HQ NOW: Fantasy's "Zen Master" a deserving Hall of Fame inductee

This article appeared in the June 26th issue of Sports Weekly.

In fantasy sports, one size rarely fits all.

Sure, there are some basic draft strategies and ways to play the game in-season that have proved to be successful. But the key to winning consistently is finding a style that works best for you individually, and adapting that to fit your competition.

Of all the people in the fantasy industry, the one with the most unique approach to the game I’ve seen was Lawr Michaels. His given name was Lawrence, but no one ever called him that. It didn’t seem friendly enough. He was one of a kind, even down to his name.

Lawr’s influence in the world of fantasy sports goes back to the industry’s infancy. He first started writing about fantasy baseball in 1993, under the direction of Fantasy Sports Hall of Famer John Benson, before branching out on his own. He founded CreativeSports in 1996 as an outlet for his desire to write about fantasy sports and also as a way to share that knowledge with others. His “Hotpage” column became the longest continuously-running weekly fantasy baseball column in the industry. Lawr earned the nickname “Zen Master” for his unconventional way of playing fantasy baseball. After his surprising victory in the 2001 AL Tout Wars competition, the legend only grew.

I first got to know him by reputation as one of the most interesting characters in Sam Walker’s bestselling 2006 book, “Fantasyland,” which gave a behind-the-scenes look at Tout Wars, one of the fantasy world’s most prestigious experts leagues. For him, fantasy baseball was far more art than science. He always managed to construct a roster of players whose skills fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Throw in a couple of players he valued higher than everyone else, and the results were dynamic. (Sometimes he failed miserably, but he was always able to treat those failures as learning experiences.) While it might have been easy to dismiss his Tout Wars title as a fluke, he validated it by winning the league a second time in 2009.

In addition to writing for his own site, Lawr shared his talents with many other outlets for more than two decades. He was one of the first in the fantasy industry to write about and rank minor league prospects. His Top 250 Prospect List was one of the most popular features when CreativeSports merged with Mastersball in 2009. Sports Weekly readers might remember his name from his participation in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR), or from the fantasy baseball “Sizzlers and Fizzlers” feature he wrote for several years.

From his jeans and Converse All-Star high-tops to his long, Robert Plant-in-Zeppelin-heyday locks, Lawr made an instant impression on everyone. A resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, he was also a stats stringer for MLB.com from 2004 to 2013, covering 328 regular-season and postseason home games for the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants.

All that in-person scouting made Lawr partial to certain A’s and Giants players in fantasy. He was one of the first fantasy analysts to embrace Khris Davis’s power potential in Oakland, despite the ballpark’s pitcher-friendly tendencies. He would frequently wait to draft his shortstop and be perfectly happy when the Giants’ Brandon Crawford fell to him. And longtime opponents could always count on Lawr throwing a late dart at a back-end A’s starting pitcher like Kendall Graveman or Daniel Mengden. More often than not, it worked out for him.

In the last few years, Lawr found a new outlet for his talents: sports talk radio. It was no surprise he was a natural almost immediately. He could discuss almost any player off the top of his head. And with his wide variety of interests, almost no subject was off-limits. The Fantasy Sports Radio Network (FNTSY) called the show the “Tout Wars Hour.” But because it involved Lawr, the show actually lasted two hours. The biggest problem the show had was getting him to be quiet long enough to squeeze in the commercials.

Lawr’s interests went far beyond baseball and fantasy sports. He was an accomplished musician, playing bass in several bands and recording his own CD. He wrote a novel several years ago and was working on an autobiography. A few years ago, he reconnected with golf, which he had abandoned in his teens. And in true Lawr fashion, playing with equipment that was less than state-of-the-art, he recorded his first hole-in-one just a few rounds later.

That was the essence of Lawr. You never quite figured out what he was doing, or how he was doing it, but it all seemed to find a way to work out.

Later this week, the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association will honor Michaels as this year’s inductee in the Fantasy Sports Hall of Fame, a fitting tribute for someone who gave so much of himself to the industry. Unfortunately, he won’t be there to accept the honor. Lawr Michaels died in December after a series of health complications, but even in his final days, he continued to pass along his knowledge and experience to the next generation of fantasy analysts.

Lawr was more than just a writer and fantasy baseball player. He helped many aspiring young writers get started in the industry and improve their craft. When he rebranded CreativeSports 2.0 in late 2017, it was done almost exclusively to continue his dream of providing a training ground for young writers. Up to his death, Lawr was always approachable and happy to talk to anyone about the fantasy industry… or music… or life in general. He treated everyone, even those he just met, like old friends.

The Fantasy Sports Hall of Fame already counts among its members innovators such as Bill James, Daniel Okrent, and Glenn Waggoner. It has entrepreneurs such as Ron Shandler, Greg Ambrosius, and Charlie Wiegert. It also has some of the industry’s great ambassadors, including Matthew Berry, Rick Wolf, and Peter Schoenke.

It will now have Lawr Michaels, who somehow managed to be a combination of all three. 

Shine on, Zen Master.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.