Last year I joined a fantasy baseball league. In the past I had taken part in fantasy football, but this was my first go with roto-baseball, which I always thought was too intense. I was kind of right as it is fairly intense, but that is what hooked me.
I play in a league with a college buddy of mine, Joe Deaux, that is about as old-school as it gets. Last year's draft was done by phone. No internet draft app that can recommend the next best player to draft. I shouted my pick into the receiver and checked the name off a list of available players that had been sent to me a couple weeks before. It hasn't changed much in the decades this league has been going.
As a child, Joe remembers a large, thick envelope coming in the mail for his dad. Inside were about 12 pages of stats from his dad's fantasy baseball league, in which he played in with two of his closest friends.
"The front page had everybody's record," he said. "Then each page had weekly stats of every player on everybody's team and showed how many points they scored."
There were three teams in the league: the Orioles, which belonged to Joe's father, Paul; Dwain O'Quinn owned the Reds, and the Yankees were managed by Joe's uncle and Dwain's brother, Lindell O'Quinn.
The three were best friends growing up. Lindell first met Paul, who later married Lindell's sister Sharon, in the fifth grade. The league got its start in 1989, when work moved Lindell from Jacksonville, Fla. to Plano, Texas, and he wanted a way to stay in touch, saying that in his experience when people move they lose contact.
"It started out as a desire to ensure there was continuous communication," said Lindell, who oversees the league. "We just started playing what is now known as fantasy baseball."
In 1989, there was no Internet or database full of player stats readily available for fantasy enthusiasts like there is today. In fact, there really wasn't fantasy baseball as we know it today. The three guys, all in their late 30s, simply made up a game based on certain player stats and categories. Fantasy baseball had been invented already, but they hadn't heard of it yet. Their version was loosely based on a game Lindell and Dwain would play as kids in the 1960s with baseball cards and dice. You would pick your starting nine out of a deck of cards and roll a die to see what they did. A 12 would've been a home run for example.
"That was the thought process that started for me," Lindell said. "What if we just drafted players and use their stats. There wasn't a name for it at the time."
To make any changes to your team, the other two had to call Lindell; to check statsm they opened up the paper.
"I remember I use to keep up with my team," said my college buddy Joe, who joined the league when he was 8 years old in 1994, though his dad mainly managed it till he was in high school. "I'd go to the newspaper, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, I'd open up the sports section, then I'd open up the National League and the American League stats, box scores and I'd just circle all the players that I had."
The league eventually started to grow as the guys saw it as a way to keep in touch with other family members as well. The league now has two of Lindell's daughters, two nephews, and until last year, Lindell's youngest sister and her husband.
"It's interesting how people talk now that fantasy will keep me in touch with other people, well Lindell knew that back in '89," said Joe. "When I showed interest, and then his girls, my cousins, they love baseball, they love sports, they just thought it was a good idea to bring family into it.
"The reason I talk to my uncle is because of fantasy baseball. Otherwise I don't really talk to him about much. I don't contact him to be like, 'Hey, how have you been?' It's like, 'Hey, have you been watching baseball?'"
The league now has 12 teams and features a mix of family and friends, but in the 22 years that it's been around, not much has changed. The rules are essentially the same, though value to different stats has been adjusted. They play two head-to-head games per week instead of three, a restriction put on by the website they now use to keep track of stats, and they also draft minor league players.
It is a keeper league, meaning that you are allowed to keep up to 11 players from the previous season on your roster and you can keep the minor league players on your team for years in case they make it to the majors. As much as this is a family thing, it's also a competitive thing.
"We want the league to be as competitive as we can," said Lindell. "What we don't want is someone to get their line-up and ignore it for six months."
With that said, there hasn't been much competition for Lindell over the years, whose Yankees team has never featured any Red Sox. He has only lost three times since they started the league, with the first season going to Paul and Dwain finally getting a win in 2009.
"He played almost 20 years before he won his first one," said Lindell.
Lindell didn't pull out last season - neither did I for that matter - and it seems like even more changes are on the way for the league. This is the first year that we will draft online, though you can still call in. But while the some things will be altered over time, the purpose of the league still stays strong.