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…

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