A League of Our Own
By Drew Gallagher
In 1980, a gathering of baseball-loving journalists invented Rotisserie baseball at the New York City restaurant La Rotisserie Francaise. The popularity and viability of fantasy baseball, however, did not take hold until one of those founding fathers wrote a book called Rotisserie League Baseball, published in 1984, a green-covered paperback that I read obsessively, over and over, when I was 15. A year later, in July 1985, I gathered nine friends from my suburban Pennsylvania neighborhood (well, eight friends plus my younger brother Tommy), and together we formed the Eternal Squabblers League. Now, 38 years later, the ESL is one of the oldest continuously run rotisserie baseball leagues in the world. This claim is not easily disproved because as far as I can tell, no one else who started a fantasy league that long ago has bothered to document its founding and every subsequent season. Just us.
We convened our inaugural draft at Bill Dallas’ house because he had the biggest bedroom (his father was a bank president), and because it was within walking distance for the eight of us who were not old enough to drive. Paul Ramon still has all the paperwork from that first year showing how much each player went for and which owner bought them. I would have gotten copies of those historic draft day documents to sprinkle them anecdotally throughout this article, but Paul has never scanned or emailed a thing in his life. In fact, Paul has never owned a computer and does not grasp the internet as a concept. And I didn’t feel like driving to Reading, PA to sort through the detritus of Paul’s life still piled up in his mom’s house.
I do, however, have access to the final standings of that first season in 1985. Those standings, and standings from every other one of the 38 seasons of the ESL, are readily available for public scrutiny at www.yourpalchrismal.com, a site maintained by my pal Chris Malinowski. Without Chris Mal, the league would have ended decades ago. We joke that his willingness to maintain our records is why we let him win as often as he does. He no longer adds information to his website other than updating each year’s standings and adding photos of the current owners, but you can still find a wealth of archival material there. This includes the grainy photo attached to this article that depicts our league’s first Yoo-hoo award ceremony and that was used, along with several others Chris kept, in a 2010 ESPN 30 for 30 special called “Silly Little Game.” I have the DVD.
Why Yoo-Hoo? The founders of Rotisserie baseball thought that champagne was too high brow a celebration for a game thought up by journalists at a soon-to-be defunct French restaurant. One of the founding fathers recalled that Yoo-hoo was Yogi Berra’s favorite ballpark beverage and decided that the sticky awfulness of Yoo-hoo would be perfect for pouring over the winning owner of a make-believe team. Like most early fantasy baseball leagues, we discarded this ritual after a few years because it seemed an unfair punishment and one that did not please our mothers who had to launder our chocolate-stained clothes.
(Actually, it’s not certain that Yoo-hoo was Yogi Berra’s favorite drink. Back in the ‘60s, the company paid him to film an ad wearing a pin-striped business suit, chugging a bottle of Yoo-hoo, and saying “It’s Me-Hee for Yoo-hoo!” Pope John Paul II, on the other hand, was supposed to have been a big fan and reportedly had his people buy him a couple of cases of Yoo-hoo years ago when he visited America.)
Anyway, this is the story of ten friends from Reading who wanted to play a baseball game in which we drafted, traded, and bought professional baseball players over the course of a major-league season, measuring the success of those acquisitions through each player’s cumulative stats, and proving, or trying to, how much smarter we were, baseball-wise, than our nine pals. A handful of us have stuck it out in the Eternal Squabblers League for the whole 38 years. Several have been in and out. Some only stayed for a few seasons. Numerous others have come and gone.
Below, with a few of the names changed, are the founders of the Eternal Squabblers League, in order of the final standings from our inaugural season, and the ways our lives diverged over the next four decades. When you’re young you think you’ll stay friends with your friends forever, but we all know that’s not true. What is true is this need most of us have to find the threads that connect us to our past, and hold onto them even if we can’t exactly say why. The story of that first season of the Eternal Squabblers League is one of those threads for me.
FINAL 1985 STANDINGS OF THE ETERNAL SQUABBLERS LEAGUE
1)The Menet Work owned by Scott Menet—55 Points.
The founders of rotisserie baseball took great delight in coming up with unique and clever team names. We required all owners to adopt this same strategy which, as you will see, tended to veer pretty far from creative. However, Menet Work in the mid-1980s was pure genius. Whenever some publication would hold a “best team name” contest we would submit Menet Work and usually nab an honorable mention. The band Men at Work slowly faded from mainstream consciousness after they failed to follow up 1983’s “Cargo” with another hit record, but for a brief moment in time it was a name that resonated with most everyone, including fantasy baseball owners.
Scott, our inaugural champion, was not much of a baseball fan and quit after the 1986 season when he went from first to last. Scott was a year younger than I was and went to a different high school, and as we got older we drifted apart. He went on to medical school and became a doctor. When I learned that the filmmaker of “Silly Little Game” was going to use our pictures in the film, I did an internet search for Scott (who later became Scooter) and saw that he was working at an emergency room in Atlantic City, NJ. On a whim, I called the ER and he happened to be working so I told him about the 30 for 30 episode and he seemed to think that was pretty cool. We didn’t talk long because he kept getting paged for more pressing concerns. I have not talked to him since.
2)The Hardbodies owned by Mike Murphy—52 Points.
“Hardbodies” was a movie released in 1984 that Murph absolutely loved. It has a 32 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m sure I watched it at least once because of the gratuitous nudity, but I could not tell you if there are any plot details worth mentioning. There is a song in the movie with the lyric “I don’t fuck fossils for free, old man. I don’t fuck fossils for free.” I remember the line which means I must have thought it was very funny. At age 52, it’s less funny. Murph, like many of our owners, was a high school athlete and went to St. Joseph’s University. He’s now an assistant boys basketball coach at Perkiomen Valley High School in Pennsylvania. I think he might be a teacher, but I have not talked to him in probably 25 years. He won the league in 1987 but left a few years later.
3)The Cool Beans owned by Chris Malinowski—47 Points
“Cool Beans” was a term once used to denote satisfaction…I think. Chris is the only owner, besides me, who has been in the league for all 38 years. He’s one of my dearest friends and went to Drexel University because their mascot was a dragon and Chris was an excellent Dungeon Master. He told his parents that he was going to Drexel for their engineering program and not that they had a mascot that we encountered in Dungeons & Dragons. Chris was the only one of us who was a Division I athlete. He bowled at Drexel. (I was on my high school quiz bowl team, and after every match there was one kid in our class who always asked how many pins I knocked down. He thought it was hysterical. He played D&D too.) As I mentioned, the ESL would have folded in just a few years if not for the efforts of Chris to document everything and to take on the duties with which the rest of us were far too bored to mess. Chris won his 20th ESL championship in 2022. He’s an engineer and supervisor at a large power company in Pennsylvania. The mother of Mike Capilo (see 5th place finisher) used to call Chris directly every time her power went out to see if he could fix it.
4)The Tubs owned by Tommy Gallagher—46 Points
Tommy is my younger brother and the team name is derived from his then favorite team, the Cubs, and his first initial. Tommy did not stay involved in rotisserie baseball for long and went off to a number of different colleges before graduating from the University of Maryland and then getting a graduate degree from Penn. Tommy played high school baseball and was named All-County as designated hitter despite the fact that he could not run. And that is not simply an older brother mocking his brother’s foot speed. He was always faster than I was, but he had a horrific crash in a sail plane in 1988 and was wheelchair bound for nearly a year. When he was able to walk, he started to hit baseballs again and became an exceptional left-handed batter who was not physically able to run because the bones in his ankles were now fused to his tibia or fibula. He would get to bat once in a game and, if he got on base, they could pinch run for him. His next time at bat, if he got on base, he had to come out of the game because the rules dictated you could only run for a hitter once in a game. So if Tommy went 2 for 2 he was done for the day. He hit some of the longest singles in the history of Exeter High School. Nonetheless, his statistics were good enough to get him All-County. Tommy has held a number of different jobs and has lived throughout the world. He’s currently in Ukraine doing what he can to supply troops and raise money for the Ukrainian war effort. He does not take selfies while in Ukraine because the Russians are hacking cell phones and are able to see locations that might be of significant importance and ripe for bombing. Although he does take selfies in the gym.
5)The Baseball Caps owned by Mike Capilo—46 Points
Fortunately the founding fathers of rotisserie baseball had a tie-breaking formula that made Tommy the 4th place finisher and Mike the 5th place finisher despite the same number of points. It was based on the eight categories and who finished higher in the most categories. Mike’s team name was quite clever and should be obvious to anyone so no need for explanation. Mike went to Temple University and eventually became a teacher for many years in Orwigsburg, PA. George Washington’s drummer boy is buried in a cemetery in Orwigsburg. Mike’s now teaching outside of Philadelphia. Mike lived down the street from us and we met him soon after moving to the neighborhood in 1976 so he is the friend I have known longest in my life. Mike was one of two owners who could drive to the draft which he did in a gold Camaro even though he only lived a block away. In 1985, if you owned a Camaro, especially a gold one, you drove it everywhere. At Mike’s first wedding in Philadelphia, a couple of us were late because we were driving up from Virginia and John Franco (see 9th place) got a speeding ticket on 95 which delayed our arrival. We got to the church just before Mike’s bride entered the sanctuary and as we passed her she said: “Leave it to Michael’s fucking friends to be late.” The marriage did not last very long but I don’t think that was because we were late for the ceremony. Mike has the distinction of being the owner who has left and returned to the league the most times in our storied history.
6)The Baserobbers owned by Robbie Miller—45 Points
Robbie was the youngest owner at 12 years old when we started the ESL. Robbie would become a three-sport star in high school and played Division III baseball. He owned Sneaker Villa in Reading for a while, and after leaving the league for a number of seasons he returned and is one of the three original members who is still in the league. In 2021, Robbie finished in the top 5 of the league for the first time ever and cashed a check (the top five places get money). He cashed again in 2022. We always consider Robbie the youngest of our group, but we now have owners in the ESL who weren’t even born when the league was started. It’s sobering, so we tend to drink more beer on draft day. Robbie is not in any of the pictures they used for the ESPN special because he had a rec league basketball game on the day we did the Yoo-hoo ceremony and his parents wouldn’t let him skip his game. His two sons are pissed that their father was not on ESPN like the rest of his much cooler friends. Murph is the other owner who is not pictured on Yoo-hoo day. I’m pretty sure that Murph did not have a conflict on the Yoo-hoo day but simply did not show up because, well, it involved Yoo-hoo.
7)The Labesabs owned by Bill Dallas—44.5 Points
Bill’s team name was BASEBALL spelled backward without the second L. Bill was kind enough to let us use his bedroom for the draft and stayed involved in the league until drinking became more fun than fantasy baseball. This occurred a few years after he turned 21. Bill was the only owner to ever draft himself. At the end of the major league draft, teams could take minor leaguers, and Bill selected himself even though he was not in the minor leagues and never would be. It was not the only time that Bill showed a misplaced confidence in himself. Bill is the one in the group picture sitting atop Paul’s (see 8th place) shoulders. Bill looks very happy in the picture, but I don’t know that he lived a happy life. He did not make it in college, but did marry a very nice woman and had two children. I never met Bill’s kids because at that point in life we had grown apart. He got divorced. Apparently he was racking up DUIs so quickly at one point that the court could not process them fast enough. He went to prison for a short time as a repeat offender. Eventually they took his license and he went to live with his mother. He would walk to the store that Robbie owned and usually showed up with beer. He frequently asked if Robbie had any job openings. Robbie was gracious, but he couldn’t hire someone without a car and who showed up to a job interview with a 12-pack of Busch Light. Robbie said that Bill could barely walk the last time they saw one another. Robbie said he came into the store and simply fell down. At some point later, Bill fell down the steps at his mother’s house and died. He was 49.
8)The Wooden Shoes owned by Paul Ramon—44 Points
The team name is a play on Paul’s real last name. Paul is the de facto historian of the ESL’s paper age. He kept every scrap of paper from the league’s early years including newsletters that we would occasionally write and lists of all the transactions that we made during a season. He can tell you who you traded for Bobby Bonilla in 1987. He can tell you how much Dwight Gooden went for in the 1986 draft. Unfortunately, I don’t know that Paul has thrown anything else out since 1985. He lives with his mother in a house in the old neighborhood that is probably even too severe for the TV show about hoarders. Paul has not left his house since Covid, but he had also not left his house for a number of years before Covid. He has no internet access and doesn’t fully grasp the internet’s capabilities. I am the only person outside of his immediate family who still talks to Paul. He is a recluse in the truest sense of the word. The house he lives in has no heat so he only showers in the summer months when a cold shower is a pleasure rather than an agony. He stays in bed for much of the day watching old hockey fights that he has amassed on a vast collection of VCR tapes. In the winter, he takes as many blankets as he can and stuffs them around the bed to stay warm. He left the ESL after the 1993 season and many of us never saw him again. He did go to a birthday party of a mutual friend many years later. Mike Capilo was there with a girlfriend who practiced reiki. Paul, not surprisingly, had never heard of reiki, and when she explained it to him, Paul paused for a moment and said: “So you’re like a jedi?” The girl broke up with Mike soon thereafter because Mike, like the rest of us raised on Star Wars, laughed.
9)The Golden Gabes owned by John Franco—36.5 Points
A geographic play on John’s actual last name and homage to the Giants, although John was a Phillies’ fan. I believe that Chris Mal changed John’s team name on the web site to reflect what it ultimately became, because I’m pretty sure John’s first team name was Sick Mother Fuckers from a Twisted Sister song. John loved heavy metal, especially Def Leppard, and we were at an age where when we discovered that SMF, in song lyrics, meant Sick Mother Fucker we were duly impressed to the point that we’d use it for a fantasy baseball team name. John was one of the owners who could drive to our first draft and he picked up Murph on the way. John was an exceptional baseball player who played in college and then continued to play slow pitch softball with a number of us for years after graduating. John was also arrested after my wedding when our reception party moved to a nearby hotel and became too loud for the other guests. Stafford sheriff’s deputies showed up wanting to arrest someone and John, though probably the most sober and fastest of the bunch at the time, was their easy collar because he didn’t run. He spent the night in the drunk tank and tried to get some sleep but was awakened by a fellow prisoner touching his hair and telling him how soft it was. That fellow prisoner later jerked off into the toilet in the cell. John didn’t go back to sleep that night. He became an accountant for Penske and had a very good job and got married, but his wife cheated on him with another player on his softball team and that seemed to take a toll. He gave up his corporate job and decided he’d try to become a professional poker player. We never heard from him after the professional poker playing did not work out. I did an internet search for John a few years ago and found his name at a homeless shelter in Atlantic City. I called the shelter and they confirmed that he had been there at one time but wasn’t any longer. I do wonder, sometimes, if he ever went to Dr. Menet in the Atlantic City ER and if they would have made a connection to the ESL and the old neighborhood.
10)The Drewers owned by Drew Gallagher—24 Points
My now-38-year-old brainchild began with me finishing in last place. The team name was provided by my high school tennis coach who thought it was an obvious choice. It has served me well, and for years I used it as my internet password. I should probably confess here that I was actually in two rotisserie leagues in 1985, but the other league was made up of adults with full-time jobs and not my childhood friends. My father drove me to my first ever draft at the other league because, again, I could not drive. He even volunteered to auctioneer the draft because he had nothing else to do for the five hours that it took. He became a staple of those drafts, and he eventually joined the ESL later in life. My father is gone now, but many of my fondest memories of fantasy baseball are tied to him. I even finished second in a CBS Sports writing contest a few years ago with an anecdote about my father and fantasy baseball. It paid $300 in store credit at their MLB store, and my wife enjoyed spending it on Red Sox merchandise. I grew up to become a claims adjuster and have been with the same company for 29 years. I am a freelance writer who dabbles in book reviewing and writing for online publications that pay me in t-shirts. I have only won the ESL twice in nearly 40 years, but truthfully it has never been about winning. I enjoy the camaraderie, past and present. And draft day, which we always do in person, is better than Christmas.
Drew Gallagher is a freelance writer residing in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is the second most prolific book reviewer and first video book reviewer in the 136-year history of the Free Lance-Star Newspaper. You can find some of his video book reviews at Fredericksburg.com.