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Fantasy and Reality - June 27, 2002


By Cory Schwartz
MLB.com

(AP Photo/James A. Finley)
Over the past two weeks we named the "Anti All-Stars," the players who have produced the greatest disappointment relative to their preseason expectations. Fantasy baseball is a game of numbers, and dozens of players have fallen far short with theirs.

But last Saturday in Chicago, a tragedy occurred that was far greater than a wasted auction bid or an 0-for-5 night by your star hitter, and now the only number on anyone's mind is 57. As you undoubtedly know by now, Cardinals starter Darryl Kile passed away in his sleep due to a blocked coronary artery.

With Kile's abrupt death, the sometimes cruel and very real world has invaded a hobby that is by definition a fantasy, and the question now for roto owners isn't who replaces Kile in the Cardinals' rotation, or how to fill a roster spot once manned by a reliable pitcher who never missed his turn to take the ball. The real issue is how to reconcile the somber reality of a player's death with something so many of us do competitively that is really only nothing more than a diversion.

Other players have died during Spring Training, including the Padres' Mike Darr this year, and utility infielder Mike Sharperson died in a car accident during the 1996 season on his way to join the Padres, who had just recalled him from the minor leagues. Kile's death, though, marks the first in-season fatality involving an active player since Yankees catcher Thurman Munson died in a plane crash during the 1979 season, prior to the birth of rotisserie baseball.

Thousands of words have been spoken and printed in the aftermath of Kile's passing, as is appropriate when a universally popular and respected player -- and person -- dies unexpectedly in the prime of a seemingly healthy career. No words printed in this space, or anywhere else, can repair the emptiness felt by Kile's family, friends, teammates and acquaintances.

What has marked the few days since Kile's passing is how glowingly he has been memorialized not just as a player and a competitor, but also as a human being. To the last one, everyone who has spoken publicly of Darryl Kile points out how supportive and helpful he was with younger players, how patient he was with fans, and how dedicated he was to his family and job. The personal aspect of Kile's passing is not lost on those who knew him, and that should weigh just as heavily on roto players who knew him only as their No. 2 starter.

This year I'm in six different fantasy baseball leagues, where I compete with my lifelong friend Rod, my brother-in-law Rob, my uncle Warren, and several other friends and co-workers. I want to beat them, and I want to win as much as I can. But even winning all six leagues just wouldn't be as enjoyable if not for the people I'm competing against.

Let's face it, winning is nice, but we have to be in it for the friendships, for the chance to participate in and talk baseball and trash with the people closest to us. Baseball players enter the game for athletic competition and achieve tremendous financial gain, but all anyone has talked about since Saturday is what Darryl Kile the man was like, not what Darryl Kile the player did on the field. Fantasy baseball players should keep that lesson close to heart, as well.

Fantasy baseball is all about the numbers, and this week, the one number with the most meaning is 57.

Cory Schwartz is the Manager of Stats for MLB.com and has been competing in roto baseball since 1989. His column appears every Thursday and you can hear him on the Fantasy 411 on MLB Radio every Wednesday at noon. E-mail him at cory.schwartz@mlb.com.

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