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Monday, April 7, 2008
The Commish's Court: Seeing is not always believing

By AJ Mass
ESPN.com

Have you ever gotten really upset over how a TV series or a movie ended? An ending so disappointing that it makes you stand up and scream, "What?!?!" We've all experienced this, whether it's "The Sopranos" suddenly going to black, the "Seinfeld" crew all ending up in jail, or M. Night Shyamalan trying to get you with yet another clever twist that turns out to be not so clever after all. But as much as you may not have wanted Ilsa to get on that plane in "Casablanca," that's the ending you're stuck with. It's not going to change, no matter how much you complain.

Now, I may not like how a screenwriter chose to end his film, whether it's a good movie like "The Shawshank Redemption" -- if the whole point of the movie, as Morgan Freeman keeps reminding us, is the power of hope, then I don't need to see that he eventually does meet up with Tim Robbins, I can have faith that he will get there -- an utter fiasco like "Sphere," where the characters simply "forget" everything that had happened to them, or Mick Dundee finally tying the knot with his "baby mama," but that is indeed the ending, like it or not.

The same thing applies to fantasy baseball. We may call it "fantasy," but it has to have some sort of basis in reality. You can certainly be selective about which stats to count and which ones to ignore when you set up your league's categories, but once you make that call, you can't pick and choose which of those stats to count on an ad hoc basis once the games get under way. You have to go with what Major League Baseball says is what happened. Unfortunately, not everybody understands this …

Rich Harden
Rich Harden started the season on a high note in Japan, long before many leagues drafted.
There are some leagues out there that declared the "official" start of the season to be March 30, and therefore didn't count the Japan games in their stats. While I can understand why some might want to argue not to allow retroactive stats to be included if their league drafted after the pair of Red Sox-A's games took place, in the end, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense not to count these games. They took place. Nobody may have been awake to watch them, but they happened. Once again, I bring up the great Tuffy Rhodes Case of 1994. He hit three home runs on Opening Day, which made him a hot commodity in leagues that held their draft after the fact. So what? People overpaid for Rhodes and got a grand total of eight home runs for the season for their money.

Not allowing an owner who drafted Rhodes to get credit for those home runs when he did in fact hit them makes no sense. Everybody knew they were there and had an equal shot at drafting Tuffy. The same goes for Rich Harden. If the draft took place after the fact, everybody knew Harden had pitched as well as he had and was drafting that performance, just like Brandon Moss and his one home run, or Emil Brown and his four RBIs. To deny that these games took place is not living in reality. Kevin Youkilis went 1-for-7 in those two games. Was I really going to lower him on my draft list because of that? No! So if I am allowed to get credit for his 5-for-8 in two games in Oakland, why shouldn't I also have to count the stats that weren't as good from the first two games of the season?

I don't buy the argument that allowing these stats retroactively is unfair. After all, how many more at-bats has Moss had since then? Zero. That's not exactly helping your team win. The point is that if we're going to play a game where we use real-life stats to determine who wins, you have to use all the real-life stats, not just the ones that happened at a convenient time for you. But it could be worse …

Would you believe that some Pujols owners actually argued they should get credit for the home run? After all, he hit it. They saw it. It happened, right? Strangely enough, I couldn't find a single Jeff Francis owner who argued the same thing. Look, it certainly is frustrating when your player does well and then the game gets called off and you get robbed of a nice performance. But you can't be manually adding these stats into your league's results. They are not official. You can't use them. Period. Still, even if your league manager decided that Pujols' dinger should count, as wrong a call as it is, it's not the worst decision I heard in the past week. No, that prize goes to …

Tim Lincecum
Tim Lincecum only pitched four innings to get his first win of the season because he entered the game in relief.
This may not sound like a big deal, but in a league that uses a maximum start count for its pitchers, it could end up making a difference. Here we have a regular starter, who didn't start a game that he would have under normal circumstances, but the bottom line is that he didn't start the game. Yet, somehow, there's a league out there where the commissioner has decided that since Lincecum is a starter and would have started, this outing is a de facto start, and will go against his owner's starts total for the season. Seriously? So, in this league, we're going to change the actual stats to fit our own feelings about them? What's next? An official scorer rules a hit on a ball you think is an error, so you decide to make all the subsequent runs unearned? An umpire rules a ball was foul by inches, but you think it was actually fair, so you're going to count it as a home run? A runner gets held up at third base by his coach, but you think he could have scored, so you decide to give him credit for the run? You can't change the stats simply because you don't like them. This is fantasy baseball, but it's not delusional baseball.

Plus, if your league says your starting lineup has to have six starters and three relievers, and you allow a pitcher to be classified as a reliever after only one relief appearance, guess what? Tim Lincecum's owner can now play for him in one of his relief pitcher spots. If you don't like it, then make sure you change the definition of a reliever next season to avoid a one-time bullpen outing creating an unwanted loophole. However, you can't keep your eyes wide shut and simply declare that Lincecum started the game, when he clearly didn't, any more than we can pretend Stanley Kubrick didn't kill off Scatman Crothers in "The Shining" for no apparent reason whatsoever.

We may not always like how the movie ends, but that doesn't mean we can change that Roy Hobbs home run into a strikeout, just because that's what we were hoping to see happen.

The End.

Fade to black.

AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.