Friday, May 13, 2011

The Creation of ottoneu - Part I

This post is going to be a departure for me, something a bit different than my typical analysis of ottoneu leagues (which will return with another look at Pick Six next week). 

Anyone reading this blog knows about ottoneu as it exists today and likely plays in an ottoneu league. But the birth of the format, which has not been discussed much, will shed quite a bit of light on why ottoneu is what it is. Over the next few weeks or maybe months I am going to try to lay out the story of the creation of ottoneu, the trials of its infancy, its growth and eventually its unveiling. The primary characters of the stories will be Niv (who you know as the man behind ottoneu), Geoff (who you don't know at all but really, really should) and myself (me).

For the man behind ottoneu, Niv Shah, his love affair with baseball starts here and here (or at least takes a big jump forward there). But Niv doesn't even go to that game if I don't make him, and I don't make him if I hadn't been blown away a seemingly normal game on August 13, 1992.

This certainly pre-dates anything directly related to ottoneu, but provides some background on my baseball fandom - which would eventually help nurture Niv's baseball fandom, which made ottoneu possible, thanks to Geoff's stroke of genius. But you'll have to wait a bit to hear about that.


Every baseball fan has that moment - the one clear moment when they remember falling in love with the game. There are the stories from old timers ("I remember looking through a hole in the fence at the old stadium when Joe DiMaggio came to town and seeing him just tear a ball down the line"); the traditional stories ("Coming out of the concourse and seeing the gorgeous green field and smelling the dirt - it was a religious experience"); the dramatic stories ("Joe Carter. 1993. World Series Winner").

But my story - my baseball moment - is in many ways unremarkable. First of all, this was by no means my first game. I had been to a ton of Indians games over the years. I grew up a huge sports fans with parents who never really understood that passion, but were happy to feed it. I also have an uncle who is a sports fan and lived two doors down from me most of my youth but didn't have a son of his own. Plenty of opportunities to head to games.

But the first one I remember and remember clearly was apparently in 1992. I say apparently because my recollection is that I was about 7 or 8, which would put us in the late '80's, but assures me it was in 1992, when I was 10.

Finding the box score for the game was actually not that hard to do, because much of the night I remember accurately. I remember exactly who the starting pitchers were that night. And I remember that it was at night. And I remember I was not in school at the time.

I remember all this because on this particular evening I sat down to dinner with my family, probably around 5:30 and promptly began talking about that night's game. The Red Sox were in town and Roger Clemens was going to be on the mound. As a ten-year-old baseball fan, this was plenty of cause to go to the game.

Actually, as any baseball fan, this was cause to go to the game. In 1992, Clemens put up a 176 ERA+ and would finish 3rd in the Cy Young voting. He had won the Cy Young the year before.

Not that I cited any of this. What I cited in my well thought out argument for going to the game that night was that Clemens, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, one of the best of his generation, a once-in-a-lifetime talent that we had to see was going toe-to-toe that night with the electric, unbeatable, immortal...Charles Nagy.

Now, I don't want to go bashing Charles Nagy. Nagy may not have been Clemens, but it is worth noting that Nagy was a very solid pitcher in his career. From 1991-1999, Nagy put up more than 200 innings six times. He had an ERA+ over 130 three times and was over 100 four more.

But to a ten-year-old Indians fan, what mattered is that he was our ACE. He was only 25 and with Sandy Alomar, Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Paul Sorrento, Kenny Lofton, and Jim Thome, he was part of a core offering hope for a team that hadn't had success in 38 years.

And so I wanted to go see what our ace could do against THE ace. In retrospect, it seems kind of silly. No one, even in 1992, was clamoring for a showdown between Nagy and Clemens.

But I was.

My parents relented (this is how I know I was not in school - never would have happened on a school night) and we went down to old Municipal Stadium. At this point in Indians history, we were still in the era of wandering up to the box office and getting whatever tickets you wanted because NO one went to those games. So we showed up no earlier than ten to seven, and probably even closer to opening pitch, and bought tickets. Directly behind home plate.

This is, again, where my recollection and reality don't seem perfectly aligned. I remember two aces - two giants of the pitching world - going head-to-head, matching each other pitch-for-pitch. I remember a pitcher's duel unlike any other.

And that was half right. Both pitchers went 8 innings. Both pitchers K'd 9. Clemens threw 121 pitches, 77 for strikes. Nagy found the zone with 86 of 138 pitches.

But that is where the pitcher's duel ends. Nagy and Clemens gave up 8 hits each and Nagy walked 3 (Clemens only walked 1). And Nagy gave up 4 ER to Clemens' 2. Nagy happened to bunch his walks in the bottom of the 5th (walked two and then intentionally walked Wade Boggs to load the bases with two outs) and the Sox made him pay with back-to-back-to-back singles, driving in all four runs over the course of three hitters. Clemens gave one back in the bottom of that inning on a sac fly and Glenallen Hill (who used to CRUSH the ball) added a HR in the bottom of the 8th, but the four from the 5th held up and the Sox won.

Neither team was particularly good at that point. Actually, both teams were downright bad, a far cry from the Sox and Indians teams that would play until the wee hours of the night in a 1995 Division Series game, and continue to meet in the playoffs multiple times in the '90s and '00s. And the game, as you can see, was not that great a game. But it stuck with me.

I've had a lot of other baseball memories over the years, thanks in large part to the powerful Indians teams that grew out of that young team in '92. Manny Ramirez absolutely crushing a Dennis Eckersley pitch for a game winning grand slam comes to mind (mostly due to Eck clearly mouthing "wow" as he walked off the field). Tony Pena's walk-off in game one of the 1995 Division Series at some ungodly hour in the morning. Kenny Lofton coming around from second on a wild pitch (passed ball?) with Randy Johnson on the mound in the ALCS that year. Omar Vizquel whiffing on a suicide squeeze which somehow resulted in a huge run against the Orioles in the 1997 playoffs.

And, as with any Cleveland fan, not all of those memories are quite so sweet - Charles Nagy coming oh-so-close to fielding Edger Renteria's chopper in game 7 of the '97 World Series. Lofton holding at third against Boston in 2007. Everything that Jaret Wright did after teasing us in 1997.

But one August night in 1992, as a ten-year-old, I went to a decrepit old stadium to see a legend match up with a completely league average pitcher, saw a pretty typical Major League game between two rotten teams far out of the playoff chase, and fell in love with the game.

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