(I wrote this while taking NyQuil and sneezing every 14 seconds. If it's awful, that's my excuse. If it's great, that means I have to drug myself up for everything I write and I now have a new drug problem to deal with. Here goes nothin'.)
In seventh grade, my group of friends decided to create our own fantasy basketball league. Eight guys, mini-draft, not very coordinated.
And I wasn't involved, at first. But Donnie offered me co-ownership of his roster, and I was nothing if not desperate to belong, so I joined in.
Of course, Donnie only did that because he had worked out a whole cheat with Troy. They agreed to a trade - basically, all our good players for all Troy's crappy ones - and then Donnie left our team to go co-own with Troy. It was stupid, it was cheating, and it was meaningless - and also it meant that I didn't belong nearly as much as I had hoped to. But, having been an unwitting accomplice to cheating, I determined to make them regret it.
We didn't really know how to run a fantasy league, so we had decided on 25-man rosters for an NBA league. No one had really bothered after 10 or so, though, so I went through and added the next 15 good players, and packaged groups of them in trades for other, better players. Once I had pared the group down, I did the same thing again. It took a handful of trades and bamboozling some of my dumber friends, but I ended up winning that league.
The purpose of that story - other than bragging, which was the real purpose to that story - was to tell the story of a fantasy league that existed before we were swamped with information, with articles, with ... internet. My method for picking those random extra players was literally "Hey, I've heard of that guy, Mitch Richmond." Half of my trades came to pass only after I explained to, say, Larry who Antonio Davis was and why he'd help his roster. If you had asked me to name every NBA team at the time, I probably would have left out a handful, and a little part of my memory thinks someone in the league - we were a bunch of central Kentucky kids - tried to own a UK player at some point.
These days, our 2014 equivalents might have their own league, but it would be conducted online, it would have hard-and-fast rules, the cheating would have been vetoed, and it would take only a few clicks to find out if I'm screwing someone over in a deal.
No, in 2014, there is only one area of sports in which I feel like you can really find surprises - injuries. Not the Matt Harvey types, the superstars who go down, when we're just counting the days until their return. But when mid-level players, guys who are fantasy contributors but not cornerstones, lose much of a season to injury, they end up falling in the mishmash below the up-and-comers, the Mike Trout types, and the regular stars. It happened a year ago with Brett Gardner (as I wrote at the time), and there's a chance it will happen this year with Ryan Ludwick.
500 words into this piece and that's the first mention of the guy I'm actually writing about. This is not my best article.
Ludwick injured his shoulder on Opening Day last season. He missed most of the season, ultimately limited to 38 games and a .240/.293/.326 slash line. It was a lost season for the 34-year-old. In 2012, though, that line was .275/.346/.531, which was why he was on the fantasy radar to begin with.
There are worries about Ludwick. A line chart of his year-by-year OPS+ (110-151-105-104-90-130-70) since 2007 reads like a Ryan Braun polygraph test. Without Shin-Soo Choo in the Reds lineup, his RBI opportunities might not be plentiful. And he's 35 now, with only one career season with an All-Star appearance or any MVP votes.
Nothing I'm writing here is meant to hype Ludwick as a no-doubt starting outfielder in your league. But in the deeper leagues, he's one of the few guys who might fall through the cracks, and he's owned in only 2 percent of Yahoo! leagues. There's "not necessarily going to save your season," and there's "available in just about every damn league." When you're wondering whether to go with a fading star or an up-and-comer - two types that get plenty of hype - don't forget the one area of subtlety we have left in fantasy. Don't forget the once-injured contributor.