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Monday 25th Sep 2017

If you didn't play Fantasy Baseball before the Internet, the historical concept of 1980's Rotisserie Baseball might be slightly hazy. For the Old Duck, it is an era filled with the best memories one could imagine.

In March of '81, I read an article in Inside Sports magazine entitled, "The Year George Foster Wasn't Worth $36." It was written by Dan Okrent and was one of the very first references to "Rotisserie" (Fantasy) baseball. By 1984, the originators of the game (including Okrent and Glen Waggoner) published the first edition of "Rotisserie League Baseball." When I spotted the book, the '81 article came to mind and I couldn't wait to consume the details of this fascinating hobby. After reading the entire book in one sitting, I got on the phone and called numerous baseball-loving friends with the following challenge - "Go buy this book and tell me if you're in." Within 48 hours, the "Bowling League of Rotisserie Baseball" was born. Why Bowling? Well, almost everyone in the group (including me) worked in the bowling industry...owners, executives, managers, sales reps and the like.

So there we sat in the spring of '84, eight guys who were baseball fans but didn't have a clue about this new game other than the minimal strategies talked about in the book. No Internet, no Fantasy magazines, no Sabermetrics and no Rotisserie Gurus. Our main resource was the Sporting News and its Baseball Register. I chose Donald's Ducks for my team name and we went boldly where no fan had gone before.

In going through some personal archives, I came across an article from the L.A. Times published in 1986. As you'll see, the writer was trying to make sense of this strange hobby and interviewed me along with a number of other "pioneers". Hopefully, you'll enjoy the perspective of our great game from almost 30 years ago.

For Rotisserie Baseball Fanatics, a Grand Sham BY FRANK CLANCY

April 30, 1986

April 3 was not a good day for local baseball fans. On that day, Pedro Guerrero, the Dodgers' star left fielder, ruptured a tendon in his left knee, causing fans throughout Southern California to bemoan his misfortune. But J. R. Williams probably reacted more strongly than most fans to the injury, which will keep Guerrero idle at least until July.

"I was really upset," the 23-year-old computer operator recalled later. "I was shocked. I couldn't believe it."

"I hate to see any player get hurt," Williams added, but his concern was not entirely selfless. Williams owns the "J. R. Ewings" of the Golden State League of Rotisserie Baseball Clubs; Guerrero, who hit 33 home runs last year and batted .320 for the Dodgers, was also the Ewings' star. On April 1, Williams had signed Guerrero to one of the richest contracts in league history: $7 a year for three years.

Confused? You've never heard of Rotisserie Baseball or the Golden State League, let alone the J. R. Ewings? Don't worry. Except in the hearts and minds of J. R. Williams and 10 friends, the Ewings exist only on paper.

Thousands of Fans

But how does this league, and hundreds like it, exist in the minds of owners! Indeed, Rotisserie League Baseball (named after a Manhattan restaurant at which the first known league was conceived in January, 1980) has attracted thousands of baseball fans, causing some to lose sleep worrying about their players, others to run up large phone bills, and many--heresy among baseball fans--to root against the home team.

The object of such devotion, also known as "ghost" or "fantasy" baseball, is on its surface a disarmingly simple game. It has no board, no dice, no cards. It requires only imagination--and an incredibly detailed knowledge of baseball.

While rules vary somewhat from league to league, often being altered at winter meetings by "club officials", basically here is how it goes: Soon after baseball season begins, about 10 "owners" gather to select real players from major league teams. Each chooses 22 or 23 players, including eight pitchers, at auction or through a draft. As in major league baseball, the challenge is to evaluate players and assemble a balanced team.

Throughout the six-month long baseball season, owners trade, cut, and move players, measuring their success by the actual statistics of their players. In October, leagues use eight statistical categories, such as home runs (5 points in a typical league) and pitching victories (30 points for a starting pitcher, 20 for a reliever), to determine the best team. The top three split the money collected from the player auction or from entry fees. One local league, for example, charges $60 per team to enter and pays $350 to the top team, $150 to second place and $100 to third.

(The concept is not confined to baseball, and a handful of leagues play a similar game with pro football, using only offensive players. In one, the "Hollywood Football League," owners chip in $500 apiece.)

If J. R. Williams' reaction to Pedro Guerrero's injury seems extreme, in context it is not at all so.

Last summer, mononucleosis and hepatitis forced Matthew Irmas, owner of Matt's Fat Bats in the Westwood Rotisserie League, to miss three months of work. But Irmas, 29, remained an active owner. "For three months I was completely consumed by baseball," the Marina del Rey resident remembers. "I would wake up at 3:30 in the morning waiting for the paper to come."

A fellow owner avoided that problem by subscribing to a computer data base that provides detailed baseball results. Now he can find out how his players did minutes after a game ends.

Penny Pincher League

Donna Turner, 51, a banking consultant, owns the DT's in the Penny Pincher League. The Torrance resident says her long-distance phone bill doubled last summer because she was calling major league teams for information.

Turner isn't unique. According to Toby Zwikel, assistant publicity director for the Dodgers, the team received a number of calls from Rotisserie players asking about Guerrero. Zwikel says his office gets "too many" such calls: "They are a pain for us. We're here 14 hours a day and more during the season. To answer those questions is just one more thing we have to do."

"Being a baseball fan is one thing," Donna Turner explains, "but to really let your fantasies go in a league is another. You get the 'owners' syndrome--you really think these players are yours. Your mind runs away."

Rotisserie leagues have made dedicated Dodger fans reconsider their loyalties. "You never watch a baseball game the same way again," says Don Drooker, 40, of Canoga Park, whose team, Donald's Ducks, competes in the Bowling League of Rotisserie Baseball (a group of bowling industry managers and executives). "You could be a lifelong Dodger fan, but if you go to the stadium and one of your pitchers is pitching against the Dodgers, you root against the Dodgers."

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of similar leagues. Ghost League Baseball, a San Francisco company selling computer software to run leagues, has responded to more than 1,000 inquiries about the program and a statistics service since both were introduced in February, says part-owner Jules Tygiel. Bantam Books' Rotisserie League Baseball, a humorous guide, has 51,000 copies in print, and more than 400 leagues, including about 40 in Southern California, have paid $50 apiece to join the Rotisserie League Baseball Assn.

For their money, association members get a mixture of serious information (final major league rosters, lists of players by position) and humor that has from the beginning marked this game. At the end of each season, for example, the original Rotisserie Leaguers ritually pour Yoo-Hoo, a soft drink once endorsed by ex-New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, on their league champion; the association will send a can of Yoo-Hoo to any league that cannot obtain the syrupy chocolate beverage. Few, it seems, actually emulate the ritual.

With names like the Wulfgang (owned by Steve Wulf) and the Sklar Gazers (Robert Sklar), the original league also spread a plague of puns that play on owners' names. The J. R. Ewings compete against Harper's Bizarre (Ben Harper), the Fuller Brushmen (Alan Fuller), and the Haskimos (Mike Haskins).

Fall in Love

Devotees of Rotisserie baseball offer various explanations for the game's popularity. "It begins with little boys," suggests Glen Waggoner, 45, a founding member of the original Rotisserie League, the editor of Rotisserie League Baseball, and now a contributing editor at Esquire. "Just before sex, boys fall in love with baseball. In adolescence they get their heads turned by sex, but in their 20s and 30s baseball comes back; by then you no longer have a credible fantasy of playing major league baseball yourself. The next greatest fantasy is to own a major league team. With Rotisserie League Baseball you can do that, and you don't need $25 million."

Although league champions have been known to win more than $1,000, players say money is hardly a motivation. "The money is irrelevant," Don Drooker insists. "The people in our league would do this for 260 match sticks."

Along with the leagues have come a host of related businesses selling statistics services, winning systems, a scouting service, and leagues via computer modem. One new company, Ghost League Baseball, grew out of the Pacific Ghost League, formed in San Francisco five years ago.

At 37, part-owner Jules Tygiel is no ordinary businessman. A professor of history at San Francisco State University, he is the author of "Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy."

"Baseball has been booming," Tygiel says, "and part of it has to do with the computer. Baseball is so much a game of numbers, of statistics; the marriage of baseball and computers is a fortuitous one. Baseball first became popular in an age of mathematics, the 1880s, so it doesn't surprise me that this resurgence in popularity of baseball coincides with the introduction of the personal computer."

But if the Dodgers cannot replace Guerrero, it will be a long summer. In his absence, the team is using Franklin Stubbs, a promising rookie, and Cesar Cedeno, an aging superstar.

The J. R. Ewings are no better off. Drafting on Sunday, April 13, at a league meeting in a Glassell Park residence, owner Williams acquired Andy Van Slyke and Greg Gross, who last season hit 20 fewer home runs and batted 60 points lower than the Dodgers' popular star.

At that five-hour auction, Golden State League owners showed they can be as ruthless and unforgiving as George Steinbrenner, the temperamental New York Yankees owner with a penchant for firing managers and publicly berating players. Consider, for example, the case of Ken Landreux.

Two nights earlier, the Dodger center fielder played poorly against the San Francisco Giants: with several Golden State League owners watching, Landreux made an error that allowed the Giants to score three runs. By Sunday, his Rotisserie League value had plummeted. Selected by Commissioner Pete Arbogast (the "Arbohydrates"), Landreux was the very last player chosen. His auction price and 1986 salary: 10 cents.

Hope you enjoyed the quick trip in the time machine...maybe next year, I'll try to draft that English prospect H. G. Wells.

In the 1999 box-office smash hit "Analyze This", Billy Crystal plays Dr. Ben Sobel, a psychiatrist trying to help mob boss Paul Vitti (Robert DeNiro) get his life under control. The incomparable Chazz Palminteri adds even more zest to the film as Primo, a rival Mafioso. During the climatic scene where Crystal is impersonating DeNiro's "consigliore" at a meeting of the bosses, the following conversation takes place...

Primo: Everybody knows there's been this thing between me and Paul Vitti for a long time.

Dr. Sobel: Which thing are you talking about? The first thing or the second thing?

Primo: What second thing? I only know one thing.

Dr. Sobel: Hey, how can we bring up the first thing if we're not gonna talk about the second thing? Did you talk to the guy?

Primo: What guy?

Dr. Sobel: The guy with the thing?

Primo: What thing? What the **** are you talking about?

Dr. Sobel: How should I know? You brought it up.

As Memorial Day shows up in our rear-view mirror and with the baseball season almost one-third gone, all fantasy players are trying to analyze what they thought about that "thing" that is now haunting them each time they look at their league standings. Or maybe they enjoy reminiscing about the other "thing" that has them in contention. So, as with Paul Vitti, the Old Duck will attempt to gain some "closure" by reviewing the things he thought during the off-season...starting with the first fantasy draft for 2015 (XFL) back in November and continuing through the hot stove months and then into March and Spring Training.

> I thought Ben Revere's productive second half in 2014 would bode well for his age-27 campaign...he's been even less than a "one-trick pony" in 2015 with a .262 BA, .307 OBP and nine steals.

> I thought Zach Britton would continue to be a top-level closer after his breakout '14 season...so far, so good with ten saves and a 22-3 K /BB ratio in 16 IP.

> I thought Colby Rasmus could have a productive bounce-back at age 28 if he landed in a comfortable spot and I took him for $1 in the XFL end-game...a solid contributor to the Astros success with eight home runs and a .813 OPS.

> I thought paying market value ($11) for Ervin Santana last November would be OK no matter where he signed due to his consistency and durability...an 80-game suspension  for PED's wasn't in the equation.  

> I thought keeping Tanner Roark for $12 was more than reasonable after his 15-win season in '14...the Nats kicking him out of the rotation for Max Scherzer wasn't in the equation either.

> I thought drafting Addison Reed and Steve Cishek would add two stable closers to my squad with no obvious challengers to their jobs...do the names Enrique Burgos, Brad Ziegler and A.J. Ramos mean anything to you?

> I thought that drafting Chase Utley for $6 was a steal based on his healthy season in '14...his .174 BA in '15 proves that health and age are two very different components.

> I thought the D-backs acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson was misguided...his first eight starts have produced a 5.52 ERA.

> I thought just about every move made by the Dave Stewart/Tony LaRussa management team in Phoenix has been a blunder, but maybe I was too kind...last week, a local beat writer wrote a column about how the D-backs mishandling of their 40-man roster has cost them players and flexibility...at the time of the article, the bullpen ERA was 4.50 but the team essentially gave away Will Harris (0.40 ERA and a 29-6 K/BB ratio in 22+ IP for the Astros) to clear space after he didn't allow a run in his final 16 appearances of 2014. They also gave away Mike Bolsinger, who pitched eight shutout innings for the Dodgers this past weekend. If NFL teams have employees in charge of salary cap analysis, shouldn't MLB teams have a similar position to monitor the 40-man roster?

> I thought Nolan Arenado would continue to become a top-level player...despite the Rockies woes, he has seven homers and a .779 OPS.

> I thought Cody Asche was not the answer at third base for the Phillies...he's back at Triple-A learning to play the outfield...maybe to replace Ben Revere.

> I thought that Javier Baez was a slender version of Mark Reynolds...with Baez at Triple-A, I owe Reynolds an apology.

> I thought Jay Bruce would continue to be plagued by defensive shifting...he's hitting .216.

> I thought Asdrubal Cabrera's career was in decline as he entered his 30's...he's hitting .212 with a .603 OPS.

> I thought Nelson Cruz couldn't possibly duplicate his 2014 season playing this year in Seattle...I was right, he's been better!

> I thought Khris Davis' flaws would get exposed with more AB's...he's hitting .226 with an OPS under .700.

> I thought Freddie Freeman would take his game to another level...even in a weak Braves lineup, he's still at a similar level with a .301 BA and .857 OPS.

> I thought Matt Holliday would be on the decline at age 35...his .314 BA and .876 OPS has helped the Cardinals to their fast start.

> I thought Eric Hosmer was overrated due to the Royals great run in '14...a lesson in judging young players too quickly, he's hitting .313 with a .920 OPS.

> I thought Austin Jackson had already showed us that he's not very good...was hitting .242 with a 19% K rate before getting injured.

> I thought Desmond Jennings was past the prospect stage and not to expect much improvement...hitting .222 when he hasn't been on the DL.

> I thought Russell Martin's career year in '14 would fool a lot of fantasy players...so far, 2015 has been even better.

> I thought Brian McCann was a lousy signing in 2014 and this season wouldn't be any better...last year's BA and OPS were .232 and .692. This year's is .233 and .677.

> I thought A.J. Pollock would bounce back nicely after being hurt last year...he's hitting .314 with ten stolen bases.

> I thought Pablo Sandoval would be an over-priced free agent...even hitting in Fenway Park, he's below all his lifetime numbers (BA, OPS, etc.).

> I thought David Wright would be a bad fantasy investment...has only 35 AB's with no return in sight.

> I thought Cody Allen would continue to be a solid ninth inning guy for the Indians...has nine saves with 25 K's in 17+ IP.

> I thought R.A. Dickey would keep the Blue Jays rotation stable...he's 2-5 with a 5.49 ERA.

> I thought Matt Garza would be underrated...he's been reincarnated as R.A. Dickey with a 2-6 record and a 5.71 ERA.

> I thought that Kyle Hendricks wouldn't be a one-year wonder...pitched a five-hit shutout last week for his first win.

> I thought Shelby Miller regressed in 2014 and his value for 2015 was questionable...he's 5-1 with a 1.50 ERA.

> I thought Drew Storen would be just fine in the closer's role for the Nats...how about 13 saves and a 0.98 ERA?

> I thought Paul Goldschmidt would be an elite fantasy contributor and took him 4th overall in my only snake-style league...owns a .327/.431/.614 (1.045 OPS) slash line with 11 home runs.

> I thought the Red Sox were overly optimistic about their 5-man rotation made up of #3 starting pitchers...the five ERA's are 5.07, 4.58, 5.10, 5.13 and 6.37.

> I thought Robinson Cano would be even better with an improved Mariners line-up and I drafted him as a cornerstone of my AL-only squad...undrafted Jimmy Paredes has been more productive.

> I thought Travis Snider was ready for a breakout season...he's lost his job to Delmon Young!

> I thought Jonathan Lucroy was the best catcher available in my NL-only league and paid top dollar for him...hit .133 before going on the DL.

> I thought Arismendy Alcantara would be a super-utility, multi-positional, speed-power guy for the Cubs and with an excess of SP's, I traded Michael Wacha to get him just before opening day...hit .077 before getting sent down...of course, if you have a Triple-A fantasy team, he has five homers at Iowa.

> I thought Carl Crawford would build on a strong 2014 finish and play every day with Matt Kemp gone...had three RBI and zero steals before going on the DL.

Just to make sure we touched all bases, a final conversation with DeNiro's character should bring clarity to the situation...

Paul Vitti: So, did you take care of that thing I asked you about?

The Duck: I took care of it.

Paul Vitti: How about the other thing?

The Duck: I got to wait for the first thing to come through before I can move on the second thing.

Paul Vitti: That guy give you a problem?

The Duck: The guy on the first thing?

Paul Vitti: Yeah.

The Duck: He's a lunatic.

Paul Vitti: What did he say?

The Duck: The usual.

Paul Vitti: Did you tell him you weren't going for it?

The Duck: What am I going to do, Paul?

Paul Vitti: You gotta nip that crap right in the bud.

The Duck: But if the first thing comes through, that'll fix everything.

Paul Vitti: Exactly. Including the second thing.

The Duck: Absolutely.

Paul Vitti: Exactly.

Every April when Major League Baseball celebrates the anniversary of Jackie Robinson joining the Dodgers in 1947, the conversation inevitably turns to the question about the percentage of black players in the game being in decline. Everyone seems to have a different opinion and there is probably some validity to each point of view. The Old Duck subscribes to the theory that due to the increase in popularity of basketball and football, young black athletes in this country have many more options compared to 40 or 50 years ago. Even beyond the NBA and NFL, college sports is a booming business and high school programs are feeding those universities the players they need. No longer do youngsters become "dual sports" stars because the competition in each endeavor is so fierce, they must devote 100% of their time and training to a chosen sport.

The anecdotal evidence was very clear in the Spring of 2013 when the Dodgers visited Surprise Stadium for an exhibition game and rookie Yasiel Puig was in the lineup. Fans were blown away by the athleticism of this 6' 2", 250-pound Cuban Outfielder and some fans wondered out loud why we never see baseball players like this anymore. The answer seemed obvious if you thought it through. In Cuba, baseball is the national game with essentially no competition. A spectacular young athlete like Puig would be drawn to the baseball field with the dream of traveling the world as a member of the national team and then, hopefully, finding a way off the island to play in the major leagues. If Yasiel Puig had attended the local high school in your community, he never would have made it to the baseball field. The basketball coach would have wanted him to play power forward and would still have lost out to the football coach who had him slotted as a Defensive End, Linebacker or the most devastating Running Back in the state.

Another aspect of this topic interestingly came up a few weeks ago on the golf course. One of my golfing buddies and I were doing our usual damage to the course when the subject of baseball came up during a lull between hooks and slices. Over the years, he's learned about my affinity for the game but indicated that he's really not much of a baseball fan. It certainly wasn't an aversion to sports in general because he has a Pittsburgh Steelers golf bag on his cart. On this particular day, I casually asked why he wasn't also into baseball. Embarrassingly, he told me that his father gave up his season tickets to the Pirates the year the team fielded an all-black lineup and while my friend was already a young adult at that point, baseball became an afterthought. Of course, none of us should be shocked that this type of attitude prevailed in the early 1970's but a real-life story really crystallizes the significance. My friend's dad was born in 1922 and while it's easy to be critical in retrospect, is it really possible for us to completely understand the society that was prevalent while he was being raised? Think about the fact that for the first 25 years of his life, major league baseball was all-white. Ironically, the city of Pittsburgh has a rich tradition in black baseball as both the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro Leagues called the steel city their home.

From a historical perspective, the date in question was September 1, 1971 and the Pirates, managed by Danny Murtaugh, were on their way to the National League pennant and an eventual World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles. With the help of a wonderful article by George Skornickel in the Fall 2011 SABR Research Journal titled "Characters with Character", let's take a closer look at this moment in the game's archives.

One caveat to the story is that the first all-black lineup isn't defined as an all-African-American lineup, as the Pirates had numerous Latin players on the team who represented Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Cuba. The Bucs outstanding first baseman Al Oliver was interviewed for the article and indicated that it's doubtful that Murtaugh was even aware of the unique moment because his goal was to put the best available players on the field. Even Oliver didn't notice the situation until the third or fourth inning and also pointed out that the lineup was configured with as many right-handed hitters as possible because the opposing Phillies had left-hander Woodie Fryman on the mound. Murtaugh's quote after the game was, "I put the best athletes out there. The best nine tonight happen to be black. No big deal. Next question."

In 1971, the Pirates were baseball's most integrated team, with Black and Latino players making up almost half of the roster. Let's take a look at that famous lineup card from 9/1/71...

> Rennie Stennett, 2B - This Panamanian was only 20 years old and didn't become a regular player until the following season. He hit .353 in 153 at-bats in '71.

> Gene Clines, CF - In his first full season, he was one of the Bucs back-up outfielders and hit .308 in 273 at-bats.

> Roberto Clemente, RF - The Puerto Rican legend was 36 but played like someone 10 years younger by hitting .341 and winning a Gold Glove.

> Willie Stargell, LF - "Pops" was the glue that held the team together. He hit 48 homers and finished 2nd in the MVP balloting.

> Manny Sanguillen, C - This All-Star was in his prime at age 27 and hit .319 while throwing out 50% of baserunners attempting to steal.

> Dave Cash, 3B - Normally the starting second baseman, he was giving Richie Hebner the day off against a left-handed pitcher.

> Al Oliver, 1B - Another versatile player, the team's regular centerfielder was playing first base to give Bob Robertson a breather. Oliver was a 7-time All-Star.

> Jackie Hernandez, SS - This native Cuban was another role player, as Gene Alley was the everyday shortstop.

> Dock Ellis, P - The team's ace with 19 wins, he had appeared in the All-Star game a few months earlier where he gave up a famous home run to Reggie Jackson that cleared the right-field pavilion in Tiger Stadium.

How did the game turn out? The lineup strategy worked as Fryman gave up six runs in the 1st inning and the Pirates went on to win 10-7. Sanguillen hit a home run while Clemente and Stargell each had two hits and two RBI. A white pitcher named Luke Walker came in to relieve early in the game and pitched the final six innings for the victory.

The curiosity 40+ years later is what the reaction was in Pittsburgh at the time. One local sportswriter looked back in 1997 and said, "Baseball at that time, in my opinion, had a whole lot of racial division and I think it went on inside baseball and angered some people. There was also some hostility in the city. Pittsburgh is a conservative city and there were a lot of snide remarks made privately. I'm sure there wasn't a major reaction in the media other than to observe that it had taken place and it was a first."

Another writer's 1997 recollection was much more telling..."It's always been a problem of management. How many blacks will the fans take? I went down to the GM's office not long after that game and he had a stack of mail and told me I could take out any letter I want and it will be negative."

GM Joe L. Brown defended the team he put together and said, "I was always proud of the fact that we never paid attention to color in our organization. I don't think any club in the history of baseball had as many blacks on their roster at one time and consistently over the years."

In 2011, Dave Cash remembered Danny Murtaugh with this quote..."I remember him saying that he didn't realize who was out there, he just wanted to put the best team on the field and with the Pirate family, it didn't matter what color you were. We were about winning. That was the most important thing. In 1970, when we got into the playoffs and lost, we tasted that defeat and didn't want it to happen the next year. So in '71, we took care of business!"



Baseball fans from the "Baby Boomer" generation learned all they knew about statistics from the backs of Topps baseball cards. If someone said "SABR", it was really the word "saber", referring to a swashbuckling movie starring Burt Lancaster or Stewart Granger. With the advent of Fantasy Baseball, the Internet and advanced metrics for the sport, everything has changed. The real question is, are you still judging player performance by those same stats that were on the baseball cards?

Looking at the back of the 1956 Topps cards of Ted Williams and Warren Spahn gives us a starting point for this analysis. Obviously, the stats are from the '55 season and tell you the most basic information. For hitters, you find BA, HR, RBI, Runs, Games Played and a few other categories but not even SB. There's even some fielding information like assists and errors. For pitchers, it gives you IP, W & L, Strikeouts, ERA and a few peripheral stats. In order to bring the performance up-to-date, let's see how the new age categories play out for "Spahnie" and "The Kid", as well as the current MLB leaders through mid-May.

> OBP (On-Base %) - Anthony Rizzo leads the Majors at .468 and Miguel Cabrera tops the AL at .442. Williams' '55 number was .496.

> SLG (Slugging %, determined by Total Bases / At Bats) - Nelson Cruz leads at .730 and Bryce Harper is the NL's best at .690. Williams comes out at .703.

> OPS (OBP + SLG) - Maybe the most telling of the new numbers, as it explains how many bases a hitter has accumulated for his team. Harper and Cruz lead this category also with 1.150 and 1.139 respectively, while "Teddy Ballgame" posted a 1.200 mark.

> OPS+ (Adjusted to the ballpark factors with a mean of 100) - Only four 2015 players are over 200, led again by Cruz at 219 and Harper at 207, joined by Adrian Gonzalez and Stephen Vogt at 203. Williams' number was 209.

> WAR (Wins Above Replacement) - A single number that estimates the number of wins a player is worth to his team above the level of a replacement player. Harper is at 2.9 through 37 games played and the Royals' Lorenzo Cain comes in at 2.7 in 32 games played. Williams finished '55 at 6.9 in 98 games played.

> Offense Winning % (The percentage of games a team with nine of this player batting would win. Assumes average pitching and defense) - The current MLB leader is Paul Goldschmidt at 86.5%. The "Splendid Splinter" had a  season 60 years ago that comes in at 89.2%.

> WHIP (Walks + Hits /IP) - This stat had its genesis from Fantasy Baseball and has now become mainstream. It essentially calculates how many base runners a pitcher allows per inning pitched. The best for '15 is Felix Hernandez at 0.842 while Zack Greinke tops the NL at 0.887. In '55, Spahn was at 1.278.

> Strikeouts per 9 IP - This stat tells you about pitching dominance in the modern era and the modern hitter's reluctance to put the ball in play instead of swinging for the fences. The current leader is Mike Fiers at 12.25 while Corey Kluber (with a record of 1-5) tops the AL at 10.94. A crafty left-hander in his mid-30's, Spahn's '55 number was 4.00.

> Pitching WAR - Sonny Gray and Dallas Keuchel are the mid-May leaders at 2.5. Spahn's '55 season came in at 3.9 while it was over 5.0 in both '54 and '56.

> ERA+ (Once again, adjusted to ballpark factors) - A.J. Burnett, Shelby Miller and Greinke are all currently at 247. Spahn's lifetime best was 188 in 1953.

That's probably more than enough for your introductory lesson. If you can't wait for more, try baseball-reference.com

Baseball fans love baseball movies and can immediately recognize a great line from one of their favorite films. Let's not forget, however, that there are hundreds of celluloid moments where baseball is referenced by characters in motion pictures that don't have the national pastime involved in the story at all. Examples include...

> "I love baseball. You know it doesn't have to mean anything, it's just beautiful to watch." - Woody Allen in Zelig (1983)

> "Baseball should be the only thing on an eight year old boy's mind." - Aidan Quinn in Stolen Summer (2002)

> Jane: "I've heard police work is dangerous."

Frank: "It is. That's why I carry a big gun."

Jane: "Aren't you afraid it might go off accidentally?"

Frank: "I used to have that problem."

Jane: "What did you do about it?"

Frank: "I just think about baseball." - Priscilla Presley & Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun (1988)

> "I loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919." - Lee Strasburg (as Hyman Roth) in The Godfather II (1974)

> "What's the matter with you? Don't you want to watch the World Series?" - Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

> "You're a tragic hero. You're Lou Gehrig." - Billy Crystal in Father's Day (1997)

> Q: "Yogi?...why it's some sort of religion, isn't it?"

A: "You bet it is - a belief in the New York Yankees." - Kirk Douglas in Ace in the Hole (1951)

> "I'm an escaped car thief. I broke out of prison to see the Cubs in the World Series." - James Belushi in Taking Care of Business (1990)

> "Hey, batter-batter-batter, hey batter-batter-batter- swing batter." - Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

> "I like baseball. I just never understood how you guys can spend so much time discussing it...I've been to games, but I don't memorize who played third base for Pittsburgh in 1960." ---- "Don Hoak!" Helen Slater, Billy Crystal & others in City Slickers (1991)

When it comes to movies about baseball, the memorable lines are endless. Here are some you might remember... 

> "There's no crying in baseball!" - Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own (1992)

> "When the ball meets the bat and you feel that ball just give, you know it's going to go a long way. Damn, if you don't feel like you're going to live forever." - John Cusack (as Buck Weaver) in Eight Men Out (1988)

> "Listen, Lupas, you didn't come into this life just to sit around on a dugout bench, did ya? Now get your ass out there and do the best you can." - Walter Matthau in Bad News Bears (1976)

> "Ahh, Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with the curveball." - Dennis Haysbert (as Pedro Cerrano) in Major League (1989)

> "People all say that I've had a bad break. But today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." - Gary Cooper (as Lou Gehrig) in The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

> "Hey, Dad? You wanna have a catch?" - Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams (1989)

> "God, I just love baseball." - Robert Redford (as Roy Hobbs) in The Natural (1984)

> "Tonight, he will make the fateful walk to the loneliest spot in the world, the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium, to push the sun back into the sky and give us one more day of summer." - Vin Scully in For Love of the Game (1999)

> "I'm your new Catcher and you just got lesson number one: don't think, it can only hurt the ball club." - Kevin Costner (as Crash Davis) in Bull Durham (1988)

> "If you build it, he will come." - Ray Liotta (as Shoeless Joe Jackson) in Field of Dreams (1989)

> "You gotta stop thinking. Just have fun. I mean, if you were having fun you would've caught that ball." - Benny in The Sandlot (1993)

> "Do you know what we get to do today, Brooks? We get to play baseball." - Dennis Quaid (as Jim Morris) in The Rookie (2002)

> "This is how we do business in Cleveland." - Reed Diamond (as Mark Shapiro) in Moneyball (2011)

> "Pick me out a winner, Bobby." - Redford again in The Natural (1984)

> "From here on in, I rag nobody." - Michael Moriarty in Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

> "Juuuuussssst a bit outside." - Bob Uecker in Major League (1989)

If the Old Duck wasn't such a "Lollygagger", another entire column could be filled with more great lines from Major League, Bull Durham, A League of Their Own and a few others. And let's not forget the soliloquies offered up by Burt Lancaster (as Moonlight Graham) and James Earl Jones (as Terrance Mann) in Field of Dreams.

Hope your favorite was mentioned. If you think coming up with a new topic each week to keep you entertained is easy, remember the words of Jimmy Dugan, "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard...is what makes it great."


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