By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Editor's Note: This column appears in the September 13 edition of ESPN The Magazine.

You know Cliff Lee as the promising Indians pitcher who started the season 10-1. I know him as the guy who ruined my summer.

Hooters girls
Whether you're a Hooters girl or a fantasy novice, there are some movies you can't undo.

Last winter I was asked to join an AL-only Roto league, one with a complicated auction, four-year keepers, minor league picks ... and free consultations with a divorce lawyer. As my friend Mikey, the commish, said, "Dude, this is a major commitment." That was supposed to convince me? Come to think of it, when I asked what happened to my potential team's former owner -- a guy named Howard -- I never did get a straight answer. Poor Howard is probably doing 5-to-10 somewhere. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My Roto resume stretches back to the Bruce Bochte Era, but jumping to a hard-core league? It's like you're serving beers at Hooters for a while, then suddenly decide to make a porn film. Once it happens, you can't go back. I resisted Mikey's overtures until he mentioned that the team had Roy Halladay, Mariano Rivera, Rich Harden, Michael Young and Angel Berroa as keepers. Hmmm. "It will help your columns," he added.

Mikey had a good rap, like a dealer talking up some inspiring weed in Ricky Williams' den. When my buddy Hench offered to go in as a co-owner, I caved. Upon hearing the news, the Sports Gal warned, "If you're on the phone every night talking about your team, I'm going to stab you to death." Those were her exact words. I wrote them down and mailed them to myself in a certified envelope. You know, just in case.

The season kicked off with a nine-hour auction during which the other owners made a total of three jokes, combined. These guys make Vijay Singh seem gregarious. That's when Hench and I vowed to win the league; we wanted to ruin their worlds. And we were sprinting away from the pack until Troy Glaus' shoulder gave out, setting off an unprecedented chain of injuries -- 10 DL trips over the next eight weeks, not including Hench's head exploding.

Somewhere along the line, I became more invested in my Roto team than my actual team. One night, as the Sox shelled Halladay, I found myself yelling at the TV ... at Halladay. During a late "SportsCenter," I woke my snoring wife with a scream when Rod Barajas took a fastball on the thumb. I spent Wednesday nights scouring the wire for bodies, once lucking into Jason Frasor. Hench and I dissected moves like trial lawyers discussing a capital case. When noncontenders started to shop assets for prospects and picks, I even negotiated a possible Ichiro trade waiting in line on the ESPYs' red carpet. A woman in front of me caught the Sports Gal's eye, and said sadly, "My husband does fantasy baseball, too." She may as well have been talking about a leper. Decked out in a black cocktail dress and new heels, my wife responded, "If my husband doesn't hang up in the next 30 seconds, I'm going home with LeBron James." I hung up.

We never did get Ichiro, who's only hitting .830 since the break. When we couldn't shake the injury bug, the Rockers passed us in the standings, then acquired Joe Nathan and Nomar from Team Schtup for Cliff Lee and Jeff DaVanon. Read that sentence again. Our message board banter became the Lincoln-Douglas debates, everyone weighing in as if the future of mankind were at stake. Should we form a trading committee? Should noncontenders be allowed to trade after June 15? Schtup's lame defenses only inflamed the situation.

Nomar Garciaparra
In real life and in the roto leagues, Nomar haunts the Sports Guy.

We soon crossed the line from angry debate to personal attacks. Okay, maybe only I crossed that line. Nothing ticks me like a crappy team affecting a Roto race -- it's like a buddy who fails to get lucky in the bar deciding to ruin everyone else's chances. What gives him the right?

Lee quickly started to get shellacked -- big surprise -- as Nomar and Nathan solidified the Rockers. Eventually, they outworked us for Ichiro and Carlos Beltran. We answered with Harden for Bartolo Colon and Aubrey Huff, then moved next year's No.1 pick for Carlos Lee, but it wasn't enough. We still scour the wire for a miracle -- we paid $16 for Bucky Jacobsen, the new Steve Balboni -- but we're destined for second. Although Glaus and Halladay do return soon and Manny is heating up and Berroa is breaking out of his M. Night Shyamalan-level sophomore slump ... I mean, you never know.

This I do know. I've spent 250 to 300 hours running my team, another 100 wondering if Brian Anderson is possessed by Satan and 50 more praying that Cliff Lee's ulnar nerve will snap like Theismann's tibia. What a waste of time. So when Mikey had the gall to ask if I was interested in joining an NL-only league next season, you can imagine my three-word response.

"I'm in, baby!"

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.


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