MASTER NOTES: The crazy story of how I joined BaseballHQ

If it hadn’t been for my stalker, you might not be reading this.

It’s a somewhat long story, as many of my stories tend to be, but bear with me for the next 1,600 words. Have I ever let you down?

Many years ago, I was putting myself through university by working the overnight shift at a local FM light-rock station, spinning such timeless classics as “Careless Whisper” by WHAM!, “Take a Look At Me Now” by Phil Collins, “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes, and many other similar felonies.

I'm sorry, that should be "melodies." Or not.

Nonetheless, some people liked it. One of them was a woman who was a fan of the Todd Rundgren earsplitter, “Hello, It’s Me.” And, as it worked out, she was also a fan of the smooth announcer introducing it. Me, in case you’re not following.

The woman, whom I will call Marie (not her real name), phoned my show every few nights at around 3 a.m. Instead of saying, “Hello, it’s me,” she would say, “Could you play, ‘Hello It’s Me,’ by Todd Rundgren?” Sometimes I would, most often not, but either way, we would just shoot the breeze for a while.

Truth be told, she wasn’t that interesting. Talking to her was a way to pass the time, like playing cribbage. But if you don’t understand why I would talk to her, you’ve never spent eight hours in an airless room spinning “The Heart of Rock & Roll” by Huey Lewis & The News and “Hard Habit to Break” by Chicago back to back. To endure that, I’d have chatted with Charles Manson.

Anyway, one night I drove to work in my buddy’s Camaro Z28, which I was looking after while he was out of town. Because it was chilly out and I was wearing a jean jacket, I ran up the stairs in the back of the building instead of my usual weary trudge. I went in the back door, which was propped open as usual, to help cool off the studio area.

I went inside and started my shift, and at around 3 a.m., I was playing “Church of the Poison Mind” by Culture Club and contemplating gouging my eardrums out with an awl when the listener line rang.

“Could you play ‘Hello It’s Me’ by Todd Rundgren?”

“Oh, hi, Marie,” I said. “I don’t think I can fit it in. Gotta play ‘Cruel Summer’ by  Bananarama and ‘Dance Hall Days.’ Boss loves Wang Chung.”

“That’s OK,” she said. “Hey—when did you get the new Camaro?”

Huh? What? Gulp.

“The green Camaro you drove to work,” she continued. “Whendja get it?”

“It’s my friend’s car. I’m looking after it for a few days.”

“Well I don’t like it,” she said. “Your little silver car is way cuter. It suits you more than that muscle car.”

Under normal circumstances, I might have wondered what she meant by that. But these circumstances had sprinted well beyond "normal."

“Uh,” I said wittily. “Marie, how do you know ...”

She interrupted: “And I don’t think it’s very smart of you to wear that little jean jacket to work on such a cold night.”

OK, "normal" was now a speck in the rear-view mirror. This had now officially become weird, and was two exits away from scary.

Every late-night radio DJ has seen the Clint Eastwood movie Play Misty For Me. He plays an overnight DJ who has a crazy stalker fan (Jessica Walters) who ends up trying to stab him to death. And because he’s playing jazz by Errol Garner and Cannonball Adderley, and not light rock by Rick Springfield and Hall & Oates, he doesn’t want to die.

The crazy lady has a trademark. Whenever she calls, instead of saying hello, she says, “Can you play ‘Misty’ for me?”

That thought crossed my mind at about the same time I remembered the back door was open. I opened the studio door, peered around the corner, saw the coast was clear of knife-wielding lunatics, ran out of the studio, slammed the outer door, ran back into the studio, and slammed that door—or would have slammed it if it weren’t on one of those piston things to prevent it slamming. Or closing any quicker than the SkyDome roof, as it turns out.

When the door finally finished closing, I slammed the deadbolt, jammed the doorstop under the door and sat down at the console to launch “Caribbean Queen” by Billy Ocean. Then I called Perry, the night DJ in the AM station across the hall, to warn him he might want to do likewise. Which he did, once I gave him the much shorter version of the story you’ve just read the long version of. (“Crazy woman! Open door! Hide!”)

He’d seen Play Misty For Me too.

I called the cops. They sent a car around, and the officers searched the station while I hid in the studio behind the locked door bravely playing “Somebody’s Watching Me,” by Rockwell. Hey—the show must go on, right?

She wasn’t in the building. The police officers told me to keep the outside door shut, and said they’d spread the word. A few nights later, they found Marie sitting in her car, across the alley from the building in a guy's back yard. They told me she was not a threat, just a sad and lonely woman who got through her shifts cleaning floors in an office building by listening to “Talking in Your Sleep” by The Romantics on the radio and convincing herself that the guy introducing the songs was talking to her. The officers had given her a good scare and told her never to come near the station and never to call in again. She never did.

* * *

By now, you might be thoroughly confused what any of this has to do with fantasy baseball and my career with BaseballHQ. Well, your patience is about to be rewarded. I hope.

After the shift on the fateful night, Perry and I got together for coffee and to discuss the Marie incident. When that topic ran out of steam, he started telling me about this game he was playing—rotisserie baseball. Since I was a big baseball fan, I said I’d like to join. His league had no openings, but we stayed friends, and a few years later, I joined the league, which was my home league for many years.

Perry and I really enjoyed talking about the game—the strategies, the players, the gamesmanship, the category tactics. One day, I was over at his place to talk baseball and have a few brews. I noticed Perry nonchalantly trying to push a stapled booklet of 20 or so pages under a sofa pillow. Just then, his infant son started wailing in the other room, and Perry sprang up to go see what was wrong.

Being very respectful of other people’s privacy, I immediately snatched the secret document from its down-filled hiding place. It was a rotisserie baseball publication called “The Hot Sheet.”

It was sent out by a guy called Ron Shandler. By fax, if I remember it right. I leafed through it and I was hooked.

Eventually, the Hot Sheet morphed into the web site called BaseballHQ. And a while after that, in early 1999, I saw an ad saying BaseballHQ was looking for writers.

Paid writers.

Since I was now a full-on roto junkie and a full-time newspaperman, I thought I’d throw my sweatstained Reds cap into the ring. Ron contacted me and laid out the audition process. I was to pick two players and analyze them in the HQ manner, in kind of a hybrid of what are now “Facts & Flukes” and “Playing Time Today.”

I worked really hard, and I turned in two sparkling analyses. In the first, I predicted stardom and a long productive fantasy career for a young slugger who had posted 13-73-6-.273 in his first full season for the Expos. In the second, I explained in detail why a new young foreign player would never hit in the big leagues.

I went 0-for-2. Brad Fullmer did not quite become a superstar. Ichiro Suzuki did.

What the hell, though—I got the gig. And I’ve kept it ever since.

Over the years, I’ve done player analysis in its many styles. I handled Roto Strategy for a number of seasons, and ran a three-part series that brought keeper draft inflation to the attention of HQ subscribers. I was the Batting Buyers Guide columnist for several years.

I got very involved in fantasy research, and published a bunch of work that I’m still really proud of. I demonstrated to our readers that Hit Rate was an individual metric for hitters, and I came up with a new HQ metric called “Hard Contact Index,” still used on the site today.

In 2006, Ron agreed to bankroll a crazy idea that I should take on a project to extend the HQ brand. It’s called “BaseballHQ Radio,” and in 2013 it was named the Fantasy Sports Podcast of the Year. It’s available on iTunes or direct from the HQ site.

One last funny story. One year, a bunch of my home league guys went to a local greasy spoon for our pre-draft ritual breakfast. As we were wrapping up, Scotty, another owner, came in. He had driven to the city the night before, and had taken advantage of the opportunity to explore some of the city’s finer pubs, bars, watering holes and booze cans.

But while he looked a little the worse for the experience, he was clearly brimming with confidence.

“I’m ready for you guys this year,” he crowed. “When I was down in the States, I found a new baseball book that you can’t even get in Canada.” In our part of Canada, fantasy baseball players usually had two choices: Street and Smith and/or the Mazeroski. So as we looked expectantly at Scotty, he cockily tossed onto our table his already dog-eared copy of ...

... I’m going to guess you can see where this is going ...

... Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster.

I picked up the edition and made like I was perusing the cover, which in those days had a list of contributors in fairly large type.

Scotty went into high gear. “I bet none of you guys ever even heard of this book!"

So I put the book back down on the table and slowly turned it around so Scotty could see the cover right-side up.

“Actually,” I said, “I have heard about this book.”

I ran my finger slowly down the list of contributors, and stopped right above my own name.

And I said, “Ron Shandler told me all about it a few years ago—when he started putting my articles in it.”

The boys at the table erupted into laughter as poor Scotty stood there—gobsmacked, as my British friends say.

He snatched up his Forecaster and stormed out of the restaurant. The Forecaster was a help for him, too—he finished second that year, beating, among others, me. But while I didn’t get a pennant, thanks to BaseballHQ I had a dandy yarn I’ve told more than a few times.

So congratulations to Ron Shandler and to BaseballHQ on 20 years of groundbreaking industry leadership, and especially thanks for letting me be a part of it for 17 of those 20 years. HQ has been one of the highlights of my writing career. May the best be yet to come.

And Marie? You had a part in all this, too. So if you read this Master Notes, check out the podcast.

I’ll play some Todd Rundgren for you.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.