Cupie for Halos Heaven: During the writing of Fantasyland, who were some of your favorite players? Could you share with us a favorite moment or story?
Sam Walker: It's hard to pick one moment. There were so many times when I walked out of the ballpark and asked myself "did that really just happen?" A short list would include Bubba Crosby's big day, Doug Mientkiewicz's incident with the ladder in Seattle, my impromptu "hug" with Jose Guillen, the beer with Mueller and the night Jones hit an impossible opposite-field home run at Yankee Stadium off Mike Mussina less than 24 hours after making funeral arrangements for his dad.
Looking back now, my favorite interactions were with David Ortiz. This was the year he really became a star, and I had a great time following him from Spring Training to the All-Star Game to the World Series. The moment I'll remember most took place in Anaheim in July. I'll set it up: In the middle of the season my team needed steals and had a little power to spare, so I started looking into trading Big Papi for Alfonso Soriano. Without getting into too much detail, I'd asked Papi if he thought this was a good idea and he'd been a little coy about it, but hadn't specifically told me not to.
So a few days later I was there in Anaheim watching Boston play the Angels. Ortiz had hit something like three homers in the four days since I'd traded him and I was already regretting the deal. That afternoon he sealed my doom by crushing a ball that flew almost directly over my head in the outfield. I don't know what came over me, but I marched down to the clubhouse after the game to confront him about this. I said "Papi, you're killing me!" When I reminded him that I'd traded him for Soriano--partly on his advice, he started laughing. "You shouldn't have listened to me," he said. "I'm about to get hot!"
It was horrifying and hilarious at the same time, which is sort of a perfect encapsulation of what it's like to play fantasy baseball.
Halos Heaven: In the book you mention speaking to some GMs in MLB. How do they feel about fantasy baseball, especially now that some who found their roots in fantasy have found their way into the front office?
Sam Walker: They run the gamut. The one time I asked Bill Stoneman about it, he looked at me like I was a space alien. On the other hand, Theo Epstein played Rotisserie in high school but quit because he says he didn't like rooting against the Red Sox. Billy Beane once had a fantasy league in the A's front office with Paul Depodesta and a couple of others. He told me he loved it because he was finally able to have all the players he could never afford in real life--guys like Greg Maddux and Albert Belle.
In general, GMs are just sort of resigned to it. Jim Hendry says he's always talking to his neighbors about their fantasy teams and Terry Ryan told me his son plays. For the most part, they're wary of it. They laugh at the morons who send them resumes bragging about how many years in a row they've won their leagues. But a lot of GMs still troll the fantasy annuals and Web sites for information. I talked to one AL GM who happily broke down all of his players for me in fantasy terms, then told me not to use his name because he didn't want to look "too much like a fantasy guy."
I think the stigma is disappearing, though. In recent years the Mariners, Cardinals, Brewers, Blue Jays and Yankees have hired former fantasy experts as consultants, scouts or analysts, with most of them coming from Tout Wars.
Halos Heaven: Halos Heaven is an Angels blog, so I have to ask about the Jose Guillen episode. Besides the Big Papi trade and the Cinco de Mayo Massacre, this is my favorite part of the book. I think most fantasy players would have loved to do what you did, petitioning management and the manager. In hindsight, do you think the Angels were justified in their suspension of Guillen?
Sam Walker: No way.
For one thing, the punishment didn't fit the crime. If Jose had refused to play for some reason or had been dogging it during what was a crucial game in the middle of a pennant race, then yes, I would have sacked him too.
But remember the reason Jose blew his stack in the dugout: It was because Scioscia chose to pull Jose for a pinch runner after he'd been hit by a pitch in the late innings of a tight game against Oakland. I know it's never good to show up your manager, but if the reason is that you really really want to stay in an important game (and if you happen to be hitting .294 on the season with 27 homers and 104 RBI) then isn't that forgivable?
Another thing: this is a baseball team, not an Applebee's. These guys are paid millions to play a game. Where does it say that they also need job satisfaction, team harmony and a positive work environment? If Guillen was screwing up the team chemistry and the team was losing, that's one thing. But they were in a pennant race with one more week left in the season!
Seriously, If Vladimir Guerrero can't hit home runs and Scot Shields can't throw the ball straight because they hate Jose Guillen so much, isn't that their problem? I've heard the argument that the Angels got a little bump from the Guillen suspension and that it helped them make the postseason. But nobody seems to want to mention that Boston swept them in the Division Series, where the team hit a miserable .226. The guy who replaced Jose, Jeff Davanon, was 2 for 10 with no RBI.
When I asked Mike Scioscia about this in the book, he hinted that there had been other incidents behind the scenes involving Jose that were even worse. I don't doubt this. I'm sure Jose wasn't a lot of fun in the clubhouse. But was canning him worth blowing a shot at the World Series? If the Angels hadn't won in 2002, I bet they wouldn't have done this. I think this was a case of management feeling pretty fat and happy and indulging themselves. If I was an Angels fan, I'd still be hot about this.
Halos Heaven: And what do you think about Erstad and Percival's reaction to your petition and picketing?
Sam Walker: Hey, we probably deserved it. Nobody likes to be accosted by Roto dorks in the morning. But the fact that they said these things while stepping into a stretch limo that was taking them to the ballpark made it seem pretty ridiculous. Everybody else, including their manager and three of his coaches, was happy to share a cab.
Not that there's any hard feelings. I have Erstad on my team this year.
HH: Who do you like on the Angels in 2007?
Sam Walker: I'm still kicking myself for passing on Lackey in Tout Wars. He's a thoughtful and intelligent pitcher who should have the same sort of longevity as Maddux, Glavine and Schilling. In fact, Lackey's Tout Wars price ($24) made him the second most valuable pitcher in the American League next to Johan Santana. Kendrick was a joy to watch early on and I'm happy that Gary Matthews is starting to show that his signing wasn't totally outrageous (if you play fantasy baseball, you've noticed there's a lack of outfield depth in baseball, and especially in the American League--which suggests Matthews is worth more than it seems). I've always thought Juan Rivera had superstar potential, we'll see what happens in June. But my favorite is David Eckstein....
HH: For us fantasy geeks on Halos Heaven, is there anyone in the minor leagues that has a chance of making an impact this year?
Sam Walker: Jeff Mathis seems to have all the tools to become one of the league's premier offensive catchers sooner rather than later. I like that he's taking a few more walks at Salt Lake.
Tomorrow, in the exciting conclusion to our visit with Sam Walker, the author reveals that a stat analysts he hired for the book now wears a world series ring and discusses his life while absorbed in the simultaneous worlds of fantasy and real baseball.