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A founder of fantasy baseball has second thoughts

Now I know how Dr. Frankenstein must have felt. I didn't invent fantasy baseball—a hundred years from now, scholars will be debating whether Daniel Okrent or Robert Sklar did—but as a member with them and seven others of the original Rotisserie League¬¨¬®‚àö√ú and as a coauthor of the three editions of Rotisserie League Baseball, I've had a hand in its promulgation. We only meant to have a little fun with this, but fantasy baseball leagues have spread across the land like Dutch elm disease. Out, out damned hits-plus-walks-per-inning-pitched ratio.

For those of you who have better things to do with your lives, Rotisserie League¬¨¬®‚àö√ú baseball enables anybody to be a Gene Autry or a Joan Kroc. At the start of each season, owners of fictional teams bid for the "services" of real major league players, the object being to assemble the best Rotisserie¬¨¬®‚àö√ú team in the league. Teams must reflect big league rosters—so many middle infielders, so many pitchers, etc.—and all owners play with the same bankroll (each has 260 units to spend on 23 players). Standings are based on the cumulative statistics of each team's players in eight categories: batting average, RBIs, home runs and stolen bases for hitters; wins, saves, ERA and the aforementioned ratio for pitchers.

As we, the Founding Fathers, wind down our ninth season, we see fantasy leagues everywhere. We know of many celebrities who play in Rotisserie® leagues. We hear a certain chief executive from a major world power is interested in joining one. We begrudge all the stat services and book publishers and magazines and newspapers and phone services that are making money off our registered name. That's what all those little circled R's are for.

We also fret about the monster we have created. Consider:

•Mario Cuomo plays. Cuomo may be doing a fine job as governor of New York State, but, we ask you, can you really put your faith in a man who puts his in Carmelo Martinez?

•Life is imitating art. Members of the Philadelphia Phillies front office became so enamored of the game last year that Rotisserie League¬¨¬®‚àö√ú talk had to be confined to the lunch hour. Even owner Bill Giles participates, and, in fact, the Phillies' spate of trades the last two years reflects a Rotisserie League¬¨¬®‚àö√ú mind-set. Players know about the game too. In the July 21 issue of USA Today, George Brett explained a rare appearance in the outfield by saying, "That's for all the Rotisserie League guys." Brett knows that once a player appears at a position, he becomes eligible at that position for the rest of the Rotisserie¬¨¬®‚àö√ú season. "My goal is to get behind the plate for one inning so they can get points out of me as a catcher," said Brett. We applaud Brett's offer but worry about the day the game catches on in big league clubhouses. What happens when a pitcher faces a batter he owns?

•Jerry Heath, a computer programmer whose Heath Research provides weekly stats for 174 leagues, grosses more than $100,000 a year. A New York-based phone service that provides up-to-the-minute Rotisserie¬¨¬®‚àö√ú information is about to go nationwide, having tested the concept on New Yorkers who proved fanatical enough to pay 85 cents a minute to find out that Mike Schooler picked up another save. Once a cottage industry, Rotisserie¬¨¬®‚àö√ú baseball is now at least a split-level ranch industry.

•The inevitable backlash has arrived. Barney Hutchinson, a columnist for the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera, excoriated Rotisserie¬¨¬®‚àö√ú baseball last year when he wrote, "The 'Me Generation' gets its perfect sports toy." Other columnists, most notably Mike Lupica of New York's Daily News, have taken their shots, and frankly we don't blame them. And we sympathize with major league p.r. men besieged by strangers calling to find out when so-and-so will come off the disabled list.

Rotissarians are a single-minded lot. Last year we received a letter from a woman who blamed the breakup of her marriage on the Rotisserie League®. We hope yours is strong enough to survive those 1 a.m. calls to Sportsphone. Just think of them as one o'clock feedings.

What we did was start a simple little game that simulated the running of a big league ball club. We knew it was good—"the greatest game for baseball fans since baseball," we modestly called it in our first book—but we had no idea that it would grow to such immense proportions.

To those of you whose lives and wallets we have enriched, you're welcome. To those of you who have had Rotisserie® leagues up to here, we apologize. To those of you who are about to call the Seattle Mariners public relations department to find out why Omar Vizquel wasn't in the lineup last night, put the phone down. Rotisserie League® baseball is, after all, only a game.

Of course, this comes from a man who plays in three leagues.