Monday, December 07, 2020

A Brief History of Lozoball

I started my first blog in the spring of 2006. It was based at Fox Sports and wittily titled, “All the Good Names Are Taken.” A couple months later, in early July, I joined Blogger and created a second blog called, “One More Dying Quail.” (That eventually became my gmail address as well, which makes it a lot of fun to tell people over the phone.) For about two years, I rode the excitement of this new forum, writing hundreds of posts, making a bunch of new friends/acquaintances, contributing to other sites when asked (hello, Awful Announcing! How you doin, Epic Carnival? Storming the Floor!), and subscribing to far more than I could ever manage to digest in a day.

One of the blogs I always read was, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Blog?” by the incomparable Dave Lozo, whose work was always original and funny. One day, Lozo mentioned an idea that he had been toying with: what if, instead of a typical fantasy baseball league, he started one that featured thirty teams with full rosters and a salary cap, to somewhat mimic the ideal conditions of the game? He asked for volunteers to take part in this experiment, and thirty of us answered the call.

The league was called Lozoball and it almost didn’t make it out of spring training in 2008. Lozo’s idea was great but he didn’t really know how to translate it into an actual, functional fantasy baseball league (that’s not intended as a criticism; none of us knew how to make it work). We started trying to do the draft in the comments of a blog post, which quickly proved unwieldy, and by early March someone noted that one owner had quit, several others weren’t responding with any great urgency, and Lozo himself seemed ready to chalk it up as an idea that just didn’t work out.

It was around this time that one of the owners, Craig DeLucia, stepped in and took charge. He led a merry band (including Lozo) over to CBS Sportsline, the only website that seemed capable of managing what we were trying to do, and drafted a constitution outlining the rules and regulations that governed the league. The first draft took an ungodly amount of time (for years after, new owners would occasionally advocate for a full redraft, only to be rebuffed by old-timers who had been around since the beginning and loved nothing more than gazing off into proverbial middle distance while simultaneously waxing poetic about the good old days and very clearly stating that there was never going to be a fucking full redraft) but we got it done, and that was that. The ensuing twelve years haven’t been easy, but we always made it work behind Craig’s easygoing leadership and a hardcore group of owners who showed up every year and participated, even when the championship was decided by the All-Star break.

This past season was supposed to be my first without Lozoball. It’s not an easy league to stay competitive in even with ample time, and as my family grew and real life commitments began to shoulder pretend ones aside, it became clear that it was time to go. I tried to leave after the 2016 season, sending Craig an email thanking him for the good times and indicating my intentions to move on, but he asked me to give it some more time, to wait until he unveiled some ideas aimed at improving the league. Honestly, he had me at hello; we went back almost a full decade at that point and I had always admired the way he had stepped in at the beginning and turned a fun idea into a game that sort of worked. The fact that he cared enough to ask me to stay pretty much meant that I was gonna stay, at least for a while, even if the stockpile of prospects I had put together back when I sort of knew what I was doing hadn’t quite panned out as expected and was starting to get older while my knowledge base grew smaller and smaller.

I didn’t know how long I would be back for; turns out, it was three more years. After the 2019 season, I waited for a while to see how I felt about returning. My friend Billy had quit prior to the season and my friend Chris seemed likely to follow suit. Part of the fun of Lozoball had always been sitting up late with those guys on our summer road trips, hammering out trades and talking prospects. Without them, it didn’t make much sense to continue. I emailed Craig in mid-January to tell him I was definitely out and he was kind, but didn’t argue other than to say that he hoped I would be able to return in the future. And that was that. I was officially retired from Lozoball.

Until I wasn’t.

At the center of Lozoball was a hardcore group of owners who had been present from the beginning, or close to it, and so carried with them a sense of ownership of the league as a whole. Me, Craig, Bunnell, O’Malley, certainly others I’m forgetting…the league was important to us – we understood that it was flawed in many ways but we always cared about making it better and ensuring its survival.

No one, not one of the dozens of owners who passed through Lozoball over the past twelve years, cared more than Andrew Rosin. Andrew and I had been part of the same circle of bloggers prior to Lozoball’s beginning, that group of guys and gals who wrote incessantly, sent links to Deadspin and The Big Lead hoping to be noticed, and chatted on email and G-chat for half the night. He had tried to get Chris and I to start a podcast, had guested extensively on both my blogs, and was typically omnipresent on chat – the second I logged on to Gmail, every night, there was Andrew, screaming at me in all caps about the Brewers or his 28th round sleeper Lozoball pick or the dialogue in a screenplay he was working on or some other random topic.

One night, I decided I needed a new song to listen to, “something that rocks,” and asked Andrew for a recommendation – Avenged Sevenfold’s “Gunslinger” is still one of my favorite tunes. More than once I asked for a fantasy football or baseball sleeper (sometimes for a league in which we were both participating) – he always had a good name for me, someone I never even knew existed, let alone would’ve drafted (I went back and looked up “Andrew fantasy football sleeper” in my email archives while writing this – there was one email where he gave me two names and then wrote, “Say them quietly and feel the magic”). And when it came to making a big Lozoball trade for no better reason than to shake things up, there was no one better to approach.

Over a period of a few years I stopped blogging as much, then I stopped G-chatting as much, then I wasn’t as active in Lozoball, then finally I quit Twitter. All of those added up to more of a distance between Andrew and I. We grew apart; it’s a pretty common theme in my life. While Chris and Billy and I would occasionally talk about driving out to Wisconsin to cross a few more ballparks off our list and finally put eyes on the legendary Andrew Rosin, it never happened.

But still, the man was passionate about Lozoball. I’m convinced that no one in the league ever worked harder to create a quality team, or cared as much about the entire process, from identifying prospects to trading in top-tier major league talent. Occasionally that passion bubbled over, which could be incredibly fun to witness if you weren’t the subject of his ire. Maybe my favorite Andrew moment ever was the day he realized that his spot in the waiver order had changed unexpectedly and he was suddenly several spots lower than he thought he was supposed to be, and he absolutely lost his mind in an email to the league. I believe the phrase, “it’s not all of the bullshit, but it’s bullshit,” or something to that effect, was used. It was fantastic. And of course, after some time passed and he had thought about it, he publicly apologized for “coming in too hot.”

Andrew was open about the fact that he had been sick for some time, with cancer, but it didn’t really sink in how sick. I had forgotten that he took the 2018 season off from Lozoball to focus on his health, returning in 2019 to finish second. Everyone knew that he would be back in 2020, and that Craig’s three-year run as champion was in serious jeopardy. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, “As long as Rosin can open a Prospect Handbook, he’s a threat.” He had never won Lozoball, but just you wait. Just you wait.

A couple weeks after I left the league (Chris also opted out around the same time), Andrew’s sister tagged him in a post on Facebook and said that he had died. It took me by surprise; like I said, I’d known he was sick, but I never expected him to die. I had fully expected him to beat it and just always be there.

I wasn’t sure how to react. His death was, between my personal and professional lives, the fourth in less than a month, all of them between the ages of about 20 and 50, and he was a guy I had shared some good times with. At the same time, we had drifted apart over the years. I was sad, but didn’t really know if I was allowed to be, or if I could do anything about it.

What happened next happened quick. When Craig heard that Andrew had died, he emailed me to share the news. I appreciated his thoughtfulness. At the end of my response, I threw in a paraphrased movie quote that I thought Andrew would have appreciated: “You’ll find an owner soon to take over his team,” I said, “but if you don’t, give me a call. I’ll fly with you.”

The next morning, Craig answered with a long response about Andrew’s team, how competitive Andrew was and how angry he would be if it didn’t compete or if someone new came in and blew it all up…which is exactly what Craig feared would happen if a newcomer to the league stepped in. He took my throwaway tribute line to Andrew and turned it into a hopeful question: this roster needs a steady, veteran hand to run it this season – would I be that hand? Or more to the point, COULD I be that hand? Could I, would I, be able to summon at least some of Andrew’s…Andrewness…and keep his spirit alive a while longer?

I thought about it, and the answer was obviously no. There was no way that anyone could summon up the kind of passion that Andrew possessed for many things, including Lozoball. I could never be the guy who talked in all caps, or had a song recommendation off the top of his head at all times, or would respond for an hour on Twitter with one-liners about various wrestlers that people threw at him. He had never won Lozoball, sure, but that was beside the point. He just fucking cared. I could never compete with that kind of passion.

But I thought about it all day, and in the end arrived at a conclusion: if I alone couldn’t conjure up that level of commitment, maybe we could spread it out a little bit.

That night, I sent an email to Chris and Billy, passing along the news about Andrew, giving a rundown of the correspondence Craig and I had shared, and asking them to join me in taking on his team as a tribute. It took just a few hours for them to agree: we were in, and we were going to win Lozoball for Andrew Rosin.

This isn’t a mystery story, so I’ll spare the suspense: we did not win Lozoball for Andrew Rosin. But I don’t think anyone can say that we didn’t put up a fight. Oddly, Covid-19 helped (you gotta find the silver linings where you can) – all three of us were overwhelmed to varying degrees by life, liberty, and where the fuck did I put my personal happiness, but a 60-game season ultimately helped us focus our energies and dig in for a relative sprint.

Once the season got underway (without Andrew’s vaunted research; we completely bombed on the draft, even after Craig gave us a pass for initially bombing on the draft, and I think the three of us exchanged, “Okay, we should probably look at our team now,” texts the day before Opening Day), we quickly slid into the top five based on the strength of the team he had built, and a run atop the entire league was enough to get me cooking. I had wanted this for Andrew; now I needed this for Andrew.

That was the downfall. I have never been good at in-season transactions, and it showed. I consulted the other guys on deals, but pushed to make too many trades, too many free agent acquisitions. I came in too hot. I advocated for trading Brad Hand after a bad start; he led the league in saves. We traded him for Frankie Montas, a young pitcher on my nephew’s team; he promptly had two or three bad starts. At the trade deadline, I impulsively swapped Montas for Yu Darvish, who was having a great season but could only be a rental due to his salary. O’Malley refused to trade us Clayton Kershaw; I have no idea how Kershaw finished the regular season, stats-wise, but this slight will haunt me for the rest of my days (that’s a lie, we all love O’Malley; he’s one of the good guys). It just wasn’t a good run.

Still, our offense (aided by a number of holdovers from Andrew’s tenure) stayed hot all season, keeping us in the hunt for a respectable finish even as our pitching cratered, we slipped out of the top spot, and it became apparent that either Craig or Bunnell would once again carry the day. In the end, it was Craig who ran away with it. We ended up finishing seventy points behind, tied with Bunnell for second, which I can’t complain about too much – the guy did win four consecutive championships a few years ago, so anytime our team name can be included in the same breath as his is a win for me.

Through it all, I tried my best to channel Andrew in passion if not in performance. My proudest moment may have been the night near the trade deadline when, desperate to improve our chances, I looked over the roster of my former team and emailed the new owner with two demands: one, he would trade us Mike Clevenger, and two, he would change his team name immediately – he was still using the name I had left it with (Im On Fire, from when I was considering selling off players during my team’s final season) while being in possession of Bobby Witt, Patrick Wisdom, and Bubba Starling. “The Witt and Wisdom of Bubba Starling”! It sounds like a screenplay that Andrew would’ve written. (Surprisingly, not only did he not acquiesce to either demand, he didn’t even humor me with a response; the latter point arguably makes me sadder.)

I don’t know where this goes from here. Chris, Billy, and I treated this season as a one-off, a single shot at glory before we all rode back off into the distance. But I don’t know if that will happen. Here Comes The Wilkerman (nee Zombie Steven Hawking) is not the team Andrew left behind, and another season of someone else’s leadership – be it mine, ours, or a currently uninvolved third party – will only widen that gap. And, not for nothing, I suck at fantasy baseball. But I can’t help feeling like my work here isn’t done, like I can do better in my pursuit of a championship, and that whatever result I achieve will belong to Andrew too.