The easy, and ethical, thing to do on the subject of Rotisserie leagues is to make sport of them and particularly those who participate in them.
Certainly, that was always my stance. Until now.
Until now, I preferred, in my own judicious manner, to think of the Roto-boys (and girls) as soulless technocrats with their noses stuck inside Baseball America who not only didn't have to attend a game but never even had to watch one. Isn't this basically baseball by slide rule?
What bothered me most about Rotisserians, as they like to call themselves, is that they tend to speak in decimal points and think it's possible, and even likely, to find an epiphany in a box score (look under "eph").
They do have certain contributions to make to society, of course. For example, who else can recite the entire Seattle Mariners' winter roster?
Who else cares about a pitcher's strikeout-walk ratio? Who else even knows what it is?
In any case, their numbers are growing. The Rotisserians now include, according to the statistics, virtually everyone. I know they're the people keeping USA Today afloat.
They are the exact opposites of the baseball poets, who are inclined to rhapsodize about the timeless beauty of the game, based, as far as I can tell, solely on the fact that bases are spaced 90 feet apart. The Rotisserians don't care if the game is played inside or out, spring or fall, with or without the DH, on real grass or on the fake stuff. All that matters is what fits in the box score. And most conversations begin with, "Did you see where Ron Karkovice went 3-for-5 last night?"
I always thought they took all the passion out of the game.
But now I realize it's not important.
What's important is to see the good in something, which is what the folks at USA Stats Inc. have done.
They saw what we didn't see. They saw that the numbers in the box score were just the beginning.
You understand, there's one problem with the office Rotisserie league, and that is that somebody has to add up all the numbers, which, in a 10-team league, can take about six hours a week. That means six hours you don't get to spend with the dog or the kids or the "Elias Baseball Analyst."
Enter: USA Stats.
For $50 a team, or $500 per typical league, USA Stats, a Baltimore company, will crunch those numbers for you.
They have an 800 number.
They have an 800 fax number.
They have a fax machine that feeds right into the most high-tech computer that the Lord ever put on this earth.
"We have people from 43 states," says Terry Woulfe, who, along with Bill Meyer, runs USA Stats. "We have a couple of thousand clients."
Let's look at this for a minute. If you take 2,000 clients at $50 a client, you are running at $100,000, which is beginning to look like real money in what figures to be a recession-proof growth industry.
In other words: Who's laughing now?
"Only in America," Woulfe says.
In America, there are now scores of these services. There are alsobooks and magazines telling people how to draft their teams, how to manage them, how to make trades, how to get ink from newsprint off your fingers.
"It has grown explosively the last few years," says Woulfe, 33, who began playing eight years ago, back in the game's pioneer stages. "It's still growing, and we expect to see increased participation each year."
Woulfe, who was a money manager, and Meyer, 35, who was an assistant U.S. attorney, started the service a few years and have now made it their full-time job. They advertise wherever baseball fans read, and the response is, as they say, gratifying.
"It's the perfect job for us," Woulfe says. "In the off-season, we sit around and talk about baseball. And during the season, we sit around and talk about baseball while sitting in front of a computer."
And the computer is a wonder. You send a transaction over the fax -- a trade, picking somebody up from the disabled list -- and the tabulations begin immediately. That's USA Stats' big service, which puts a lot of Rotisserians' minds at ease. You wouldn't want to miss a day without Mel Hall, would you?
You think it's getting out of hand? Maybe. A friend of mine said that a lawyer who's in a $700 league -- each team costs $700, meaning a $7,000 jackpot; oh, did I mention people did this for money? -- offered him half the winnings if he would manage the team. Hell, he could get Earl Weaver for that.
There are leagues in this great nation where you put up as much as $5,000 or $10,000 per team. These are the people who play Monopoly with real money. Who else could afford it, other than baseball players themselves?
But for most of the folks who have become Roto-people, it's just a few dollars and something to do.
And then there are those who, even now, are visiting the spring training camps in order to do their own, up-close-and-personal scouting for the upcoming draft. Where will it all end? And, I can't help but wonder, will it have anything to do with the new world order?