The year was 2003. The Anaheim Angels were the reigning World Series champions. Miguel Tejada and Barry Bonds were the reigning AL and NL MVP winners, respectively. The top song on the Billboard charts was 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” and smart phones, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok did not exist. The top movies at the box office that spring and into the summer included Anger Management, Phone Booth, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Daredevil, The Matrix Reloaded, Bruce Almighty, Finding Nemo, and 2 Fast 2 Furious. I was a 19-year-old sophomore in college. During the summers, I would return to my hometown in Louisiana, working as a runner at a law firm where my mother had worked for nearly a decade.
For those who may not be familiar, law firm runners are pretty much exactly what you would expect them to be. They do all the grunt work within a law firm. Getting lunch each day for the attorneys, running miscellaneous errands around town, taking deposits to the bank, fetching legal documents from the courthouse, making endless copies — so many copies — you name it. Any random task, no matter how mundane, that anyone in the office needed to have done usually fell to the runners’ desk. Essentially the lowest rung on the ladder. Nothing glamorous but a solid way for a college kid to make some money during summer break.
In the spring of 2003, off at college studying away, one of the named partners of the law firm — an extremely successful attorney — reached out and invited me to join the firm’s fantasy baseball rotisserie league. A noted baseball enthusiast, he had some really impressive baseball memorabilia in his office — he was a New Yorker originally, so mostly Yankees stuff as one might expect. Naturally, being the baseball fan that I am, I would often stop by to admire his collection and strike up an occasional chat here and there about American’s Favorite Pastime. And as we all know, anyone with a sports memorabilia collection loves nothing more than to be given an opportunity to show it off, and I was all for it.
So, that spring, when their longtime fantasy baseball league had an opening, he thought of me, a teenager twenty-five years younger than he was, and extended an offer to join. Without hesitation, I accepted.
Now, I had barely dabbled in fantasy baseball for a year or two prior to this, so I wasn’t a complete newbie. That said, I had never played for money before or as a part of anything resembling a “competitive” league. The idea of a league with stakes was in fact quite foreign to me – and intimidating. Fearing what I may have gotten myself into, I did what most people do when they feel uneasy about a situation: I phoned a lifelong friend.
“Hey, I was invited to join this baseball league with all these grown-ups I work with, you wanna co-manage it with me?” This particular friend has always been a bit of a “yes man” with a Cosmo Kramer-esque zest for life, generally always down for an adventure without asking many questions. Not much convincing was necessary. He was in.
We were instructed to arrive at the law firm at 9 a.m. on a random Saturday morning in late March. We lived two hours away off at college, so the night before, we did what all college students do – we crammed. We ran to Barnes & Noble and picked up a fantasy baseball guide off the magazine rack to comb through during our drive, wanting to make sure we were aligned on basic strategy and our evaluation of different players. To this day, I can’t tell you a single thing that was written inside that magazine. But I can tell you one very specific thing about it: It had a bright orange cover (and maybe Barry Bonds was on it). We called it “The Orange Bible.” Reading through this magazine each spring became a tradition for us over the next few years.
We showed up to the firm promptly on Saturday morning. I used my key fob to scan ourselves into the building and up the elevator to the eighth floor. We walked into an oversized conference room with a beautiful, long, smooth wooden table that spanned the length of the room surrounded by numerous typical leather conference-room chairs. Hotel-style art and paintings seemingly worth more than my car hung all around us. It was a surreal environment, but we felt oddly at home.
This was the very same room that I was often tasked with getting prepared for the day’s important legal meetings each week — stocking the beverage cart, delivering and organizing the food, etc. — and now here I was sitting down to partake in a meeting myself. A meeting of baseball minds as it were.
So there we were— two teenagers making introductions around the room, surrounded by six successful middle-aged men 20-30 years our senior — getting ready to kick off an old-fashioned live fantasy baseball snake draft. Not a single computer in the room. Laptops were certainly not commonplace quite yet and remember no smart phones either. Just eight different guys, the two of us included, and numerous stacks of paper. And the Orange Bible.
To this very day, in a random drawer in my home office filled with keepsakes throughout my lifetime, I can easily reach in and grab the packet of papers from that draft day which I’ve held on to for the past two decades as a souvenir to fondly remember this memorable Saturday morning (and I’ll use that same packet to provide some of the fun draft-day details below from our second season). Any time I want to smile and have a laugh, I just call my buddy — the co-manager — pull out the packet and read through the names and teams. It immediately transports us back into that law firm conference room in 2003-2004.
It was just a seven-team league. Small, I know, but remember: This was nearly 20 years ago, and I was just truly just entering into the realm of fantasy baseball. The draft was 24 rounds and lasted roughly two hours.
Standard redraft rotisserie format. 5 x 5 categories. Two catchers and deep lineups (five starting outfielders, corner and middle infielders). The draft results were all logged manually by hand on a packet of papers and then later inputted into a computer by the league’s commissioner after the draft.
I remember we had mapped out the first ten rounds or so of the draft in great detail during that two-hour car ride — the prep work from the night before — and I recall things going exactly according to plan.
Our team name: the Peanuts & Crackerjacks, named by another friend who had taken an interest in this joint venture as well. On the top of our team page from that packet I saved is written my address, email, and phone number from that time, none of which are the same today nearly twenty years later.
I don’t recall many specifics from the first draft, as far as what pick we had or who we ended up with on our team. Although I do remember that we had 23-year-old Albert Pujols as our starting third baseman, in those wonderful early days where he had retained 3B eligibility and investing in the man known as The Machine proved to be a very good thing for us.
This is where things really got a little bit funky and humorous, for that matter. The league was run through the CBS fantasy baseball site — a paid league which required a league fee that we paid collectively in order to utilize the CBS site and their lovely resources. Fairly standard stuff I suppose, although my limited previous experience to that point had just been a couple of free leagues on Yahoo as well as one random season on an old fan-favorite platform called Sandbox (shout out to all my Sandbox people out there).
We could use the website to look at our team, the other teams, the standings — all of which became a part of our daily routine. The CBS site even had a revolutionary live scoring system, showing statistics, box scores, and updated standings in real-time. No part of the story I’ve shared thus far would be described as out-of-the-ordinary for the most part.
However, here is the fun and wacky part: We were not permitted to use the site to make any roster moves, other than setting our daily lineup. Only weekly transactions were permitted and done so by the commissioner by calling into his home answering machine (you read that right) and leaving a voicemail on his machine about what transactions we wanted to make for that upcoming week. Uniquely bizarre.
3:46pm on a random Sunday afternoon: (Phone rings three times and then a stranger’s voice message clicks on. Then the beep.)
Me: “Ummmm … yes sir. this is the Peanuts & Crackerjacks … we would like to drop Jerry Hairston, Jr. and add Corey Koskie as our infielder. Thank you, have a good day.”
No one ever answered the phone. Always just the voice message and the beep.
To this day, this is the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced as it relates to fantasy baseball. I always wondered if his family at home ever heard these random voices of strange people leaving messages on their home answering machine in order to makes adjustments to their fantasy baseball rosters. Who knows.
Every weekend we would talk about the moves we wanted to make, strategize, and then on Sunday afternoon I would “call it in,” like a GM calling in a trade to commissioner Manfred’s office in late July. The next morning, the moves would be updated on the CBS site and things would move right along.
I don’t recall too much about the first season itself, other than the fact that we were a middle-of-the-pack team through the first half and then we caught fire right around the All-Star break. We ended up surging in the second half and winning the league, surprising ourselves in the process. I don’t remember many (if any) trades. But I do specifically recall Giants’ starting pitcher Jason Schmidt being a valuable draft pick who played a pivotal role in our success; we remember that fondly.
SP Jason Schmidt (SF) – 2003: 17-5, 207.2 IP, 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 208 K, five complete games, three shutouts (on his way to the first of three career All-Star selections).
We also fondly remember the full display of greatness from the aforementioned Pujols and the first breakout season as a reliever-turned-starter by Twins ace Johan Santana.
We won a nice little chunk of money that first season (at least for college kids), and we felt invincible. No clue what we did with that money. Nothing smart I’m sure (I’m pretty we went and saw 2 Fast 2 Furious together). See? Nothing smart. But most importantly, we were now officially hooked on the game of fantasy baseball.
We were invited back the following season in 2004. Same conference room. Similar Saturday morning experience. Another year with the Orange Bible (even though I don’t think it was orange that year). As an extra bonus for winning the prior season, we were awarded the #1 overall draft pick in the 2004 draft. We promptly selected our previous season’s team MVP Albert Pujols with the top pick, fresh off a sensational 43 HR, 124 RBI, 137 R season with a .359/.439/.667 slash line and brought back Johan Santana several rounds later as well. And now we were off.
2004 Draft Results (Rounds 1 and 2)
|Albert Pujols (1B – STL)
|Manny Ramirez (OF – BOS)
|Alex Rodriguez (3B – NYY)
|Miguel Tejada (SS – BAL)
|Vladimir Guerrero (OF – LAA)
|Curt Schilling (SP – BOS)
|Alfonso Soriano (2B – TEX)
|Derek Jeter (SS – NYY)
|Carlos Beltran (OF – KC)
|Sammy Sosa (OF – CHC)
|Barry Bonds (OF – SF)
|Gary Sheffield (OF – NYY)
|Todd Helton (1B – COL)
|Pedro Martinez (SP – BOS)
We ran away with the league this time around, in a boat race. We were essentially in first place all season, wire-to-wire.
Now, you’re probably thinking at this point that this league certainly could not have been all that “competitive” if we came in as rookies and won the league in back-to-back years. I won’t pretend to argue against that point, it’s certainly valid. I can simply take pride in the accomplishment and note the old sports cliché that you can only play against who is on your schedule. Maybe we were a medium-sized fish in a small pond. I simply prefer to think that we were just amazing.
|Victor Martinez (CLE)
|Albert Pujols (STL)
|Adam Kennedy (LAA)
|Rafael Furcal (ATL)
|Troy Glaus (LAA)
|Carlos Delgado (TOR)
|Alex Cintron (ARZ)
|Vernon Wells (TOR)
|Chipper Jones (ATL)
|Lance Berkman (HOU)
|Scott Podsednik (MIL)
|Shawn Green (LAD)
|Jim Thome (PHI)
|Pedro Martinez (BOS)
|Roy Halladay (TOR)
|Mark Mulder (OAK)
|Johan Santana (MIN)
|Joel Pineiro (SEA)
|Danny Graves (CIN)
|Octavio Dotel (HOU)
|Jason Isringhausen (STL)
|Ugueth Urbina (DET)
|Mark Prior (CHC)
|Jerry Hairston Jr (BAL)
Yeah that lineup above clearly appears loaded by 2004 standards. But again remember, only seven teams.
The one buzzkill about the entire experience is that we never received our winnings from the second season. As young college kids, we never felt right asking all these distinguished older men to pay up. It was awkward. So we just never brought it up, despite the fact that I worked there as a runner for two more summers afterward. We just assumed there were worse things in the world than having five or six brilliant legal minds owe us a solid.
That being said, the partner that brought us into the game became a good friend who I remain in touch with to this day. He took me to a casino on my 21st birthday, two years later, and sat with me at a poker table where I won a few hundred bucks playing Texas Hold ‘Em. So everything worked out just fine.
After that second season, the league disbanded (or so we were told). It’s quite possible that we simply were not invited back. I never asked. Wanting to fill the void inspired by this joyous fantasy baseball experience though, we set off and created our own home league spin-off with six other friends during the spring of 2005, which remains intact to this day, having added several new members over the years and currently about to enter its seventeenth season.
I’ve gone on to play in dozens of fantasy baseball leagues over the past two decades of various sizes and formats but none left quite the impression of this first experience. I even teamed up with that same friend on a few of them, with remarkable success, including another “high stakes” league in 2010-2011 on that very same CBS platform in which we were first introduced to competitive fantasy baseball. With the same team name as well.
Now, the term “high stakes” is clearly a relative term when it comes to matters of money and fantasy sports, but the entry fee for the league was a few hundred bucks, which I’m sure is “chump change” for some of you in the leagues you might play in. However, for two young kids in our early twenties, that was pretty juicy at that time. But again, it’s all relative.
I highly recommend teaming up with a close friend and running a fantasy team together once in a while, in whichever sport you prefer. While beating your friends (or strangers) can always be fun, winning with your friends is so much better, cheering for a common goal and outcome together. Strategizing and talking shop each week. Celebrating success together with people you love is truly special.
But the experience of that first truly competitive league with a room full of lawyers was the origin story of my love for fantasy baseball. It lit a fire in me that burns to this day, evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this article. And I have a group of lawyers, a random person’s home answering machine, a great friend, and Albert Pujols to thank for that.
Photos by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire and Dave Herholz | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)