Year in Review
It is always a welcome surprise when
someone other than Tom DiStefano wins a BDBL championship, and in 2011
we were all treated to that rarity of rarities. For league
champion Gene Patterson, this season represented the lemonade stand at
the side of a very long, very hot, and very pothole-filled road.
Just three seasons after setting the BDBL record for team losses in a
single season, Patterson's Atlanta Fire Ants proved once and for all
that no franchise should ever feel as though a BDBL championship is too
far out of reach. (Unless that franchise is the Salem Cowtippers
-- in which case, it is the very definition of a "lost cause".)
Congratulations to Gene, and congrats
to the entire Eck League, who have done nothing but pummel the Ozzie
League into irrelevance for seven years now, winning six championships
in that span. The EL has also crushed the OL in interleague play
for three straight years. My fellow Ozzie Leaguers, it is time to
abandon the "rope-a-dope" strategy and start kicking some ass.
Before I begin recounting all the
glorious details of the 2011 season, I'd like to thank you all for your
continued dedication to this league. In particular, I'd like to
thank Greg Newgard for all the work he did this year in tabulating
our league history, running the "ballparks draft", providing endless
tech support and stunning graphics, running the d-day auction, and for
taking over the onerous task of managing the VORP cap (a full-time gig
in and of itself.) Greg does so much work for this league, I'm
beginning to think that he's the true commissioner, and I'm nothing but
a ceremonial title-holder. Speaking of title holders, I'd like to thank Tom DiStefano for taking a
break between championships, and for his tireless effort as Transactions
For the 13th year in a row (I believe),
I'd like to thank D.J. Shepard for keeping on top of all the usage in the league
and handing out all those nasty penalties that we all love to hate.
To my longtime friend Jeff, I thank you for all the hours upon hours you
put into your job as Rulebook Secretary. (Just kidding. You
pretty much slacked off all year. But since you're a newlywed,
I'll cut you some slack.)
Many thanks to Tony Chamra for
providing his awesome MLB stats spreadsheet, and for putting up with all
the crap we give him about the schedule. Kudos to all of you
regulars who attended this year's BDBL Weekend festivities (and extra
kudos to those of you who bought me a beer.) And an added bonus
shout-out to Greg for sporting his totally awesome Broncs jersey!
This was a particularly difficult year
for a few of you on a personal level, and I am forever grateful that you
stuck with this league despite all of the hardships you endured and
personal matters that rightly took priority over the league. I am
glad to know that this league has provided a welcome
diversion from real life for so many of us through the years.
The 2010 season ended the same way it
had in four of the previous nine seasons: with Allentown winning a World
Series against the Salem Cowtippers. Within seconds of the
all-too-predictable ending to that series, the 2011 season officially kicked off
with a flurry of trade announcements. Perhaps the most shocking of
those announcements was a deal between division rivals Mississippi and
the (newly-re-renamed) New York Giants. In that deal, Mississippi
sent their best player, NL MVP Joey Votto, to the Giants in exchange for
lefty pitcher Ricky Romero and several others.
At the time, the Giants and Meatballs
were considered to be the (very) early favorites to contend for the Benes
Division title, and it seemed outrageously outrageous that the Meatballs
would send their best player to their division rival in exchange for
players who were far less valuable in 2011. A week after this
deal, Giants GM Jim Doyle then added another big bat in outfielder
Nelson Cruz. With a pitching staff stacked with aces, the Cruz trade seemed to solidify
the Giants' status as the divisional favorites. And
given that the franchise hadn't seen the post-season since 1999, and Doyle
had never led his team to an above-.500 season in a dozen years, this was BIG news.
But on December 30th, just before the
free agent auction began, Doyle drew the #1 seed in the BDBL "ballpark
draft" and selected AT&T Park in San Francisco. "Some of us love
AT&T Park and its inherent beauty," Doyle explained (seemingly confused
by the fact that he could simply adopt AT&T's ballpark image without
changing his park's factors.) "It is simply the most beautiful
ballpark in MLB."
"As for the ballpark factors," Doyle
continued, "it is a better ballpark than Safeco for lefties, so Mr.
Votto will do just fine."
True to Doyle's prediction, Votto's
performance (.287/.392/.512, 32 HR, 100 RBI) was "just fine."
Unfortunately for Doyle, "just fine" wasn't good enough, and the Giants
finished with a third-place record of 74-86.
Meanwhile, the Meatballs floated at the
top of the Benes Division throughout the season, despite trading away
their best player to the Giants, and despite making several other
"arbitrage"-type trades throughout the season. Less than four
weeks into the new season, GM Nic Weiss traded his best remaining hitter, Andre Ethier, to the St. Louis Apostles in exchange for a middle reliever and
a bunch of prospects. Weiss' team was just two games behind the
Las Vegas Flamingos at the time of that trade.
In mid-April, Weiss was at it again,
trading his best pitcher (on paper), Cole Hamels, to the Kansas Law
Dogs, in exchange for #5 starter Luke Hochevar and prospects. The
Meatballs were just one game out of the OL wild card race at the time.
Yet, despite all the dumping,
Mississippi owned a three-game lead in their division at the all-star
break. And by the first week of July, Nic Weiss had become a buyer
instead of a seller. Prior to the final deadline of the season, he
acquired aces C.J. Wilson and Wandy Rodriguez in two separate trades.
At the time, the Meatballs owned a .575 winning percentage, despite
being outscored by 16 runs.
The Meatballs and Flamingos continued
to battle throughout the second half of the season, and on October 13th,
Las Vegas officially captured first place after taking three of four
from Mississippi in a crucial head-to-head series. Vegas not only
won that series, but pounded the Meatballs into submission by scoring 17
runs in the third game and 15 in the fourth. But Las Vegas ran
into big trouble the rest of the chapter. And although Mississippi
went just 15-13 in the final chapter, it was enough to capture the
division by two games, despite outscoring their opposition by just one
run. (In contrast, the hard-luck Flamingos outscored their opponents by 120
"The 2011 season officially became a
formality at 4:00 on Tuesday afternoon." So read the headline on
the BDBL homepage on November 30, 2010. On that date, the
Undertakers acquired MVP-caliber shortstop Hanley Ramirez, adding him to
an infield that already included MVP candidates Evan Longoria and Adrian
Gonzalez. The Undertakers had won 113 games -- and a BDBL
championship -- in 2009. They won 113 games yet again in 2010, but
were upset in the OLDS by the Cowtippers. And in
2011, Los Altos would win "only" 106 games, outscoring their opponents
by a BDBL-best 280 runs.
In the three-year span between
2009-2011, Jeff Paulson's team won an astounding 332 games and two Ozzie
League titles. This, despite the fact that there was considerable
turnover in those three years. Prior to the 2011 season, longtime
second baseman Rickie Weeks was dealt for Josh Willingham, Ramirez was
added at the expense of several promising young players (Matt Garza and
Matt Wieters, chiefly), and Paulson even traded
away a dominant reliever -- Joaquim Soria -- in exchange for prospects.
To an outsider, Paulson appeared to be so confident of his team's
chances of winning the division and advancing in the playoffs that he
figured he could afford to make a few "arbitrage"-like trades. And
in the end, he was right. The Undertakers would eventually cruise
Ozzie League championship.
The most controversial trade of the
year occurred two days before Christmas, when Sylmar Padawans GM John
Duel was handed the ultimate gift. On Cutdown Day, Duel had signed 34-year-old third
baseman Alex Rodriguez to a mind-numbing TEN-YEAR contract.
Rodriguez's $140 million total contract value set a new BDBL record, and
sent shockwaves throughout the league. But Duel calmly explained
that there was an explanation for this ludicrous contract. And on December 23rd, he delivered
that explanation by announcing that A-Rod had been traded to the Bear
Country Jamboree. Not only did Jamboree GM Matt Clemm take on the
most expensive contract in league history, but he also traded
20-year-old phenom Madisom Bumgarner to the Padawans as an added bonus.
Rodriguez will earn $14 million per year, every year, through his 44th
And, true to Clemm's wishes, he will almost certainly retire as a member
of the Jamboree.
The annual free agent auction began on
the first day of the new year, and the first lot ended on January 3rd,
with the New Milford Blazers winning the bid on second baseman Robinson
Cano. Traditionally, New Milford GM Anthony Peburn had refused to
pay more than $5 million for any player since the introduction of our
modified "Type H" trade restrictions, preferring to load up on
cheap rent-a-players instead. But he made an exception for
Cano, who was signed for $15 million a year -- a guaranteed $45 million
over three years.
At first, Peburn's gamble seemed to
have fizzled. The Blazers lost the traditional Opening Series
against the Cowtippers. And after a Salem sweep in mid-April, New
Milford was looking at a six-game deficit in the division, prompting a "firesale"
post by Peburn on the BDBL Selling forum. But the Blazers got off
to a red-hot start (14-6) in Chapter Three, and by the first week of
July they had managed to slime their way into a tie for first in the
division. In the 32 games since Peburn "waved the white flag" on
the BDBL Selling forum, the Blazers went an awe-inspiring 22-10 -- a
.688 winning percentage.
By the end of July, New Milford had
captured the division all to themselves. Their collection of aging
pinch hitters and utility infielders tenaciously held
onto first place through the remainder of the season, and refused to let go.
In the end, they captured the division by two games, with a runs
differential of +227.
No GM made a bigger splash in the free
agent market than Kansas Law Dogs GM Chris Luhning, who managed to sign both the top hitter AND the
top pitcher of the free agent Class of 2011. On January 5th, Luhning signed Roy Oswalt to a monstrous $15MM salary ($45MM over 3
years, guaranteed.) Oswalt joined Matt Cain and Tim Hudson in a
Law Dogs starting rotation that some considered to be among the best in
league history. Oswalt ended up leading the league in wins (22)
while posting a 2.92 ERA in 231 innings. Three days later, Luhning
signed the best hitter of the 2011 class, Jose Bautista, at a bargain salary of
$11 million ($33MM over 3 years.) Bautista finished the season as
the BDBL leader in both home runs (58) and RBI's (162).
Needless to say, the Law Dogs were
heavily favored to win their division, and they faced little resistance,
winning it by 17 games. They outscored their opponents by 220
runs, and scored more runs than any team in the BDBL except for the
Blazers. Despite owning a dominant rotation, Luhning doubled down
by adding Cole Hamels and Anibal Sanchez through trades.
In the middle of the free agent auction, the SoCal Slyme announced that they had acquired young ace
Felix Hernandez (and Scott Baker) from the Salem Cowtippers in exchange
for Ryan Zimmerman and James Shields. The Slyme had a ton of money
to spend in the 2011 auction, and made a huge splash by signing several
big-name free agents, including Kevin Youkilis, Paul Konerko and Adam
Dunn. But after a 21-27 start to the season, GM Bob Sylvester
already began to throw in the towel. Despite the fact that the
Slyme were just four games behind in the division at the time, Sylvester
listed the availability of several players on the Selling forum.
The Person Division race was without a
doubt the most exciting race of 2011, despite the fact that several of
the contenders seemed to be trying their best NOT to win the division.
At the end of April, the Slyme traded Victor Martinez, Carlos Marmol,
Scott Baker and Matt Garza for Josh Johnson and several players with
future potential. And yet, by mid-July, the Slyme inexplicably
occupied first place in the Person Division.
By the first week of September, the
Person Division was still deadlocked, with SoCal and St. Louis still
tied for first place, and South Carolina and Niagara just three games
behind. With just one chapter remaining in the season, the division was
still wide open. Three teams (SoCal, Niagara and South Carolina)
stood tied for first place, with the Apostles sat just one game behind.
On September 30th, one team finally made a move to capture the top
position. The Niagara Locks went 6-2 over their first 8 games to
take sole possession of first place. But that honor was
As the final week of the season
approached, all four teams in the Person Division remained separated by
just one game. But the St. Louis Apostles then began to make their
move, winning 9 of 12, including a crucial series win against the Slyme.
St. Louis took a two-game lead in the division with just four days
remaining in the season. But with each team in the division
needing to play at least 8 games, the division remained wide open.
Finally, on October 29th -- the final
day of the season -- the Apostles officially captured the Person
Division title, just 18 minutes before the final deadline. St.
Louis needed to win one game in their final series, but ended up with
three wins to claim the division title by two games. Incredibly, just
three games separated all four teams in the Person Division, and the
last-place Sea Cats finished with a .500 record.
In August, eight league members (and
one aspiring member) converged on Washington, DC, to experience the 12th
annual BDBL Weekend festivities. We spent the first day
sight-seeing, visiting the Washington monument, the Vietnam Memorial,
the Lincoln Memorial, and viewing the White House and Capitol buildings
from afar. On the second day, we visited the Smithsonian museums.
And that night, we took in a Nationals/Phillies game. As always,
it was a tremendously fun weekend for those who made the journey.
Tagging along with us for the second
year in a row was my son Ryan, who witnessed an annual BDBL Weekend
tradition: grilling the commissioner over rule changes. The most
controversial of those changes was a proposal, led by Bobby Sylvester
and Nic Weiss, to expand the BDBL to 28 teams. Doing so would
require rearranging the schedule and the divisions, reducing the number
of games played in the regular season, and holding what would likely be
an unpopular expansion draft.
The debate over expansion continued
throughout August and September. Finally, in late September a vote
was held, requiring a 3/4 majority to pass. Expansion failed by
just one vote.
Ryan was at the top of the list to join
the BDBL had expansion passed. But in late October, another avenue
opened for him. Tony Badger, the owner
of the Buckingham Badgers franchise since 2004, stepped down after
several years of battling to remain 100% committed to the league.
I asked the league to nominate a replacement owner, but only one name
Ryan officially took over on the 25th
of October, and renamed his franchise the "Granite State Lightning" in
honor of the franchise's former owner, Phil Geisel (known to Ryan as
The final spot in the Ozzie League's
Tournament of Randomness was still up for grabs through the final days
of the season. In the final week of September, the Salem
Cowtippers swept the Sylmar Padawans to unseat the San Antonio Broncs
from the top spot in the OL wild card race for the first time all
season. Four days later, San Antonio returned the favor by
sweeping the Meatballs. Two days after that, Salem swept the Bear
Country Jamboree to reclaim the lead.
On October 19th, both the Broncs and
Cowtippers played their final series of the season at exactly the same
time. The Broncs held a one-game lead in the wild card race
heading into that series, and were faced with the unenviable task of
facing the Los Altos Undertakers. The Undertakers had owned the
Broncs all season, going 10-2 in head-to-head match-ups. The
Cowtippers, meanwhile, were tasked with facing the third-place Corona
Confederates in front of a friendly Salem home crowd.
Both the Broncs and Cowtippers won the
first games of their respective series, and both teams then lost the
second game. Salem then won the third game, temporarily giving
them a virtual tie for first place in the wild card race after San
Antonio fell to Los Altos in their third game. The entire season
now boiled down to just one final game.
But there was one man standing in the
way of Salem's post-season dreams: Lou Marson. Corona's backup
catcher, who sported a 488 OPS against right-handed pitchers in MLB, was
mysteriously inserted into the #2 spot in the Corona lineup by manager
Ed McGowan. That decision proved to be inspired by genius.
Facing right-hander John Lackey, Marson went 4-for-4 with a walk, TWO
triples, and a home run. Each of Marson's four hits came with two
outs, and he drove in four runs in an eventual 8-5 Corona win.
As the score flashed on the San Antonio
out-of-town scoreboard, the Broncs' dugout erupted in cheers and
high-fives. With the score tied at 1-1 at the time of the
announcement, San Antonio knew a win meant a spot in the playoffs.
Tyler Colvin broke the 1-1 tie in the 7th inning with a two-run homer,
and the San Antonio bullpen then nailed down the win, sparking a massive
On September 14th, the Atlanta Fire
Ants became the first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs. It
was an appropriate milestone, given the long road Gene Patterson had
traveled to get to earn this honor. Between 2001 (when Patterson
took over the franchise) to 2008, the Fire Ants finished in last place
SEVEN times in eight years. But at some point during that
record-breaking 118-loss season in 2008, Patterson decided to change his
team-building philosophy, and turned the franchise around in short order. In just
one year, the Fire Ants went from 118 losses to 94 wins. Atlanta
followed that impressive performance with a 93-win season in 2010.
And in 2011, the Fire Ants led the entire BDBL with 109 wins.
Also making the playoffs -- for the
first time in the franchise's 13-year history -- were the Great Lakes
Sphinx. After several seasons of teasing us with teams that looked
good enough to contend on paper, but failed miserably to live up to
expectations, Great Lakes finally reached the post-season on the back of
one of the league's best pitching staffs.
That Sphinx pitching staff had its work
cut out for them in the first round of the playoffs: a Division Series
match-up against the mighty Kansas Law Dogs. Behind the pitching
of mid-season acquisition Cliff Lee, the Sphinx took the series lead in
Game One. Kansas tied the series in Game Two thanks to a stellar
effort from Matt Cain, but Ubaldo Jimenez and Johan Santana then held
the Law Dogs to just one run combined over the next two games. Lee
then put the finishing touch on Kansas with a 7-4 win in Game Five.
Incredibly, Great Lakes needed just seven pitchers in the series, and
the bullpen combined to pitch just 3.2 innings.
In the other EL Division Series,
Atlanta took an early lead, winning the first two games of the series
despite losing their Game One starter, Clay Buchholz, after a rain
delay. The Apostles fought back, winning the next two games
while holding Atlanta to just one run combined. But Buchholz
returned in Game Five, and combined with two relievers to shut out the
powerful St. Louis offense. And in Game Six, John Danks held the
Apostles to just one run, capping the series victory for Atlanta by an
easy 11-1 margin.
Over in the Ozzie League, the
Undertakers easily defeated the Mississippi Meatballs in five games,
outscoring them 42-19. And unfortunately, New Milford also won
their series in five games over the San Antonio Broncs. That set
up a delicious match-up between the Undertakers and Blazers in the OLCS.
New Milford took an early 4-1 lead in Game One, but Los Altos then
scored 6 runs in the 7th inning off of New Milford's crappy bullpen and
walked away with a 7-5 win.
In the second game, the Blazers bullpen
blew yet another one. Heading into the bottom of the 9th with a
4-2 lead, Joe "Margaret" Thatcher served up a game-tying home run to
Magglio Ordonez, and someone named Takahashi then balked a runner into
scoring position before ducking under a line drive walk-off single up
the middle by Adrian Gonzalez. The two teams were locked in a 1-1
tie into the 7th inning of Game Three, but once again New Milford's
bullpen blew it when Craig Breslow yielded a go-ahead solo homer to
Jason Heyward, and Matt Guerrier allowed an insurance run to score in
the 8th. The New Milford bullpen then capped their awesome series
by blowing yet another game in Game Four, allowing four runs to score in
the top of the 7th, breaking a 3-3 tie.
Four games, four blown saves.
Couldn't have happened to a nicer team.
The ELCS was a matchup of two of the
best pitching staffs in league history, and as expected, it was a tight
series. The first game extended into extra innings thanks to two
homers by Atlanta first baseman Justin Morneau. Morneau then broke
the tie in the bottom of the 10th with an RBI single off of Derek
Holland. Great Lakes tied the series in Game Two by the score of
8-2, and then took the series lead with a 6-1 win in Game Three behind
the pitching of Ubaldo Jimenez.
In Game Four, Atlanta's Max Scherzer
tossed a gem, allowing just two hits and two walks, with eleven
strikeouts, in eight shutout innings. The Fire Ants then took the
series lead behind the pitching of Buchholz in Game Five. In Game
Six, a crucial error by Great Lakes shortstop Alexei Ramirez allowed two
Atlanta runs to score, breaking a 2-2 tie in the 5th inning. The
Sphinx tried desperately to claw their way back, but the Fire Ants
bullpen proved to be unbreakable, and the Fire Ants headed into their
first World Series.
Atlanta continued their hot streak into
the World Series, taking Game One against the Undertakers with a 3-1 win
behind the pitching of John Danks. Los Altos counter-punched in
Game Two, winning by a score of 7-1 behind their own Cy Young candidate,
C.C. Sabathia. The series then shifted to Los Altos, where Mat
Latos took the hill for the visiting Fire Ants and tossed a gem (7 IP, 5
H, 2 R, 1 BB, 10 K), giving his team the series lead.
Scherzer stumbled in Game Four,
allowing six walks in just 5 2/3 innings, yet he managed to allow only
one run, thanks to the Los Altos offense stranding 11 runners on base.
A two-run single by Jayson Werth in the 5th inning gave the Fire Ants
all the offense they'd need, as Atlanta cruised to a 4-1 win.
Game Five was a post-season classic.
Los Altos took an early lead, and headed into the 9th inning leading by
a score of 5-2. But the normally unbeatable Los Altos bullpen ran
into a swarm of circus clowns. Mike Adams faced just four batters,
walking two and allowing a single to load the bases. Clayton
Richard then came in to face pinch hitter Shelley Duncan, who plated a
run on a sac fly. Another run then scored on a single by Morneau.
With two outs and the tying run standing on second base, Andrew Bailey
was summoned from the Los Altos bullpen to nail it down. Instead,
Miguel Olivo tied the game with a base hit.
That pushed the game into extra
innings. The 10th and 11th innings passed with neither team able
to score. Finally, in the bottom of the 12th, Los Altos managed to
put two runners on with two outs. Jonathan Papelbon was called
upon by Patterson to face Evan Longoria, with the game-winning run just
90 feet away. And Longoria delivered with a single, extending the
Undertakers' life for one more game.
But Game Six was a mismatch on paper,
with Buchholz facing the Undertakers' #4 starter, Brian Duensing.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, with so many left-handers pitching for Los
Altos, they had several usage issues. But those issues didn't
matter in the end, as the Fire Ants pounded out 9 runs on 15 hits, and
Buchholz tossed another gem, allowing just two runs in 6+ innings.
Atlanta cruised to an easy 9-2 win and their first BDBL championship.
Exciting pennant races, great
post-season pitcher's duels, controversial trades, completely ridiculous
trades, long forum debates over rule changes and politics, a
Shadenfreude-fueled ending for Peburn...what more could anyone want
from any given season? AND, as an added bonus: no BDBL
championship trophy for Tom DiStefano. Don't get too used to that
one, kids, 'cuz that party is about to end. Again. But hey,
it was fun while it lasted.