Advertisement

Strike Claims Addicts of Fantasy Baseball Leagues : Fans: Rotisserie players lose box scores, their lifeblood. The result in many cases is withdrawal.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Steve Rose lives in a world in which he can trade speedy second baseman Chuck Knoblauch for veteran pitcher Roger Clemens. He can send faxes to his fellow owners dictating the terms of free agency. He can bench Jose Canseco.

But on Monday, Rose was powerless. His world--the fantasy world of rotisserie baseball--was shattered.

As Major League Baseball’s strike moved into its fourth day, Rose and millions of other “roto-geeks” faced another bleak morning with no box scores--and thus no new statistics to drive their simulated baseball leagues.

Rotisserie “owners” create teams by drafting players from big league rosters. Some hard-core rotisserie teams actually bid for the various players using real money, just like real owners. Of course, in rotisserie there are salary caps. It is, after all, fantasy baseball.

Advertisement

Although each league may have slight differences, the object is to pick players who can rack up the best statistics, whether in home runs or strikeouts. Whatever team achieves the best statistical performance wins.

Frequently compared to a narcotic, rotisserie has claimed between 2 million and 4 million followers since its popularity swelled in the mid-1980s.

That means a lot of people are now going through serious withdrawal.

“I’m in a lot of agony. I just can’t get any more stimulus from the morning paper,” said Kevin Klein of Encino, whose team is mere points out of first.

Advertisement

The work stoppage is depriving rotisserie owners of their reason for living. Many, such as Rose, a Burbank finance manager, say they haven’t even spoken to fellow owners since the strike and fear losing touch. Others are trying to keep the flame alive, but it’s tough.

Jeff Little had dinner at a fellow fantasy owner’s home this weekend. “We ended up talking about his sister-in-law’s wedding,” said the Fresno engineer. “That’s how bad it was.”

Some owners report disturbing trends in their lives. “I’ve become more productive,” Rose realized Monday, his first day in the office after the strike. “It’s scary.”

Rotisserie owners usually spend their spare time religiously watching baseball shows on the cable sports network ESPN, or talking trades with one another on the phone. Now “the ritual is definitely gone,” Rose said. “The ritual is box scores in the morning, ‘SportsCenter’ (an ESPN show) at 11, and now there’s no point to either.”

Advertisement

The effects of rotisserie deprivation could be wide-ranging, considering that National Security Adviser Anthony Lake is a rotisserie buff. When asked how the end of rotisserie would affect Lake and other White House fantasy owners, a press officer would say only: “I’m sorry, we can’t speculate on that.”

Named after the New York City restaurant where it was cooked up by some friends--referred to as “The Founders"--rotisserie has spawned a cottage industry of publications offering advice on how much to spend on players both famous and obscure. What’s more, there are stat services that crunch the numbers and tell owners where their teams stand.

Those businesses will also suffer from the work stoppage.

“We knew we were going to lose money this year,” said Mark Ferguson, co-owner of the Midwest Stat Bureau in Dayton, Ohio, which, like many other services, plans to offer a partial refund to subscribers if the strike drags on. “We were hoping it wouldn’t be this bad. We’ll be OK as long as they play baseball next year.”

Advertisement

But if the strike lingers into next season, Ferguson fears that he and his partner “will have to go get real jobs again.”

Other, larger statistics corporations are forging onward, strike or no strike. Stats Incorporated, in conjunction with the makers of a baseball video game, is running a simulated season, playing out the remainder of the major league schedule.

Ross Schaufelberger, Stats Inc. director of marketing, said the simulated season may offer some solace to the strike-afflicted masses of roto-junkies.

“It’s kind of fantasy fantasy,” Schaufelberger said.

Advertisement

But that’s not good enough for Steve Rose, even though he’s sure that his team would move to the top in a simulated season. “In real life,” he said, “anything can happen,” which is the charm of rotisserie.

Andrew Stavisky, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, has been studying the sociology of rotisserie baseball.

The typical rotisserie players, he said, are males in their 20s or 30s. “It’s definitely a guy thing,” Stavisky said, adding that rotisserie leagues provide an illusion of control over reality in a depersonalized, “McDonaldized” world.

He speculated that those players will now be forced to explore other facets of their lives. “Maybe they’ll spend more time with their families,” he said. “Maybe they’ll find something new on TV.”

Advertisement

John Hunt, who writes a fantasy baseball column for USA Today’s supplement Baseball Weekly, isn’t worried about the societal impact of millions of rotisserie-less owners. “Roto-geeks are human too,” he said. “We can adapt.”

Besides, not all rotisserie owners are grieving. Some accept their fate. Mike Comins, a New York City advertising executive, is stuck in second place, just a few wins short of the $1,000 pot. He’ll just have to cope if there’s no more baseball this year and he remains an also-ran.

“I should have never traded Pedro Martinez,” he said glumly of the Montreal Expos pitcher. “I deserve second.”

Others are glad for a respite from a dismal season. “I’m happy for the strike. At least I don’t have to watch another Dave Weathers’ start,” said Bill Horsui. The Mountain View attorney is mired in the cellar of both his leagues, partially because of the dismal performance of the Florida Marlins pitcher.

Advertisement

For others, the strike couldn’t have come at a better time. It allowed Barry Waters to stop watching baseball shows and focus on other pressing matters, such as his wife’s pregnancy.

“My wife is glad, I’m sure, that if we’re in labor and I hear that ‘SportsCenter’ music coming on, I won’t look away,” said the Santa Barbara land surveyor Friday before his wife gave birth to a baby boy the next night.

Another plus is that rotisserie players will become easier for non-rotisserie people to bear, say many owners. Waters admits that, given that his conversation during the season is largely limited to how Dodger reliever Todd Worrell’s arm is doing, “I’m probably a very boring person.”

Steve Wulf, editor-at-large for Sports Illustrated and a member of the deified Founders’ League, says he has gotten letters from women complaining that rotisserie destroyed their marriages. But he believes that it’s a healthy hobby. “We’ve had no divorces since the league began,” he notes.

Advertisement

Owners report measured tolerance from loved ones. “If my wife has trouble sleeping, she asks me a question about my team,” said Warren Usui, a computer programmer from Pacific Palisades.

Many rotisserie owners are defensive about their position in society. “At least we’re not Trekkies,” said Dade Hayes, a sportswriter in Elyria, Ohio, and a seven year roto-geek.

Will there be a silver lining to the strike? Will it transform roto-geeks into “normal” members of society? Hayes’ girlfriend, Jenni Dikes, doesn’t think so.

“Conversation will turn to, ‘When do you think the strike will end?’ ” Dikes said. A true rotisserie player, she said, “is not spoiled by something petty like a strike, by the fact that the sport is not being played.”

Advertisement


Advertisement