It was indeed 20 years ago today that the very first HotPage appeared under my original site, CREATiVESPORTS, which has since merged with Todd Zola and Mastersball.
Though I had been playing sim games since the mid-70's--largely APBA and Strat-O-Matic--in the late 80's Rotisserie ball hit my ilk and I started playing, and a fluke in 1993 brought me to the stable of then fantasy staple, John Benson.
I wrote for Benson for three years, while playing in local AL- and NL-only leagues, also working for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan as an analyst, but grabbed a buyout option in 1996 and was suddenly looking for a job.
Because of my family's and my pretty well documented health issues, I had to look for a more traditional job whereby I could get health care for us all but while I looked for a job, I took a class in HTML thinking since I already wrote for Benson, and had a rep, maybe a website on fantasy baseball would be fun.
My thought was simply presenting a weekly list of players each Monday worthy of roster acquisition--in most cases--trying to simply present 750 words on eight-to-ten such guys in a manner useful to fantasy baseball players.
In 1996, there were roughly five million humans playing fantasy sports worldwide, with three million of them playing baseball and the balance going after fantasy football. At the time, I hoped to simply contract with ATT to earn a living (which proved to be a great company to complete my work life in the real world), and write about fantasy, grabbing 1% of those players as readers and see how things went from there.
Things did not work out exactly as I imagined. They more than worked out, though. That is because though my site was free, suddenly a cluster of other burgeoning web locales--CBS Sportsline, Sandbox Sports, Wall Street Sports, MSNBC online, Fox Sports to name a few--all liked my writing and thoughts, and they all hired me to write for them on a regular basis.
In fact, this is where I met Rick Wolf, the driving force behind Sportsline (the first of many big sites Wolf would develop), along with Scott Engel, who turned out be my first boss in the industry when Wolf hired me. Of course, this was just before the dot-com explosion, and a lot of my mates--Jeff Erickson was then at RotoNews, Ron Shandler's BaseballHQ, Steve Moyer at STATS, Greg Ambrosius with the NFBC/NFFC in their infancy days--were all just getting started and gaining followings on the Web as well, and it was a very exciting time.
It was tough and competitive too, especially when the bottom fell out a few years later, forcing RotoNews to morph into RotoWire and Mastersball, eaten up by Fanball, to go back to the roots Jason Grey, Rob Leibowitz, and Todd Zola established. But others, like Wall Street and Sandbox, were chewed up never to return.
At the time, it was tough for me, when all my mates' sites were bought up and growing, and while CREATiVESPORTS seemed to have a good critical reputation, no one wanted to merge or buy me out, something that turned out to be a blessing, for though I was not a temporary millionaire, I did get to maintain control of my site over those strange times within the industry, not to mention our economy.
But, make it through we did, bigger and badder and better than ever, as fantasy took hold, fostering just about every variation imaginable (check here for Fantasy Fashion Leagues), pushing Daily games almost to the point of irritation (and legislation), the NFBC to a standard mixed-league draft format, and driving the industry such that at the end of 2015, there were 56.8 million fantasy players just in North America (that includes Canada).
Of course, there were a myriad of changes more. Health issues did indeed take my family--Cathy in 2005, and Joey in 2006--there was Sam Walker's Fantasyland book followed by Stephen Palgon's movie of the same name. Matthew Berry moved from movies to Rotoworld to The Talented Mr. Roto and Rotopass to ESPN, becoming a household name, and I got involved with a new and wonderful partner, Diane Walsh. Oh yes, and Jason Grey moved to Tampa to become a MLB scout, and Todd Zola and I merged our companies.
There is so much more, and I could write and additonal 1000 words on those changes, but I think you get the point. But, just as you become friends with the guys in your local league, I was lucky enough to be thrust into the core of an industry where I not only got to play with the guys I noted, but where they became my dear friends, and where leagues like LABR and Tout Wars became my local leagues.
It is difficult for me to explain just how lucky and crazy and wonderful this all seems and has been, for that seems to speak for itself. I mean, whoever imagined a game based upon a game would spur a crazy new industry that reinvented games as we know them?
But, it did, and as lucky I feel to be part of that industry, I feel even luckier to have industry mates that I can indeed call friends. So, in closing, I want to mention as many as I can. Because, you know, "I get by with a little help from my friends."
Oh yeah, I will do my best to get another 20 years behind us, though in all honesty, I cannot begin to imagine what that might be like.
Thank you all for reading, for sharing your time and lives, and for your support.
Ron Shandler. Marc Meltzer. Rick Wolf. Glenn Colton. Stacie Stern. Jeff Erickson. Peter Schoenke. Tim Schuller. Chris Liss. Todd Zola. Brian Walton. Rob Leibowitz. Zach Steinhorn. Cory Schwartz. Mike Siano. Dean Peterson. Greg Ambrosius. Steve Moyer. Tony Blengino. Doug Dennis. Scott Engel. Howard Bender. Ray Flowers. Peter Kreutzer. Alex Patton. Perry Van Hook. Don Drooker. Derek Van Riper. Andy Behrens. Brandon Funston. Nando DiFino. Matthew Berry. Tristan Cockcroft. Eric Karabell. Stephania Bell. Nate Ravitz. Lenny Melnick. Kyle Elfrink. Eno Sarris. Ray Murphy. Brent Hershey. Gene McCaffrey. Justin Mason. Lori Rubinson. Corey Parson. Jason Collette. Mike Gianella. Paul Sporer. Rick Wilton. Ryan Bonini. Scott Pianowski. Jason Grey. Seth Trachtman. Louis Maillone. Mike Cardano. Patrick Davitt. Steve Gardner. John Hunt. Tim Heaney. Nick Minnix. John Benson. Al Melchior. Charlie Wiegert. Dave Gonos. Vlad Sedler. Patrick Mayo. Geoff Stein. Tom Kessenich. Mike Hall. Oh yes, and Diane, Jeep, and Pavlov!