Not a lot of folks get worked up over the fact that Rotisserie League¬¨¬®‚àö√ú Baseball and other sports fantasy leagues—in which participants select rosters of pro players and compete against one another, using the statistics those players amass in real games—can be a form of illegal gambling. It is estimated that more than a million people pay entry fees of as much as a few hundred dollars to take part in such leagues.
Now fantasy leagues are facing greater scrutiny. NHL president John Ziegler recently sent a memo to team officials telling them that the league's antigambling policy forbids them to take part in any fantasy hockey league played for money. While it's farfetched to suggest that a general manager would get so wrapped up in a fantasy league that he would make a real-life trade or tell his coach to play or bench someone just to help his fantasy franchise, it does seem inappropriate for a team official to win or lose money based on the performance of a particular player. So far, no other major league has barred its personnel from joining fantasy leagues.
On Sept. 18 the Austin, Texas, police conducted what may have been the first-ever fantasy league bust. They arrested eight men at a bar for taking part in a football league and charged them with engaging in organized crime, a second-degree felony punishable by 20 years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Police said the men had anted up $250 apiece, and the winner stood to make as much as $3,000 at the end of the season. The men claimed that the winner would get only a trophy, and that the $3,000 would go for a party and league expenses.
Police sergeant Byron Cates said that the wife of one of the men had called to complain that her husband had spent part of the rent money on his entry fee. "I've had civil libertarians say this is a victimless crime," says Cates, "but if a guy is out there betting and losing money so kids have to go without food or shoes, that's not victimless." Cates says that his department isn't mounting an antifantasy league campaign, but "if we get other complaints, we'll act on them."
On the last day of the recent Ryder Cup competition, in which the Europeans tied the Americans and, thereby, retained the Cup, Payne Stewart of the U.S. needed three shots to escape from an 18th-hole water hazard during his match against Jose-Maria Olazabal. Afterward, Stewart, who lost one down to Olazabal, said, "The way I figure it, they got lucky and tied us."
MAN VS. MACHINE
On Oct. 22 world chess champion Gary Kasparov of the Soviet Union will confront a computer-linked video terminal and possibly an unsettling vision of the future at the New York Academy of Art. Kasparov will take on Deep Thought, the most accomplished computer-chess program ever, in a two-game exhibition. Developed by five graduate students at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Deep Thought can analyze 720,000 potential positions per second. It has already defeated two grand masters and tied for first place in a topflight tournament that included both human and electronic competitors.
In the past, Kasparov has taken a hard line on chess software. "I can't imagine how you put the psychological things into a computer," he said in 1986. "It's psychological, it's fight, it's struggle. Intuition is very important, very important."
When the challenge came from Shelby Lyman, a chess commentator and columnist, Kasparov at first declined, but he eventually changed his mind because he saw the historical significance of the event. Kasparov also bargained for extended playing time to improve his chances against Deep Thought's lightning responses; each of the two games will have a 90-minutes-per-player time limit, instead of the one-hour limit initially proposed.
If either of the combatants is unnerved, it isn't Deep Thought. "Kasparov's manager did tell me he didn't want to be the first world champion to lose to a computer," says Lyman. "Whatever happens in this match—and I'd like to think the computer can draw blood—it only postpones the inevitable: the end of human hegemony in chess."
YOU MAKE THE CALL
Can anyone beat Mike Tyson? Bert Sugar, editor-publisher of Boxing Illustrated magazine, says he knows of six fellows who could handle the heavyweight champ. Of course, five of them are dead, and the sixth is pushing 50.
In the November issue of his magazine, Sugar—frustrated, like so many other boxing fans, with the crop of challengers to Ninety Second Mike—contemplates how Tyson might have fared against 10 of the greatest heavyweight champs in history: Muhammad Ali, Max Baer, Ezzard Charles, Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier, Jack Johnson, Sonny Liston, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Gene Tunney. "It's an old barroom argument," says Sugar, "and I started it with myself."
In his imaginary bouts, conducted under today's rules and with the past champions fighting at the same weight as Tyson ("Remember, it's my game," says Sugar), Sugar sees Tyson beating only Baer, Charles, Frazier and Marciano. He awards Ali and, surprisingly, Tunney 12-round decisions over Tyson, and gives Dempsey, Johnson, Liston and Louis knockout wins. Dempsey in particular benefits from Sugar's guidelines. The Manassa Mauler, who fought at about 190 pounds in his prime, uses his extra 30 pounds of imaginary muscle to KO Iron Mike in three rounds.
Sugar invited readers to make their own picks in the 10 matchups and has already received more than 500 letters. "Most started out, 'You dumb blank-blank,' " he says. Sugar is still waiting to hear from a noted boxing historian named Tyson.
FELLED BY THE FALL
This time of year football fever is usually sweeping Oklahoma, but last weekend the sound of bat on ball was all that could be heard in the town of Cameron (pop. 350), site of one of the state's regional baseball tournaments. Cameron High defeated Porum High 13-4 and Battiest High 3-0 to win its 58th and 59th straight games and advance to the state fall tournament. Senior Kevin Lomon, the Yellow-jackets" winning pitcher in both games, is on an impressive roll of his own. Since the spring of '88 his record is 53-0.
Early last week, Kevin's uncle Rodney Carter, a banker in nearby Poteau, reckoned that Kevin might have a chance to tie the national high school record of 53 consecutive pitching wins, set by Jon Peters of Brenham, Texas, last spring (SI, May 8 and June 5). Carter called the National Federation of State High School Associations in Kansas City, but the outcome was disappointing. In Oklahoma the majority of high schools that field baseball teams play in the spring, but unlike schools in most states, Oklahoma's have the option of competing in the fall as well. Because fewer Oklahoma schools play baseball in the fall and the sport's recognized championship is in the spring, the NFSHSA decided that only statistics from Cameron's spring season could count toward the record.
Because 29 of Kevin's 53 victories have come during fall seasons, Peters's mark remains safe for now. Anyway, says Kevin. "I'd rather have taken a loss and gone to state than got the record and not gone. Mostly, I try not to think about it."
It's some consolation to Kevin that he might get to avenge Cameron's last loss—to Asher High in the 1988 fall title game—in this season's state tournament. Before that defeat, the Yellowjackets had won 32 games in a row, which means they are 91-1 over the past two years. Kevin's overall record is 72-4 with a 0.80 ERA, and as a part-time shortstop he's hitting .528 with 11 home runs and 60 RBIs this fall. "I like pitching better, because you're always in the game," Kevin says. And like a true pitcher, he adds, "But I do love to hit."
Lomon almost tied a record, but too many wins came in football season.
THEY SAID IT
•Golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez, following tennis star Jimmy Connors on the dais at a recent benefit: "I have great admiration for Jimmy Connors. In fact, my name used to be Connors, but I changed it for business reasons."
•Junior lightweight boxer John-John Molina, calling manager Lou Duva from a phone 10 miles from their Virginia Beach, Va., hotel: "You said run to the red light. All the lights we saw were green."