1999: The Year in Review
What have I learned from this past year? Let me think. Well, for starters, I've learned that the two most aggravating phrases in the English language are: "He didn't get a good jump," and "Nobody can get to it." I've learned that second base is not always "scoring position" no matter how fast the runner or how weak the outfielder's arm. I've learned that it's nearly impossible to be a good blind third base coach. I've learned that sometimes even Greg Maddux has a bad day. I've learned never to take a batter for granted just because he happens to pitch for a living. I've learned that Diamond Mind customers tend to be more knowledgeable and more passionate than most baseball fans. I've learned the MANY differences between a Diamond Mind league and a rotisserie league. I've learned that not all rocket scientists are smart. I've learned that adolescence can be a very awkward stage in someone's life when he's 31 years old. I've learned that a chalupa is just a soft taco, only thicker. I've learned that not all four-time Cy Young Award winners are sure things. And I've learned that despite the passage of time some things never change.
Before I begin, I just want to thank all of you for making this an exciting season (in more ways than one.) If nothing else, this league has kept my mind occupied with trivial problems and controversies all year, giving me a much-needed break from important problems and controversies in the real world. I would also like to thank my wife for putting up with all of this for more than a year. I would drop all of this baseball nonsense in a heartbeat if she asked me to. Fortunately, she understands how much I enjoy this little hobby, so she tolerates it. And lastly, I'd like to congratulate my good friend Paulie Marazita for winning the first-ever BDBL championship this year. I may give him a hard time about his team of lucky, overachieving spare parts, role players and pinch hitters, but deep down - deep, deep down - I'm happy for him and I'm glad the first BDBL trophy went to an old CBL owner from "back in the day." It warms my heart to see the old Paul "Zoots" Marazita back in action.
What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been
And what a long, long season it's been. There were some doubts about our expanded schedule when this league first formed, but I would guess that most of you have come to appreciate our stretched-out season. I like having the opportunity to manage my own games against a real live person. And I found the pace of the season suited me well, especially as I tried to run my team and the league simultaneously. Despite the longevity of the season, I think it's better to be playing ten months out of the year (including playoffs) than to sit on the sidelines for four or more long, cold winter months.
Congratulations to everyone on an extremely successful inaugural season - especially those sixteen of us who stuck with it from beginning to end. The first year of a league is never easy. There are rules that need tweaking, unforeseen issues that need resolution and a "weeding out" process among a large group of strangers that is an unfortunate necessity to the long-term prosperity of the league. I have been the commissioner of four different leagues in the past, and I can honestly say I've never had a more difficult time running a league. The glue that holds this league together is an initial promise made between all of us that we will all play fairly and honestly, and we will all stick with our original commitment toward the long-range success of our teams and the league. Unfortunately, it is simply too easy for a person to break this promise when there is no monetary motivation to stick to it. However, I don't believe in charging people for this hobby, and I'd rather not invite gambling stakes into the game. So instead we play for pride alone, rely heavily upon the "honor system," and take our chances with the consequences of that decision.
1999: The Season In Review
For those of you who joined us late, I'd like to fill you in on the whole story of this league from beginning to end. For the rest of you, I've learned through the process of writing this essay that things generally tend to be more amusing in retrospect. Therefore, I think everyone will be able to enjoy this look back at the 1999 BDBL season as much as I have.
It all started in October of 1998. I was surfing around the internet one day when I somehow stumbled upon the Diamond Mind web site. I had never heard of Diamond Mind before, but the game sounded very intriguing to me. Since the day my dad lugged home our Commodore-64 from the local electronics store during the baseball strike of 1981, I had been searching for an accurate computer baseball simulation. Pouring over the product info on the Diamond Mind site, I got the feeling my quest had finally come to an end.
I purchased the game and spent about a week playing around with it. It didn't take long to determine that it was as good as advertised. At first, I planned to play alone, simming the '98 Yankees against the best teams of all time. I started a season and got about a dozen games into it before I realized it just wasn't stimulating my competitive juices enough. So I went in search of a league.
I went to the Diamond Mind league directory and searched league after league. I read rulebooks from about a dozen different leagues and found that none of them really quenched my thirst for realism and fairness. Besides, I didn't want to inherit someone else's work. I wanted to build a franchise of my own from scratch. So I took the next logical step: I began laying the groundwork for a league of my own.
In less than a week's time I had constructed a crude web site with a solid-yet-unpolished set of rules. Using my past experience as a commish, I already had several air-tight rules in mind and knew all the potential pitfalls and potholes to avoid. All I needed was to find 23 other baseball nuts willing to purchase a $70 game with no graphics and spend two entire Saturdays drafting a made-up team. Luckily, I had four of them already in mind.
On November 6th, the BDBL was born. That was the day the web page was first uploaded to the web for all the world to see. I sent a short description of the league to Diamond Mind and about a week later our league was added to their league directory. It was only a matter of time before a wave of baseball nuts came flooding my way. In the meantime, I contacted my longtime friends Paul Marazita, Phil Geisel, Ken Kaminski and Billy Romaniello. To my complete shock and disbelief, all four of them blindly trusted my review of this new game and agreed to join the league. (I don't think they realized what they were getting into.) On November 20th, I accepted the first application from a non-acquaintance (Jeff Paulson of the Los Altos Undertakers) and less than one month after our league was first posted on the Diamond Mind page all twenty-four slots had been filled. (BDBL trivia: the final three spots were filled by Chuck Shaeffer, Bryan Sakolsky and Jeff Clink - a dubious ending to a promising start.) We were officially in business.
That's when the trouble started.
The Rocky Road to Draft Day
For the entire months of November, December and January, I spent every night of the week answering e-mail for at least three hours per night. The questions, problems, issues and complaints were endless. My wife moved our bedroom into my office just so she could spend time with me. When I asked my son to draw a picture of me, it was of the back of my head. Getting the league off the ground was more time-consuming than I ever imagined, but I promised my family it would all be over soon.
Most of the e-mail I received was of the innocent variety: applications for the league, stadium changes, web page updates, questions about rules, questions about procedures, suggestions for rule changes, alerts to contradictions in the rulebook, etc.. Some of the e-mail, however, was downright rude. Some of the owners who voluntarily joined my league strongly urged me to change major facets of my rulebook. And when I didn't agree with their opinions they persisted with their own opinions, suggested that I was unfit to be commissioner and predicted doom for the league. I have been involved in rulebook controversies before. They occur in every fantasy baseball league that has ever been established. But the tone of these debates was unlike any I had ever witnessed. I'd like to think this was due to the impersonal nature of the internet, but somehow I don't think that was the case. Thankfully, those people have all since moved on.
Around the first week of December, with all 24 teams in place and ready to go, I began collecting data from all the owners regarding availability for our big inaugural draft. As one might imagine, it wasn't easy finding two days over a six-week period that all twenty-four people could unanimously agree upon. But after several weeks of stretching and twisting dates and times (and some arms), we finally arrived at two Sundays in January. We were cutting it close with a scheduled February 1st start date, but there was no other option. On December 5th, after several e-mails exchanged hands, 16-year-old Neil Parker became the first of many BDBL casualties. Neil mentioned to me that he had hockey practice every Sunday, and therefore would be unable to attend the draft. He was willing to give me a list and let me draft from it, but that didn't sound very appealing to me, so I decided to let him go. Fortunately, I had a genuine ringer waiting in the wings just aching to take over his team. Well...maybe not so genuine.
That ringer was the infamous "Mike Fitzgerald." I received an application from "Fitzzy" at around the same time Neil was having issues with our proposed draft dates. Fitzgerald listed his occupation as "former big league catcher", and expressed a desire to join our league with his son, Mike, Jr.. Remembering Fitzgerald from his playing days, I was elated to welcome him into the league. I was almost giddy with excitement over adding such a prestigious member to our little baseball league. I phoned my good friend Geisel and told him of our great fortune. Phil was giddy, too. A little TOO giddy. A few days later, after he was done toying with my emotions, Geisel finally admitted that he was the one posing as Fitzgerald. The greatest hoax in BDBL history had just been perpetrated.
Luckily, our waiting list was full of REAL owners aching to take the first available spot. Brian Hicks took over for the departed Mr. Parker and we were back in business. Two days later, Jack Buchanan and Bob Biermann were added to replace two other owners - the Ernst brothers - who dropped out when they realized they couldn't attend the draft on the two days we selected.
Buchanan wasted no time making trouble.
The Great E-mail Draft Controversy
During our first-ever league-wide chat session (a technical nightmare in and of itself), Jack mentioned that it would be a good idea to begin the draft via e-mail in order to cut down on the amount of time needed for the two live drafts. Initially, I rejected this idea because I thought everyone would need a few weeks to prepare for the draft. We took an informal vote at the chat session and Jack's idea was shot down by a slight majority ruling.
I mulled over this idea for the next few days, however, and eventually decided that as long as the draft was voluntary, there was really no reason not to start drafting early. The first few picks don't require any heavy analysis or strategy, and there were some serious issues at the time whether it would even be possible to draft 960 players in two days. Therefore I saw no harm in beginning the draft early as long as it was voluntary. So on December 16th, I sent out a league-wide message stating that the Inaugural Draft had begun. I made it clear this was a voluntary draft, and owners could take as much time as they needed to make their selections. The moment my right index finger clicked the "Send" button on that fateful e-mail, the critics began chiming in by the dozens.
Marazita fired off a scathing e-mail which characterized some of the owners in the league as "eager beavers" who were too impatient to wait for the live draft. (Unfortunately, we were all still new to the "onelist" concept and his e-mail was mistakenly sent to everyone in the league.) The most virulent of them all, though, was Mike Moffatt of the Lahaina Canefires. Due to the fact that he lives five time zones away from the East Coast, you would think he would have been heavily in favor of any decision which would have cut down on the time for the two live drafts. Instead, Moffatt was furious. He called my decision "gutless" and accused me of having a "spine made of Jello." Like Marazita's outburst, this e-mail was also mistakenly sent to everyone in the league via onelist. After several rounds were fired back and forth between Moffatt and the eager beavers (my favorite such remark was when Jack mentioned that he had seen my picture and could vouch for the fact that I do indeed have a gut), Moffatt resigned. Unfortunately- er, I mean, fortunately- for all of us, that opened up a spot for Tim Zigmund of the Plattsburgh Champs.
The Des Plains Draft Dodger
For the next several days the e-mail draft proceeded smoothly. Alex Rodriguez was the first player chosen, followed by McGwire, Maddux, Sosa and Gonzalez. Players were chosen one after another, with each selection being analyzed and criticized privately (and sometimes not-so-privately) among the owners in the league. Griffey, Garciaparra, Brown, Clemens, Belle, Martinez, Johnson and Glavine followed. The draft was generating a buzz of excitement and in general was a smashing success. Up next were Andruw Jones, Bernie Williams, Schilling, Leiter and Bonds. Then we came to the 19th pick and all the fun and excitement came to a screeching halt.
Number nineteen in our draft order was the Des Plaines Diamond Kings, led by now-legendary owner Kevin Manley. It became Manley's turn to pick a few days before Christmas. With Christmas falling on a Friday, it was hoped that we would be able to get through several picks - maybe even an entire round - over the weekend while everyone was home. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday passed without a pick - which was understandable, since it was a time for family and friends, not fantasy baseball. On Saturday I started to receive e-mails from anxious owners wanting to know what had happened to the draft. My response was always the same: the draft is voluntary, and owners can take as much time as they needed to pick. That was my public response, at least. Privately, I wanted to know, "what on earth is taking him so long?!?"
Finally, on Sunday night I caught Mr. Manley on-line and asked if everything was going okay. He then revealed why it was taking him so long to pick. It turns out he had been simming games all week, putting different players in his ballpark to see how they'd perform. He assured me he was just about ready to choose - he just needed to run a few more sims. On Monday afternoon, Manley finally made his long-awaited pick of David Wells and the draft finally resumed. On the way back, the draft stalled once again at pick #19. Again, the league waited - this time a little less patiently. After a few messages were sent Manley's way by the beaver contingent, Manley fired off a flaming e-mail to the league where he explained that he works "outrageous hours for outrageous sums of money," and therefore has little time to spend on something as frivolous as making draft picks. He reiterated my statement that owners may take as much time as needed to make a pick, then told us all to get a life.
The Live Draft
We eventually made it through three and a half rounds before the Big Day finally came. On January 16th at 11:30am, I logged on to the BDBL chat room and counted the number of owners in the room. As expected, there were a handful who had problems connecting. So I spent the next half hour trying to round up those people, playing the involuntary role of tech support for a product I had used a total of two times before that day. By noon, my brain had liquefied in my skull.
Draft Day was not nearly as much fun as I had imagined it would be. For weeks, I had anticipated that day like a teenager anticipates his first piece of a- (oops, I forgot we're a "family" league now.) I had done so much research on players that by the time Sunday morning came, I was spouting stats like "Rain Man" on 78 rpms. I was more fidgety than Nomar Garciaparra after ten cups of coffee. I was more nervous than Mike Tyson at a spelling bee. You get the point. I set up shop in my "war room" - the office of my house - with a cooler filled with ice, beer and Coke, a spread of hot and cold food that would choke a Reuschel brother and two friends imported from Connecticut to share in the experience. Billy set up shop to my left, a plate of honey-barbecued chicken fingers in one hand and a computer printout in the other. Paul spread out on the floor in front of the TV, one eye on his meticulously hand-compiled stats, the other eye on the Vikings game. I sat at my desk, stats spread out on the desk before me, two spreadsheets and a chat window open on the screen, a Coke to my right, nachos to my left, and a game timer set to sixty seconds poised and ready for my command.
As fun as it sounds in retrospect, that day was one of the most brutal days I've ever experienced from a mental aspect. It made the SAT's seem like the first six questions on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and my college Abstract Algebra final seem like a contest of matching wits with Bryan Sakolsky. By the end of that day I didn't know my own name. I was actually running a real, genuine fever by the middle of the draft, and nursed a throbbing headache over the final three hours. Oddly enough, unlike other times in my life when I have experienced these symptoms, I only had one beer throughout the entire draft.
In retrospect, I realize it was simply too much for one person to handle: keeping the draft moving from one person to another, keeping track of which players had been taken, keeping all 24 owners connected to the chat room all at once and helping those who had gotten booted off in the middle of our session, setting the clock for each pick, telling Billy the first names of every player in baseball and telling Paul to take his eyes off the football game long enough to make his pick. And almost as an afterthought, I also had to make spur-of-the-moment decisions about my own team which would affect the future of my franchise for years to come.
The draft ended with me, mentally and physically exhausted from six and a half hours of drafting, telling Bryan Sakolsky to go bleep himself. Sakolsky wanted to continue drafting even though owners had already left the session. When his persistent demands were rejected time and again, he ever-so-sarcastically called me "your majesty." I would later learn that this episode was merely a prelude to future events.
Sylvester Saves the (Draft) Day
There was a one-week lag between our two live drafts, so our e-mail draft resumed until the next Sunday. We made it to - you guessed it - team number nineteen before the draft came to a screeching halt once again. With only three days remaining until our second draft day, Manley disappeared. I was once again flooded with angry e-mails from owners all over the league asking me to force Manley to make a decision. Two days before the draft, I wrote an e-mail to Mr. Manley and asked him what the story was. I explained that while the draft is voluntary, it would be a great help to the league if he could make a pick as soon as possible. The more picks we get out of the way by e-mail, I pleaded, the less time we'll need for the live draft. All the while, messages were bouncing around onelist inquiring about Manley's pick: "Did I miss the pick?," "Can someone please send me the last pick - I think I missed it," "Where are the Diamond Kings - did they pick yet?" Finally, Sakolsky sent the e-mail which became the final peg removed from the Jenga tower: "We're stuck again...and always at the same place in the draft."
Saturday morning at around 2:00am I logged on to AOL. There in my in-basket was a message from Manley to the league over onelist. Finally, he had made his pick. Or so I thought. Instead, it was a letter of resignation. Manley explained that his best friend's wife and daughter had just died in a car accident and he had been away from home attending the funeral. He then told us all once again to get a life, and left us high-and-dry a little more than 24 hours before the second phase of our live draft was to begin.
At that point, the season was in serious jeopardy. It would be nearly impossible to find another day we could all agree upon to draft, so the only other option would be to find another owner to take Manley's team in less than 24 hours. It seemed an impossible task. I sent a mass mailing to everyone on our waiting list at around 3:00 that morning. I mentioned there were two teams available: Manley's and Sakolsky's. Sakolsky had worn out his welcome even before this latest episode due to his endless stream of hateful, arrogant, sarcasm-laced e-mails I found in my mailbox nearly every day criticizing the league and myself. His e-mail to Manley jeopardized the fate of the league, and was the final nail in his coffin as far as I was concerned. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a replacement for his team, so he stayed. Fortunately, we did find an owner to take Manley's place on less than 24 hours notice. Bob Sylvester had voluntarily chosen to attend our first draft day as a backup in case someone didn't show. Without any guarantee of owning a team in the league, Bob showed up at that first draft prepared to spend six and a half hours drafting players. Needless to say, he was my first choice to take Manley's team, and no one was happier when he did respond that Saturday - only hours before our draft.
We made it through Day Two of our live draft without incident. Other than one brief "shouting match" between Marazita and Sakolsky during one of our breaks, the draft proceeded smoothly and successfully.
On February 1st, the BDBL season finally began (miraculously on time) with our farm draft still taking place via e-mail. We made it just under the wire, but the important thing was: we made it. The next challenge was getting everyone on the same page in regard to procedure. Once the season got underway it became glaringly obvious that some owners hadn't read the rulebook and procedures. Some owners were playing home games against the MP, others were using the MP's rotation instead of the one posted on the web site. It was a logistical nightmare. But after one full chapter had been completed, everyone seemed to be walking in step.
Early Controversies Erupt
The next great controversy erupted when I came up with the bright idea to expand the farm by five players. I got tremendous support from some owners and tremendous backlash from others who carried their opposition so far as to threaten quitting over the matter. Among other things, I was called a "dictator" and a "hard-ass" for my viewpoint that since it is my league, I should be able to make whatever rules I want to make as long as it's fair and makes the league better. Thus, I became the first person ever to be called a "hard-ass" and a "spineless jellyfish" all in the same year. The matter was dropped temporarily, resurfaced a month or so later, then dropped once again. Eventually, the issue was voted upon at the end of the season and passed by a comfortable margin. Less than a week after the results of the voting were announced, however, one of the owners who threatened to quit, did. Why this insignificant enhancement to the league caused so much controversy is something which still puzzles me to this day.
Another early controversy was the question of when a deadline is a deadline. The people who believe the 21st century begins on January 1, 2000 believed a deadline ends at 11:59pm the day of the deadline. The more rational among us realized deadlines end at 12:00am on that day. Of all the controversies, however, this one was the easiest to overcome. This explains - all you BDBL newbies - why deadlines are now listed to the second on the BDBL home page.
Another hot topic early on was my decision to use the bullpen warm-up rule. Apparently, we're one of the few leagues that uses this feature, and there were several people in the league who vehemently argued that it shouldn't be used. But I think after playing an entire season this way I've made converts of those early doubters, no?
Two months into our season, Jason Wichmann of the first-place (at the time) Delafield Ogres unexpectedly turned in his resignation. His reason: he needed to spend more time with his kids. It would be a recurring theme, this issue of time management. Eric Zigmund, brother of Tim, was welcomed aboard to take over the Ogres. Then, with one week remaining in Chapter Two, the inevitable finally happened.
The Dopey Duo
I received an e-mail from Sakolsky announcing that he "concurs with everything Chuck said." Attached to his e-mail was a letter of resignation from Chuck Shaeffer. The basic gist of this letter was that: a) based upon numbers he (incorrectly) formulated, he believed people in the BDBL were cheating and b) my trades for Nen and Lankford stunk. At this point an angel landed on my left shoulder and told me to count my blessings, thank the two of them for their contributions to the league, and proceed with the day-to-day operation of the league with full confidence that we would be better off without them. I thought about this for five seconds or so, then flicked that winged little pansy off my shoulder and leaned in close to hear what that little red-horned guy on my other shoulder had to say.
My response to the two of them was basically: a) don't let the door smack you on the ass on the way out and b) you two are so far off the mark on every one of your arguments it's frightening. I simply couldn't let their ridiculous comments pass without commentary. Stupidity is a pet peeve of mine, and I'm working on improving myself by ignoring stupidity whenever I see it. But this self-improvement thing is still very much a work in progress. My response to them was forwarded to onelist by Shaeffer - apparently in an attempt to spark some sort of mass exodus from the league. I responded by forwarding their original letter of resignation in order to put my response in context (otherwise it wouldn't have made much sense.) For about three days afterward, our BDBL mailing list was flooded with commentary from every corner of the league. Overwhelmingly, the owners in this league were offended by Chuck and Bryan's accusations and dumbfounded by their ignorance. It was during this time that I read one of my favorite quotes of the year. As usual, it came from the keyboard of Phil Geisel: "That's get on with playing Chapter Three." (Note: it's an inside joke - you had to be there.) Several days after all of the hubbub died down, Chuck and Bryan's buddy Jeff Clink came back from vacation and decided to resign, too.
If nothing else, these three stooges generated some excitement in the league. Instead of breaking apart the league as they hoped, the league united in defense of the accused "cheaters" and of myself. I look back upon the whole episode now and find it extremely amusing. Chuck and Bryan have become BDBL legends, and they'll never be forgotten. At least, I know I'll never forget them.
A Legend is Born
As the season progressed, another BDBL legend was born. Throughout the season, our BDBL message board alternated between sustained periods of dead silence and explosive debate. No topic incited more debate, however, than an anonymous little pitcher from Philadelphia named Robert Person. Person was included as part of a package of players at the end of Chapter Two in exchange for the controversial Robb Nen. Ben Davis, the main player involved in that deal, also drew his fair share of controversy. But it was Person who became the first bona-fide BDBL legend. And it wasn't long before Person earned his own official day (October 6th.) Meanwhile, almost as an afterthought, that Nen trade which caused such a stir ended up being a thorn in the side of the Salem Cowtippers and a feather in the cap of the New Milford Blazers.
I enjoyed several other debates as well, such as the "Mark Johnson is the best catching prospect in baseball" debate. But by far, my favorite debate was the comparison between Salem/Boston, Virginia and Chicago. My favorite entries in this debate:
"Common Misperceptions Among the General Populace:
Boston: that some day the Red Sox will win a World Series
Boston: Boston Massacre
Jack countered with some of his own commentary, but I can't seem to remember it. (Hey, if you want to include it, write your own column!)
For a while, it appeared as though the 1999 BDBL season would live happily ever after. Before the year was over, though, we would lose four more members. In the middle of Chapter Three, my once-close friend Ken Kaminski left the league because he "couldn't devote one percent of his time to the league." He must be REALLY busy, because aside from an application he filled out in an attempt to get back into the league, I haven't heard from him since. Two weeks later, Chris Kaufman resigned, citing the same reason. All of a sudden, this league which was founded specifically for "owners who don't have a lot of free time on their hands" was becoming too time-consuming for some people.
Chris Klug, who had inherited Sakolsky's cursed franchise, was the next to resign. He only lasted about three months in the league. Klug, the designer of "Diamond Dreams Baseball", was a very amiable guy, and his knowledge of baseball and baseball simulations were an asset to the league. Unfortunately, he disagreed with the league policy that managers' instructions should be followed if games can't be played live. We played the rest of the season without a replacement, mostly because I had run out of energy trying to find one by that point. With little more than two chapters left to play when he left, I saw no need to rush into finding a replacement.
In the middle of our final chapter, Chapter Six, we lost two more owners who simply disappeared without explanation. Dave Presser, who inherited the jinxed Morgan Hill Panthers franchise, and Tim Wilson, who took over the jinxed California Storm franchise, both mysteriously disappeared without mentioning a word to anyone. Repeated attempts to contact these guys via e-mail were met with silence. I can only assume they discovered they "didn't have the time" for the league either, although there may have been other reasons for their disappearance. I'll never know, since I still haven't heard from either one of them to this day. Also during our final chapter, I learned that Steve Spoulos of Antioch would be resigning at the end of the season. It seemed that Steve decided he couldn't live with five extra farm players on his team. Compared to other excuses I heard for quitting this league, his excuse seemed downright reasonable. And on the final day of the season, Shawn Crull of the Marlboro Hammerheads (Presser's roommate) also announced his resignation due to - you guessed it - a lack of free time.
As the season wound down, we added a few new owners and for a while the ship seemed to be running pretty smoothly. With the excitement of the playoffs just around the corner, all seemed right with the world. Then, with two days left in the season, controversy struck once again.
The Litchfield Lightning, led by their apathetic owner Geisel, quietly and uncontrollably won the Ozzie League wild card race. This "victory" was due at least in part to the excessive overuse of no less than ELEVEN players. These eleven players - two of them all-stars and six of them starters - became automatically ineligible for the playoffs since they exceeded the maximum playing limits allowed. Adding fuel to the fire were two other high-profile players who were barely overused by Butler Division-leading Stamford. One of those two players just happened to be a Cy Young and MVP candidate of the OL, Kevin Brown. The other was 18-game winner Rolando Arrojo. Obviously, there was a problem with both of these scenarios. Oakville also lost their MVP candidate, Ray Lankford, for the same reason. The rules seemed to contradict the whole purpose of playing in the league, which is to determine the best team. But by the same token, a rule is a rule, and the owners in question broke the rules whether intentionally or not. Eventually, the matter was resolved in less than 24 hours as a new rule was adopted on the spot by a fearless commissioner and the league proceeded with the business at hand.
When this league first formed, I placed myself, Paul Marazita and Phil Geisel in separate divisions, hoping that some year two of us would win our divisions and face each other in the playoffs just like the old days of the CBL. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine all three of us would make the playoffs in our very first season. The Ozzie League Division Series and Championship Series were true classics in every sense of the word. All three series went the distance, and all three included more than their fair share of drama and suspense.
On the weekend of the birthdate of the BDBL (and, coincidentally, my wedding anniversary), Marazita and Geisel made the trek up north to Salem to participate in the playoffs live and head-to-head. We began playing at noon on Saturday and continued playing until 1:00am the next morning. Other than a three-hour break around dinner time, we played continuously. Geisel went first, as his watered-down team faced off against his division rival, the Los Altos Undertakers. Miraculously, Geisel's Litchfield Lightning somehow won the first two games of the series and walked away with a third win in ten innings in Game Five. Litchfield won despite a team batting average of .167 for the series. It may turn out to be the most shocking upset in BDBL history. I remember looking at Marazita and exchanging a look of disbelief and horror as we realized one of us would have to play Geisel in the Championship Series for the right to play in the World Series.
After all the talking and hype, Marazita and I finally settled into our chairs for our series. Ten years had passed since the last time we did such a thing. We shook hands and agreed to be sportsman-like no matter what the outcome. In the end, my team out-hit (.272 to .226), out-pitched (2.86 ERA to 4.30) and out-scored (23-19) his team. His ace, Kevin Brown started twice and lost both times. My ace, Greg Maddux, started three times (thanks to a second-inning rain delay in Game Four which stiffened his shoulder and forced him from the game.) But despite all of that, Marazita still found a way to beat me once again. Ten years and nothing had changed.
Marazita eventually defeated Geisel as well, knocking him out of the playoffs in a seven-game battle where the hero of the series turned out to be a diminutive second baseman named Luis Alicea. Ten years before, Marazita's Zoots had beaten Geisel's Ironmen thanks to the hitting exploits of pitcher Frank Viola. Again, nothing had changed.
The Eck League regular season ended with a tie for the wildcard berth between the Bourbonnais Bad Boys and the California Storm. A one-game playoff was scheduled to determine the final playoff spot and the two teams dueled for nine innings. At the end of eight, California led by one run. Then, in the ninth, Storm closer Matt Mantei blew the lead, the game and the season as Bourbonnais scored three times. Bourbonnais would face their division rivals, the Oakville Marauders, in the ELDS. It was a match-up guaranteed to generate excitement. At least, one would think so.
On the heels of the exciting Ozzie League playoff series, the league was marred by controversy once again when Eck League owners Bob Biermann and Chris Witt both decided to announce that they would be resigning at the end of the playoffs. Their resignations came a day before they were to play the fifth and final game of their Division Series against each other. It was an exciting series until that point, although Biermann was unable to attend any of the first four games. The timing of their decisions could not have been worse. During a time when the league was supposed to be celebrating a long and successful season, instead we were all forced to recognize that the playoffs simply didn't matter to some people - even those who were a part of it. Their resignations took the playoffs off the front page for a few days and generally burst the bubble of optimism which had been building due to the playoffs and the regeneration of the league back to full capacity.
Game Five between Oakville and Bourbonnais proved to be the most exciting of all the playoff games. Unfortunately, neither owner was in attendance for it, no one seemed to care about the outcome at that point, and no one besides myself was there to witness it when Ken Griffey, Jr. smacked a game-winning home run in the bottom of the tenth inning off Billy Wagner. It was a sad ending to a triumphant season for the Bad Boys and the Eck League in general. Meanwhile, the Southern California Slyme easily disposed of the Massillon Tigerstrikes in the Division Series. Oddly enough, that series - won in four games - would be the only playoff series not to go the distance. The Slyme eventually met up with the Marauders in the ELCS. For a day or so, I contemplated who should manage the Marauders in the playoffs. I needed to find someone who had the time to play, but more importantly the motivation to beat Bob Sylvester and the Southern California Slyme. Then inspiration struck: new North Mankato manager Bobby Sylvester. The junior Sylvester played his dad tough for seven games. Eventually, Bob, Sr. emerged victorious, but not before earning a few gray hairs.
The stage was set for the first-ever World Series. It would be Paul Marazita, the man who won three consecutive championships in the old CBL, against Bob Sylvester, the man who saved the BDBL on Draft Day. Either way, the championship seemed appropriate. Again, the series went the full seven games. The Zoots rallied from a three-games-to-two deficit and won the final two games thanks to their dual aces Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson. Finally, mercifully, the inaugural season of the Big Daddy Baseball League had ended.
Tabulating the Turnover
Since Opening Day, we've had fourteen people quit. Fourteen people in a twenty-four team league sounds pretty horrible. However, several teams are going on their third owner in less than a year: Ft. Lauderdale, California, Morgan Hill and Marlboro. We still have fifteen of our original owners, which means the actual turnover rate has actually been somewhere around 38-percent. I don't know the numbers for other leagues, especially in their first year of existence, but I would venture to guess our league probably compares pretty evenly with other "hands-on" leagues that require at least a tiny bit of owner participation. Usually, this turnover rate gets less and less with each passing year until eventually only one or two owners leave every year. To an outsider (or to an insider who hasn't been paying much attention), it would appear as though there were a serious problem in this league based upon the sheer volume of departures. But if you examine the reason behind each departure, I think you'll see it's not as bad as it looks.
We are a league founded for owners who "don't have a lot of free time on their hands," yet eight of the people who left (i.e. more than half) cited a lack of free time as their reason for leaving. I think with our schedule, if a person doesn't have time for this league he probably wouldn't have time for any "hands-on" league. Our league requires owners to play about ten games every six weeks. Managing a game against the computer MP takes about half an hour. So that's five hours every six weeks. Some people are simply too busy to handle that workload, and I guess I accept that (although I wonder why they bothered to join in the first place.) There's nothing more we can do if we are to remain "hands-on." Two owners left because their friend left. And their friend left because he suffered from irrational delusions of conspiracy. Another owner left because he was being harassed by one of the three owners I just mentioned. Another left because he didn't feel opposing managers' instructions needed to be followed. And yet another left because he disagreed with one insignificant new rule which hardly has any impact whatsoever on the league.
Was there any way to avoid any of this? I think the answer is no. As commissioner, I couldn't have prevented any of these departures even if I had seen them coming. I can only do so much. I can't make this league any less time-consuming than it already is, I can't keep irrational people from thinking irrationally, and I can't tailor each and every rule to suit each and every person. It ain't easy finding people to play in a league such as this. I have to wait for people to come to me. I take what they say on their application at face value and assume they're telling the truth when they say things like "I can't think of many more exciting things than DRAFT DAY!" (Kevin Manley). Or when they refer to themselves as "trustworthy" (Chuck Shaeffer) or say they're interesting only in having "as much fun as possible" (Bryan Sakolsky.) Despite all of the obvious obstacles, I think we did pretty well in one year's time.
By far, the two most disappointing departures were by Bierman and Witt. In both cases, the two owners cited a lack of free time to devote to the league. I think in their cases, and in most cases, the real reason they left is that they had other teams (and, as is the case of many of the owners who left, other leagues) to run which took precedence over their BDBL teams. Again, there's not much I can do to stop that. I began accepting applications only from those owners who are members of one league at most, but this policy didn't take affect until recently. And even then, I've discovered that people have joined additional leagues after being accepted into ours. Some people simply enjoy playing in several of these leagues, and I have no problem with it as long as they're dedicated to - and, more importantly, have the time for - all of them.
The biggest problem facing this league - and every league - is this: what do we do about those fly-by-night owners who step in, make radical moves with their teams in an effort to win at all costs, then skip out of town, leaving their team's future problems to someone else? When a team trades away its future for immediate benefit, it is assumed that the owner will be around to suffer the consequences of rebuilding the following year. Any other assumption is simply unrealistic and severely detrimental to the future of the league. If an owner looks at his roster, determines he won't be competitive the following year, and decides to trade away every prospect and draft pick he has in an attempt to win that year, what's to stop him from doing so? Unfortunately, this may be one of those problems from which no rule can protect a league. Twice, I have tried to remove one of the weapons for team destruction by eliminating the trading of draft picks during the season. Both times, this rule was shot down. So what is the solution? Once again, we return to the "honor system." The challenge, then, is in finding honorable people.
Life as Commish
Several times this year I entertained thoughts of stepping aside and letting someone else take over as commissioner. This hobby has simply been more stressful to me at times than a hobby needs to be. My goal was to organize a fun baseball league with a cool web page, meet some people with similar interests, relish the competition against some very knowledgeable baseball fans and just play a game. Instead I spent most of my time this year scrambling to keep the league afloat whenever someone decided to jump ship. In my opinion, some of these people demonstrated a complete lack of respect and common courtesy to the rest of the people in this league by quitting mid-season. Whenever a person leaves due to a "lack of free time," it cuts into my own free time. Instead of doing things I want to do, I'm forced to sim their games, coordinate their pitching rotations and schedules and scramble around to find a replacement.
Perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh, but that's the way I feel. And as you should know by now, I will never mask my feelings about much of anything. You always know where you stand with me. I know for a fact that several of the people who left this league also left other leagues high-and-dry in the middle of a season. I guess it's a pattern they have chosen to follow, although it's unfortunate I didn't find out about it until it was too late. Oddly enough, throughout all of the turmoil the one thing that keeps me going more than anything else are the predictions of doom for this league from guys like Sakolsky, Shaeffer, Manley and Moffatt. Hard to believe as it may seem, those four people may have more to do with the long-term success of this league than anyone - myself included.
Since the beginning of this league, I've asked you all to simply TRUST me. Throughout the course of this season I have received criticism for nearly everything under the sun, from the days I chose for the live drafts, to the drafting method itself, to using the warm-up rule, to starting the e-mail draft early, to trading long-term prospects for established rent-a-stars, to suggesting farm expansion, to my handling of the Chuck and Bryan fiasco, to my league policy for manager instructions and MP's and the process of awarding free agents (and on and on and on.) I don't mean to brag (although it's always fun to do), but I think it's safe to say that time has proven me to be right in each and every one of these cases. I'm simply saying that I've done this commissioner gig before and I know what I'm doing. I'm not always right, of course, and I will always be the first to admit when I've made a mistake. I'm also not saying that the league is perfect as it now stands. I'm always looking for ways to make it better, and I gladly accept all suggestions. The more other people contribute, the less I will have to contribute myself (and the more time I will get to spend with my family.) But by now, everyone should have learned that when I make any decision, it's in the best interests of the league.
This league has had its ups and downs just like any other league out there. I can't force a person to honor a commitment any more than I can force Tim Zigmund to believe that Robert Person truly is a quality pitcher. Sure, I can threaten bodily harm against girlymen like Phil Geisel who live within driving distance. But for the most part, my job is simply to create and maintain the fun and excitement of this fine hobby of ours. I only invite others to join me. If someone decides to abandon us for whatever reason, I do what I can to find a replacement. My philosophy has always been to keep mixing and matching until the right mix is found. I believe - and I have been wrong before - that after a year's worth of this frustrating exercise we've finally found just the right mix of good, fun-loving, trustworthy people.
Good People = Good League
I think the paragraph I wrote for the application page sums it up best: "The BDBL is comprised of twenty-two owners (soon to be twenty-four) from all different walks of life. We have in our midst a lawyer, a truck driver, a professor, an architect, a CPA, a casino table operator and at least five computer programming nerds. We also have a guy who is a direct descendant of Dr. Seuss, another who is a pitcher for his Little League team, and yet another whose past job description included playing catch with Roger Clemens. Our ages range from twelve to forty-four. We're twenty-four guys from sixteen different states with twenty-four different theories on how to run a baseball team. Yet we all share one common goal: the elusive pursuit of the coveted BDBL trophy."
As trying as this league has been, there have been plenty of good times as well. And I truly believe the best times are still ahead. I have enjoyed playing head-to-head with the owners in my division, and I look forward to playing all of you eventually. I've met some really cool people from all over the country, I've enjoyed the camaraderie and debates and I've especially enjoyed the day-to-day operation of my little franchise. I've personally managed all but seven of my games this season and I've written a game summary for each and every game. People think I'm crazy, but I enjoy writing and I enjoy maintaining the web site. I find it relaxing at times. This has been a very trying year for me personally, and I have found this league to be an excellent diversion.
Thank you all for an amazing, memorable year. Believe it or not, I look forward to doing it all over again next year.