In late April 2001, I had just graduated from college and was planning to go backpacking through Europe for most of the month of May. I knew I wouldn’t be able to check my fantasy baseball team very much while I was traveling (no smartphones in 2001), so the night before I left, I set my roster one last time. I think my first baseman was hurt or something, so I just picked up the highest ranked first baseman available on the waiver wire, who happened to be Ryan Klesko. Despite a solid 2000 season, Klesko had started 2001 slowly, hitting only .247 in April, so someone had dropped him. I didn’t know much about the dude at all, so I was just hoping that he would stay relatively healthy and at least not hurt my team too much while I was gone.
When I returned to the U.S. at the end of May, I finally logged back on to a computer and took a look at the numbers next to Klesko’s name. My jaw fell off my face. Ryan Klesko had gone insane. In May 2001, Klesko hit .354/.464/.788 with 11 homers, 40 RBI and 10 stolen bases. That’s double digit steals and homers in a single month. I have no idea whether anyone else has managed this feat, but it seems like it would be extremely rare. I checked all of the 40/40 seasons in history (Canseco, Bonds, A-Rod, Soriano) and none of them did it. And Klesko was primarily a first baseman! While I was off traipsing across Europe, Klesko was doing work, carrying my fantasy team on his back for an entire month.
Fantasy baseball managers tend to develop irrational attachments to certain players, or at least I do. Very often, it’s a guy you feel like you “discovered”, someone you bought into and believed in before anyone else did. In those cases, a large portion of that ongoing attachment comes from personal pride in your own fantasy baseball skills. You identified a star before he became a star, therefore, you are also a star and every time you see his name in your lineup, you feel good about you. I definitely feel that way about some of the guys I’ve had on my team over the years, like James Shields or R.A. Dickey. But this wasn’t the case with Klesko. I was just plain lucky that I happened to have added him right before he exploded; I can take no credit in this. But I continued to roster him on many of my teams up until he retired in 2007, and this was a different kind of attachment. Call it eternal gratitude.
The 2001 MLB season was perhaps the most memorable of my lifetime. Seattle won 116 games. Barry Bonds hit a billion homers. Ichiro won rookie of the year and MVP honors. Albert Pujols’ ridiculous rookie year as the oldest-looking 20 year old in history. 9/11. The Jeter Flip. All of this culminated in the greatest World Series I have ever seen. So it’s not surprising that Klesko’s amazing May has been virtually forgotten. But not by me. My gratitude continues until this day. For that amazing month, thank you Ryan Klesko. Thank you until the end of time.