December 7, 2001
2001: The Year in Review
Well...this isn't exactly what I had in mind when I created this league. Don't get me wrong, the league is great. The game itself is very engaging, and for the most part very realistic. The interweaving of managerial and GM duties is exactly what I had hoped it would be. And I couldn't ask for a better group of owners or a more engaging and active league.
But the Zoots winning the league's first three championships?? No, that's not what I had in mind at all.
You see, as you all probably know, I used to be the commish of a league called the CBL. In nine CBL seasons, the Zoots won more championships (three) than any other team. During that same time, my teams lost even more championship series (five) than the Zoots won. So for over a decade, I was reminded of this fact each and every time I hung out with Zoots skipper Paul Marazita. For years I was ridiculed at every opportunity for having a team full of chokers while being reminded time and time again about how the Zoots were a team of crafty veterans who rose to the occasion when the games really counted. I was called the "Boston Red Sox" of computer baseball franchises, which is about as insulting as an insult can be.
Of course, I was convinced that it was all a fluke caused by inferior software, highly-unlikely bad luck, and the ability of Marazita to take advantage of our less knowledgeable GM's in our league of five. So when I discovered Diamond Mind Baseball three years ago, I envisioned a league in which Marazita would not be able to manipulate the owners in the league (who would all surely be far too bright to fall for his Jedi mind tricks), and computer software that was highly-realistic, immune to the whims of randomness and completely reflective of the honest-to-life performances of the players themselves.
I pictured Marazita losing year after year, wondering why his old tricks didn't work anymore. I pictured myself wrapped in the glory of the BDBL championship flag year after year, finally rewarded for my superior knowledge of the game, hailed by all as the King of Fantasy Baseball.
If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that the Fantasy Baseball Gods have a VERY sick sense of humor.
After three successful seasons, I think it's safe to say the Big Daddy Baseball League has hit its stride. We went from seventeen resignations in 1999 to three in 2000 to just one in 2001 (which didn't happen until after the season.) Our rulebook (and web design) has been imitated more often than Howard Cosell. Our message board is visited daily by people who are not even members of our league. The hit rate on our league web page went through the roof this season, more than doubling the hit rate of our first season. Our current ownership has proven to be reliable, honest, thoughtful, trustworthy, committed, active and extremely knowledgeable. Would I be out of line if I said the BDBL has become the premier DMB league in the world and the envy of all other fantasy baseball leagues in existence? Well, yeah, probably. But I'll say it anyway. You'd have a very tough time showing me a better league out there, that's for sure.
As I do every year at this time, I'd like to take a minute or two to say thanks to various people who have helped to make this the greatest fantasy baseball league in the entire history of mankind (there I go again.) I'd like to start in a way that has now become a league tradition, by congratulating the Zoots and Paul Marazita - once again (yawn) - for winning yet another BDBL championship. Paulie claims that I never give him proper credit for his success, and that's simply not true at all. For a rat-ass-sucking lawyer with an evil mind and no sense of morality whatsoever, he's a damn fine human being, a damn fine compadre, and a damn fine fantasy baseball owner. I applaud his success, though I admit I do it in much the same way as Hillary Clinton applauds for President Bush.
Next, I'd like to thank Jeff Paulson for all of his hard work as our Transactions Secretary, and D.J. Sheppard for his tireless work as our Usage Secretary. Those guys saved me not only countless hours of free time this year, but also probably my marriage. I'd like to thank Mark Ross for all the work he has done over the past three years double-checking the contract status of every trade made and correcting the many mistakes I have made while trying to keep track of all these crazy contracts of ours. And I'd like to thank Tom DiStefano for stepping up and volunteering to take over for Mark recently. I think he's already realized just how difficult and time-consuming that job is. And while I bet he's wishing he'd never raised his hand, it's too late, Tom. There's no turning back now.
I'd like to thank Marazita, Geisel, Billy Baseball, Jeff and Johnny-Bo for making the trek up to Boston/New Hampshire this year for the big BDBL Weekend II. A special thanks to all of you who have stuck with the league despite time-consuming personal events such as marriage (Tony DeCastro), babies (Paul Marazita, Gene Patterson and Mark Ross among those I remember), engagement (Phil Geisel), national crisis (all of us, but Bob Sylvester in particular) and new careers (Chris Luhning and Jeff Paulson.) Obviously, these events all pale in significance to the highly-important events of this made-up fantasy baseball league, but I thank you all nonetheless for remaining committed to our league throughout all that happens in our "real" lives.
I'd also like to thank Tim Zigmund for returning to the message board on occasion and adding his unique and always-entertaining viewpoints to our debates. Thanks, also, to Robert Person for making Tim look more and more foolish with each passing year. Of course, thanks to all of you who have taken the time to add your thoughts and opinions to our league forum this year. I truly believe our forum is one of the main features that makes our league so great, and this year was by far the greatest year yet for hot, entertaining debates (see the sidebar.) I've visited several other baseball-related message boards over the years, but I've never seen one that provides so many thoughtful, diverse, insightful, passionate - and funny - opinions as ours.
As always, I save my final thanks to my wife, Karen, who continues to put up with all this crap.
The story of the 2001 BDBL season actually began in the winter of 2000. The 2001 off-season was highlighted by two massive rebuilding efforts, one by the Kansas Law Dogs, the other by the Salem Cowtippers. Kansas made a dozen trades in which they acquired Scott Schoeneweis, Javy Lopez, Chris Stynes and Trevor Hoffman among others. As a result of all that wheeling and dealing, Kansas won 105 games and the Eck League title.
The Salem reconstruction effort put all the rest to shame. Among the sixteen players acquired in a record fifteen trades made by the Salem front office last winter were Mike Mussina, Bruce Chen, Mike Myers, Lance Berkman, Pedro Astacio, Bobby Abreu, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell and Travis Fryman. Salem also acquired a crucial #6 draft pick that was used to select Frank Castillo (16-2, 3.41). When all the dust settled, only three players remained from the previous year's 35-man roster. And the result of that 91-percent turnover was a 107-win season.
The South Carolina Sea Cats made only two trades involving a total of one player and four draft picks. But one of those trades, in which they acquired the Manchester Irish Rebels's #1 pick in exchange for their #2 and #6 picks, turned the Sea Cats franchise around. The Sea Cats used their own #1 pick (the second pick overall) to snag Tom Glavine, and with Manchester's #1 pick (the third overall), they chose Roger Clemens. Together, Glavine and Clemens combined for a 38-13 record with an ERA of 2.92 over 472 innings. As a result, the Sea Cats became the third team in BDBL history to go from worst-to-first in just one year.
Draft Day was eventful as always. This year, I made the trek to New Jersey to the Casa Marazita, where I was forced to hold my nose while presenting the newly-created BDBL Trophy to the reigning champ in person. Once that nauseating experience was over, we began the dirty business of drafting. Among the many gems snagged that day were Castillo in Round 6 by the Cowtippers, Matt Morris in that same round by Massillon, Will Clark in Round 16 by Litchfield, Paul LoDuca in Round 32 by Bear Country, Doug Mientkiewicz in Round 38 by Massillon, Kyle Farnsworth in Round 32 by Atlanta and Corey Lidle in Round 28 by Manchester.
In the Farm Draft, Salem shocked the BDBL establishment by selecting Adam Johnson over Ichiro Suzuki with the first pick of the draft. Ichiro fell to the Marlboro Hammerheads at pick #2. Roy Oswalt then went to the Allentown Ridgebacks with pick #3. (It should be noted that all three picks were acquired via trade.) Steals in the Farm Draft included Mark Prior (Akron) at #5 overall, Toe Nash (Gillette) at #6 (...just kidding), Albert Pujols (Kentucky) at #18, Juan Cruz (Stamford) at #21, Jacob Peavy (Southern Cal) at #22, Dennis Tankersley (Southern Cal) at #37 and Hank Blalock (South Carolina) at #47.
On Opening Day, shortly after the Salem Cowtippers completed their tradition of sweeping the New Milford Blazers in the first series of the new season, the Gillette Swamp Rats shocked the BDBL by winning three of four against the Perth Breeze. At the time, it was believed to be a fluke start for a team destined to historic failure. Instead, it was merely foreshadowing of what was to come. Gillette got off to a 10-4 start halfway through Chapter One and never looked back. More foreshadowing occurred two days later when the Kansas Law Dogs broke a BDBL offensive record, hitting eight homers in one game against the Allentown Ridgebacks. It was merely the first of several major offensive records the Law Dogs would break this season.
The legendary "Davis Cup Series" between the Cowtippers and Litchfield Lightning kicked off on February 7th. As usual, the series was dominated by the outrageous and bizarre. In the very first game of the series, Salem held an 8-1 lead heading into the eighth inning. The Cowtipper bullpen then did their best Rick Ankiel impression, walking a total of six batters that inning - four with the bases loaded. Eric Young then hit a bases-clearing double that put the Lightning ahead 9-8. Fortunately, Salem took the next three games, and nine of the twelve match-ups in the season series with the Lightning, taking home their third straight Davis Trophy.
Over in the Eck League, both the Cleveland Rocks team and Akron Ryche ace Pedro Martinez got off to 6-0 starts. The Hrbek Division would prove to be the toughest division in the BDBL for the third straight year, with Akron, Chicago and Cleveland all vying for two playoff spots. In the end, Akron prevailed with 107 wins. Chicago finished with 106 wins for the second straight year, but it was only good for second place. And the poor Cleveland Rocks finished a distant third despite racking up 92 wins. As for Martinez, he put the EL Cy Young in his back pocket around Chapter Two and never looked back. He led the league in wins (23) and strikeouts (334) while compiling a stellar 3.23 ERA.
The first big trade of the regular season came fourteen days into the first chapter, when the Madison Fighting Mimes acquired newly-injured starter Mike Sirotka from the Allentown Ridgebacks in exchange for three farm players - two of whom were acquired just weeks before in the Farm Draft. The Ridgebacks opted for Jerome Williams, Abraham Nunez and Andy Morales over Stamford's offer of a package of players that included Juan Cruz. At the time, some thought that the two-time reigning OL GM of the Year, Paul Marazita, had lost his Jedi powers. But it was only a temporary setback.
Two days later, the Cowtippers announced the addition of all-star closer Keith Foulke to the Salem pen. Next in the flurry of first chapter trades, the Law Dogs made the shocking swap of former Los Altos legends Trevor Hoffman and Shawon Dunston for Steve Kline, Bryan Rekar and Jose Santiago. A day later, Stamford acquired Brian Bohanon, who went on to capture the OL ERA title, in exchange for the infamous Kip Wells.
Then, just before the first trading deadline of the season, another wave of trades came flooding into the Commissioner's Office. The Bear Country Jamboree traded a package of players including Phil Nevin to the Marlboro Hammerheads in exchange for closer Robb Nen. Marazita replaced Rick Helling with Ryan Dempster, causing angry, torch-bearing mobs to form outside of the Chicago Black Sox front office. Salem then announced that they had completed the first-ever three-way trade in BDBL history - a trade in which Jason Kendall was added to the Cowtippers lineup at the expense of super-prospect Sean Burroughs. And finally, the Akron Ryche added former Undertaker Woody Williams to their starting staff, signaling the unimaginable beginning of the Los Altos Deconstruction Era.
By the time Chapter One had ended, the Salem Cowtippers (22-6), Akron Ryche (21-7) and Gillette Swamp Rats (20-8) held the best records in the BDBL. The Undertakers were a shocking 12-16, and the EL defending champion Black Sox were an even more shocking 14-14. Pedro Martinez was a perfect 7-0 and Gillette ace Andy Ashby was a surprising 5-0.
In Chapter Two, the Zoots, Jamboree and Mimes all swapped places at the top of the Butler Division standings while the Swamp Rats continued to run away with the Griffin Division. The Cleveland Rocks continued their run of hard luck by posting a winning percentage of nearly .600, good for only second place in the Hrbek Division where the Ryche reigned supreme. In the Person Division, the defending champion Kentucky Fox won nine of twelve road games in one week, but still couldn't catch the runaway South Carolina Sea Cats.
The week before the Chapter Two trading deadline, Law Dogs GM Chris Luhning was at it again. In one three-day span, Luhning acquired Ivan Rodriguez, Chris Holt, Jay Bell, Miguel Tejada, Mike Venafro and Shane Halter. Kansas then capped their week by sweeping the Akron Ryche for two come-from-behind wins. The Law Dogs finished the chapter with a BDBL-best 18-8 record.
Seven days into Chapter Three, the Cleveland Rocks made it known loud-and-clear that their run toward the Hrbek Division title would not be denied. Cleveland swept four games from the Ryche, including one of Pedro Martinez's three losses of the season, to pull within one game of the division lead. A week later, the Rocks pulled into a tie for first with the Ryche when they swept two games from the Kentucky Fox. Akron regained their lead when they went 6-2 over their next eight games, but the two teams tied once again when the Rocks took four of six late in the chapter. By the midpoint of the season, Akron led the Rocks by two games.
Over in the Butler Division, the Jamboree were still making lots of noise. Despite Stamford's 17-9 record in Chapter Two, Bear Country was able to cut the Zoots's lead to just one game by splitting a two game series with the Zoots in which they pounded Randy Johnson for his first loss of the season. Five days later, though, the Jamboree were torched for two games by the hapless New Milford Blazers by scores of 11-0 and 11-5. Those two losses pushed them five games behind the Zoots in the division and effectively signaled the end of their division pennant hopes.
At the Chapter Three trading deadline, the two contenders in the Griffin Division tried to out-do one another. Litchfield acquired franchise player Derek Jeter from the Allentown Ridgebacks on May 30th, and Gillette responded by picking up lefty ace Chuck Finley on June 10th. Litchfield reeled off twelve straight wins at the end of the chapter to finish the first half one game ahead of the Swamp Rats.
The Jeter and Finley trades were just the beginning of yet another wave of deadline dumping deals. The Undertakers continued their fire sale by trading Scott Elarton to the Jamboree and Paul Konerko and Mike Remlinger to the Sea Cats. The Law Dogs added yet another all-star bat to their already ludicrous lineup when the Manchester Irish Rebels traded them Carl Everett and Albie Lopez in exchange for Rick Ankiel, Juan Encarnacion and Jose Santiago. That was the most controversial trade of the year...until the "Great Robbery of 2001" was announced.
In exchange for Mike Lowell, Sean Lowe, Mike DeJean, Rusty Greer and Matt Ginter, the Zoots acquired from the Marlboro Hammerheads Phil Nevin, Tim Salmon, Mike Fetters, Mark Loretta and Tom Martin. The Ozzie League's two-time-defending GM of the Year had done it again. Only this time, he didn't find that stud pitcher at the all-star break. He found two stud hitters that changed the entire look of his lineup.
Mike Ries was notable for being one of the original 24 owners in the BDBL. Unfortunately, he was also notable for incurring various penalties for lateness of games and other misdemeanors through the years, and he would often disappear for weeks at a time. Throughout Chapter Three, several people tried to get in touch with Mike with no success. Finally, I tried to contact him myself, and after a couple of weeks had passed without a response, I decided it was time to find a new owner for the Massillon Tigerstrikes franchise. I hated to cut loose an original member, but I really had no choice. To this day, I still haven't heard from Mike. Fortunately, we were able to replace him with Chris Schultheis, who has fit right into the BDBL fraternity.
The Eck League pounded the Ozzie league for the second year in a row at the all-star game. Playing in the bad joke that is "The Fields of Tombstone", the EL stars won 13-4 thanks to five longballs and three innings of stellar pitching by Akron ace Pedro Martinez. But the biggest story was discovering that we could no longer watch games being played over NetMeeting as a group. It's a shame, because that was always a lot of fun. But that's the price we paid for Version 8.
Less than two weeks after Manchester acquired Ankiel in their controversial trade with the Kansas Law Dogs, Ankiel did an about-face and was sent packing to the Chicago Black Sox, along with Moises Alou. In exchange, Manchester received former EL MVP Manny Ramirez. This trade was notable for the way the central players of Ankiel, Alou and Ramirez all seemed to come full-circle through the hub of Chicago. Alou had been drafted by Chicago in 1999, then traded for Rick Ankiel. Ankiel had been acquired via trade for Alou, then traded for Ramirez. And Ramirez had been acquired via trade for Ankiel, then traded for Alou and Ankiel.
Earlier in the year, the Salem Cowtippers shocked the BDBL world by sweeping the Stamford Zoots for four games. With two more wins, Salem would secure the Fonzie Trophy for the third straight season. But on June 24th, the Zoots swept two from Salem thanks to the hitting exploits of their catching platoon, Mighty Joe Oliver and Brad Ausmus. Oliver hit a pair of homers, including a grand slam, off Mike Mussina in the first game - an omen of things to come in the post-season. Ausmus delivered the game-winning hit in the tenth inning of Game Two. Stamford would go on to win seven of their final eight games of the season against Salem, giving Paul Marazita yet another trophy for his mantle.
In July, the great exodus from the Los Altos Undertakers continued when former franchise player Albert Belle packed his bags and headed to division rival Gillette. Two weeks earlier, Scott Williamson was tossed aside like yesterday's newspaper. After winning 104 games in 2000, the Undertakers would lose their division by 34 games. It was the largest one year drop-off by any franchise in BDBL history.
On July 13th, Kansas Law Dogs GM Chris Luhning was at it again. In a bizarre three-way deal with the New Milford Blazers and Villanova Mustangs, Luhning somehow ended up with former New Milford ace Jeff D'Amico. Despite pitching in the harshest climate known to man, D'Amico would go 5-1 for the Law Dogs, with an ERA of 3.15 in seven games. Teamed with Darryl Kile, Scott Schoeneweis and Albie Lopez, D'Amico gave the Law Dogs exactly what they needed: enough pitching to compete with the Chicago Black Sox and Akron Ryche in the EL playoffs.
Shortly after making that deal, Luhning's Law Dogs would beat the Southern California Slyme by a score of 24-4. Included among those 24 runs were a BDBL-record eleven home runs. It was just one of the many, many records the Law Dogs offense would break this season.
On July 22nd, the BDBL lost their one and only international owner, Dean Ashley from Perth, Australia. Dean was a college student when he joined the BDBL, and once he graduated, he soon realized (as all of us do) that the "real world" is a little more time-consuming than college life. As a result, he was often late in getting his games played, and seemed to be less and less interested in the league with each passing chapter. I approached him with my concerns, and we both felt it would be best to transfer the ownership of his team to someone who would have enough time to manage it properly. Unfortunately, like an idiot who doesn't learn from his mistakes, I chose another college student, Adam Musson, to be Dean's replacement. Adam lasted just three months in the BDBL, but to his credit he always played his games on time and was a good, reliable owner during his short stay in the league.
The next day, the Salem Cowtippers launched their counter-attack toward the Stamford Zoots. In an effort to keep pace with all the other teams who had spent the summer feeding off the soft underbellies of the downtrodden, the Cowtippers traded three active players and four farm players to the Madison Fighting Mimes in exchange for Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent and Mike Sirotka. Despite the mushroom cloud that erupted over the Stamford region, and the three months of nuclear fallout that resulted afterwards, this trade made little difference to the Salem team. Sheffield performed no better than the player he replaced, Lance Berkman. And Kent and Sirotka each performed far worse than the players they replaced, Randy Velarde and Pedro Astacio. The one good thing to come out of the trade was a series of classic message board debates about the values of the players involved.
For most of the season, the Chicago Black Sox were an afterthought in the Eck League. While the league mainly focused on the record-breaking Kansas Law Dogs, the Hrbek Division-leading Akron Ryche and the powerful Cleveland Rocks, the Black Sox quietly improved with each and every chapter. As Chapter Four came to a close, Chicago was just four games out of first place in their division and four games ahead of the Rocks in the EL wild card race. Then, just before the season trading deadline, the Black Sox added another big lefty to their rotation, Al Leiter. In exchange for Moises Alou (who headed back out of Chicago for the second time in three years), three throw-ins and a draft pick, Chicago acquired not only Leiter, but Richard Hidalgo, Roberto Hernandez and Delino Deshields. Ever so quietly, while the BDBL media focused on the trades made by the OL GM of the Year, the reigning EL GM of the Year had just made the Trade of the Year.
Then, just when the league thought they had seen it all. Just when everyone had bet against any of the eight contending teams possibly getting any stronger than they already were, the Akron Ryche saw that bet and raised it with a pair of aces. With Pedro Martinez and Woody Williams already heading the league's best pitching staff, the Ryche added former Kentucky ace Tim Hudson to the mix in exchange for prospect Adam Dunn. Once again, Las Vegas was thrown into a frenzy as playoff favorites had to be recalculated.
On August 19th, the second-annual "BDBL Weekend" took place in the New England region. Paul Marazita, Phil Geisel, Jeff Paulson, John Bochicchio, Billy Romaniello and yours truly spent three days touring the city of Boston, hanging out at the world's largest casino bar, catching a game at Fenway and playing pool and Diamond Mind until the wee hours of the morning. It was a classic weekend that will be remembered for a long time.
Later that month, the Litchfield Lightning recaptured the OL wild card lead as they continued to play leapfrog with the Gillette Swamp Rats and Bear Country Jamboree. With the Butler and Benes Divisions all but wrapped up, the race for the OL wild card would be the final race in the BDBL, and it would go down to the wire.
The Jamboree's final opportunity to gain ground in that race came in early September, when they faced the Gillette Swamp Rats for two games. But the Jamboree bullpen, normally its strength, blew both games, putting Bear Country two games behind the Lightning in the wild card race. Bear Country then lost all six games played against the Salem Cowtippers in the final chapter, effectively ending their season.
On September 15th, the Cowtippers became the first team in BDBL history to win three straight division titles. In Chapter Six, Salem broke the BDBL record for wins in a single season. Unfortunately, the Zoots would ruin both of those records. Salem had a chance to put the wins record out of reach, but lost six of their final eight games of the season - three to the Swamp Rats and three to the last-place Bowling Green Spoilers.
The Eck League playoffs began with two outstanding match-ups. In one series, the Ryche, with their dual aces Martinez and Hudson, squared off against the Sea Cats and their dual aces, Roger Clemens and Tom Glavine. And in the other series, the only two 1,000-run teams in BDBL history, Kansas and Chicago, traded punches toe-to-toe. The Sea Cats took their series to six games, but came up short when they lost Game Six by a score of 2-1 to Hudson and the Akron pen. Chicago and Kansas was a seven game classic that featured better hitting than anyone expected. Chicago starter Rick Ankiel faltered in the final game, coughing up five runs in the first two innings as Kansas eventually won by a score of 10-3.
In a decision that was, in retrospect, probably a big mistake, both the OL Division Series and OL Championship Series were held during one weekend in mid-November, with all of the participants playing face-to-face over the keyboard. The Zoots first disposed of the Lightning in five easy games, with the undeniably-talented Lou Pote winning the final two. Salem then finished off the Swamp Rats in four straight the following day. Salem then faced Stamford in what was hoped to be another classic post-season series between myself and Paul Marazita. Instead, the Cowtipper players decided not to show up for the series at all. Sheffield, Bagwell, Fryman and Sosa combined for seven hits the entire series. Berkman, Kent, Fryman and Sheffield failed to drive in a single run between the four of them. Staff ace Mussina pitched twice in the four games, but lasted just five innings total, allowing eight earned runs. And Salem's other two starters, Chen and Castillo, combined for another eight runs allowed in just eleven innings combined. It was a total team non-effort.
By far, the most exciting series of the post-season was the EL Championship Series featuring Akron and Kansas. The Ryche jumped out to a two-games-to-none lead at home, but when the series shifted to the infamous "Fields of Tombstone" in Kansas, the series tempo shifted as well. Kansas won Game Three by a score of 12-11, a game that took 15 innings to complete. They then evened the series at two apiece by winning the next one 13-9. Martinez then pitched the Ryche to within one game of series victory. But Kansas fought back to win the final two games by scores of 7-6 and 4-1. That set the stage for the Stamford vs. Kansas World Series.
After four games, the series was tied at two apiece. Kansas then scored five runs off Randy Johnson in the first inning of Game Five, eventually winning 6-5. The series then shifted to the Fields of Tombstone with Kansas needing one more win to end the Stamford reign. But it wasn't meant to be. The Zoots clobbered the 'Dogs in Game Six, 15-3, then took a 6-5 lead into the ninth of Game Seven. Stamford scored six runs off Kansas closer Mike Williams, giving them a 12-6 win and their third straight BDBL title.
Despite the bitter disappointment of yet another failed post-season, I have to say to say that I have enjoyed myself very much this season. The competition has never been tougher, the league forum has never been as entertaining, and the league has never run smoother than this past season. I want to thank you all once again for another terrific season. Happy holidays to you all, and I look forward to another exciting year.