, that
tend to twist fantasy baseball away from being a baseball game, and
towards being a math exercise. But today, with the Yankees in town,
it seems like a perfect time to call out Rotisserie-style baseball.
You should be playing head to head, like baseball is meant to be
style involves competing in 8 or 10 columns, usually, over the
course of the 6-month season, and scoring is based on the
year-to-date totals … Ho hum … That may be interesting for those
into quantum physics AND who are within striking distance of winning
the thing (not that even a quantum physicist could figure out most
of the teams that actually do have a chance to win the thing at any
given date). But there’s a good chance that 60% of your owners have
nodded off already this year, hopelessly out of it, with nothing to
Or, they are
trading Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson for Juan Pierre because
2.789678 stolen bases a week the rest of the way could net them
6.789756 to the 3rd power of pie points in the standings
(or is that grape jelly on your slide rule?).
Worst of all
the season ends with a thud, probably in mid September, but always
on the last Sunday, with the outcome about as suspenseful as the
Massachusetts voting in a Presidential election (We would have
elected Mondale AND Dukakis!). No playoffs, no nothin’ … And I bet
80% of your owners are setting their fantasy football lineups at the
end and thinking “Oh ya, the baseball league is still going …”
Head to head
leagues often compete in the same 8 or 10 columns, but pair teams up
a week at a time. They give each team a win for every column they do
better in than their opponent that week. Head to head fantasy
baseball’s rhythms are much more like the real game, and you get a
brand new scoreboard every week.
Playing head to
head allows you to concentrate on your team, and your opponent’s
team exclusively for the week. Each your starter’s starts are vital,
and each start by your opponent’s starter is of great interest. In
fact, almost every game has something of interest in it for you.
Baseball becomes an event. There’s usually a couple of players from
your series in the game and there’s usually a couple of columns up
for grabs, often with the batting average column or HR or Rbi column
coming down to the last inning of the last game. Every AB, every
lineup change, every pulled hamstring, and every manger decision
becomes important when you are playing a week at a time.
In my league we
play 21 weeks of the regular season, with every team playing every
other team twice, one home and once away (home team wins column
ties). With 14 teams we need 26 series to complete the schedule so
we place two double header weeks in the first 4 weeks and play three
straight double headers at the end of the season.
makes it important to draft well (60 games in the first 4 weeks) and
then you get a string of single weeks to tweak and massage your team
to battle injuries and surprises so that you are ready for the final
stretch drive, which includes 60 games in the final three weeks.
If you work
hard and keep getting better throughout the year, the final three
weeks gives almost everyone a shot. The team that won our
Championship last year was in 9th place in the league
when the final three double headers started. They crept into the
playoffs (when our rosters expanded for the final four weeks, they
added Mark Prior and Josh Phelps who had been on their minor league
rosters) on the final weekend and went on to win the whole thing.
Yes I said
Playoffs! That’s another benefit of head to head play. We use 4 of
the final 5 weeks of the season for our postseason, playing a
two-week playoff and a two-week World Series. You haven’t wracked
your nerves until you’d done it in a 14-day,
win-or-go-play-fantasy-hockey fantasy baseball showdown, where
literally, every pitch counts.
In 1991 in our
league, Bobby Bonilla decided both of our playoff series on the last
swing of the week, with a walk-off homerun to help the Mets beat the
Giants. Bonilla’s HR won that column for his owner, thereby winning
the series, and the loss he hung on the relief pitcher for the
Giants (Jeff Brantley) cost that pitcher’s owner the loss column in
the other playoff series and that playoff win. The last swing of the
Series, swung both series.
In 1996 I was
winning our World Series at 5pm on the final Sunday only to watch my
team go 1- for it’s last –22 ABs that day swinging the BA column to
my opponent which dropped our Series to a 5-5 tie. Our Series went 3
extra days and was finally decided (for my opponent) when Hideki
Nomo threw no-hitter … at Coors …
Head to head
series become like the games themselves, twisting and turning, with
several critical turning points. And they each leave you with a
story, some you tell years later as you can see.
But even if you
are out of the picture in the standings you still get a fresh start
every week and chance to beat someone. There’s no such moral victory
in Rotisserie baseball. If you are 10th in the league in
June, you are looking up the URL of ESPN’s Bass Fishing contest.
You also get to
be a pain in the neck to the owners in your league that are battling
for the playoffs by beating them in a late season series, so there’s
always something to play for in a head to head league.
And no matter
what the standings say, there are always a few match ups every year,
when you … as they say … throw away the standings. The schedule
always have some rivalries ahead, whether it be a cousin, or
brother, or some obnoxious guy in your league, or the team that
knocked you out of the playoffs last year, or the team that beat you
to Doug Mirabelli in last weeks waivers.
No matter what
happens the rest of the year, there’s always the series against that
team that plays your league’s Yankees to your Red Sox.
pumped. Your opponent will be pumped. The beer and nachos around
your computer monitor will be just a little sweeter that week.
And all will be
right in the fantasy baseball world.