A year ago ago, I came across a curious find in my in-laws' house: The 1994 Rotisserie League Baseball Official Rule Book and Draft-Day Guide. My in-laws are not huge sports fans, so finding this in their possession was an oddity in and of itself. But beside that, this book provides an interesting time capsule of two sports: fantasy baseball and the regular variety.
Back then, the term "fantasy sports" had yet to be coined. There was only rotisserie baseball, and that pastime was in a bit of a lull. When it was first developed in the early 1980s, it received a fair amount of mainstream media attention as something of a fad and a nerd curiosity. (The rise of Bill James was seen in much the same light.) But by 1994, interest had flatlined; rotisserie baseball had more or less reached all of the fans it was going to at that particular time. In a few short years the internet turned nearly every sports fan into a fantasy sports fan, but that had yet to happen.
This was also an odd time in baseball itself. Bud Selig was just starting to tighten his grip on the sport. Labor strife was just around the corner. Free agent contracts were artificially suppressed by owner collusion (a big factor in the impending strike that everyone seems to forget these days). The construction of Camden Yards made other teams long for their own neo-retro stadiums. And for reasons no one could quite figure out, batters were hitting more home runs than ever before.
The book contains a quick primer for folks new to the "sport," both Ultra and Lite versions ("for owners who value their jobs and relationships"). There is also an essay by Mark Batterman on how most rotisserie owners undervalue pitching, and another by Dottie Enrico on the first all-female roto league. (This advance is somewhat offset by the fact that Enrico also compiled a list of MLB's "best butts" by position. Mets catcher Todd Hundley gets a nod for her.) There's also an ad for a rotisserie baseball video starring many of the game's progenitors, like Daniel Okrent, and hosted by Reggie Jackson. Hard to say exactly what this video entailed, though the ad copy promises "car chases, frontal nudity, and violence."
The biggest highlights of the book, however, are the summaries that accompany the players' listings. Readers of Baseball Prospectus's annuals will recognize the style: pithy, occasionally withering, filled with pop culture references, and pitched for maximum entertainment. The summaries also contain far more mentions of things like grit and heart than BP could ever stomach, but hey, this was a different time.
For the purposes of this site, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the listings of Mets gone by; guys who were either Mets when this was written, had played for the Mets at some point prior to publication, or had Mets-hood in their future. This transcription includes the book's suggested price for each player and a good chunk of their assessment.
Keep in mind that this book was written after the 1993 season, a year that featured Vince Coleman throwing firecrackers at children and Bret Saberhagen spraying reporters with bleach. So there's not too many complimentary words for the Mets organization in here, nor should there have been. Think the Wilpons are bad? At least they didn't blind a two year old (that we know of).
TODD HUNDLEY: $4
"When a guy gets benched in favor of Charlie O'Brien, it should send alarm signals. So should the presence of prospect Brooks Fordyce, whom the Mets will give every chance to win the job this spring. But Hundley showed double-digit HR power last season, and he's still only 24. We think he's worth a modest investment."
MIKE PIAZZA: $27
"According to old Dodger hands...Piazza is the strongest guy they've ever seen in a Dodger uniform. How strong? Well, you know those hand grippers that fitness freaks like to squeeze? The Dodgers had to order specially made ones with extra tension for Piazza because he didn't get any resistance from the conventional version. For all his muscles, Piazza is still just a baseball baby with a lot to learn. What sets him apart is his willingness--no, an obsession--to do it, to learn about his craft. Bid the ranch on him for years to come."
GREGG JEFFERIES: $35
"Jealous Mets veterans dubbed him an egocentric little shit and got the club's mindless management to run him out of New York. Hal McRae didn't like his hyper approach and ran him out of Kansas City. So he ended up in St. Louis, where he had a better summer than Bud Light. Meanwhile, the same Mets have become to baseball what Chevy Chase is to late-night comedy shows, and Hal McRae is throwing telephones at sportswriters. We love human nature."
HOWARD JOHNSON: $8
"What happened? We had him tabbed as 1993 Comeback Player of the Year, but he was heading in the other direction even before injury put an end to his summer. We're not shrinks or anything, but Hojo seems to be a very sensitive guy who internalizes a lot of stuff. There could be no coming back from the psychic damage of the last two years. We hope we're wrong, and that he's the 1994 Comeback Player of the Year in Colorado."
EDDIE MURRAY: $20
"The first time Mets announcer Tim McCarver saw Eddie Murray in the clubhouse in spring training after Murray signed with the Mets, McCarver walked up to introduce himself and wish Murray well. Murray cut him dead, turned his back, refused to acknowledge McCarver's presence....So what? Here's someone who has more career RBI than all but 16 players in baseball history. Here's someone who still drove in 100 runs on what was the worst team of the last 25 years....But because the pathetic Mets organization needed a scapegoat, they fingered their best player for his supposed negative influence in a clubhouse that was already poisoned when he arrived."
JOHN OLERUD: $36
"A unique perspective on this latter-day Roy Hobbs was offered last summer by Blue Jays coach Nick Leyva: 'Now, I know I ain't Randy Johnson, but I throw BP to Olerud's group every night, and this bleeping guy is bleeping unbelievable. Every bleeping ball he hits is a line drive, every bleeping one. Un-bleeping-believable.' But bleeping true."
ROBIN VENTURA: $21
"Two straight years of treading water. Do you think maybe it has something to do with Walter Hrniak, the maniacal White Sox hitting coach who teaches hitters to swing like they're cutting wheat?"
JEFF KENT: $17
"Scorned by the media, booed by the fans, and bullied by Big Bad Dallas, the kid took a lickin' but kept on tickin'. Tied with Craig Biggio for most home runs in NL by a second baseman. Goal this year is not to lead the league again in errors."
JEROMY BURNITZ: $13
"Talk about heavy burdens. All the Mets brass want him to do is carry the franchise for a couple of years while they frantically try to rebuild a bankrupt farm system....If Burnitz makes it big, and on the strength of last year's debut he just might, then Fred Wilpon, Frank Cashen, and their partners in crime will be able to point to the lefty slugger with the misspelled first name and say, 'See, we haven't been doing such a bad job after all.' Hope the kid's shoulders are very strong."
VINCE COLEMAN: Suspended
"We don't know what--if anything--major league baseball is going to do, but we're suspending him indefinitely. That means he cannot be acquired at the 1994 auction draft or subsequently signed during the 1994 season. We'll review his case next fall."
LENNY DYKSTRA: $30
"His first at bat is always the best. He doesn't have the chaw just right yet, so there he stands, spitting out little chunks of tobacco onto his chest, all the while stretching and twisting, kicking dirt, talking to himself, twitching his head back and forth, squinting at the mound, getting ready to throw body and soul into the fray. The perfect prelude to playing the game the way it's supposed to be played."
DARRYL STRAWBERRY: $20
"Not exactly a banner year for the Straw Man. Depending on his back and this attitude, the salary is either $20 too low or $20 too high."
KEVIN MCREYNOLDS: $8
"Someone wake him up and tell him his career is over."
SID FERNANDEZ: $13
"In a rare quiet moment late last summer, Dallas the Large was analyzing the Mets' future, such as it is. When he got to El Sid, the team's Designated Yeller put it in a nutshell: 'Hell, everyone knows he could break down any time, but where are we going to go out and find a better arm?' Indeed. In Camden Yards, there will be the same uncertainty. Cross your fingers that he doesn't tear the bilateral cruciate pulley string in his funny bone while hefting a slab of Boog's ribs."
DWIGHT GOODEN: $13
"New Yorkers have this problem: they remember Gooden when he was Doctor K. He's somebody else now. A smarter pitcher, one who uses his head as well as him arm. A grownup, no longer a wonderchild. But in the top of the ninth, when he gets two strikes on a power hitter with runners in scoring position, Mets fans get on their feet and start yelling like crazy for Doctor K to pay one more house call. And sometimes he does."
ANTHONY YOUNG: $1
"Look at the 3.77 ERA. Now look at the 1-16 record. No, they don't compute. We're not saying he's hexed or anything, but we do advise you not to fly in the same airplane as him."
RON DARLING: $1
"Does anybody know whether he finished up those credits he needed for his Yale degree? We hope so, because it's time he started thinking about another line of work."
AL LEITER: $4
"A career reborn. Will get a chance to earn a spot in the Toronto rotation this spring. Keep an eye on him--he could be a Leiter bloomer."
BOBBY OJEDA: $1
"We hope he makes it back. He would be such a great guy to root for."
FRANK TANANA: $1
"About one of every four outings, this master craftsman gives a clinic on pitching. The other three, watch out."
JOHN FRANCO: $10
"It took a final-week hot streak for the Franco-led Mets bullpen to keep from compiling the first minus rating in the history of the Rolaids Reliever Rankings. It was a crusade that had us on the edge of our seats. The problem with assigning any salary to Franco, now a shadow of his former formidable self, is that the Mets are stuck with him--sore elbow, non-sinking sinker, immense contract that makes him untradeable, and all. He'll get the ball a lot, at least in the first third of the season, no matter how he pitches. That could translate into a fair number of ugly saves and unwanted wins. (He practically tore the clubhouse apart last season after a couple of wins following blown saves.) And it could lead to heartache for Rotisserie owners who remember him when he was great."
PEDRO MARTINEZ: $8
"How good is Pedro J.'s stuff? Well, on the season's final weekend, Will Clark and Robby Thompson and a few of the Giants were sitting around, talking ball,and the general consensus was that the key to their chances of sweeping the final series with the Dodgers was to avoid facing this Pedro. Unfortunately, little did the Giants know that they also should have been hoping to avoid Kevin Gross as well. Could be the key to a divisional title in Montreal."
ROGER MCDOWELL: $2
"Practical jokes and wisecracks aside, he remains a solid reliever with a winner's heart....McDowell is prima facie evidence of how miserably wrongheaded the Mets have been as judges of character over the years."
DOWN ON THE FARM
"Not just a powerful bat, but a powerful left-handed bat. The only thing holding him back is defense, and he's learning."
"Although he looked like he belonged when called up last year, the Expos felt that Floyd needs more work on his defense and may have trouble at first hitting against some lefty pitchers. When these minor kinks get worked out, start thinking Hall of Fame."
"In his two pro seasons, he made steady progress from short-season A to low A, to high A, seeming to get stronger as he moved up. And in case you haven't been paying attention, the Mets could use a little help on the mound."