I first learned about a pitcher named Johnny Lanning back in the early 1990s when I started “managing” a fantasy team of old-time baseball players in something called “Bill James Classic Baseball” as a hobby my buddy Steve got me into when we were both working in the front office of the Albuquerque Dukes, then the Triple A affiliate to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This was before the internet, and long before social media. Like with current fantasy baseball leagues, we had a salary cap and we drafted a full roster of players. The difference was that these players were all old-timers…players dating back to the very start of Major League Baseball in the 1800s. The games were played by some computer in Illinois, and we anxiously awaited printouts in the mail each week of the prior week’s box scores and stats.
It seems archaic now, and kind of bizarre, but it actually was great fun for a couple of guys fresh out of school, lifelong baseball fans working 80–hour weeks at the ballpark. We studied the history of the game regularly, learning about players and ballparks and historical comparisons between players from different eras. We were in a league facing off against each other and 10 other “owners” from all over the country, people who I came to know distantly through later generations of the game as it eventually moved to a web site and message boards, and in more recent years we started to find each other on other platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.
While I haven’t gotten into a league in several years now (a different version of that same game still exists today, run by another company built by former BJCB players), I gained a lot more from that experience than a couple of mythical league championships (although as a lifelong Giants fan I do love the old-school fitted New York Giants cap I won as the league champion one year). I also gained greater appreciation for tons of players I knew little about in my childhood, including one who shared my last name: Johnny Lanning. Continue reading