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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Luckiest Fantasy Sports Seasons Ever
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.

Category: Sports | Permalink | Post a Comment (17)

Comments: The Luckiest Fantasy Sports Seasons Ever

Lucky-Ass Football season nominee: Anquan Boldin, Arizona (101 catches, 1,377 yards). I doubt he was even on his brother's fantasy football team before that 10-catch, 217-yarder to start the season.

Posted by Kevin Wilson at February 24, 2004 1:57 AM

Okay, I tried to leave fluke rookie seasons out of this (Sabo/Listach/Hamelin) and I guess we're avoiding pitchers for the time being (though Mike Morgan 1992 and Doug Jones 1997 spring to mind). With that being said:

Kevin Mitchell 1989 (.291/47/125): He had already been bounced by the Mets and the Padres before going .251/19/80 for San Francisco in 1988, and he figured to be a decent second or third OF pickup for your team in 1989. Instead, he goes absolutely MVP apeshit in leading his team to the Earthquake Series.

Eric Yelding 1990 (64 SB's): Kind of a representative for speedy outfielders who contributed a huge amount of SB's and nothing else (see Curtis Goodwin, Alex Cole, Quilvio Veras). Yelding's second-highest SB total was 11.

Gary Gaetti 1995 (.261/35/96): Gaetti had been one of the best players on those late 80's Twins teams, but nobody was expecting the 36-year-old to be anything more than passable for the 95 Royals. Instead, 35 HR's in the always-slim 3B slot.

Todd Hundley 1996 (.259/41/112): Up until 96 Hundley seemed like a safe bet to give you a little pop for your catcher slot during the three or four months he wasn't injured. Then he finally played 150 games and broke the record for HR's in a season by a catcher.

Phil Nevin 1999 (.269/24/85): The #1 draft pick in 1992, Nevin looked like a complete bust who was already on his fourth team. Then he suddenly figured out how to hit and kept getting better.

Other candidates: Mike Devereaux 1992; Ed Sprague 1996; Henry Rodriguez 1996; Jay Bell 1999; Richard Hidalgo 2000.

Posted by Ken Goldstein at February 24, 2004 3:34 AM

It's a little early to include Anquan Boldin.... granted he was a slightly above average WR in college going into a franchise like the Cardinals, who aren't exactly known for their offensive weapons.... but who's to say it was a fluke or lucky yet? The kid could just keep putting up solid numbers... gotta wait at least one more season.

Speaking of the Cardinals offensive "weapons"... do people still think Jake Plummer is good... ?

Oh yeah, and what did happen to Albert Belle?

Posted by Johnny FlopBoot at February 24, 2004 8:37 AM

Belle's career was cut short by a hip injury, ended in 2000, when he missed 21 games and hit 23 home runs with 102 RBIs, his ninth straight year of 100+ RBIs.

In 2003, despite missing his third straight season, he was the sixth-highest-paid player in baseball, earning $13 million.

Career stats:

Posted by Paul Katcher at February 24, 2004 9:18 AM

Sadly....I am only able to come up with the biggest flops in fantasy football history. This is because they were all on my team.

Johnny Morton : 2002

David Boston : 2002

Donald Driver : 2003

Trent Green : 2001.....OK Trent wasn't that bad in 2001, but the press he had going into that year was huge.

Carl Pickens : 1997...

OK...this is too depressing....I have to stop there.....

Posted by Ed at February 24, 2004 11:06 AM

Terry Pendleton 1991 (.319/22/86)- Terry had played 7 years with the Cardinals and seemed to be over the hill at age 30. He had hit over .270 once in the previous 6 years and managed only .230/6/58 in 1990. The guy who paid $4 for him in my league rode that pick for 3 years laughing all the way.

Nick Esasky 1989 (.277/30/108)- Nick had never topped 22 HR or 66 RBI in 6 years with the Reds. His 30 homers were huge considering that McGriff led the league with 36 that year. I'm bitter about this one because I paid $38 the next year when he hit .171/0/0.

Posted by Dave at February 24, 2004 12:18 PM

saints rb, Dalton Hilliard, 1989

1989: 1776 rush/rec yds, 18 tds
career highs otherwise: 1158 comb. yds, 8 tds

carried my team that year, very lucky

Posted by cubbiephil at February 24, 2004 12:40 PM

Dave: Great additions; not sure how I missed Pendleton. And you mentioned the downside of pretty much all of these, especially in non-keeper leagues, which is that the following year some schmuck ended paying $33 or whatever to get Eric Yelding's 11 follow-up steals.

As for a few more pitchers:

Mike Moore 1989 (19W/2.61ERA/1.14WHIP): Had pitched seven seasons, only one of which wasn't horrible, then joins the A's and pitches great.

Jeff Montgomery 1990 (24 Saves / 2.39 ERA): Always a favorite player of mine. The numbers aren't huge and he had pitched great in 1989 (19S/1.37ERA), but before the season KC had signed the 1989 NL Cy winner Mark Davis to a multi-year deal, pushing Jeff into middle relief. Davis implodes, Montgomery immediately steps back in and continues his fine career.

Bill Swift 1993 (21W/2.82ERA/1.074WHIP): He had come off one decent season, mostly starting, and another good one in relief, but Swift had never had more than 10 wins and would only reach double-digits again once.

Pete Schourek 1994 (18W/3.22ERA/1.067): Schourek's career win totals: 5 6 5 7 18 4 5 8 4 3 1.

Matt Morris 2001 (22W/3.16ERA/1.258): After not starting a game in 2000, Morris led the league in wins in 2001.

Posted by Ken Goldstein at February 24, 2004 2:20 PM

Johnny: In my eyes it doesn't really matter whether the season was a fluke (Eric Yelding) or sign of actual quality (Phil Nevin), but rather whether it seemed like a fluke at that point of time, hence you could have gotten him for nothing.

Oh, and I'm not sure how I forgot since I actually had him this year for $7 in a really tight NL-only league: Javy Lopez 2003. From .233/11/52 to .328/43/109 after you could have safely assumed that his peak had passed back in 1998. Unfortunately, he was canceled out by my $36 Pat Burrell, who pretty much did the opposite. The AL 2003 What the Hell?!?! award winner is probably Bill Mueller.

And another $1 pitcher, Eric Gagne in 2002, who somehow managed to lose his arbitration case this year despite going 55-for-55 in save opportunities.

Okay, that's enough of this, enjoyable though it is...

Posted by Ken Goldstein at February 24, 2004 4:06 PM

If Kurt Warner can win an MVP two years after his lucky -ass season, I think it's fair to give Boldin the lucky-ass tag as well. I agree that it's still too early to tell if Boldin will be a fluke or not, but that doesn't make my original point any less true — everybody was asking, "Who the f**k is Anquan Boldin?" one week into the season, and they were still asking after he won offensive rookie of the year.

Maybe we should create the Anquan Boldin trophy, given to the greatest fantasy sports rookie every year. Previous winners could include Latrell Sprewell, Hamelin and Kevin Maas (abbreviated success).

Posted by Kevin Wilson at February 24, 2004 5:03 PM

A point on Boldin: yes, he counts. He would have been a very late draft pick in any fantasy league -- basically a steal that almost no one could have predicted. Whether he is good from now on is irrelevant, just as it was for fantasy owners of Kurt Warner in 1999. They lucked out.

But no one started Boldin in Week 1, so his owners didn't even benefit from his best game. Someone like Brady Anderson qualifies perfectly for this list. He was active in every league's lineup from Opening Day and performed at Hall of Fame levels for a pedestrian price.

Posted by Paul Katcher at February 24, 2004 5:10 PM

Rich Gannon 2003...he killed us.

Posted by jeffcaw at February 24, 2004 6:29 PM

I usually use yahoo for fantasy football, and the last 2 years, I somehow pulled both Priest Holmes and Ahman Green in the auto-draft. Good times...

Posted by stephen at February 24, 2004 11:56 PM

Jose Canseco 1998

After seemingly being on a steep career decline, Canseco hit the most homeruns he ever hit (46) and stole the most bases he had in ten years (29). 'Roids anyone? Had we known he was juicin', maybe we would have paid more for him. Granted he hit .237, but I never cared much for average guys.

Posted by mr. hipster at February 25, 2004 12:57 AM

My lucky ass season was when Trent Green went down and Kurt Warner stepped in. I remember picking up Warner during the game when he came in, and riding his coattails to a winning fantasy season and $250.

Posted by Robbie at February 25, 2004 1:20 PM

Bill James:

"Cecil Fielder acknowledges a weight of 261, leaving unanswered the question of what he might weigh if he put his other foot on the scale."

Posted by Stephen Silver at February 26, 2004 11:16 AM

Jeff "Geoff" George was my meal ticket in 99. I think that was his only year with the Vikes and he was almost as good as Randall was the year before.

He was such a major bust in 98 with the Raiders that he slipped way down in our draft. I picked him as a #3 QB behind Brunell and Marino.

Posted by doghive at February 27, 2004 12:07 AM
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