When I hear the name of former Blue Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber (stats), I have the same reaction as when I smell Southern Comfort. I think back to 1990 and get sick to my stomach.
In was in that year that I was a college freshman who thought it would be a pretty good idea to drink half a liter of liquor before a Halloween party. And it was in that year that my longtime friend Ed rode Gruber's back to top of our fantasy baseball league's heap. I don't know what kind of deal those two signed with the devil, but it sure wasn't a multi-year pact.
That season, Gruber hit 31 homers and knocked in 118 runs. His best totals prior were 18 and 81. His best totals after were 20 and 65. Argh, I can't even think about it. To have Kelly Gruber on your team in 1990 was like buying a lemon from Larry Dallas and finding a million dollars in the trunk.
Was it the luckiest fantasy sports season ever? That's the question at hand today as I scour MLB and NFL sports seasons since 1988 around the time fantasy sports really took off. To qualify, a player had to have exceeded his preseason potential by an enormous margin; someone picked late in a draft or for little money in an auction. Monster seasons like Emmitt Smith's 25 TDs in 1995 don't count, because he was expected to be a force, and owners paid a premium for him in the first place. And I'm counting only full seasons, so forget stretches of three games like Boomer Esiason had with the Cardinals in 1996 (1,194 yards, 8 TDs), when he finished the season with only 11 TDs.
Please share your memories in the comments area of lucky seasons you benefitted from, as well as opponents' seasons like Gruber's that still make you sick 14 years later.
Lucky-Ass Fantasy Baseball Seasons:
Brady Anderson, 1996, (.297, 50 HRs, 110 RBIs): I'm not gay, but I have no problem making this statement: I had Brady Anderson in 1996 and Brady Anderson was good! Coming off a season in which he played in 143 games with a .262 average, 16 HRs and 64 RBIs, Brady made like Albert Belle in only six more games played in '96. In his 15-year-career, his next-highest power numbers were 24 HRs and 81 RBIs.
Cecil Fielder, 1990, (.277, 51 HRs, 132 RBIs): Fielder put up huge numbers later in his career, and not just at the hot dog stand. But prior to 1990, he'd hit just 31 home runs in 222 games since the Blue Jays purchased his rights from the Japanese league's Hanshin Tigers. And that's why when my friend Dave tried to trade him to me, in our senior year social studies class, after Fielder's torrid April 1990, I told him to get out of my face, more than happy to keep Mike Gallego or whatever scrub he wanted in return.
Rich Aurillia, 2001, (.324, 37 HRs, 97 RBIs): Aurillia had hit 22 and 20 home runs in his previous two years, respectively, regarded as a second baseman with pop, not Rogers Hornsby, when he entered 2001. Now that pop is all but gone, as his numbers in 2002 (.267, 15 HRs, 61 RBIs) and 2003 (.13, 13 HRs, 58 RBIs) resemble those of Joe Morgan with a broken leg.
Sandy Alomar, 1997, (.324, 21 HRs, 83 RBIs): This was a bitter-sweet time for me to have had Alomar on my team. On one hand, he led me to a second-place finish by besting his previous career highs of .300, 14 HRs and 66 RBIs, all achieved in different seasons. Then, in October, he closed his eyes and launched a game-tying home run off Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of the ALDS, and I've hated him ever since.
Steve Finley, 1996, (.298, 30 HRs, 95 RBIs): Like Fielder, he sustained his value after his breakout year, but c'mon here: in five previous full seasons, he'd never hit more than 11 HRs or knocked in more than 55 runs.
Cal Ripken, Jr., 1991, (.323, 34 HRs, 114 RBIs): Before A-Rod, Jeter and Nomar, Ripken had long established himself as one of baseball's all-time great offensive shortstops but, prior to 1991, he hadn't knocked in 100 runs in five years, had never hit 30 home runs in a season and had hit in the .250s three of the last four years. Then he must've been sleeping with Sharon Stone for a year or something, because he just went off, before hitting in the .250s again for the next two seasons.
Lucky-Ass Fantasy Football Seasons:
Kurt Warner, 1999, (4,445 yards, 42 TDs): Our buddy George won our football league in 1999 precisely because he came out of the draft banking on the Rams' shaky QB situation. Lots of people rode Warner to glory in '99, but only the luckiest owners, like George, started him from Week 1. Those who actually came out of the draft with a solid QB situation would've kept Warner on the bench a few weeks, till they were sure he was no fluke.
Steve Beuerlein, 1999, (4,660 yards, 38 TDs): When my friend Justin, who owned Beuerlein in 1999, was asked if he was surprised by the career back-up's Marino-like season, he said, "My football people had been scouting that guy for years, so, no, it wasn't a surprise. When some clown dropped him at the end of the 1998 season, thinking he was washed up, I drew a Beuer-line in the sand and signed the ageless wonder. All he needed was a chance and being down 28-0 at halftime every game to complete his dream season. I'm just happy I was part of it."
Randall Cunningham, 1998, (3,936 yards, 35 TDs): I entered the season with the Vikings' Brad Johnson at QB and panicked when he got hurt early in the year. I picked up his back-up, the aging Cunningham the devil himself, a career nemesis of the Giants whom I looked to trade, thinking he'd be in for only a few games. There were no takers. Little did anyone know he'd be throwing Hail Marys to Randy Moss all season long, throwing four TDs in a game on four occasions. Coupled with Steve Young's prolific season, I won my second title.
Mike Anderson, 2000, (1,669 yards, 15 TDs): A sixth-round pick by the Broncos, Anderson made like Earl Campbell while Terrell Davis owners cried themselves to sleep. Almost as shocking as his season itself is that he wasn't selected for the Pro Bowl.
Marcus Robinson, 1999, (84 catches, 1,400 yards, 9 TDs): What the hell was this, Tecmo Bowl? It's the god damn Bears.
Brett Perriman, 1995, (108 catches, 1,536 yards, 9 TDs): Entering his eighth season, Perriman's career highs were 69 catches, 810 yards and 4 TDs. And then came the season in which the Lions were more than just Barry Sanders. Even Scott Mitchell (4,442 yards, 36 TDs) made like Steve Young.