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Big Daddy Baseball League

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slant.gif (102 bytes) From the Desk of the Commish

Commish

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December, 2010

2010: The Year in Review

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  For the fourth time in nine years, the Allentown Ridgebacks defeated the Salem Cowtippers to win the BDBL championship.  Fortunately, the story of how this came to pass is infinitely more interesting than the end result.  From a personal standpoint, I will always remember the 2010 season as one in which I completely lost, and then completely regained, all interest and passion in this hobby.  This season was the perfect encapsulation of everything I love and hate about Diamond Mind Baseball.

Before I begin recapping the madness and elation that was the 2010 season, let me first continue my tradition of thanking those who made this season possible.  As always, the BDBL's "Board of Directors" were instrumental in ensuring a smooth and successful season for all of us to enjoy.  I hesitate to say that their work behind the scenes goes unappreciated, because I know that isn't true.  But I often wonder if people realize just how much time and effort these people contribute behind the scenes.

"These people" includes our Transactions Secretary (and now four-time league champion) Tom DiStefano, who not only coordinates and executes our transactions process each chapter (an incredible burden in and of itself), but also keeps a running tab of contracts and salaries for every player in the BDBL.  This is truly a year-round job, and one that I wouldn't wish upon anyone.  (Not even the bastard who has beaten me in the World Series four times in the past nine years.)

Our Usage Secretary, DJ Shepard, is always on top of his game, and other than yours truly has the longest-running tenure of any member of the "BDBL cabinet."  Jeff Paulson, our "Rulebook Secretary," hasn't really done shit all year, but I'll thank him anyway.

And last, but certainly not least, is Greg Newgard, who wears so many hats in this league, he should open up his own "Lids" chain.  When he is not creating graphics for all of us to use in our signatures, on the web site, or in our ballparks, Greg is diligently collecting stats for historical purposes, maintaining a database of historical ballpark information, organizing the annual ballpark selection process and updating our teams pages.  Oh, and he also stepped up BIG-TIME this season by taking over as "VORP Secretary" (or is it "Secretary of VORP?") and building a custom-made spreadsheet for all of us to use throughout the season.  And, if that's not enough, he also is the official provider of information throughout BDBL Weekend.  (No small task, that.)

Aside from the "cabinet," there are also a few people behind the scenes who help make my life easier.  Tony Chamra took over the league scheduling several years ago, and continues to do a fantastic job year after year.  Tony also manually enters information on approximately 360 farm players so that we have accurate information in our roster reports.  And finally, he is the creator of the world-famous MLB stats spreadsheet, from which we all benefit.

And every year, someone inevitably steps up to help me put together the player disk, ensuring that all of the players' salaries and contracts are updated, zeroing-out the contract and salary information for free agents, etc..  I apologize if I thank the wrong person, but I believe it was Greg who stepped up for me this year in that regard.

Many thanks to those of you who attended BDBL Weekend this year.  Although my trip was cut short thanks to last-minute travelers, I had a blast in Denver.  And it was nice to introduce my oldest son to this group of guys who have helped monopolize all of his dad's time for almost his entire life.

In keeping with tradition, I conclude by thanking my wife (not that she has ever visited this site) for putting up with all of this.  Although, to be fair, I have mellowed a bit with age, so I'm a little easier to put up with.

The 2009 season concluded in completely predictable fashion, with the Los Altos Undertakers walking away with the championship -- something that was predicted before the season had even begun.  Before the champagne had dried from Jeff Paulson's T-shirt, the Salem Cowtippers announced the first big trade of the off-season.  In a deal with the San Antonio Broncs, the Cowtippers added both Dan Haren and Brian Roberts at the expense of Brian Matusz, Aaron Hicks and several others.  In a separate deal, Salem announced that they had off-loaded Josh Beckett's $17 million salary to the Southern Cal Slyme in exchange for Trevor Hoffman.

It was just the beginning of a very strange ride for the Cowtippers.  Picked by the league as the favorite to win the Butler Division, the Cowtippers stumbled out of the gate, falling 15 games behind the division leaders (the surprising Corona Confederates) by the second week of April.  At the end of two chapters, the Cowtippers owned a shocking 26-30 record, and trailed the second-place New Milford Blazers by seven games.  Reluctantly, a Selling post soon followed on the league forum, with several key players (Felix Hernandez, Brian Roberts, Chipper Jones) placed on the block.

Thankfully, the level of interest in those players was next to nothing, so they all stuck with Salem.  And sure enough, the Cowtippers finally began to play a little better.  They broke the .500 mark in the third chapter, and headed into the all-star break with a 41-39 record -- five games behind New Milford in the wild card race, and nine games back in the division.

Though Salem went 16-8 in Chapter Three, both Corona and New Milford continued to do nothing but win, making it impossible for the Cowtippers to pick up any ground.  After four chapters of play, we had managed to cut New Milford's wild card lead by only one game.  Then, at the final trading deadline of the season, during a wild BDBL Weekend, I sat next to Tony Chamra in the upper deck at Coors Field, and we shook hands on a massive 14-player trade that put Zack Greinke in a spotted cap.

While Greinke pitched well for Salem (4-1, 2.98 ERA in 9 starts), he had very little usage left in him over the final two chapters, and made painfully little impact down the stretch.  And although the Cowtippers won 16 games in Chapter Five, so did the Blazers.  In their final series of the chapter, the Blazers and 'Tippers split a four game series, keeping Salem's wheels spinning in place.  To add insult to injury, Clayton "Asswipe" Kershaw combined with five relievers to no-hit the Cowtippers in the final game of the series.

Meanwhile, the Confederates were slipping enough to allow New Milford to sniff the division lead.  On August 30th, following a sweep of the Bear Country Jamboree, the Blazers found themselves just one win away from the Confederates in the standings.  But that was as close as they would get.

In Salem's very first series of the final chapter, Corona took three out of four.  New Milford then swept the San Antonio Broncs, putting the 'Tippers seven games behind in the wild card race, with only a few weeks remaining in the season.  In the history of the BDBL, no team had ever overcome such a large deficit so late in the season to win a spot in the playoffs.  But from that point on, the Cowtippers began an otherworldly run of success, taking three of four from the Ravenswood Infidels and Kansas City Monarchs, and sweeping the Bear Country Jamboree, Sylmar Padawans and New Hope Badgers.  After 14 wins in 16 games, Salem officially overtook the Blazers for the wild card lead on the 20th of October.

Five days later, the unthinkable happened.  Facing the last-place New Hope Badgers, with their season on the line, the Blazers were swept in shocking fashion, putting them four games behind the Cowtippers heading into the final series of the season -- a head-to-head battle against Salem.  Needing just one win to capture the division title, the Cowtippers took three out of four, shoving New Milford right out of the playoff picture.

Meanwhile, watching all of that commotion from above was Corona GM Ed McGowan, whose Confederates won the Butler Division by one game over Salem, despite ominous pre-season predictions.  The Confederates leapt out to a 10-2 start to the season, including two series victories over division rivals Salem and New Milford.  By the end of the first chapter, Corona owned a formidable 21-7 record.  Then, as if to prove it wasn't a fluke, Corona also tied for the division lead in Chapter Two wins, going 17-11.  By the all-star break, the Confederates owned a 50-30 record (.625) and a comfortable four game lead over the Blazers.

The secret to Corona's success was hardly a secret at all.  Joe Mauer was expected to dominate in 2010, but no one suspected just how dominant he would be.  By the end of the season, Mauer would become the first player in BDBL history to hit .400 (.409.)  He would also lead the Ozzie League in on-base percentage (.498), slugging (.654) and runs created (184.4.)

But Mauer was hardly alone in the Corona lineup.  Teammates Shin-Soo Choo (.346/.456/.586, 157.7 RC), Kendry Morales (.327/.368/.598, 54 2B, 37 HR, a league-leading 149 RBI, 129.6 RC) and Chone Figgins (.304/.456/.586, 136 R, 124.8 RC) also contributed to an offense that ranked #2 in the OL in runs scored (881.)

Number one in that category were the Los Altos Undertakers, who outscored the #2-ranked Confederates by a whopping 88 runs.  As expected, the defending champions were as dominant in 2010 as they were in '09.  In fact, by the most common measurement of dominance (runs differential), the 2010 Undertakers were even more dominant than that '09 team, as they led the BDBL with a stunning differential of 378 runs.

Los Altos finished the season with 113 wins -- a laughable 41 games ahead of the second-place Sylmar Padawans -- and wrapped up the division title by the second week of September.  As if his team needed any tweaking, GM Jeff Paulson pulled off a blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Apostles during BDBL Weekend, adding Evan Longoria at the expense of Justin Upton (among many others involved.)  Then, in his first series of the final chapter, Paulson watched as Jon Lester combined with four relievers to toss a no-hitter.  It was the Undertakers' second no-hitter of the 2010 season.  (The first was thrown by C.C. Sabathia in Chapter Four.)

The Undertakers' pitching staff featured no fewer than three 20-game winners: Lester (22-5), Sabathia (21-10) and Matt Garza (20-9.)  (A first in BDBL history.)  Yet, Los Altos ranked just #2 in the OL in ERA.  The #1 ranking in 2010 (and in any year) belonged to the Ravenswood Infidels, who broke the team ERA record previously held by the 2002 Undertakers.  Like Los Altos, the Infidels' starting rotation also included three 20-game winners: Wandy Rodriguez (23-7), Javier Vazquez (22-6) and Mark Buehrle (21-8.)  And like Los Altos, Ravenswood dominated their division with a 110-50 record -- 20 games ahead of the second place Mississippi Meatballs.

Over in that other league, the Allentown Ridgebacks went into the winter as the favorites to win the Eck League title before GM Tom DiStefano had made a single transaction.  After taking a short one-year hiatus following his third BDBL championship, DiStefano managed to build yet another unbeatable team thanks to a few key trades and the ascension of several unlikely superstars.  Ben Zobrist -- a career .222/.279/.370 hitter in his 145-game MLB career -- suddenly blossomed into an MVP candidate at age 28, batting an astounding .302/.401/.569 with 35 homers and 130 runs created while playing nearly every position on the diamond.  Jonny Gomes, a 28-year-old fourth outfielder for most of his career, also burst into flames in 2010, posting a .676 slugging percentage, with 18 homer in just 185 at-bats.  And Jorge Posada defied Father Time, batting .289/.410/.510 as a 38-year-old catcher.

Ryan Braun, famously acquired in exchange for David Eckstein a few years prior, hit .324/.400/.537 with 131.3 runs created.  Tim Lincecum, famously acquired in exchange for Frank Thomas in 2007, was unstoppable, going 28-4 on the season (one win short of the BDBL single-season wins record), with a 2.88 ERA in 246+ innings, and 300 strikeouts.

As if that weren't enough, the Ridgebacks had over $14 million to spend on free agents, with no pressing needs to fill.  Just for the hell of it, though, Tom dished out $7 million on Jason Bartlett, who hit .319/.393/.495 with 111 runs created while flashing Vg range at shortstop.  And he spent another $6 million on platoon monster Garrett Jones, who smacked 17 homers in just 286 at-bats.

The end result was quite predictable.  Allentown finished with 109 wins (34 more than the second place Mustangs in the Higuera Division), outscored their opponents by 316 runs (second only to Los Altos), scored 949 runs (also second only to Los Altos) and hit 250 homers (tops in the BDBL.)

The big story in the Eck League this past winter, however, was all the noise being made by St. Louis Apostles GM Bobby Sylvester at the trade table.  With a lineup already stacked with sluggers, and an infield already brimming with "Ex"-ranged glove men, Sylvester managed to nab the biggest fish of the 2010 trading pond when he added Evan Longoria in a last-minute deal with the Chicago Black Sox just prior to the winter deadline.  Not only was Longoria an MVP-caliber bat, and not only did he give the Apostles an unprecedented THREE Ex-ranged gloves in their infield, but Longoria was still only 24 years old, and was as yet unsigned to a contract.

In exchange for this incredibly valuable commodity, Sylvester sacrificed only prospects, leaving his 2010 active roster intact.  With bold predictions of division dominance lighting the way, the Apostles went 18-10 in the first chapter, but were unexpectedly trailed closely by the Southern Cal Slyme, who jumped out to a 17-11 record.  By the middle of April, the elder Sylvester had managed to overtake his son in the Person Division, thanks to an incredible 20-8 showing in Chapter Two.

What was thought to be a temporary setback for the Apostles turned into a serious problem, as the Slyme followed that incredible run with a 19-5 record in the third chapter (including a shocking four-game sweep of the mighty Undertakers), while St. Louis went just 12-12.  By the all-star break, the Apostles were looking at a NINE-GAME deficit in their division.  Making matters worse, they led in the EL wild card race by only two games over the Akron Ryche and Atlanta Fire Ants.

The tables finally turned in Chapter Four, when St. Louis led the division with a 16-8 record, while the Slyme slipped to 11-13, cutting the division lead down to just four games.  Sensing a golden opportunity to catch up to his father, Junior Sylvester went back to the trading table once again.  In a shocking last-minute trade during BDBL Weekend, Sylvester sent Longoria and four other players to the Undertakers in exchange for Justin Upton, Kevin Youkilis and four others.  As with most hitters who make the transition to St. Louis, both Upton (.366/.444/.704 with 19 HR in 213 AB) and Youkilis (.302/.402/.566, 12 HR in 189 AB) excelled.  And over the final two chapters, the Apostles went an astounding 35-21 (.625.)

Unfortunately for them, however, the SoCal Slyme were even better.  Despite making only a few minor tweaks at the final trading deadline, Sylvester, Sr. guided his team to a 36-20 record over the final two chapters -- a .643 winning percentage.  Southern Cal finished the season with an impressive 103-57 record -- five games better than the Apostles, who easily captured the EL wild card by 15 games over the Cleveland Rocks.

In the Griffin Division, the Chicago Black Sox went into the free agent auction with a whopping $52.1 million to spend, and GM John Gill loaded up by signing highly-coveted free agents Ryan Dempster, Cliff Lee, Paul Maholm, Victor Martinez, Carlos Zambrano and Jose Reyes (among others.)  Yet, after all that spending, the Black Sox managed a record of only 9-19 after one chapter of play.

Meanwhile, the Akron Ryche were off to another blazing start, with a record of 19-9.  And the Cleveland Rocks shocked the establishment with an 18-10 showing in the first chapter.  Meanwhile, the division favorite, Atlanta, stumbled out of the gate with a 13-15 chapter.

Cleveland GM Mike Stein attempted to cash in on his team's early success by pulling off a whirlwind of trades, acquiring Manny Ramirez, Phil Coke, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Lowell, Leo Nunez and Mark Lowe in a series of four trades in late April.  But while those deals were being made, the Rocks were falling like...errr...an anvil, with a record of just 12-16 in Chapter Two.  The Ryche stumbled as well, with the same record, while the Fire Ants awoke from their coma to post a 17-11 record -- enough to pull within one game of first place.  By the end of two chapters, only one game separated all three teams in the Hrbek Division.

While Cleveland continued to flounder in Chapter Three (8-16), the Ryche managed to bounce back with a 14-10 record, while Atlanta went 15-9 on the chapter, pulling even for the division lead heading into the all-star break.  Apparently convinced that things would work out naturally on their own, both Atlanta GM Gene Patterson and Akron GM DJ Shepard opted to stick with the status quo at the Chapter Four deadline.  And evidently, so did every team in the division, as all four teams in the Hrbek Division won between 11-14 games in the fourth chapter.  Atlanta owned the best record of the lot at 14-10, and took over first place by default.

At the final trading deadline of the season, Patterson made one trade, adding Juan Uribe, Jeremy Affeldt and Jonathan Papelbon in a deal with the Kansas City Monarchs, while DJ "Stand Pat" Shepard did what he has done throughout his BDBL career: stood pat.  The Ryche continued to fall from that point on, going a division-worst 20-36 over the final two chapters, and eventually settled in last place.  Incredibly, the Black Sox posted a 34-22 (.607) record over the final two chapters (the same record as Atlanta), while the Rocks went 33-23 (.589) down the stretch.  After a hard-fought battle throughout the first half of the season, Atlanta ended up winning the division handily, with a 93-67 record -- 10 games ahead of Cleveland.  After eight last-place finishes in nine seasons, the Fire Ants had captured their second straight division title.

After sneaking into the post-season during the closing days of the season, the Salem Cowtippers were simply happy to be playing November baseball.  With the onerous task of facing the Los Altos Undertakers in the Division Series, many expected it to be a quick series.  And it was.  Only, instead of the Undertakers dominating Salem as expected, the red-hot Cowtippers pulled off one of the biggest upsets in BDBL history.  With a three-man rotation of Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez and Dan Haren, the Cowtippers held the powerful Los Altos offense to just ten runs and shocked the BDBL establishment by sweeping the Undertakers in four games straight.

In the other OL Division Series, the Infidels dispatched of the Confederates despite a remarkable performance by Corona first baseman Kendry Morales, who went 10-for-20 in the series, with two doubles and three homers.  The record-setting Ravenswood pitching staff held Corona to just 14 runs in the series, allowing only 5 walks in 44.2 innings, with 42 strikeouts.

Over in the Eck League, Allentown swept Atlanta in four close games -- the final two decided by one run each.  And the junior Sylvester defeated his father in seven games, with Chris Carpenter tossing a complete-game, 93-pitch, four-hit shutout in Game Seven to clinch the series victory for the Apostles.

St. Louis then took a two-games-to-one lead against Allentown in the EL Championship Series.  Then, trailing by a score of 6-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Four, St. Louis rallied for four runs (three on a home run by Albert Pujols) to tie the game and force extra innings.  In the top of the 11th inning, Jason Bartlett tripled home the go-ahead run.  St. Louis then put two men on with back-to-back singles in the bottom of the 11th.  With the tying run at second, and the winning run at first, Pujols then stepped to the plate, poised to play the role of franchise hero and give the Apostles a three-games-to-one lead in the series.

Instead, Pujols lined into a triple play.

It was, perhaps, the biggest defensive play in the history of the BDBL post-season.  And once again, it went Allentown's way.  The Baseball Gods continue to shine upon Tom DiStefano and the Allentown Ridgebacks.  After that heart-breaker, the rest of the series was predictably inevitable.  Allentown crushed St. Louis by a score of 14-5 in Game Five to take the series lead.  And in Game Six, Scott Baker out-pitched Chris Carpenter (yes, the Baseball Gods are indeed Ridgebacks fans) to clinch Tom DiStefano's fifth Eck League championship.

Meanwhile, in the Ozzie League Championship Series, the Cowtippers staged a come-from-behind victory in Game One to win by a score of 6-5.  But the Infidels stormed back with two wins in a row, as their high-powered offense rolled over Felix Hernandez and Dan Haren, scoring 14 runs in the two games combined.

In Game Four, Zack Greinke got Salem back on track to even the series at two games apiece.  But in Game Five, Hernandez stumbled early, allowing four runs in the third inning, and the Infidels cruised to a 9-3 victory, putting them just one win away from their second Ozzie League title.  Ravenswood then jumped all over Haren once again in Game Six, scoring four runs in the first inning.  Salem quickly went to their bullpen, however, and were able to hold the Infidels to just one run the rest of the way.  Meanwhile, the Salem offense pecked away at Ravenswood's lead, eventually overtaking that lead with a four-run sixth inning, en route to an 8-5 win.

That set the stage for an epic Game Seven battle, with Greinke taking the hill for the third time in the series, facing Mark Buehrle.  Once again, Ravenswood jumped out to an early lead, scoring two runs in the first inning.  And once again, Salem chipped away at that lead, scoring a run in the fourth.  In the eighth, the Cowtippers tied the score on an error, a single and an unfortunately-timed wild pitch by Brandon League.  But with the bases loaded and two outs, Ravenswood reliever Bobby Howry managed to get pinch hitter Reid Brignac to pop out, ending the threat.

In the ninth, Salem's first two batters were retired quickly.  Brian Roberts then singled, bringing Ramon Troncoso out of the pen for the Infidels.  Ravenswood manager Brian "Skizm" Potrafka, hopped up on numerous medications and alcohol, intended to keep Roberts close at first, but hit the wrong key.  Roberts swiped second base, and then scored on a base hit by Omar Infante, giving Salem the lead.  Joe Nathan then retired the side in order in the bottom of the ninth, sewing up Salem's fourth Ozzie League title (and sending Potrafka into a profanity-laced tirade on the league forum.)

Of course, all of this set the stage for the inevitable World Series confrontation between the Ridgebacks and Cowtippers.  It would be the fourth time in nine years that these two teams would meet in the BDBL World Series, and all three previous meetings had resulted in a Ridgebacks victory.  Although the Ridgebacks should have been heavily favored, given their dominance during the regular season and their past history of winning championship trophies, the Cowtippers were actually the favored team in pre-series polling by a margin of two-to-one.  (And if you clap your hands really loud and yell "I do believe in fairies!", Tinkerbell will come back to life!)

In the first game of the series, Allentown sent their Cy Young winning ace, Tim Lincecum, to the hill to face discarded former Ridgebacks phenom Felix Hernandez.  And at the end of nine innings of play, the score remained tied at 1-1.  In the bottom of the tenth inning, Salem sent their closer, Joe Nathan, back out to the mound.  Nathan had been lights-out throughout the playoffs, but on this day the random roll of the Baseball Gods' dice resulted in a two-run walk-off blast by Jorge Posada, which gave the Ridgebacks a crucial lead in the series.

Dan Haren then took the hill for the Cowtippers in Game Two, and just as he had all season long, ran into trouble with the longball.  Three of the seven hits allowed by Haren in his seven innings of work went over the wall.  Meanwhile, Randy Wells and three Allentown relievers managed to hold the Cowtippers to just four hits in nine shutout innings.  Just like that, Allentown was looking at a two-games-to-none lead as the series moved to Salem.

Although Salem's new ace, Zack Greinke, got the ball in the third game, it was the Salem bullpen that made all the difference in the game.  A total of five Salem relievers combined to shut out the Ridgebacks over the final three innings to preserve a one-run win for the Cowtippers.

But a crucial mistake was made in Game One when Hernandez was allowed to throw 113 pitches.  Evidently, that was too much for the Vg-rated Hernandez to handle, as he was still listed as "tired" for Game Four.  With no other option, Salem turned to lefty Jorge de la Rosa to tie the series.  It was a match-up straight from Hell.  Not only did Allentown murder left-handed pitching all season, but de la Rosa would have to face Lincecum, who was not tired at all after throwing 107 pitches in Game One.  Predictably, the game was a bloodbath.  de la Rosa allowed 13 hits (including FIVE home runs) and 12 runs in just four innings.  Allentown was now just one win away from clinching their fourth BDBL trophy.

Now fully rested, Hernandez pitched a gem in Game Five, and the Cowtippers cruised to an easy 8-2 win.  But with the series heading back to Allentown for Game Six, and Lincecum still scheduled to pitch another game in this series, things were not looking good for the boys in the spotted caps.

With the score tied at 3-3 in the sixth inning of Game Six, Allentown tacked two runs on the board against Dan Haren.  With three innings remaining, Salem hoped to do some damage against the Allentown bullpen and force a Game Seven, with a fully-rested Greinke scheduled to face Lincecum in an epic battle.

But the Baseball Gods were determined to award their favorite son with yet another trophy (while punishing their least favorite son in the process -- a win/win for everyone.) Through the final three innings, the Cowtippers offense simply rolled over and died at the hands of a couple of mediocre relievers named Ronald Belisario and Claudio Vargas.  Belisario retired Brian Roberts, Reid Brignac and Matt Holliday in order in the seventh.  Vargas then retired Mark Teixeira, Josh Willingham and Chipper Jones in order in the eighth.  He then came back to pitch the ninth, and retired three of the four batters he faced, giving the Ridgebacks their fourth BDBL championship -- each one at the expense of the Cowtippers.

Sometimes, you just can't make this stuff up.  While it may seem like a boring, anticlimactic ending to what had been an exciting season, the Baseball Gods aren't in the business of providing exciting and noble endings that wrap everything up in a bow.  This isn't Hollywood.  It is a fact of which I am reminded each and every year.