For actor and team owner Michael J. Fox the addictive powers of fantasy baseball became apparent five summers ago when he was on vacation in Florence with his family. Between sightseeing jaunts, he found himself desperately searching for copies of the International Herald Tribune so he could check the baseball linescores and keep tabs on his fantasy team. "I ended up calling my friends to find out what had happened and who was pitching," he says, laughing. "The game can make you a bit obsessive."
A star of TV (Family Ties, Spin City) and movies (Back to the Future, Life with Mikey), the 43-year-old Fox first played in 1992, when he joined a football league in which he participated by fax. In '98 he entered his first baseball league while recovering at his New York City home from brain surgery to treat tremors related to his Parkinson's disease. "I was sitting around the house, so I had lots of time," he says. "I called my assistant and had her come over for the draft on a Saturday at 10 a.m." He breaks into a grin. "She had no idea what she was getting into."
Fox didn't, either. "It's amazing," he says. "You'd be in a cab headed to pick up your kids, and you'd hear on the radio that Pedro Martinez just got injured, and you'd be like, Oh, s—! Suddenly, you'd forgotten about your kids, and you're trying to figure out a way to trade Martinez before anyone else in your league finds out about the injury." He gleefully recalls his foxiest move, from his first season: snatching righthander Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez off the waiver wire and dealing him for slugger Albert Belle, who was in the midst of a season in which he batted .328, hit 49 homers and amassed 152 RBIs.
Along the way, fantasy baseball kindled in Fox a love for the real thing. Having grown up a hockey fan in suburban Vancouver, he says, "I'd never been that into baseball. But my first year playing [Rotisserie] was the summer of the home run race with [Mark] McGwire, and it got me into it."
Fox enjoys the anonymity of playing on the Web. His team names—in the past, he has employed Central Park Rats and Snowbacks (the term for illegal aliens from Canada)—never betray his identity. None of his foes (including one who last year hectored him "relentlessly, like every day," to trade eventual Cy Young winner Roy Halladay) know whom they're competing against. Fox has never won a league, largely because, as he puts it, "there's always some guy out there who doesn't have four kids and who has more time."
Like all fantasy players, however, he's expert at rationalizing the time he and others spend on their hobby. "I have one friend whose kid does it, and he says it's really helped with his math," Fox says. He thinks for a second and smiles. "So math, reading the newspaper, learning about sports. That's not so bad."