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All-time unpredictable fantasy leaguers - July 17, 2002

By Tim Ott

For a man with his lifetime totals, Yastrzemski had some of the most mind-boggling, mediocre numbers of anybody in history. (AP Photo)
Attention, fantasy baseball owners: will those of you who selected Bret Boone, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Jermaine Dye with high draft picks please step forward? Yes, those of you who are hiding in the corner, at the bottom of your league standings. Don't be ashamed, it happens to all of us who are crazy enough to jump on the fantasy league roller coaster year after year.

As smart as we like to think we are, as much as we prepare for the upcoming season, there is sometimes no way to predict when a player is due for an off-year. Sure, certain players like Ellis Burks are always red-flagged because of potential injury, but how can you account for the sudden, prolonged slump that can come following a record of success?

Ted Williams once said that the most difficult thing to do in all of sports is to hit a baseball. In 1959, he was well aware of that fact; following a season in which he hit .328 with 26 home runs and 85 RBIs, the Splinter sank to .254 with only 10 home runs and 43 driven in. Had fantasy baseball been around for that long, we likely would have seen more Ted Williams cards shredded by the bicycle spokes of angry young boys.

Of course, Williams is a bad example because 1959 was his only sub-par season in an incredible 19-year career. Other players have been much more unpredictable, and much more of a heartache when it came to predicting their final numbers.

With that said, who-had the concept been around for more than twenty years or so-would have been the worst fantasy league players of all time? We can throw out the Mario Mendozas and Bob Ueckers of the world, because their stats would not have landed them on many fantasy rosters. We're talking about the players who teased us with the occasional awesome season, then just as easily dropped back into the pack with a frustratingly below-average year as a follow-up.

Here are three of baseball's greatest hitters who could be candidates for the bi-polar fantasy player of the 20th Century.

Roy Campanella:

Campanella was one of the greatest catchers who ever lived, and was well deserving of the three MVP Awards he won. It's just that if you had selected him as the first catcher in the draft following any of those seasons, your butt would have hurt from repeatedly kicking yourself in the pants.

In 1951, the first of Campy's award-winning campaigns, the Dodger catcher hit .325 with 33 home runs and 108 runs driven in. Beautiful. He followed that, however, with a .269 average, 22 home runs and 97 RBIs. Granted, it was still a fine season for a catcher, but not exactly what you were looking for if he was your first-round pick.

Campy returned with a vengeance and posted a monster season in 1953. His 41 homers, 142 RBIs and 103 runs were all career highs, and a .312 average for good measure easily earned him his second MVP trophy. However, Campanella followed that career season with one of his worst: a miserable .207 average with 19 home runs and 51 batted in.

It was a tough season for an athlete as proud as Roy Campanella, and he responded admirably with a .318 average, 32 homers and 107 RBIs in 1955, good enough for his third MVP award.

Unfortunately, Campanella must have left it all on the field that season as his Dodgers went on to win their first World Series in history. The highly-respected, but aging catcher experienced another off-year at the plate in 1956, hitting a mere .219 with 20 long balls and 73 driven home.

Anybody who rolled the dice and bet on a huge Campanella comeback in 1957 would have been badly mistaken. Campy continued to wallow at the bottom of the leader boards, his numbers ending up at .242, 13 and 63. And tragically, the great Dodger catcher was given no more chances to recover from his batting woes, as a car accident ended his career prematurely before the 1958 season.

Overall, Roy Campanella had some of the greatest seasons by any player at his position in history. In-between, he still put up numbers that would have made most fantasy owners happyÂ…provided he wasn't an early draft pick.

Carl Yastrzemski:

For a man with his lifetime totals, Yastrzemski had some of the most mind-boggling, mediocre numbers of anybody in history.

For the first six seasons of his career, Yaz was a good, but not exactly spectacular ballplayer. He would give you somewhere between 15 and 20 home runs, around 80 RBIs and an average somewhere near .300.

All of a sudden, he turned into the second coming of Williams, the man he replaced in Fenway's left field post. Yaz exploded in 1967, winning the Triple Crown with a .326 average, 44 home runs and 121 batted in. Surely, at 28 years old, there were more and better seasons to come, right?

Well, not quite. 1968 turned out to be the year of the pitcher, and Yaz' (and everybody's) numbers sank like a leaky ship. He dropped to .301, with 23 homers and 74 driven in.

With the mound lowered in 1969, offense returned to a healthy level and Yaz came out swinging. His 40 home runs and 111 RBIs were among the best in the league, but he forgot to bring his batting average with him, hitting a career-low .255.

Yaz responded with a 1970 season that was nearly equal to his 1967 masterpiece: a .329 average with 40 dongs and 102 driven in. He also scored 125 runs and even stole a career-high 23 bases, numbers that would have categorized him as a "five-tool stud" entering the 1971 season.

Yaz likely would have been a first-round pick in most fantasy league drafts that season, and he also would have been one of the largest busts in history. His batting average dropped to a miserable .254 and he could only manage 15 home runs and 70 RBIs. Even his steals dropped to a modest eight.

That, as it turned out, was a sign of things to come. Between 1972 and 1975, Yaz never cracked 20 home runs or 100 RBIs, and only once hit .300. Strangely, his numbers looked an awful lot like those he posted in the first few years of his career.

But he wasn't finished yet. Any precocious sap who selected Yaz in the later rounds of the 1976 draft would have been rewarded with a comeback season of sorts. Perhaps inspired by the prowess of his young teammates Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, Yaz hit .267, slammed 21 home runs and drove in 102. And for anyone who thought that a fluke, Yaz followed that up with a .296-28-102 season. He even got back on his horse and swiped 11 bags.

And if anyone thought that those seasons were still a fluke, well, they were right. Yaz played six more seasons, and went back to the .270-16-80 numbers that he had been putting up for most of his career.

As it turned out, Yaz only had two really awesome seasons, but you can bet the farm that he would have been a first-round draft pick a lot more than that.

Cal Ripken, Jr.:

A friend of mine used to say that Ripken made a great fantasy draft pick because you could count on him for 162 games a year. Of course, if you were expecting anything more than that, that's where the problems began.

At first glance, Ripken's seasonal stats seem pretty consistent. And for the first few years of his career, they were. After a .318-27-102 MVP season in 1983, and a statistically similar follow-up, Ripken looked to be shaping up into a steady fantasy league player. Sure, a .300 batting average appeared to be a thing of the past, but he still gave you 25 home runs and 90 RBIs, great numbers for a shortstop.

Then came the 1991 season. Playing like a man who drank a bucket of magic potion, Ripken posted highs across the board with a .323 average, 34 homers and 114 driven in, earning him his second MVP award. And how did he follow that career-defining season? Like a man who drank a bucket of poison; the Baltimore shortstop posted what was then the worst season of his career at .251-14-72. That noise you may remember reverberating throughout the nation that year was the sound of fantasy baseball owners collectively banging their heads against a wall.

After that, Ripken's numbers began to get a little screwy, as if he couldn't figure out how to put it all back together again. In 1993, his power numbers rose to 24 and 90, but his average remained in the pits at .257. The following year saw a dramatic improvement in average (.315), but the shortened season kept his power numbers relatively modest at 13 homers and 75 driven in.

In 1996, Ripken's numbers returned to the standard he set in the mid 1980s (.278-26-102), but just as quickly they went back down the following year (.270-17-84). By 1998, they had dipped a little bit more, and with his fabled streak coming to an end, it looked like the curtain was slowly being drawn on a great career.

Well, maybe the curtain was being drawn, but Ripken still had one more trick up his sleeve. It is hard to say which were his more unusual numbers of the 1999 season: the 86 games played, or the 18 home runs and 57 RBIs in only 332 at-bats? His .340 batting and .584 slugging averages were easily the best of his career. Had he been part of your fantasy team, he would have simultaneously killed you by missing half the season, while boosting your numbers enormously when he actually did play.

Ripken continued on his power surge the following season, but a .256 average wasn't enough to make up for the 79 games missed. And after one more sub-par season at .239, the Iron Man finally called it quits, his legacy as the big-hitting shortstop of his time having been passed on to Alex Rodriguez.

Of course, because A-Rod has yet to drop to .260 following one of his monster campaigns, it's difficult to say that he's filled the fantasy league footwear vacated by his predecessor. Fortunately, nobody's complaining.

Tim Ott is a fantasy and history writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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