November 27, 2001
2002: The Year in Review
Though the end-result was as we suspected all along, the journey was far more fun than any of us could have imagined. For all intents and purposes, the 2002 BDBL season ended on March 6th, when the Allentown Ridgebacks added Curt Schilling to a pitching staff that already included Randy Johnson, Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller. Rather than simply roll over and play dead, however, the league rose to the challenge and put up a courageous battle that lasted right to the bitter end.In the end, it was the Ridgebacks who emerged victorious, becoming the first Eck League team to capture the BDBL championship. More importantly, the BDBL championship is now held by a team not named the "Zoots" for the first time in our league's four year history. The highlight of the year, of course, was when the beloved Salem Cowtippers knocked those Zoots out of the playoffs in five effortless games in the Division Series, becoming the first team ever to defeat Stamford in the post-season. ...but I'm getting ahead of myself. Thank you I'd like to thank all of you for yet another fun, exciting and successful BDBL season. First, a heart-felt congratulations to our new champions, the Allentown Ridgebacks, and their owner, Tom DiStefano. Tom has enjoyed a remarkable career as a GM in the BDBL, inheriting a last-place team two years ago and turning it into not only the league champion, but a team so dominating they could even defeat the mighty Cowtippers (though it took them 64 innings to do so.) I'd also like to thank Tom for the work he did all year keeping track of all of our contracts and salaries (which is about as difficult as keeping track of all of Ken Kaminski's quarterbacks in the BDBL's Yahoo! football league.) Thanks to Jeff Paulson for all the time and effort he put in as our Transactions Secretary each chapter, and thanks to D.J. Shepard for his help with tracking and policing our usage rules. The role of "League Counsel" is sort of an unofficial, behind-the-scenes duty, but an important one nonetheless, and one that I have relied upon many times this past year. So thank you, Paulie, for all your help and advice in that regard. Thank you to Tom, Gene, Scot, Brian, Jeff, Steve, Matt, D.J, the two Tonys, the two Johns, Mike Stein, Sharky and basically everyone in the league (except Geisel) for participating in our always-entertaining forum discussions, debates, humor and yes, even arguments. What would the BDBL be without our forum? Thank you, Tony C., Chris, D.J., Tony D. and Sharky for your work with the STATS-like spreadsheet. Thank you all for your input and participation in the mock draft, the "BDBL Prospects Survivor" survey, all-star voting, post-season awards balloting and all of the other little projects of mine. Thank you, Paul, Geisel, Billy Baseball, Johnny Bo and Mike for taking part in BDBL Weekend III, and a special thanks to Mr. Baseball for allowing us to use your van for our little road trip. And an extra special thanks to actor Samm Levine, for his portrayal of Asian-wannabe "Bruce" in Not Another Teen Movie. As always, the final thank-you goes to my wife, Karen, who continues to put up with this stuff and listen to my whining every year after losing yet another playoff series. Same Old, Same Old
After the 2001 season ended in the usual fashion, the 2002 season officially kicked off in the usual fashion, with another lopsided Zoots trade. The Zoots, who were heading into the off-season without much of a team at all, were handed Chipper Jones by the Manchester Irish Rebels in exchange for Ryan Dumpster, changing the outlook of their team overnight. Just minutes into the official start of the 2002 season, the BDBL had its first full-fledged controversy.In the first official week of Trading Season, several big names switched uniforms, including Jeff Bagwell, Todd Helton, Barry Bonds, Bartolo Colon, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, Phil Nevin and Pat Burrell. On December 14th, the Zoots acquired two more all-stars, AL Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens and Jim Edmonds, prompting the following quote from the BDBL press:
"I've made an official prediction. Mark this down on your calendars, because while I make this prediction every year, this is the earliest I have ever done so: the Stamford Zoots have just won their fourth consecutive BDBL championship." The Rise of the Sith
While the Zoots were loading up, however, the Ridgebacks were ever-so-quietly doing the same over in the Eck League. After adding Bonds and Guerrero the week before, Allentown swapped Guerrero for Manny Ramirez on December 16th. With the first overall pick in the draft, the Ridgebacks were poised to begin the 2002 season with a rotation of Johnson, Oswalt and Miller, and a lineup that included Bonds and Ramirez. While all eyes were on the three-time champs, the balance of power in the BDBL had shifted from the Zoots to the Ridgebacks over the course of just two weeks.In early December, the BDBL said good-bye to one of the founding members of the BDBL, Mark Ross. Mark is a great guy and was a tremendous owner, and his resignation was shocking. Mike Leuck was named as replacement owner for Mark's franchise - a decision that would later play an important role in the fate of the BDBL season.
As always, there were a few controversial picks in the draft, prompting endless analysis and commentary. In particular, Manchester GM Jim Doyle's strategy of building his team around defense caused a few raised eyebrows. His selections of Darin Erstad in the second round and Brad Ausmus in the sixth were particularly notable.Some of the best picks of the draft included Odalis Perez (16th round by Akron), Tomo Ohka (23rd round by Chicago), Junior Spivey (21st round by Allentown), Josh Fogg (27th round by Stamford), Kenny Rogers (26th round by Manchester), Jorge Julio (26th round by Cleveland), Paul Byrd (26th round by Salem), Gabe White (35th round by Salem), Clint Nageotte (7th round of the farm draft by Stamford), Hideki Matsui (5th round of the farm draft by Bear Country) and Jesse Foppert (3rd round of the farm draft by Allentown.) A New Season Dawns Following the draft, more big names were moved, including Mike Cameron, Mike Sweeney, David Eckstein and Kaz Ishii. The Cowtippers and Blazers then squared off for their traditional season-opening series, and for the first time ever, the Blazers actually won a game. Not only did they win one, but two, giving Salem an 0-2 start on the season. That series sweep would be merely an aberration for the Cowtippers, though, as they'd finish the first chapter with a tie for the best record in the BDBL at 23-5 - at one point winning twelve in a row. In an omen of things to come, however, the Los Altos Undertakers would also finish that chapter with a 23-5 record. For the rest of the season, Los Altos kept pace with Salem, finishing just a game ahead or a game behind, depending on which free agents Jeff Paulson wanted to rob from the Salem franchise. In the end, the Undertakers would finish two wins ahead of the Cowtippers, forcing Salem to face both the Zoots and Undertakers to get to the World Series. The Cleveland Rocks, who were expected to finish at the bottom of the Hrbek Division, owing to the fact that they entered the draft without one hitter in the starting lineup, shocked the league by starting the season with a 5-1 record. They continued their hot streak throughout the chapter, winning 12 of their first 18 games. Eventually, though, the dream ended and the Rocks finished the chapter in second place, behind the Akron Ryche, with a record of 13-15. It would be another lost season for the snake-bitten Rocks franchise. After losing each of the first two seasons in a one-game playoff, and placing third in 2001 despite winning 92 games, Cleveland GM Mike Stein spent the better part of the 2002 season chasing the Ryche. The Rocks traded several good, young players for one-year rentals in the pursuit of their first division title only to fall just short once again. They finished at 76-84, five games behind Akron.
The Torch is Passed
Meanwhile, over in the Higuera Division, the defending EL champion Kansas Law Dogs had their hands full fending off the Ridgebacks. The 'Dogs and 'Backs switched places several times atop the division throughout the chapter. Allentown finished with a 20-8 record, Kansas finished at 19-9. Then, on March 6th, Ridgebacks GM Tom DiStefano got together with Arizona Heat GM Mike Leuck and changed the face of the Higuera Division, Eck League and the entire BDBL with one trade. In exchange for several players of questionable value, the Ridgebacks added their fourth ace, Curt Schilling (with closer-to-be Eric Gagne inexplicably thrown-in), making them the overwhelming favorites to win the BDBL title.
Schilling went 11-1 in his first eighteen games as a Ridgeback, and finished the season with a 17-4 record and a 3.64 ERA. Just after the 2002 season ended, Leuck resigned from the BDBL, handing the franchise off to Tak Ikeda, who quickly released one of the four players received in the Schilling deal and traded two others. Only Jimmy Anderson (who will be paid $5.2 million over the next two seasons) remains.
As dominant as the Allentown pitching staff was, their offense was just as impressive. Even on the rare occasions when the Ridgebacks starter didn't have his best stuff, the offense picked up the slack. An example of this occurred on March 29th, when the Kentucky Fox hit ten home runs off Allentown pitching in one game. All ten homers were solo shots, allowing the Ridgebacks to win the game 14-10 on the strength of six Allentown longballs.
After three seasons of playing in the long, dark shadow of the Stamford Zoots in the Butler Division, the Madison Fighting Mimes managed to keep pace with the Zoots throughout the first two chapters. Mid-way through the second chapter, Madison GM Brian Hicks added Greg Maddux to their rotation about three weeks after adding Keith Foulke to his bullpen. Madison would finish Chapter Two tied with the Zoots atop the division, but soon Stamford would begin to pull away from the pack. By the all-star break, Stamford held a six game lead in the division, and by the end of Chapter Four, Madison was looking up at the Zoots, separated by a dozen games. Despite finishing 13 games out of first, Madison would make the playoffs (as the OL wild card) for the first time in franchise history.
That same week, the Cowtippers made a trade with the Marlboro Hammerheads that drew protests from Ridgebacks owner Tom DiStefano. In exchange for college pitcher Bobby Brownlie, Salem acquired "20-game winning left-hander" Jamie Moyer. Before Moyer had a chance to throw a pitch while wearing a spotted cap, he was shipped off to Bear Country for reliever Chad Fox. The Hammerheads waffled back and forth between building and contending for the rest of the season. After trading two ace pitchers (Moyer and Javier Vazquez), Roberto Alomar and Brian Daubach, Marlboro GM Ken "The Shark" Kaminski traded for Jeromy Burnitz, Aaron Sele and Jeff Suppan in an attempt to win the OL wild card. Eventually, Marlboro's run at the wild card fell 14 games short.
When the Ridgebacks acquired Schilling, the fear among the BDBL front office was that the trade would lead to a tidal wave of teams throwing in the towel early, convinced that there was no way to contend with the new, improved Ridgebacks. On April 12th, Kansas Law Dogs GM Chris Luhning officially became the first such casualty, waving his team's white flag despite being in contention for the Eck League wild card at the time. The star of the Kansas team, Luis Gonzalez, was traded to the division rival Phoenix Predators, along with all-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Kansas' closer, Tom Gordon, also packed his bags, headed for Stamford. Eventually, Mike Sweeney and Darryl Kile followed as well. In the end, the defending EL champs finished four games above .500, but 31 games out of first.
Throughout Chapter Two, Chris Schultheis, the owner of the first-place New York Knights, was missing in action. After several weeks of attempting and failing to contact him, Schultheis was replaced by Steve Osbourne. Osbourne took the reigns and immediately worked a few trades to bolster his club and put some distance between the Knights and the Villanova Mustangs, who were breathing down their neck. When Osbourne took over, New York and Villanova were tied for the division lead. By the end of the year, the Knights had easily won their division by 13 games.
On May 10th, the Law Dogs traded their ace, Darryl Kile, to the Cowtippers in exchange for Salem's 2003 ace, Derek Lowe. Six weeks later, Kile was found dead in his hotel room. Salem eventually replaced Kile in the rotation with Brad Penny. Penny would play a vital role with the Cowtippers, winning the OLCS MVP award.
After helping to break the all-time BDBL record for combined home runs in a game, the Kentucky Fox helped to break the all-time BDBL record for longest game when they played the Akron Ryche for 26 innings on May 12th. John Vander Wal, Moises Alou and Albert Pujols each went 0-for-10 in that game. Christian Guzman finished 1-for-11 with four strikeouts, and Richie Sexson went 1-for-11 with six whiffs. The second game of that series was just as wacky, as the Ryche were no-hit by Kentucky starter Jason Johnson for nine innings, yet managed to win the game 1-0. In the two games combined, Akron had a streak where they managed just one hit in 27 straight innings - yet they won both games.
By the all-star break, all six division winners were sitting in place at the top of their divisions, and the Phoenix Predators held their ground at the top of the EL wild card standings. The only team leading at the break that didn't make the playoffs was the Bear Country Jamboree, who led the OL wild card by one game at the break, but lost their playoff spot to the Madison Fighting Mimes. It was the second year in a row that the Jamboree just missed the playoffs, after having lost the OL wild card in the final week of 2001.
The BDBL all-star game, featuring a managerial match-up of father (Bob Sylvester, Sr.) vs. son (Bobby Sylvester, Jr.) on Father's Day, was a one-man show featuring Salem first baseman Todd Helton. Helton hit two home runs, breaking a 1-1 tie in the seventh with a solo homer, then putting the game out of reach in the eighth with a two-run blast. The Ozzie League won by a score of 7-2, giving them two wins in the four BDBL all-star games.
The wild card races continued to be the focus of attention early in the second half of the season. On July 16th, the Hammerheads and Fighting Mimes were tied for the OL wild card lead, with the Jamboree just one game behind. In the Eck League, the Predators held a slim one game lead over the Mustangs. By the end of the chapter, Madison would have a three game lead in the OL wild card standings, while Phoenix and Villanova would be tied for the EL wild card lead.
On August 3rd, six members of the BDBL piled into Billy Romaniello's van for a road trip to Pittsburgh for BDBL Weekend III. From the best seats in the gorgeous new PNC Park, the six of us (plus Mike's friend from Cleveland) watched Barry Bonds hit his 597th home run while scarfing down foot-long dogs, garlic fries and beer. Despite being in an enclosed van with Phil Geisel for eight hours, it was a great weekend for all.
In early August, the BDBL held an unprecedented early vote on a drastic rule change for the 2003 season that completely changes the way that top free agents are acquired each season. In a nearly-unanimous vote (damn you, Johnny-Bo!), the league adopted an e-Bay-style auction system called "d-day". By doing so, the incentive for teams to lose games was completely removed from the BDBL, and the free agent system was made to be much more in line with reality.
The Southern Cal Slyme and Chicago Black Sox became the first two teams to be eliminated from playoff consideration on September 6th. The Slyme won 105 games in 1999 and were the first champions of the Eck League, while the Black Sox won 106 games back-to-back in 2000 and 2001, representing the Eck League in the 2000 BDBL World Series.
While those two once-great Eck League teams had fallen on hard times, the current Eck League champion Ridgebacks were riding an unprecedented wave of success. On September 6th, Allentown officially became the most dominant team in BDBL history, breaking the old BDBL record held by the 2001 Law Dogs for out-scoring their opponents. Eventually, Allentown would finish the year with an astounding run differential of 433 - nearly 100 runs better than the '01 Dogs.
On September 13th, the Undertakers became the first BDBL team to clinch a spot in the playoffs. After taking a year off to regroup, Los Altos won their third division title in four years and set a new BDBL record for wins in a season with 114. That 113th win was important, because it ensured that Los Altos would not have to face the Zoots in the Division Series. That wins record was held by the 2001 Zoots until the Ridgebacks won game number 113 at the end of the chapter. Los Altos then passed both teams by sweeping their final series of the season. By the time the season ended, a BDBL record five teams had surpassed the 100-win mark.
On September 20th, two more new rules passed by league vote. Farm expansion (which was once such a controversial topic that it caused one owner to resign) was passed, allowing for 15 farm players per team. A playoff usage rule was also passed, though it doesn't take effect until 2004.
That same day, the Salem Cowtippers became the first team in BDBL history to win four straight division titles. Weeks later, the Zoots also joined this exclusive club, easily winning their fourth straight title.
On October 2nd, Barry Bonds became the third player in BDBL history to hit 60 home runs in a season. Bonds would eventually break six BDBL single-season records, including on-base percentage (.519), OPS (1.304), runs scored (188), walks (195), intentional walks (48) and runs created (231.2). Bonds' teammate, Ramirez, broke the RBI record (182), and another one of his teammates, Randy Johnson, tied the BDBL single-season record for wins (26).
At the other end of the spectrum, the New Milford Blazers lost game number 100 on October 18th. It was the third time in four years that New Milford lost 100 or more games. Through the first four years of the BDBL's history, the Blazers' record stands at 215-425 (but it's all the game's fault, right, Billy?)
The only race remaining the final week of the season was in the Hrbek Division, where the Rocks continued to cling to their hopes of a division title. Cleveland need to win all four of their remaining games to have a shot at the title, while Akron needed to lose both of their final two games. Had that happened, Cleveland would have played a one-game playoff for the third time in four seasons. Instead, the New York Knights defeated the Rocks in the first game of their series, ending Cleveland's season.
The playoff match-ups were set. Allentown would face the Akron Ryche, whose pitching could make it an interesting series. New York would face Phoenix in a match-up of two incredibly-similar teams. Los Altos would take on Madison in a series that would surely come down to bullpens and benches. And ancient rivals Salem and Stamford would face each other in the post-season yet again, for the third time in four years.
Akron provided the first of many post-season surprises, winning the first two games of the Division Series. But the Ridgebacks fought back, winning the next three games, then eventually winning Game Seven with a 7-0 shutout thanks to series MVP Roy Oswalt.
The Knights and Predators stood toe-to-toe and traded punches for seven games, with each team winning every other game. Eventually, the Knights prevailed, overcoming a five-run inning and a 5-2 deficit to win 7-5 in Game Seven.
The Los Altos pitching staff had its way with Madison, shutting them out in the first three games before finally allowing a run in inning number 30. Unfortunately for Madison, by the time they started scoring runs, they were already down 6-0 in Game Four. Madison scored nine runs that game, but lost by a score of 15-9.
Salem delivered the second shocker of the post-season, beating Stamford in Games One and Two of the Division Series. Free agent-to-be Kevin Brown tossed one final gem for his longtime manager in Game Three, but Salem pitching shut down the Stamford offense in Game Four, and a seven-run eighth inning in Game Five gave Salem a 10-3 victory and the first series victory over the Stamford Zoots in league history.
The Eck League Championship Series was another nail-biter for the Ridgebacks, who needed seven games to dispose of the Knights. Once again, Oswalt came through big-time for Allentown, winning two more games and another post-season series MVP award.
Los Altos began the Ozzie League Championship Series with two straight wins over the Cowtippers - both coming off the Salem bullpen in the eighth or ninth inning. Salem took the next three, then eventually won the series in Game Seven after the two teams carried a scoreless tie through six innings. It was the second time in the 2002 post-season that a team won the first two games of a series, then lost the series. It wouldn't be the last.
The third shocker of the post-season came in the World Series, when the Cowtippers took the first two games of the World Series against the heavily-favored (12-to-2) Ridgebacks. Once again, the Ridgebacks fought back, winning the next three, then eventually taking Game Seven with Ellis Burks' pinch hit double off David Weathers with one out in the ninth.
The highlight of the World Series, though, came in Game Six when, after the Salem bullpen had blown a two-run lead by hitting two batters with the bases loaded, Salem reliever Mike Magnante - who hadn't had an at-bat at the MLB level in 2001 - hit a grand slam home run off John Smoltz to win the game. It was perhaps the most absurd event ever in BDBL history, but it was strangely satisfying (at least to me.)
Thus, the 2002 season came to an end. Shortly after the series, long time member Scot Zook announced his resignation (and, apparently, his retirement from baseball fandome.) Scot's resignation was just the second of the year, and he was only the third owner we've needed to replace all year.
Two years ago, I predicted on this page that the BDBL's turnover rate in 2003 will be zero. I realize now that it was probably a naive prediction. But like my predictions about Sean Burroughs, I'll stick with that prediction until I'm proven wrong. I truly feel we have a solid base of honest, trustworthy, committed and reliable owners who all have long-term goals and outlooks for their franchises.
Four years ago, the Big Daddy Baseball League was nothing more than an idea. Today, it is one of the best - dare I say the best - fantasy baseball leagues on the planet. I hope you all are enjoying this hobby and this experience of being a part of this league as much as I am. As an 11-year-old boy pouring over statistics in the Baseball Encyclopedia and entering them by hand into my Commodore-64 until the wee hours of the morning, I dreamed of forming a league such as this one. To be in a league with 23 other people that share the same passion, knowledge and love for the game as I do is a tremendous gift. It's truly a wonderful time to be a baseball fan, and I thank you all for making my dream come true.