“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.” –Albert Einstein
Every year, I try to do something different with my team, and every year I have the same team. It’s the story of my life. When I first moved into NYC, I went to the closest bar to my apartment to watch the games until I had cable installed. I haven’t gone to a different bar since.
Or maybe it’s more like The Real World. How that show is still on is beyond me, especially since it churns out the same boilerplate list of stock characters every season. The cities change but the predictability of seeing a sorority girl, homosexual, jock, minority, and indie hipster never dilutes.
So last Sunday, when I ceremoniously logged onto Yahoo, when I did a cannonball into delightful world of fantasy drafting, and when I celebrated the return of the term “Stat-tracker” to my daily vernacular, I realized that it wasn’t just my team that looked the same year after year. It was the circus crew of fellow managers, too.
I’ve been the tagalong in my sister’s college friend's fantasy league for a few years, but have played in enough that I’ve realized that regardless of the sport, the players, or the league parameters, somehow every year the same dynamic manages to formulate, like some kind of Darwinian phenomenon.
And the truth of the matter is, we couldn’t survive any better without one of these core stock characters, any more than we’d be able to field a team without a catcher or pitcher.
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The Top 11 Requisite Characters in any Draft
(Am I missing anyone?)
1. The Aggressive Commish
First Round Pick: Hanley Ramirez, due largely to the fact it’s first on all major sports rankings, and coincidentally enough, the commish’s got the first pick. Again.
He galvanizes the league months before the season’s onset, usually through e-mails warning against the repercussions of “being too busy this year.” He authors the Power Rankings and is the de facto final word on any kind of approval—whether we admit to it or not, his discriminating use of “nice pick” during the draft is akin to the waiter’s rare doled out approval when ordering at a restaurant. (What, no one else gets excited about that feather-in-your-cap from being the sole recipient of "Ahh, yes, excellent choice"?)
2. The Chick
First Round Pick: Derek Jeter
My sister relishes this role. Despite the fact she actually knows what she’s talking about, she still names her team “HOT PINK” and makes comments during the draft like, “I like Russell Martin because he’s my friend.” This is one sect of Chick.
Then there’s the legitimate imbecile, who somehow weaseled her way into the league just to be “near” her boyfriend, and lastly, there’s the over-the-top tomboy chick who spends the majority of the season reminding everyone how she’s a girl who’s STILL kicking your asses, y’all. I wish these girls would just go eat Yoplait and shut up.
3. The Friend of a Friend
First Round Pick: Carl Crawford (because he got stuck with the 20th pick, being the newcomer and all. And because he’s got no need to throw around a flashy sleeper name, so he makes a calculated, interestingly fundamental choice).
Usually a late addition when the draft’s 18 minutes away and you still have an odd number of teams. I was this role last year when my coworker invited me to play in his league.
Not only was I the only girl, but I was about 15 years younger than all of them, and this wasn’t a bunch of frat guys throwing something together on Yahoo. I was way in over my head. For some reason though, this is usually the guy who annoyingly is first or second best in the league. And because no one really knows him, no one can get too much thrill out of smack talking, etc. And 99% of the time, he's the nicest guy you'll ever meet and hence wouldn't want to instigate cyber-war, anyway. Doubly aggravating. It's like trying to do the dramatic-hang-up-slam...with a cell phone.
But this character also usually hands us one of the most entertaining nuance of the season--the discernible shift in dynamic in the draft day chat room. You’re comfortably entrenched in some kind of inappropriate/off-color discussion with the rest of your league--the transcripts of which probably would amount to mandatory jail time in some states--when you remember there’s a new guy in the chatroom that no one knows anything about, least of all how much latitude his sense of humor (or lack thereof) would afford us...
“Hey, Dan’s friend from soccer, sorry about that. We seriously don’t really think all those things about 2-headed Siamese twins. Just kidding around. Hey, great pick with Billingsley, by the way!”
4. Stat freak
First Round Pick: Josh Hamilton
He’s spent the off-season preparing for this moment. His bedroom looks like a scene from “Beautiful Mind,” and he will disseminate a continual stream of player trivia, its actual consequence inversely proportional to the degree of authority he shares it, (ie, “Lester’s not a bad pick, just added a change-up which should make him pretty solid” vs “OUCH. Uh, dude? Horrible move. I’m sorry, but Zambrano lost 3 mph off his fastball this spring. Good luck, man.”)
He spits out stats throughout the draft so flatly and one-dimensionally that it’s almost reminiscent of a woman sideline reporter.
5. The Autodrafter
First Round Pick: Lance Berkman
If you can’t clear two hours to draft a team, then you have no business in the league. How can you expect to manage a team every day if that’s the kind of lack of commitment you evidence at the most fun part of the whole game?
My sister (see “The Chick”) didn’t take it lightly when we realized that a few rounds into the draft, her boyfriend (see “The Aggressive Commish”) was autodrafting. He was out with his buddies drinking, despite scheduling the draft for 10:00 on a Friday night.
So she did what any appalled manager would do if someone didn’t show up to the draft—she exploited her insider girlfriend knowledge, logged onto his Yahoo account, and drafted Heilman, Guittierez, and Roger Clemons.
This prompted such insidious backlash and ire from the rest of the league (“Thanks, Laur. You just ruined the summer.”), that I had to wonder if maybe we all needed to revisit one of the only worthwhile campaigns ESPN has put out.
But the Autodrafter is also ultimately the one who loses interest, stops checking his team/emails, and lets trade offers fester in his inbox, while he’ll have multiple empty spots on his roster because he never unbenched people like Wright, Manny, and Ryan Howard.
The worst part is, he still manages to win some weeks because of some statistical truth that says your odds are better if you don’t start frantically changing things around. And losing to this guy is basically like losing to Turtle in Nintendo’s World Class Track Meet.
6. The Klutz
First Round Pick: Trevor Hoffman
Clumsy in fantasy terms, anyway. Not only does he unwittingly pick up surgery-addled players who may be out for months, but he also is the guy who houses every player who’s one game away from limping off the field. I begged our league’s Klutz one year to pick Kyle Farnsworth off waivers. That’s how insane it had gotten.
That team was where players went to die.
(Except for my boy Farnsworth, who, despite a basic finger fracture, refused to step off the mound before ensuring his team was no longer in striking distance of a W. )
7. The OCD/ADD/Bipolar Freak
First Round Pick: Jimmy Rollins, who is the only remaining original player since the rest of the team has been stitched together from about 97 different add/drop moves.
I may or may not already have five moves in the first day of the season, so I cast no judgment on this delightful member of the league. Last year I added and dropped Mark DeRosa so many times that I think he eventually became damaged goods to the rest of the league, like the jerked around on/off girlfriend who no guy goes near because he doesn’t want to get involved in the drama.
8. The ?
First Round Pick: Dan Uggla
The spoiler. The guy who leads the league in ties; who has not a discernibly good player on his team yet manages to inexplicably take down powerhouses. It’s like how in the end of “Rookie of the Year” the Cubs squeeze out three outs by trick plays and rulebook loopholes (instead of just putting in a different closer, which I’ll never understand, but that’s a different issue altogether).
I hate Dan Uggla. Yes, I may base this entirely on his 2008 All-Star Game complete ineptness, but I don’t care. And yet I still picked him up. Because for some reason, he manages to serve up some weird helpings of competitive play.
9. Sleeping Beauty, Waking Ugly
First Round Pick: Matt Wieters
Will Matt Wieters, David Price, and Trevor Cahill still be available in the 18th rounds? Of course. But the SBWU wants something more than the players—he wants everyone to know he isn’t just picking them up as a casual later-round move.
He wants to stake his claim in their potential successes, so if and when Wieters lands on the cover of ESPN in late July (“the best catcher in baseball you’ve never heard of”), touting him as the “sleeper” pick of the year, the SBWU can use the coveted phrase, “I was the first one to know this kid would be awesome.”
(This guy’s the best—the first few weeks of the season, every player on his roster has a red “N/A” next to their names.)
10. The A** hole Who Refuses to Trade
First Round Pick: Mark Teixiera
He hates the Yankees. He also somehow has Albert Pujols. You somehow have Utley and Pedroia. In theory, it would make sense to give him one of your 2B, take one of his 1B.
But he patently refuses every trade you offer—even after you’ve slaved over creating the absolute most appealing trade package. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction from crafting a proposal that you feel meets all parties’ needs. And there’s also a certain sense of contempt when you receive, within minutes of submitting the offer, “TRADE DECLINED.” No counteroffer. No nothing.
For some reason, the rest of the league refuses to trade with me or my sister. They’re perfectly comfortable with offering us transactions like “Damaso Marte and Rod Barajas for Ian Kinsler.” Last year, I got harassed on a daily basis with offers for Brandon Phillips, in exchange for players who were categorically destined to be dropped to waivers the next day.
Finally, my sister said, “Fine, if they won’t trade with us, we’ll just trade with each other. Give me Brandon Phillips. And I’ll give you Jeter and Santana, and then bench Phillips just to annoy the guy who keeps offering you the BS deals for Phillips.”
Yeah, this is probably why girls aren’t allowed in leagues.
11. The Bleeding Heart Loyalist
First Round Pick: Oliver Perez
I guess it’s not a bad strategy. It eliminates the conflict-of-interest dilemmas intrinsic to the fantasy system. If you draft everyone on the Mets, (and you’re a Mets fan), you get to root for your team all the time. Plus, you don’t have to worry about getting the MLB Extra Innings package to stay on top of all the other games, since you’re just watching your local team station, anyway.
The only problem is this doesn’t yield the most desirable dividends if you’re a Mets fan (especially since you lost out on getting K-Rod when you picked OP first).
* * *
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”—Dr. Seuss
And with the key players of every league in place, the season thus begins. The staggered smack-talks. The harmless and not-so-harmless diatribes outlined in Power Rankings.
Dramatic trades that are conducted with the same gravity as if they were government-sanctioned foreign resource exchanges. Alliances and collusion. And most importantly, the collective suspension of disbelief.
The common thread among all stock players in all leagues is the unwavering understanding that none of us is insane for mistaking this all for reality.