Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Birth of the CFCL (The Copperfields' point of view)

I trace the birth of the CFCL back to Kroch’s and Brentatno’s book store in Oak Park. It was March 1984, and I was looking forward to spring break in my senior year at Oak Park River Forest (OPRF) High School.

The English major in me – and the fanciful team profile I wrote for my David’s Copperfields in 1989 - will tell you I stopped in Kroch’s to buy a copy of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield for Mr. Berkley’s English Lit class. Truthfully, I was more likely there to peruse the latest edition of Bill James’ Baseball Abstract. Whatever brought me into the book store that 1984 March day, I ended up in the section labeled Sports – Baseball.

There, my eye was caught by a bright green cover that featured a quote from Bill James himself … “Perfect! Baseball is supposed to be fun. Only I’m not sure it’s supposed to be this much fun.” Not only that, but the paperback also promised to hold the secrets of “THE GREATEST GAME FOR BASEBALL FANS SINCE BASEBALL.”

Well, this was intriguing. I loved baseball, but was perhaps even more passionate about games based on my favorite sport.  

I spent hours in my room rolling dice and flipping “split cards” to determine results in Strat-O-Matic baseball simulation game. I kept scorecards for each game and compiled standings and full player statistics. What a geek … it’s no wonder I never dated in high school.

My best friend Rich was partial to a similar game called APBA (pronounced “app-bah”, originally standing for American Professional Baseball Association). In fact, Rich and I first met when he noticed me transferring player stats from Strat-O-Matic score sheets to a spiral notebook in the back of Mr Shultes’ freshman Earth Science class.

The main objective of these sim games was the same: to allow you to manage a team of real major league baseball players in a game or season, with each player represented by a card printed with various dice roll combinations and corresponding results.  

So you can see why this book captured my attention. If there was a game that could top my beloved Strat-O-Matic, I was interested, so I snatched the book up.  

Best $5.95 I ever spent.

At home, I devoured the book and was instantly captivated. Unlike Strat-O-Matic or APBA, Rotisserie League used the results from the current Major League baseball season as it was happening. Incredible! No more waiting until February for the previous season’s Strat cards to be released – this game took place in real time.

Rotisserie League baseball also involved elaborate scoring and record-keeping rules, which was right down my alley.

The book was written collaboratively by the 10 members of the Rotisserie Baseball League, which had been in existence since 1980, when Beloved Founder Dan Okrent and his friends conceived of the game. In the book, they spoke enticingly of an all-day player auction, late night phone calls to wheel and deal with other team “owners” to improve their rosters, pennant races, and post-season celebrations. More than that, it was written in such an engaging way, that the fun they were having and their enthusiasm for the game just dripped off the page.

I had to do this.

There was one fairly major obstacle. This wasn’t a game you could sit in your room and play on your own with a set of dice. It called for real, ongoing, human interaction and I simply didn’t have a pool of friends and acquaintances to draw upon. One thing was clear … if I was going to participate in a Rotisserie League it was going to have to involve Rich. Why not drop it in his lap and see what happened? He was bound to have some people he could pull in.

At the earliest opportunity, I took the book over to Rich’s house and had him read it. I didn’t set expectations, didn’t even suggest that we should form a league of our own. I wasn’t sure what he would think of the game, so I prepared myself to mock the concept if Rich didn’t buy into it. I knew his geekish appreciation for baseball simulations equaled my own, but this was on a whole different level. I needn’t have worried - it didn’t take Rich long to come to the same conclusion I had.

We had to do this.

It also didn’t take him long to identify the same roadblock that I had … beyond the two of us, who else could we invite to get up to the recommended 10 league franchises? Ok, so Rich’s social circle was about as limited as mine. It was time to get creative.

My dad was the one who introduced me to Strat-O-Matic after playing it with one of his friends, so we figured Dad would be game. Same with my younger brother Paul. Rich was able to entice a friend from church to join us, and once Dad was onboard, he reached out to his Strat buddy, Jim. Not quite the 10 we were hoping for, but 6 was good enough to get us started.

So we had our owners, and we all set about selecting names for our teams, following in the Rotisserie League tradition … David’s Copperfields, Fred’s Friars, etc. But we needed a name for the league as well.

Rich and I kicked around a few ideas, but could never come up with something that was sufficiently cool. A letter in the league archives shows that we still hadn’t named the league in the weeks leading up to Draft Day. Eventually we realized that all the owners in the league belonged to the Die-Hard Cub Fan Club, an official organization run by the Cubs. Borrowing part of that moniker, the Cub Fan Club League was christened. Of course, we almost never referred to it that way, even in those early days it was always the CFCL.  

Our inaugural draft was held in the kitchenette at my house on the weekend after MLB Opening Day – April 7 or 8, 1984. I wish I remembered more about that first CFCL draft. While I imagine Rich and I expected the league to last several years, if we had known it would last this long and we’d end up measuring out a significant portion (at this point, the majority) of our lives in “seasons” rather than “years” we probably would have done a better job of documenting the event.  

It didn’t’ take too long for us to realize we were in the grasp of something significant, and what that first Draft Day is lacking in terms of official documentation we certainly made up for in subsequent seasons. I’m sure we’ll be dipping into those archives quite a bit in the coming year. Stay tuned…

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Birth of the CFCL (The Rebel's point of view)

It all started innocently enough.  Two best friends in high school walking home down Lake Street in Oak Park.  Suddenly our hero conspiratorially whispers “C’mon, I have to show you something” and ducks into Kroch’s and Brentanno’s (that used to be what was called a bookstore for our Generation readers).  He walks over to the Sports section and pulls out a green covered book by the title of “Rotisserie League Baseball – The Greatest Game For Baseball Fans Since Baseball”.  He hands me the book and says “What do you think?”

I read the first few pages, trying to grasp what this could be.  It had to be awesome (turns out it was) since it had to do with baseball.  But I found it a little confusing.  Here’s a snippet of the ensuing conversation.

Me:  “So you have a team of 23 players and play games against other teams?”

David:  “Sort of.  You have a team of 23 players and use their cumulative stats against the stats of the other teams.”

Me:  “So what do you do, pick nine players each day you want to use?”

David:  “No, you use all the stats from all the players on your team each day.”

Me:  (Clearly not wanting to give up on the premise that baseball is played with nine players at a time):  “But I don’t get it.  How can you play with 23 players?  There are only nine positions.”

As should have been painfully obvious at that moment David had the chops to play the game (and would win the championship eleven times in twenty-seven years while I have reached the pinnacle twice in 29).

And thus the Cubs Fan Club League (CFCL) was born.  I don’t think either of us knew at the time that that afternoon would create one of the best, most prestigious Rotisserie Baseball Leagues in the country or that it would be in existence thirty years later.  But, by the same token, if asked the question at the time, I don’t think either of us would think that the league would ever not exist.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with fantasy baseball, the concept is pretty easy.  You draft a team of 23 National (or American) League players and use their offensive and pitching stats that the players actually generate in a competition against other fantasy teams in your league.  That’s a real watered down version, but the point here is to introduce you to the origin of the CFCL, not teach the rules of fantasy baseball.  In the coming days and weeks you will see links to our various websites that will provide you with all the educational information you desire.  Wait until you see the link to our Constitution!  Thomas Jefferson would be proud.

So I read the book and I was in.  Here’s the thing about David and myself.  Back then (as even now) we are self-admitted geeks.  I read this book and thought the concept was awesome.  No, let me rephrase.  I thought the concept WAS AWESOME!  My first thought was “I hope David asks me to be in his league.”  What I didn’t know at the time was David handed me the book and was thinking “I hope Rich wants to do this.”  Any surprise we were shy around girls?  We couldn’t even ask each other out on this cosmic baseball date.

Eventually we stumbled our way through to knowing we both wanted to do this (Hey, it’s not unbelievable, the kids on Blue Lagoon figured out how to create a child with less brains).  So we had two challenges ahead of us.  First we had to find other owners.  Second we had to name our non-existent league.  As a working title we came up with the CFCL.  David and I are both Cub fans so Cub Fan Club League seemed to make sense.  I wasn’t thrilled with it - how do you pronounce “CFCL” other than C-F-C-L?  Not like Kafikel (phonetic) makes any sense.  I was hoping we could come up with a cool acronym.  Something like B.A.S.E. or C.U.B.S. or B.A.S.E.B.A.L.L.E.I.S.A.W.E.S.O.M.E.A.N.D.W.E.A.R.E.A.C.O.U.P.L.E.O.F.G.E.E.K.S. well, you can see why it never got any further than CFCL.  And now, 30 years later, C-F-C-L rolls right off the tongue and looks as familiar to me as my own last name.

The League is named, so now we need teams.  The book talked about ten teams in the original Rotisserie League that competed in 1983.  Ok, David is one.  I’m two.  Great, only eight to go.  Did I mention we weren’t part of the “in” crowd?  We weren’t exactly on the shortlist for any of the cliques in high school.  David and I haven’t been back to any of high school reunions because basically whenever we talk or see each other we are having a reunion with the lion’s share of students we hung out with back at OPRF.

Fortunately David had a dad and brother who were passionate about baseball and they agreed to join us.  I had a friend from church and David’s dad had a friend at work.  So we had six.  We asked our College Algebra teacher if he would like to join us, but he declined.  Hopefully he figured that “socializing” with students wouldn’t be a good idea, rather than hanging with us would lower his street cred.

But we figured six would be enough to start.  You see, we read the book in early 1984 and the baseball season started in a few months.  We would have to get rolling.

And so the league was formed and we had our inaugural draft  in the kitchen of David's family's home.  The six of us sat around and selected our teams.  The prep work (from my recollection) was hilarious compared to today’s standards.  That’s another entry a few days from now.  But we started the league with six owners, embarking on a journey that, while not yet complete, has been amazing, binding and surreal at times.

All of that in good time.  Thank you for joining us.