Performer: Tomy Petty & The Heartbreakers
Songwriters: Tom Petty, Dave Stewart
Original Release: single, Southern Accents
Definitive Version: None
The summer of 1984 was a big year for my baseball library, although it was by no means as big as 1983. 1983, of course, was when I got my first MacMillan encyclopedia and was introduced to Bill James, as I mentioned.
In 1984, I bought The Hidden Game of Baseball at a bookstore at Ala Moana Center and read it cover to cover in Hawaii and again over a period of days afterward. But a smaller book that I bought the same year had far more influence on me. The book was Rotisserie League Baseball.
It’s amazing to me that Rotisserie League Baseball doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page. I guess the influence of that book has been forgotten, but it was the genesis of the widespread popularity of fantasy baseball. The game had been around for a while, but the book made it well-known. I remember reading it, thinking, “wow, this is great—a baseball game that’s based on real-life events.” This went way beyond Strat-o-Matic baseball. I wanted to PLAY this game.
Well, I knew a few guys around Wabash who were Strat or APBA fans. Maybe they wanted to try something new, too. So at about the same time that this song and its tres bizarro supremo video came out in February 1985, I put a notice in the weekly announcements soliciting students to form a Wabash rotisserie league.
Ideally, I needed 10 teams to do a National League rotisserie league right. Ten guys showed up to an organizational meeting in the student union. I was named commissioner; my friend Steve was named treasurer; and we decided to make the costs one-tenth of those in the book, so $26 for a team instead of $260. That still was too rich for a couple guys, so they joined forces, and we had only eight teams. Fine.
The next order of business was holding the draft in early April. I went to the school administration and reserved a classroom in the second floor of Baxter Hall, the history building. It had several blackboards and a huge conference table, so it was perfect.
We met on a Saturday at about 3 p.m., naively assuming that this whole process couldn’t take more than a few hours. It took two days. (Fortunately, I reserved the room for the whole weekend.) The biggest problem was one of newness and relative disorganization.
If you’ve played straight Rotisserie baseball, you know that the draft process is an auction rather than a simple selection. The first time we started with a player—and I can’t remember the first player now, probably Mike Schmidt—the first bidders went so quickly that everyone protested that they had no time to react.
Of course, that’s precisely how an auction can go, but enough people protested that I—not wanting my league to go down the drain before it even started—relented. We instead had a draft-auction amalgam, where someone would start the bidding, and we’d move in order around the table until only one bidder was left.
It was more orderly, which was appreciated, but it also added immeasureably to the length of the draft. By the end of the second day, everyone was about ready to pull their hair out trying to wrap the dang thing up. But wrap up we finally did, and with that, the Wabash Rotisserie League became a reality, and Willie’s Wonkas were born.