Sorry, America. We must take full responsibility for those ridiculous trades last week. One fourth of the Chicago White Sox pitching staff for six San Francisco Giants farmhands? Wea culpa. The future of the Seattle Mariners for the present of two shaky relievers? Our doing. The greatest home run hitter since Babe Ruth for three Curt Young Award candidates? Shame on us.
We are the members of the original Rotisserie League, the band of merry men (and one woman) who devised, promulgated and promoted fantasy league baseball, first for our own amusement, then in the vain hope that riches, or at least enough for tuition payments, would come our way. Nowadays, we hang our heads in mortification over the monster we have created.
We started by trying to imitate baseball pooh-bahs, and now baseball pooh-bahs imitate us. We know what you're thinking, White Sox fans: Jerry Reinsdorf is an idiot for agreeing in the off-season to shell out $11 million a year for Albert Belle, then throwing in the towel in midseason by trading starting pitchers Wilson Alvarez and Danny Darwin, closer Roberto Hernandez and icon DH Harold Baines. But the 'Dorf is only doing what our own Michael Pollet used to do to his team, the Pollet Burros, year after year: dump. Pollet would spend outrageous amounts on superstars, then turn around at midseason, when he was mired at the bottom of the standings, and trade them for such future talents as Paul Householder, Marvell Wynne and Eric Yelding. If we each got a nickel for every time Pollet made a dumb trade, we might be rich. (Did we mention that we have made next to nothing off our invention?)
As for me, I am not about to throw stones at Woody Woodward, the Mariners' brain behind the Jose Cruz Jr. for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric trade last week. I once traded Jose Cruz Sr. for Stan Bahnsen in the mistaken belief that Stan the Old Man would bring my team, the Wulfgang, some relief.
Even if baseball owners and general managers don't play Rotisserie League, they all know what it is. Heck, the 1994-95 work stoppage was over the owners' desire to impose the same kind of salary cap essential to every Rotisserie League. (Go ahead, blame us for the strike too.) Consciously or subconsciously, front-office people long for the ease and dispatch with which we make trades. They must answer to fans—Rotisserians, probably—who demand action. Hence, they have lately thrown caution to the wind, and some of them have thrown reason along with it. We understand. But we also know that the integrity of the game is at stake, that it's not fair when the valiant and underfunded Pittsburgh Pirates now have to stave off a Cardinals team fortified by Mark McGwire. Sure, David beat Goliath, but Goliath didn't hit a home run about every three games.
The trouble—all right, one trouble—with major league baseball is that it has not evolved as far as Rotisserie League baseball has. Over the years, we too have struggled with the dumping dilemma. The first few years we thought an earlier trading deadline would curtail the dumping, but teams just gave up earlier. Just as Ford Frick did to Roger Maris, we attached an asterisk to any player over a certain dollar value or in the last year of his contract, then limited the number of asterisked players each team could trade. But after a few seasons of hearing "Is he an asterisk?" we tired of that rule.
Now we start the year with a sensible salary cap of 260 bottle caps that can rise to 320 bottle caps to accommodate midseason pickups (we can no longer afford to play for dollars). Real baseball could adopt something similar by prohibiting teams from stretching their payrolls beyond a certain point, so some rich team like the Cardinals couldn't further upset the balance of power by preying on a poor club not even in its league.
Come to think of it, the owners might want to emulate other aspects of Rotisserie baseball. To attract a more youthful fan, they could borrow our tradition of pouring Yoo-Hoo (a chocolate drink once endorsed by Yogi Berra) over the heads of champions instead of champagne. Our original league has a rule prohibiting the ownership of a team by anyone who has a car dealership in the Midwest, which would leave out Bud and Marge. The lords of baseball might also want to consider a proposal to deny membership to anyone who owns the Chicago Bulls.
And finally, the owners, like us, should always remember that they're in it for the love of the game. We're certainly not in it for the money.