I TRADED Dave Stieb and Dave Kingman for Brook Jacoby and Tom Burgmeier. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it cost me a shot at the pennant.
Let me explain.
This happened last year playing Rotisserie Baseball, which is the next best thing to being Edward Bennett Williams. For baseball freaks, it's a chance to move from the grandstand into the front office, to find out just how good they are at picking talent and assembling a winning club. Believe me, it's not as easy as the Orioles make it look.
Imagine being able to assemble a murderers row of Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield, George Brett and Cal Ripken Jr. Or a pitching staff containing Dwight Gooden, Steve Carlton, Rick Sutcliffe and Fernando Valenzuela, with Bruce Sutter and Jesse Orosco in the bullpen. In Rotisserie Baseball, it's possible.
This is no board game where fates are decided by the roll of the dice or draw of the cards. Rather, it draws its action from the morning box scores. Each team's performance is based on the actual, real-life statistics of the 23 players on its roster -- a roster determined by a preseason draft and trades or acquisitions made during the season.
Team totals in eight statistical categories -- batting average, stolen bases, home runs, runs batted in, pitchers' wins, saves, earned run average and ratio of hits and walks allowed to innings pitched -- determine the standings. The team with the best overall performance wins a couple hundred bucks -- or more, depending on how the league entry fees are set up (and whether your local Internal Revenue office has baseball fans among its auditors).
The game was conceived by a group of New York writers and advertising executives who more or less kept it to themselves for several seasons, until they published the book "Rotisserie League Baseball" last year.
Rotisseriemania ensued. Hundreds of leagues sprang up last season, many of them in Washington. Leagues have been organized in law firms, in college dormitories and in seemingly every major newsroom in the country.
The Washington Post newsroom is no exception. The Washington Ghost League formed as spring training camps opened last year, and its 12 teams competed spiritedly through the season, with owners from the Post newsroom supplemented by a Chicago writer, a Washington lawyer, a Massachusetts college professor and a New York market researcher. (All the owners don't have to be in the same city; one Rotisserie league is named the Dial-Eight League after the prefix dialed on many office phones to get long-distance service.)
As prescribed by the book, we gathered on a Sunday in early April to draft American league players to stock the WGL. Each owner had already picked a name for his team, usually a pun on his own name -- thus, the Neil Henry Youngmen, Michael Hill's Angels, the Potts Scrubbers and Peter Behr's Behrasol Archibalds (don't ask). We even designed team logos.
For the draft, each owner in turn would nominate an American League player, and then all owners were able to bid for the athlete. Prices started at 10 cents, and each owner had an overall salary cap of $26 for his 23 players. (The original Rotisserie League owners spent $260 apiece for their teams; that seemed a little rich for our blood, so we divided it by 10. But there are unconfirmed reports of a league of TV personalities in New York that plays at $2,600 a team.)
Personalites of the teams began to emerge at the draft, which lasted several hysterical hours on a day when most sane people were out playing in the sun. Ben Weiser, owner of the Weiser Owls, refrained from bidding for much of the draft, going into its latter stages with a pot of money he used to pluck good players away from the rest of us who had spent most of our wad -- thus demonstrating a guile that typified the wily head owl's actions for the rest of the season.
Superstars like Jim Rice and Dan Quisenberry went for more than $5 each in the draft, while nobodies like Jerry Narron and Tim Foli were picked up for a dime apiece. Some players like Lamar Hoyt ($4.50) turned out to be expensive busts, while others, like 10- center Willie Wilson (at that time suspended from baseball for drug use), turned out to be incredible bargains.
As the season progressed, we Ghost Leaguers became hopeless addicts of the daily boxscores, the Sporting News and any other piece of baseball intelligence we could get our hands on. Some owners would occasionally call major league clubs to check on player injuries or demand reasons for the benching the night before of one of their stalwarts.
Trades were made, injured players were replaced from a pool of undrafted players, and owners were kept up-to-date on standings by computer printouts laboriously prepared every couple of weeks by two of us. (A warning: Keeping the statistics for a Rotisserie League is the only part of the game that isn't a great deal of fun. For a $50-per-team fee, a service in New York will do them for you.)
Best of all was the give and take between owners. Each of us published newsletters analyzing the league, touting our teams and attacking everybody else. Virtually every league action was followed by mock protests from one faction of ownership or another, and trades were special fodder for comment.
One-sided deals often lit up phone and computer lines. An allegedly unfair trade between two owners who happened to be brothers was described by another owner as "fratricide," while one trade of inconsequential players was promptly followed by a protest trade between two other owners of two even more inconsequential players.
When two owners passed in an aisle of the newsroom, the greeting often went something like "How about trading Lopez for Young and a draft choice?" It got so that when three or more Ghost League owners met in a cluster, the others would swoop in looking for information -- while our bosses moved in to try to break us up and get us back to work.
The battle for first place involved several teams, but when the numbers were added up at season's end, the championship went to the Henry Youngmen, a team with a line-up rivaling those of the 1927 New York Yankees or 1970s Big Red Machine -- not to mention the best relief pitching in baseball. Those wily Owls, having fleeced more teams in trades than anyone could count, finished second. In all, four teams split a $540 pot -- the $26- per-team entry fees fattened by $1 fees on each player transaction.
And despite the occasional petty name- calling and periodic demands for ejection of certain owners from the league, there was unanimous agreement on one thing: We had all had an enormous amount of fun. Despite our obsessions with our teams, no marriages or romantic relationships had beenbroken up by the WGL. Our bosses had tolerated occasional lapses into muttering about our teams' fortunes. And a group of people, who in many cases hardly knew each other as the season began, had become good friends.
It was such a success, we're going to do it again. We've all been honing our rosters during the winter: The Scrubbers, let me tell you, will be a much-improved team in 1985. And now that the real major leaguers are limbering up in Florida and Arizona, we're already talking trades. I guess the signs of our addiction are pretty obvious. The other day, as some owners were huddling in the newsroom, an editor wandered over and said, in not-so-mock horror, "Oh no -- it's time for spring training!"
BASES OF OPERATIONS -- "Rotisserie League Baseball," edited by Glen Waggoner (Bantam 1984, $6.95) is available from most local bookstores or can be ordered by them. It will give you all the information you need to set up a Rotisserie League of your own.