- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

I am the Kansas City Royals of fantasy baseball.

When it comes to assembling the best ballplayers in a pretend race toward cash and pride, I’m a perennial cellar-dweller, an embarrassment to myself, my family and everyone around me. To put it bluntly, I stink like heck at it.

Since I began entering online fantasy leagues sometime during President Clinton’s second term, I’ve attempted to compete in no fewer than a dozen fantasy baseball leagues, never finishing higher than fifth. And the year I finished fifth, there were five teams in the league.

On one occasion, I had several fantasy colleagues tell me “better luck next year” before the league’s draft was over. If I recall, that was the year I drafted Mo Vaughn in the second round. Not the MVP-era Mo Vaughn, but the gimpy, forklift-me-to-the-buffet Mo Vaughn, whose career ended shortly thereafter.

But I keep going at it each year, ever hopeful that one day I will catch lightning (or Albert Pujols) in a bottle and ascend to the championship. That hasn’t happened yet. But recently, I discovered a solution to my fantasy woes.

It’s not me, it’s the leagues.

You see, all this time, I had been entering fantasy leagues where the goal was to assemble a team of good baseball players, who rack up things like home runs, RBI and wins. What I needed, instead, was a league more in tune with my abilities to find the most useless, overrated or overfed players.

And I found it this year, in a competition involving subscribers to Baseball Prospectus, a popular Web site featuring articles on a number of topics mostly centering around the role of statistics in baseball. It’s a nerdy but pretty popular site I have subscribed to for years. But this year marked the first time I entered their prestigious HACKING MASS fantasy league. And it has changed my fantasy baseball life forever.

The basic idea behind HACKING MASS (an acronym which would take far too long to explain in this space) is to draft the worst possible assemblage of players.

But it’s not quite that simple, as all of those players must somehow remain on their respective teams, racking up useless at-bats or throwing inning-after-inning of gut-wrenching ball. Think Cristian Guzman, 2005. To win, it’s not enough for your players to be bad; they must be bad and employed.

So far this season, I’m ranked 24th out of 1,342 competitors in the HACKING MASS league, placing me in the top 2 percent. Heck yeah.

My team, which I have dubbed “The Ghosts of Rick Schu” (in honor of the other Phillies third baseman from the 1980s), is made up of the stiffest — yet employed — players in baseball, including Mike Matheny, Travis Lee and David Bell, king of the game-ending pop-up. I even have Bruce Chen, whose ERA would actually be less frightening if it were 6.66.

The season-ending loss of Guzman, the human groundout, was a blow to my squad, as was the recent demotion of Padres pitcher Dewon Brazelton, whose ERA of 12.00 in nine starts was a thing of sheer beauty.

I’m not sure why I have a knack for recognizing bad baseball players. And I’m not sure why that talent doesn’t translate into other, traditional fantasy leagues, where the idea is to avoid these players like the plague. But I do know I have found my calling. And it’s too bad that the Royals already signed a new GM, because that team would have given me a lot to work with.

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