The following is an excerpt from the Introduction to the upcoming book, “Fantasy Expert”
Hello. My name is Ron and I am a Rotoholic.
This is a problem that has been going on for a very long time and has come to define my life. I am here to warn you that the dangers of excess can happen to anyone. I’m here to detail the cruel realities of all the years of self-abuse, and perhaps encourage you to take an honest look in the mirror.
I’ve tried to stop. Many times. People have said I need to take responsibility for my actions. They continually tell me, “Ron, it’s only a game… it’s only a game…”
A game?? That’s not remotely true. Rotisserie baseball is way bigger than just a game. It’s far more than any human being can control. Still, even if I take some responsibility, I also had enablers. Other people helped create this monster. It wasn’t just me.
I think it started with a man named Bill James. Back in the 1980s, I discovered this book called the Baseball Abstract. I couldn’t resist the allure of statistics. There were all these numbers that I had grown up with, but then… all these new numbers. They were bright and sparkling, and they painted baseball players with wonderfully vibrant colors. I had never seen anything like it before and I was captivated.
But Bill James didn’t stop at writing just one book – nooooo. He had to write that Abstract book year after year after year…. feeding me, and feeding me, and feeding me. Each spring, I’d camp out in front of B. Daltons, waiting for the new edition to come out. That nice girl Allison – you know, the pretty blonde – she would tell me, “Sorry Ron, it hasn’t come in yet.” But I’d be back there again the next morning, with my large coffee and apple fritter. And the next morning. And the next.
And when that year’s book arrived… oh… that moment when I could wrap my arms around the blue cover, or the red cover, or yellow or green – seeing that new cover was the first rush! And then I’d open it slowly, smell the fresh ink, feel the soft pages between my fingers… and I was saved for another year.
Bill James tried to break me in 1989 when the Abstracts stopped. Allison was long gone; I even briefly switched to decaf. But it was okay… I had already been spending time with a new crush.
His name was Glen Waggoner. He wrote a book about a game invented by someone named Dan Okrent, called Rotisserie League Baseball. This little green book was about a game within a game. A numbers game! How could I resist?
Rotisserie….. ahhhhh, it just rolled off my lips like hot, greasy chicken.
I think that’s when I started hoarding boxscores. I’d get up at the break of dawn to make sure I bought that very first copy of USA Today out of the machine. I remember that machine at the Mobil station on Route 3. I had to be the first person to put his fingers on the red section… with all those numbers.
And then years went by and I couldn’t get enough of the numbers that other people wrote, so I had to start creating my own. That’s when I started experimenting in spreadsheets. Rows and columns – ohhh – they’d give me such a rush. Popping VLOOKUP tables possessed me for hours. Everything was adding up so accurately – I had to share the high.
I blame The Sporting News for being so greedy that they would take money from a burgeoning addict to promote my projective propaganda. Did they have no clue what they were fostering? Did they have no conscience??
I gave up a month of coffee to afford the printing of 100 copies of my first book, and that wasn’t easy. Sixty-seven people sent me personal checks – people who were infected by the same malady, I guess. But it didn’t stop there… it wasn’t enough. I started a monthly newsletter the next spring, and every year, more and more and more people would sign up for the sacrilege I was selling.
But feeding a cult in a new cottage industry was no mean feat. The financial barriers were steep. I needed quick cash for print advertising and direct mail. I had to moonlight as a 9-to-5 corporate wonk just to stay afloat. I had to budget for expensive distribution channels like the US Postal Service and the newly divested Bell System. I had to rely on inconsistent deliverability, which meant dealing with incessant phone messages that often started off with, “Hey Shandler, you asshole! It’s Draft Day. Where the hell is my book?”
The Rotisserie Baseball information industry was a cruel place back then. As a 30something, newly dadified drone, I had to work hard to avoid being lured into the dark underbelly of baseball writing. Competition was brutal. There were aspiring plagiarists who repackaged and resold my work in dark alleys for a quick buck. There were ego-driven analysts with sycophantic minions, and flame war provocateurs disguised as innocent bystanders. And there were deep-pocketed opportunists with single-digit IQs who simply bought their own market share.
Everything around me kept feeding the disease. USA Today – my daily salvation – started publishing Baseball Weekly – to feed me more. Columnist John Hunt started the LABR leagues – to feed me even more. Oh… and then… Al Gore invented the internet – to feed me beyond any possible recovery.
At my lowest point, I was running two websites, coordinating two national experts competitions, publishing five books and running a conference series that reached 15 cities, from sea to shining sea.
But that wasn’t what broke me. I didn’t finally surrender until people started vilifying me with that awful, degrading insult. You know the one, that humiliating, blasphemous put-down reserved for society’s most reviled bottom-feeders.
They called me a…. (shudder)
What a horrible thing to call someone! Fantasy? Really? This was no fantasy – it was very, very real. The work, the effort, even the game itself was a fully legitimate analytical pursuit. To smear it as a “fantasy” was just unconscionably cruel.
And then calling me an Expert? To tack a noun of pure irony onto “fantasy” made me sound like King of the Unicorns. I never asked for this. I was just trying to pay the mortgage and feed my family by doing something I was compelled to do.
This was no fantasy. I was no expert. Enough!
That’s when my family insisted I get help.
The good doctor – let’s call him Bruce – says that the rehabilitation process starts with telling my story. The world needs to hear my cautionary tale. Bruce says that’s the only way to reclaim my life.
So here we are.
Look for more excerpts in the coming months. The expected publication date is in late 2022.