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

Commish

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December, 2011

2011: The 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 Secretary.

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 runs!)

***

"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 to another 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 birthday.  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 short-lived.

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 emerged: Ryan.

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 "Uncle Geisel.")

***

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-field celebration.

***

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.