In `Classic' baseball league, past diamonds are forever

Commentary

October 13, 2005|By CHILDS WALKER

It's 5:17 on Monday afternoon, and I'm desperately worried that some guy I don't know is going to draft George Brett or, more specifically, a computer simulation based on George Brett's career statistics.

You see, the electronic George is supposed to be the linchpin of my team, A Brave New Beane.

If you're far from knowing what I'm talking about, you're probably better off. Fantasy football's bad enough. What I'm about to peddle is the strong stuff.

I speak of ESPN Classic Fantasy Baseball, though I could just as easily be talking about Stats Inc.'s Classic Game or Whatifsports.com.

In these games, you're given a budget with which to assemble a team of players from throughout baseball history. In the ESPN version, for example, you pay $49.95 for a franchise and get a $50 million cap for 30 players. Babe Ruth has the highest salary at $10.83 million. A more run-of-the-mill Hall of Famer like Eddie Murray goes for $5.075 million.

A computerized simulation then takes you through a 162-game season against 11 other teams composed of players from baseball past.

The simulation accounts for all sorts of things -- injuries, ballpark size, defense, the players' relative excellence in their eras.

For some, this might be taking the fantasy concept too far -- a game played only in cyberspace based on guys who don't even play anymore and who, in many cases, are dead. That's surely eight steps from anything a sane person would do.

But it's incredibly engrossing.

For one thing, the roster parameters give you a lot to think about. You can't just load up on stars. If you pay too much for offense, your defense will suffer and undermine your pitching. If you fancy injury-prone guys like Mickey Mantle or Fred Lynn, you could find yourself starting three minimum-salary players for a whole week while your stars rot on the disabled list.

You can try to build super offenses (stick Ruth in Coors Field and watch him hit 75 home runs) or load up on pitching and defense in cavernous parks like the Astrodome. You can build a team of old Orioles (Boog Powell, Bobby Grich and Randy Milligan are all good values on the simulation) or construct a rotation composed totally of knuckleballers.

There's even a Web site, DLFans.com., that features a database of every season posted by every player in the history of the simulation (a year subscription costs $40, but you'd be amazed how trifling that seems once you've been sucked in). If you want to know the players with the 200 best career slugging percentages in the simulated Camden Yards, DLFans will spit out the list in a blink.

But the best thing about the game?

Every morning, around 5:30 or 6, ESPN posts the scores of the previous night's games. If your team is rolling, you can't wait to get out of bed and see another sweep. If your two best pitchers are on the shelf, you stay under the covers for an extra 30 minutes, knowing your team was probably shellacked by the merciless simulation.

There's no offseason. If real baseball is over and you've hit a lull in your football season, the simulated game is a godsend that keeps spitting out scores.

It's like an intellectualized version of a slot machine for baseball junkies.

So back to George Brett.

I'm playing in a theme league in which owners can't use any players they've used on a past team. As a relative novice (some of these guys have owned 85 teams compared to my 12), I've never used Brett, one of the few big hitters available to play third.

It's Tuesday night now and arghh! The guy with the sixth pick snagged the simulated George. I'll have to settle for Tris Speaker, that dashing blend of speed, line-drive power and center-field grace from the early 20th century. Yesterday morning before work, I manage to add Reggie Jackson in the third. Nice snag. I'm insane.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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