by Moonlight Graham

You know you’ve had a good run as a Fantasy Baseball League when you’ve been around to see the entire career of a Hall of Famer like Ken Griffey Jr. Long the property of the Monroe Pearls of the Hausier’s Krowedum Rotisserie League, Griffey was one of the reasons the league decided to no longer retain players from year to year. “I’d like a shot at Junior”, was a common refrain, “why should Fat Cat get to keep him forever?” Griffey, a first-ballot Cooperstown entrant regardless of the injuries that plagued the latter part of his career, was one of the game’s greats; certainly one of Fantasy Baseball’s greatest, and, now that he’s decided to retire,  will be missed. However, he was not the only giant lost to the Fantasy Baseball world as Forte Bellino, long-time owner of the U.B.40′s, U.B. Jews and charter member of the HK Roto League as well as its first champion, passed away suddenly at the sinfully young age of fifty eight.  A high school teacher, administrator and coach, Fortunato left behind legions of family, students, colleagues and waiters (his favorites)  that he filed under the one category that mattered to him most: friend.

Known to many simply as “B”, his legacy spread nationwide as his young charges grew into middle age, forged successful careers and became parents.  It was a secret to no one that he had, literally, thousands of friends yet, no matter how crowded the venue, his patented, “What’s up there, son?”, made you feel as if he’d arrived specifically to see you.  While everyone has a few hundred “B” stories, those told about his time in our Fantasy Baseball League are, far and away, my favorites.

Founded in 1988, the HK League preceded the website era.  No CBSSportsline there; our stats were compiled by a guy on Long Island working out of his garage. The biggest problem we faced was determining which owner was the first to claim a free agent.  The solution, as it evolved, was to install a phone line in someone’s house, get him to volunteer to keep track of the daily transactions and change the outgoing message on the answering machine so that everyone else in the league was current. It was in this role that Forte developed something of a cult following.

Not content to simply drone on about the acquisition of Mark Gubicza or the dismissal of Tim Laudner, Forte quickly expanded the format. There were trivia questions, birthday and anniversary wishes, thoroughbred handicapping, predictions about anything from elections to the Academy awards, movie critiques and, of course, the thing for which he became most famous, restaurant reviews. There were more than a few times that I called in and, by the time he was done, forgot the move I’d wanted to make.

His performances became legendary.  At one time, Forte counted twenty daily callers that had absolutely nothing to do with our league.  Friends and acquaintances began to call and passed the number along to others.  My personal favorite was the telemarketer from Wisconsin. Having reached the league line without knowing the nature of its existence, he enjoyed that day’s message so much that he jotted the number down and called every day for two seasons. And everyone looked forward to a transaction involving former MLB pitcher Kenny Rogers; as it prompted B into his favorite ditty, “Gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run…”

We’ll all miss Forte Bellino for a very long time as he was someone who, through his own example, inspired people in all walks of life to be better men and women.  By extension, their good work will extend his legacy forever. I just wish I could still pick up the phone and learn where to find the best German restaurant in Queens. Clarence, the guardian angel,  told George Bailey that “no man is a failure who has friends.”  Congratulations, then, Forte, on your wonderful life.  “What’s up there, son?”

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One Response to “The Fantasy Baseball Forecast: Two Great Ones Lost in Same Week”

  1. Eddie,
    Very well written great tribute to a great man. Nobody better. I saw you from a distance at the Mass didn’t get a chance to talk with the amount of people outside after the services. Let’s catch up soon. I am one who didn’t play in the league but called the number everyday. I got a big kick out of calling and once finding my name on one of b’s lists. Must have been a list on outside shooters not students.

    sal c

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