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"Seeds drifting through space took root in a farmer's field. From the seeds came pods which had the power to reproduce themselves in the exact likeness of any form of life. ...Your new bodies are growing in there ..." -- Dr. Dan Kaufman in Invasion of the Body Snatchers
They are everywhere. On the train, on the street, in the halls, standing in my office door, spiral-eyed. "You know, my fantasy football team is doing all right even with Ricky Williams as my running back ...."
"They're taking you over cell for cell, atom for atom. Suddenly, while you're asleep, they'll absorb your minds. ... Tomorrow you'll be one of us ..."
I was one shortly after Daniel Okrent, Glen Waggoner and their pals unleashed "Rotisserie Baseball" upon an unsuspecting world in 1980. Now, an estimated 15 million people own fantasy teams in a variety of sports. It's like they've all burst forth from pods, spreading the contagion town by town, costing businesses $36.7 million a day in lost productivity, according to a guesstimate by executive search firm/corporate scold Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
There is no escape. Fantasy Player updates haunt actual game broadcasts. Advice columns have sprouted like gnarled toadstools. My employer, SIKids.com, has fantasy games -- (even stock car racing!) -- that surely convert children into drones who will one day corner you in an elevator and regale you with the virtues of Reuben Droughns. I'm consumed by the dread of coming home to find my wife, who doesn't even like sports, with a strange look in her eye as she shrieks into the phone, "I want to put Jay Fiedler on my bench!"
Yeah, I've heard the carping from the sensibly levelheaded about how fantasy sports enthusiasts are disconnected stat geeks besmirching real games by rooting for arbitrary assortments of players for purely selfish reasons. That's not why I came to my senses and reclaimed my soul. Playing fantasy baseball was the most galling experience of my life.
As proprietor of the hapless Rolfe Reds, I paid $230 per year to endure the sniggering of my peers as I wildly overbid for bloated stiffs like Kevin "The Game Ain't Over Until the Fat Man Swings" McReynolds, and traded young talent (budding slugger Glenn Davis) for washed-up hacks such as Jason Thompson. My acumen in personnel evaluation was beyond appalling. I had Greg Maddux before he was Greg Maddux and Dale Murphy after he was Dale Murphy.
My brain was no longer the boss. My mental health was at the mercy of diamond legends like John Wockenfuss, Ed Wojna and Spike Owen. I furtively crunched stats at my desk while my work rotted on the vine and my editor fumed. With my family waiting forlornly at home, I sat in my car somewhere under a streetlight listening to the radio and pounding the wheel in a foamy rage as reliever Scott Terry of the Cardinals got lit up by the Mets.
Year after year, my team finished so far down it paid dues to the United Mine Workers Union. My only joy was issuing press releases that made George Steinbrenner sound reasonable.
I've never had any winners. I've never had any good players. All I've done is spend $1,725 for the privilege of owning Darryl Dogberry, Andy McGassican, and the rest of that sorry legion of bums, bindlestiffs, and turkeys who have kept me chained to seventh place. And through all the craven ineptitude and sour heartbreak, this team can't even finish last. It's never happened! Can't finish in the money. Can't finish last. God, I hate this game.
Have a question or opinion for John? He might answer or address it in his next blog.
In rank despair, I ceded control of my team to my four cats led by J. Frank Wubbins, who chose players by sniffing baseball cards. To my utter amazement, their Cats Pajamas came in fifth in 1990, the franchise's most respectable finish in six years. My own re-christened Chokin' Wussies finished lower than the fifth circle of Hell the following year. I was ultimately reduced to writing press releases for someone else's team.
I quit for good six years ago and watched as the fantasy menace rose like a wave of dementors to claim my friends and neighbors. Yes, that's me out there in the intersection, pounding on passing cars, screaming, "Look, you fools! You're in danger! Can't you see? They're after you. They're after all of us. Our wives, our children, everyone. They're here already. YOU'RE NEXT!"
Here now, the mailbag, with another take on which cursed city deserves the biggest pity party.
Q: Are you kidding? People from San Diego don't suffer. When you're perpetually zoned out at the beach, the fact that the Chargers don't win ain't too likely to faze you. I was born near L.A., but I have to agree Cleveland has it the worst. Buffalo's also got it pretty freaking bad. -- Kenyon Colloran, Hiroshima, Japan
A: Indeed. A potpourri of misery has been inflicted upon the hardy fans up there in Buffalo, and I don't mean by the beastly winter weather. After Scott Norwood's heartbreaking missed field goal in their 20-19 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV (1991), the Bills got blown out of the Bowl the next three years. They haven't been back to the playoffs since their stunning last-second loss to the Titans in the "Music City Miracle" kickoff return game in 2000. On the ice, the Sabres have made two Stanley Cup Finals appearances in their 34-year history. The last was a crushing loss to Dallas in 1999 on Brett Hull's disputed goal in triple overtime of Game 6. So what's worse: rooting for lousy teams or reasonably good ones that occasionally come agonizingly close?
Q: What did athletes do before they began to "step up"? I can't remember how teammates, coaches, and sportswriters used to explain athletic accomplishments before this hackneyed expression became so fashionable. I find myself listening attentively to interviews just to see if someone uses their imagination and expresses this action in a novel way. Did the expression derive from baseball and "stepping up" to the plate? Is there any hope that athletes and coaches will "step up" and ban this expression? -- Brookes Peters, Tarboro, N.C.
A: No question (Canada passed a law requiring NHL players to preface all responses with this), "stepping up" is a natural that vividly implies going to bat, elevating your performance, giving 110 percent. Before the sporting community began trampling us with it, I believe athletes used to simply "come through."
Curious, I unearthed some clips from the newspaper of record, The New York Times. After cranking three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, Reggie Jackson said, "Perhaps for one night, I reached back and achieved the next level of the overrated superstar."
On Oct. 15, 1905, pitcher Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants "bestrode the field like a mighty Colossus" while tossing his third shutout of the World Series. His counterpart, Chief Bender of the Philadelphia A's, vowed to win Game 5, saying, "I have done it once and I'm going to do my best to do it again."
There you have it, sports fans. If there are any clichés that curry your goat, stay within yourself and just make contact. I'd love to run a list in a future column.
Q: Can you change John Rolfe Mail Bag to John Rolfe Wind Bag? -- Susan Newlin-Wagner, Garden City, N.Y.
A: For a second there, I was going to say, "Don't write me at the office, honey!" But then I realized that you are not my wife. That said, it will take time and technical expertise, but I'm a firm believer in weaning this column off its unhealthy dependence on oil and switching to a clean, renewable source of misinformation. Your eco-friendly thinking is appreciated!