Rotisserie Recovery

M. WILLIAM SALGANIK

April 03, 1993|By M. WILLIAM SALGANIK

I knew my life had changed when Sandy Alomar arrived at spring training with a stiff back and I wasn't worried.

Sandy Alomar is a catcher for the Cleveland Indians, who had a wonderful rookie season, then missed much of the last two seasons with a series of injuries.

[From the Associated Press report: Alomar's latest ailment is a strained lower back, the result of his marathon, straight-through drive from Cleveland to Winter Haven for last week's start of spring training. He says it's a minor problem, and the Indians' doctors have shut him down for a week or so only as a precaution.]

Last year, when Sandy Alomar suffered, I suffered. By now, you probably know about Rotisserie Baseball, the game in which players draft or ''buy'' or trade for real major leaguers. The winner is the league ''owner'' who selects the real players who perform best. And one of my player selections last year was Sandy Alomar, primed, I was sure, for a stirring comeback from his 1991 problems.

[Later AP report: Alomar says he has regained full feeling in his foot and is experiencing no pain in his lower back, which he strained nearly two weeks ago while driving from Cleveland to Winter Haven.]

While you may know about Rotisserie Baseball (it sounds vaguely like Hot Stove League, but the name comes from a restaurant where some New Yorkers invented the game) and other fantasy sports games, you probably don't know, until you've tried, how hard it is to replace a catcher in mid-season. Or how hard it is to get good, up-to-date information on the condition of a player in another city. Bo Jackson you can always find out about. Jeff Conine is another matter. (He's an aging prospect with big minor-league numbers at Omaha who made a brief appearance in the outfield of the Kansas City Royals last year. He got added to my fantasy roster, then disappeared from the box scores because of an ailment, the exact nature of which I was never quite able to determine).

This year, however, our league disappeared as thoroughly as Jeff Conine. (Technically, he hasn't disappeared; he was claimed by the Florida Marlins in the expansion draft, which is almost the same thing.) We weren't fanatic enough to keep the league going -- if you're going to keep track of the likes of Scott Cooper (third-base prospect, Red Sox, good batting average but not much power at Pawtucket, another late-season addition to my roster last year), you've got to invest a lot of effort.

So no more league and no more worries about Sandy Alomar's back or Chris Hoiles' wrist, about all the large and small injuries over the last three seasons. (My all-time highlight: Glenallen Hill, then an outfielder for the Blue Jays, who had a nightmare about spiders and hurt himself sleep-walking, the first player to go on the disabled list with arachnophobia.)

At first I was unhappy that our league, like Mike Flanagan, couldn't get itself in playing condition by Opening Day this year. In its own twisted way, Rotisserie Baseball is quite a mental challenge. And in three years in the league, I'd really enjoyed working with my sons, who were largely responsible for selecting players who won two championships and came close the other season. (Hint: Baseball-card prices, which heat up for the most promising rookies, are an excellent leading indicator of Rotisserie value.)

But when I started reading spring training news -- reading it casually again -- I began to feel somehow liberated. You can learn a lot about baseball playing Rotisserie, but some of the things you learn aren't worth knowing. You don't win at fantasy baseball by selecting stars; everybody in the league knows that Kirby Puckett is good. You need your share of stars, but you also need to learn as much as possible about the obscure players who might perform above expectations.

[From an AP feature on Ty Van Burkleo, a first baseman trying to catch on with the California Angels: His lengthy resume includes stints at Beloit, Peoria, Stockton, Redwood, Palm Springs, Midland, Seibu. . . . He has played 11 years of pro baseball, yet has not appeared in a major league game. In 1991, perhaps a career low point, he was cut by the Hiroshima Carp.]

I don't know who will get most of the saves for the White Sox. I don't know who will play shortstop for the Blue Jays. I don't know who will be the fifth starter for the Mariners. And it's a relief.

M. William Salganik edits The Sun's Perspective section.

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