AURORA, Ill. — With a passion for baseball in his heart, $2.60 in his pocket and “nothing better to do” with his time, Rich Bentel, at 17 years old, began a relationship that now is older than his marriage, older than his career and among the longest-running of its kind in the world.
Now a 47-year-old financial adviser with an office in Lisle and a wife and kids in Aurora, Bentel is the commissioner of the Cub Fan Club League rotisserie baseball organization that he and buddy David Mahlan started in 1984 during their senior year at Oak Park and River Forest High School.
“We were in the same study hall, and I saw him doing something baseball,” Bentel says in recalling the day they met freshman year. Both teens played board games that used dice to determine outcomes based on prior statistics of actual Major League Baseball players. Their lives changed when Mahlan heard about a new kind of fantasy league — one that used current statistics from real big league baseball games.
“We walked into Kroch’s and Brentano’s bookstore and found this book,” Bentel says, holding up a 30-year-old, dog-eared copy of “Rotisserie League Baseball,” the bible that emphasized statistics and launched the sports fantasy league craze. The book explained the rules that author Daniel Okrent created for fantasy baseball during lunch with some friends at a now-defunct New York restaurant called La Rotisserie Française.
“It was kind of a perfect storm,” Bentel says. “This came out, and then Bill James came in with all his stats, and then all the geeks just took off with it.”
According to the book’s rules, rotisserie owners were to spend $260 buying players for their fantasy teams.
“We were in high school. We didn’t have 260 bucks, so we moved the decimal,” Bentel says, remembering how he spent 44 cents of his $2.60 budget on standout catcher Gary Carter and finished last in the six-team league. While Bentel’s Dem Rebs have won two championships in 30 years, Mahlan’s David Copperfields won 11 in 27 years before he left the league.