One of my favorite movies is "The Usual Suspects." I love the final sequence when Chazz Palminteri, fresh off the glow of cracking the case, realizes to his horror that he has just been spoon-fed a complete fairy tale by Kevin Spacey, the man he just let walk away the man he should have apprehended. The worst part is that he could have figured it out sooner if he had only put together all of the separate pieces of information at his disposal. Unfortunately for Chazz, he didn't see the writing on the wall, literally, until it was too late.
(Note: To anybody who has yet to see the movie and is upset that I spoiled the ending for you TOUGH! You've had over a decade to rent it or catch it on cable. Don't blame me. Also, Bruce Willis was dead the whole time, the girl in "The Crying Game" was a dude, "Soylent Green" is made of people and while we're at it, Rosebud was a sled.)
Sometimes, a fantasy commissioner has to take a step back and see the big picture before making a ruling. Such was the case in the league in which Jeff Harris, from Lockport, N.Y., plays. He writes in with the following dilemma, fresh from draft day: "We had something happen in our AL-only auction that's never happened in the 12 year existence of the league. We ran out of corner infielders before everyone had filled that position."
Ran out? Is this even possible? Well, it's a very deep keeper league with 12 teams, each protecting many players, often including several minor league prospects, so when the draft comes around there may be only a handful of eligible players available at a given position to begin with. This is how it came to pass that the league's commissioner, who I'm calling Chazz, was forced to rule mid-draft on what to do when Team Verbal had nary a cornerman left to select to complete his roster. He proposed that the owner be allowed to draft a 'dummy player' to fill the spot, be charged the obligatory $1 towards the salary cap, and let the owner make a free agent move or minor league player promotion when the season started. Only one owner had a problem with this ruling. Jeff tells us why all the hubbub, Bub: "He said this had been brought up during the offseason as a possibility, and we never came up with a plan, but that didn't mean we should change the rules now."
Well, he has a point. If it was brought up as a possibility, then perhaps Chazz was remiss in not figuring out a plan in advance. But there's no use crying over spilled coffee from a shattered cup with the word Kobayashi printed on the bottom. A decision had to be made. Chazz made his, but was it the right one? The angry dissenter felt it wasn't a harsh enough penalty for failing to plan for the possibility of not being able to field a legal roster during the draft. He proposed that Team Verbal be forced to promote Ryan Garko from his minor league roster.
While it seems like a perfect solution, there was a problem with it. If Garko were to be promoted, league rules would assign him a salary of $4, which would put Team Verbal over the cap, giving him an unfair advantage. No can do. The angry dissenter grew furious. Maybe Team Verbal should simply get zero stats for his team until he could field a legal roster. Chazz felt this would be too harsh, and the rest of the league sided with him. The furious owner grew apoplectic, but eventually cooled off and finished out the auction. Team Verbal is playing 'shorthanded' until the league salary cap increases and he can legally promote Ryan Garko to his roster.
That's what they did, but Jeff still wants to know, "AJ, if you'd been in charge, what would you have done?"
It seems to me the main gripe here arose from the fact that, despite warnings that it might indeed occur, this situation was not covered in the very detailed league constitution. I asked Jeff to send me a copy of the document, which he did, and while it is true that there's no mention of this particular scenario, there is a rule in there hidden just below the surface. You just have to step back from it. It all makes sense when you look at it right.
"At no point during the season may a team's Active Roster contain more or fewer than 25 players, nor shall it deviate from the positions required as described above."
A team can't start the season with only 24 guys. It's not allowed. There's also no leeway in positional breakdown. This rule shows that a decision is in fact needed.
"Each team (at the draft) must acquire 25 players for its Active Roster at a total cost not to exceed $260 in 'draft dollars'."
This rule shows a decision is needed now. You can't wait until next week to call up a player to fill your roster. The rules say you must have 25 at the close of the draft. It also clearly states that you may not go over $260, so even though it might seem logical that we allow this owner to call up Garko (or even force him to do so) it is precluded by this rule.
"The Commissioner shall attempt to gain consensus for his actions and interpretations when possible, but is ultimately the final authority on all matters pertaining to the Leagues, including interpretation of rules."
So, once Chazz proposes his 'dummy player' concept and the owners accept the decision 10-1, it stands.
Now I'm not sure Chazz even realized this, but his own constitution actually already gave a hint that this was the appropriate course to take. Upon close scrutiny of the league rules, I found a section that was going to be seldom used, if ever. It was, however, this obscure paragraph that held the seeds to clinching the appropriateness of the ruling.
"Japan Rule: For all purposes, any player going to play in Japan or any other foreign country or league other than Major League Baseball and its affiliated franchises, shall be considered (out of play) immediately and will be removed from his team. If no player is available to fill his position on the Active Roster, he shall remain there, accumulating no statistics, until such time as a replacement can be procured by the Owner."
There it is. An open roster spot and there is no available replacement. The 'dummy concept' was staring at us the whole time, just waiting to be discovered amongst the assorted leaflets and mug shots of Agent Kujan's bulletin board.
And like that any dissent it's gone.
All rise The Court has now adjourned!
A.J. Mass has been a Fantasy Baseball Commissioner for nearly 15 years, and was the mascot of the New York Mets for four seasons in the early '90s.
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