Fantasy Baseball’s comeback performer of the year has already been decided, and while there is no Magic 8-ball or Ouija board informing us that Bryce Harper or Felix Hernandez have locked up honors, the choice happens to be a longtime Fantasy Baseball owner who came out of a lengthy hiatus to for a worthy cause.
Robin Brecker is a rabid Yankees fan (“I know them all from Gary Sanchez to the players in short season Single-A ball”) whose experience in Fantasy Baseball dates back to the early 1980s and the origins of the genre. Brecker joined the Grimes League in its third year of existence in 1983, a time when The Police hung on Every Breath You Take, J.R. Ewing ran Dallas and Donald Trump’s vision of Making America Great Again hinged on buying the USFL’s New Jersey Generals.
“The auction was in West Palm Beach, so myself and a couple of other owners caught the train down there,” said Brecker. “When we made the stop in Washington, D.C., we all went out and picked up a copy of USA Today, which was beginning to establish itself and happened to be the only paper where you could get information on each team. Back then, you’d grab that and a copy of Street and Smith’s and be prepared.”
What was originally an eight-team league morphed into 12 by the mid-1980s as the Grimes League (named after an insurance agent several of the owners met during the 1980 Kentucky Derby) became a yearly ritual that took two days to complete its draft. The league stayed true to the rules of Rotisserie baseball with a 4×4 setting and remained strong until the love of Fantasy Golf began to take the focus off baseball. Gradually, the Grimes League started losing traction and eventually ceased a decade ago.
Tragedy happened to sow the seeds to a possible revival when one of the original owners passed away last year, leaving behind a wife and boys aged 10 and 13. In an attempt to help the family, Brecker came up with the idea of breathing life back into the league for the specific cause of supporting one the pillars of the Grimes League.
“We decided to make the pay-in $110, with all but $10 going to the family,” Brecker said. “It’s not a lot and isn’t life changing, but we felt that by getting back together and playing Fantasy Baseball would be a great way to honor our friend and help his sons.”
With most of the owners well into their 60s, there was little desire to grind out a two-day draft, so Brecker and one of his sons decided on a fairly simple format to keep the game competitive without missing time with the grandchildren in favor of deep reading of Baseball Prospectus and excessive time on RotoExperts.com (hey, we have to toot our own horn here).
“Five hitters and five hitters. That’s it,” said Brecker. “We got together at the Corner Bakery in Philadelphia and conducted the draft, which took all of 45 minutes. “It happened so fast that no one could believe it. “The original Rotisserie rules are still there, but we conduct transactions and trades every four weeks, so that keeps us from having to spend so much time on who the hot players are. With only 10 total players, every pitch has a greater impact.”
“I have to admit that it was hard to come back and prepare for Fantasy Baseball,” Brecker added. “Once you stop playing it, you only want to focus on your favorite team, so it was all Yankees for me.”
The Grimes League is a living history of how Fantasy Baseball has evolved over the past four decades. In the early days of the league, a 13-page report on standings and stats were Xeroxed and mailed to the respective owners. Brecker said he had to find a way to work out the cost of copying and mailing the league with the company he worked with at the time, an issue that resulted in little trouble. As technology began to emerge, the league was able to find a friend who worked at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange who had the ability to download stats via MS-DOS that allowed the men of Grimes to follow the exploits of 1980s Fantasy mainstays like Vince Coleman, Eric Davis, Orel Hershiser and Mike Scott. For this year’s draft, the league’s owners used the likes of Google spreadsheets in order to keep things flowing.
“Print was everything back then,” said Brecker. “The bigger newspapers would always put out this big preview of the season the day before Opening Day that allowed you to get an idea of who could help your team. They would also publish the box scores of the previous day’s games the following morning. When you think about how far along we’ve come with the ability to get information, it feels like we were in a covered wagon.”
The brief draft allowed the owners to gather together at a nearby establishment and enjoy the reunion longer than expected. “It was a great feeling to come back together, especially when you consider the reason why we did,” said Brecker. “We each felt like we moved that much closer to heaven by helping out the boys.”
As much as the Grimes League is having fun thus far, the future remains a question. “I’m really not sure how much longer we will do this,” said Brecker. “It’s not that there’s a lack of interest, but as you get older, you value your time. We will continue to find ways to support the boys, but it may not be through Fantasy Baseball.”
Brecker gets a level of satisfaction when recalling the time he pitched the story of the Grimes League to Sports Illustrated in 1984. “They laughed at the concept,” he said. “They told me it was just a fad for geeks and nerds that would eventually pass. I think they were wrong with that assessment.”
Those interested in following the league can do so via ungrimes.wordpress.com or on Twitter at @UnGrimesLeague.
“If anything comes of this, I hope that it will inspire other Fantasy leagues to consider doing what we did in order to help our friend,” said Brecker. “Perhaps there are bigger charities that could see this and push it forward. It’s something that is needed throughout the world.”