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Big Daddy Baseball League

O F F I C I A L   S I T E   O F   T H E   B I G   D A D D Y   B A S E B A L L   L E A G U E
slant.gif (102 bytes) From the Desk of the Commish


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December, 2023

2023: Year in Review

"Mike love[s] predicting a title for me! I don't know if he believes it, tries to put extra pressure on me, or this is some messed jinx he puts on my team, but he predicted me as champion in 2021. And 2020. Oh, and 2019! All incorrect. So take this prediction with a giant grain of salt!"

-- Jeff Paulson, 1/23

Let us all pause for a moment to recognize and admire greatness. Winning a BDBL championship is extremely difficult. Trust me. I know this better than anyone. It took me six tries to win one, and that one win happened only because of a statistically-impossible series of events in the final game of that series. In order to win a BDBL championship, you not only need to have a great team, but you need to benefit from lucky breaks from that random number generator. Some of the greatest teams in BDBL history failed to win the trophy. And then there is Jeff Paulson.

What Jeff Paulson has accomplished in this league is nothing short of miraculous. He is now tied with Tom DiStefano as the only two people to ever win five BDBL championships. Since DiStefano had a partner in the year he won his last championship, technically, Paulson is the first to win five BDBL trophies all on his own. Let's tally up some of Paulson's other achievements in his BDBL career:

  • The Undertakers have won more games (2,433) in 25 seasons than any other franchise in the BDBL -- and it isn't even close. The Florida Mulligans now trail in that category by a whopping 59 wins. The Myrtle Beach Hitmen franchise has had three winning seasons in 25 years. The Undertakers have averaged -- averaged! -- 97 wins per season.

  • In the past 15 seasons alone, Los Altos has won 1,523 games. That is an average of over 100 wins (101.5) per season. No other team comes close. The next-highest win total belongs to the Flagstaff franchise, which won 1,407 games during that span -- 116 fewer wins.

  • Los Altos has won 100+ games 12 times in 25 seasons. They won 98+ an additional three times. Put it all together, and the Undertakers have won 98 or more games in 60-percent of the seasons they have played.

  • The Undertakers have won 110+ games eight times. When they finished the 2023 season with 110+ wins and a 300+ runs differential, it marked only the 13th time that has ever happened in BDBL history. Of those thirteen, Los Altos has done it five times.

  • Jeff Paulson has won sixteen division titles. No other owner or franchise has won more than eleven.

  • The Undertakers have led the entire BDBL in wins nine times. No other franchise has done this more than four times.

  • Los Altos owns a mind-numbing .606 winning percentage in the postseason.

"I do not take wining for granted in any way. Nothing will ever compare to winning that first one in 2009, but I still get a great amount of joy from my luck and success. I have been very, very fortunate in this league."

-- Jeff Paulson, 11/14

Congratulations to Jeff Paulson, once again. We do not call him the "GOAT" for nothing. He has earned that title.

To the league, I'd like to thank you all for another enjoyable season. We have introduced a few new wrinkles into our league -- another farm expansion, a live midseason draft, the despicable DH, and countless tweaks to our rulebook -- but we always somehow manage to enjoy a smooth season without any of the bickering and controversies we had in the early stage of this league's existence. I thank you all for that.

I'd like to thank the real Commissioner of this league, Tony Chamra, for all the work he does throughout the year. He creates our schedule. He manually enters thousands of pointless farm players into the disk (with accurate birth dates!), just so they can be released a few weeks later. He compiles an annual MLB stats disk from the goodness of his heart. He somehow maintains a super-complex-looking database of the contract statuses of every player in the BDBL. It makes my head hurt just thinking about how he does that. As if all that weren't enough, he also volunteered to run the auction committee. I honestly don't know if this league would survive without him. It would take a dozen people to replace him.

Speaking of irreplaceable, if it weren't for Tony Badger, we wouldn't have an auction. He took over my primitive "d-Day" app, fed it some steroids, and it has become an absolutely critical part of this league's annual free agent signing process. Thank you, Tony. (And now that your son has left the league, I can return to referring to you as "Badger.")

I also need to thank the other members of my esteemed Cabinet: our Grand Poobah of Transactions, Jeff Paulson, our Usage Nazi, D.J. Shepard, our God of WAR, Ian Hartner, and our Czar of Ballparks, Mike Stein. Thanks, fellas. You all make my job as League Figurehead so much easier.

Manny Machado was the top offensive free agent available in the 2023 draft class. As I wrote in the Draft Preview, it was a very weak class for hitters, and Machado presented the lowest risk among them all. It was considered a steal, then, when Lake Norman GM Joe Demski won the bidding for Machado at $15 million.

Machado (.310/.373/.557) ranked second in the EL behind only Aaron Judge in runs created (127.3). Happ (.293/.352/.444) ranked second on the team in runs created, with 98.1. They were joined in the lineup by several impact players Demski acquired via trade in 2022 and the 2023 preseason: Willy Adames (the ELDS and ELCS MVP), Brandon Drury (team leader with 35 HR), Alejandro Kirk (starting catcher for the EL all-stars), Seiya Suzuki, and Starling Marte. All seven players created 70+ runs in 2023.

The Monsters got off to a hot start at 17-11, but so did their division rival Niagara Locks, who matched that record in Chapter One. The two teams continued to post identical records over the next two chapters, and were tied at 45-35 (.563) heading into the all-star break. The Monsters continued their hot pace in Chapter Four, but the Locks stumbled at 11-13. Lake Norman then posted a 42-14 record over the final two chapters, which was the best record in the EL over that period.

The Monsters finished the regular season with 102 wins -- the most in franchise history, and the only 100+ win season in 25 years.

"I'm glad the hardest division got harder. Seriously. I could see 80+ wins from fourth place."

-- Brian "Skizm" Potraka, 1/23

Winning back-to-back BDBL championships is such a difficult feat it has only been done twice in 25 years. The Stamford Zoots notoriously won three in a row from 1999-2001 and the Los Altos Undertakers famously won three in a row from 2015-2017. Most normal, mortal, teams achieve success only because they sacrifice their futures to "go for it all" in one blinding blaze of glory. It is extremely rare to find a team that enjoys such success two years in a row.

Despite the odds, the Akron Ryche seemed to have a fighting chance to make history this year by winning back-to-back trophies. Three of the fourteen people who voted in our preseason polls predicted the Ryche would do just that. No other team beside the Undertakers (with seven votes) earned more than one vote. The reason is simple: the Ryche looked better on paper in 2023 than they did in 2022.

Akron's 2022 starting rotation ranks among the best ever, but the 2023 rotation seemed even better. In 2022, Corbin Burnes won the OL Cy Young award, and teammate Gerrit Cole placed third in the voting. Brandon Woodruff also had a strong 2022 season. All three returned in 2023 with equal or better MLB numbers. In addition, the rotation featured a pitcher who placed fifth in the AL Cy Young voting in MLB, Nasty Nestor Cortes. As if that weren't enough, GM D.J. Shepard added a fifth Cy Young-caliber pitcher, Triston McKenzie, in a December trade with Lake Norman.

Cortes (15-3, 2.55 ERA in 169+ IP), Woodruff (14-5, 3.33 in 164+), McKenzie (17-10, 3.73 in 207+), and Burnes (13-11, 3.35 in 217+) all fulfilled their promises, but Cole (19-10, 4.24 in 220+) suffered miserably during the first half of the season. He got off to a horrendous start, going 2-4 with a 6.35 ERA in Chapter One, but picked it up in the second half (12-2, 2.99 ERA.)

Not coincidentally, the Ryche struggled in the first half of the season, barely keeping pace with the Ravenswood Infidels. At the all-star break, the Ryche actually trailed Ravenswood by three games. No team, however, was hotter than Akron in the second half. They led the BDBL with a 59-21 (.738) record in the final three chapters of the season, outpacing even the Undertakers.

Ravenswood, in contrast, fell off a cliff in the second half. They played sub-.500 (39-41) ball over the final three chapters, lost their lead in the division, sold off their best pitcher in a white-flag moment of angst, lowered the white flag when the Florida Mulligans fell into the toilet, and battled with the Cleveland Rocks for the OL wildcard down to the final day of the season.

"So you're tied for first place and you send the team you're tied with your best hitter???"

-- Tony Chamra, 7/27

The stage was all set for the Higuera Division race to become an historic battle between brothers. Younger brother J.D. Luhning was considered to be the favorite to win the division, picked to win by myself in the Preseason Preview and also by the league in a slim 7-5 vote. Older brother Chris was considered to be the dark horse candidate despite his role as the division's defending champion.

The race got off to an epic start. J.D.'s South Philly Gritty took the Chapter One lead by one game over Chris' Kansas Law Dogs, leading the division with a 17-11 record. The Gritty held onto that lead through the first half of the season, leading the division by two games over the 'Dogs as the league headed into the all-star break. The Gritty then collapsed in Chapter Four, going just 10-14, which allowed the Law Dogs to eke ahead with a 12-12 record. That resulted in a tie for the division lead with only two chapters left to play.

And then...well...and then J.D. decided to give up the battle. In one of the most bizarre trades in league history, a team traded their best hitter to a team they were tied with for the division lead...with only two chapters remaining in the season. South Philly traded Nolan Arenado to Kansas for future considerations.

Arenado was the Kansas MVP over the last two chapters of the season. He led the team with 38.5 runs created and hit .332/.402/.537. Kansas went 31-25 (.554) over that stretch, led by Arenado. Oddly enough, South Philly posted the same exact record despite the loss of Arenado. For the first time in league history, four teams finished the regular season tied for a playoffs spot.

"While I was hoping to get two contention years with Trout, he had other plans and got injured for year two limiting his PAs to 160. My thesis was solid, if you can locate the 100K players."

-- Lee Scholtz, 10/28

In 2018, Lee Scholtz took over a franchise that had been battered worse than a KFC chicken wing. Way back in 2012, my son Ryan took over the franchise from Tony Badger. That franchise was coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons at the time. Ryan led that team to a then-record 120 losses in 2012, but then somehow miraculously turned that around in only one year, winning 91 games in 2013. That effort, however, depleted the team's future, leading to five straight losing seasons.

Scholtz inherited a franchise that included little except a young Cuban refugee by the name of Yordan F'ing Alvarez, who had been acquired by Mike Ries during the month of two that he was in charge of the franchise. The rebuilding process for the Darien Blue Wave was painful, but productive. The Blue Wave suffered through four losing seasons, including three 100+ loss seasons, before finally capturing the division title this year. Incredibly enough, it is the first division title in this franchise's 25-year history.

When Scholtz made the decision to sign Mike Trout to a league-record $26.5 million salary in 2021, it was considered to be an extremely risky decision. The only way a team can afford to spend 42% of their total salary on one player would be to own a lot of players performing at high levels with bare-minimum salaries. Fortunately for Scholtz, he had amassed enough of those players to make it work.

The Blue Wave faced an early challenge from the Florida Mulligans. The Mulligans, loaded with MVP-caliber hitters (Rafael Devers, Shohei Ohtani, Trea Turner, Mark Canha, Adley Rutschman) and Cy Young-caliber pitchers (Ohtani, Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia) dominated Chapter Two with a league-best 21 wins. They leap-frogged the Blue Wave in the division and took a three-game lead after two chapters.

Then...for reasons I still cannot understand...the wheels on the Mulligans bus completely detached and rolled down the street, never to be found. Florida went just 12-12 in Chapter Three, allowing the Blue Wave to take the lead in the division. Chapter Four was a 10-14 disaster, but that was nothing compared to the 7-21 Chapter Five dumpster fire. It was the same exact team, with the same exact players, that went 21-7 in Chapter Two. It remains as one of the most inexplicable collapses in BDBL history.

The Blue Wave took full advantage of Florida's historic collapse and ran away with the division the rest of the way, easily capturing the division title by 20 games, and becoming the first team in the BDBL to clinch their division in 2023.

"Combine Charlotte's bullpen with a very productive top half of the lineup, and this team might be one of those surprise contenders. Since I'm on record here, I will predict that will not happen. This team will finish above .500, but not by much."

-- Mike Glander, 1/23

For two-thirds of the 2023 regular season, the Charlotte Mustangs owned a starting rotation comprised of Patrick Sandoval, Jose Berrios, Kyle Hendricks, Lance McCullers, Ryan Feltner, David Peterson, and Chris Flexen. The fact that I just had to double-click on most of those names to learn their first names should tell you that this is not a division-winning-caliber starting rotation.

The Diamond Mind software, evidently, doesn't care. Quality starting pitching doesn't seem to factor at all into the inner-workings of the DMB brain. The Mustangs owned a 61-43 record through four chapters of play despite their horrendous rotation. They not only led the Hrbek Division by five games, but they owned the best record in the entire Eck League!

At the Chapter Five trading deadline, GM Tony Chamra added two actual decent starting pitchers in Alek Manoah and Julio Urias. The Mustangs went 34-22 (.607) over those final two chapters to easily capture the division title by six games. They finished with 95 wins, which was good for the number two seed in the playoffs.

Charlotte's leisurely stroll to the division title should not have been so easy. The Myrtle Beach Hitmen were heavily-favored to win the division, with eleven of the thirteen votes in preseason polling going their way. The Hitmen were also the favorites to win the Eck League, and even received one vote to win it all.

After seventeen years of bumbling ineptitude by Jim Doyle, the Gill brothers took over this historically-failed franchise in 2017. The Gill brothers added five more losing seasons to an uninterrupted streak of seventeen losing seasons during their painful rebuilding process. They finally managed to break that streak in 2022, finishing with 86 wins. 2023 was supposed to be their year, finally, to win a division title and participate in the Tournament of Randomness.

Instead, Myrtle Beach struggled almost from the beginning. They went a respectable 16-12 in Chapter One, and 17-11 in Chapter Two, but then stunk up the joint with a 9-15 performance in Chapter Three. They headed into the all-star break trailing the Mustangs by five games in the division, with the Chicago Black Sox nipping at their heels in third place.

They bounced back with a 15-9 Chapter Four, but then stumbled again (14-14) in Chapter Five. With one final chapter left to play, the division title was a lost cause, with Charlotte seven games ahead and riding a hot streak thanks to their two new aces. That left the wildcard, where the Hitmen trailed the Niagara Locks by one game.

"This may be because I'm actually still in the hunt for the championship, thus paying closer attention, but I feel this season the wildcard races are great! Don't recall this many teams vying this close to the end."

-- Lee Scholtz, 10/19

Niagara was a bit of a surprise contender. They featured one of the league's strongest lineups, which included Xander Bogaerts, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., and Byron Buxton, but their pitching staff ranked among the bottom half of the league in runs allowed. Nevertheless, they found themselves in the thick of the wildcard race until the very end.

With only one week remaining in the season, the Hitmen and Locks were tied for the EL wildcard lead. The Hitmen lost three of four to the Monsters, but the Locks were swept by the Gritty. Myrtle Beach then faced South Philly with both the EL wildcard and the Higuera Division title on the line. Myrtle Beach won three out of four. Kansas then won three of four over the Locks, which effectively eliminated the Locks from the wildcard while also setting up a tie for the Higuera Division.

In the final days of the season, the Gritty lost three of four to the Beamers, which meant that the Higuera Division had come down to the very last series of the season: a head-to-head contest between the Law Dogs and Gritty. The Gritty took two of those first three games before losing the final game of the season, resulting in identical 84-76 records for both teams.

Meanwhile, there was an equally-intense battle happening for the final spot in the OL playoffs. At the start of the final chapter, the Bear Country Jamboree and Ravenswood Infidels were tied atop the wildcard standings, with the Cleveland Rocks and Las Vegas Flamingos only two games behind. By the end of the first week of October, the Rocks had taken a one-game lead over Ravenswood. Vegas and Florida trailed three games behind, and the Jamboree had dropped out of contention. The Akron Ryche then took three of four from Vegas to knock them out of contention as well.

The Mulligans wrapped up their season with 83 wins, which made the OL wildcard a two-team chase between Cleveland and Ravenswood. Cleveland was swept by the Darien Blue Wave to wrap up their season at 87 wins. The Infidels then swept the South Carolina Sea Cats, which meant that they only needed to win four of their remaining eight games to force a tie for the wildcard, and five to win it outright.

On October 24th, Cleveland manager Mike Stein wrote on the forum: "Congrats to the Infidels. They will win five for sure." In response, the very next day, the Infidels swept the Philly Fightin's, which meant they needed only one win to fulfill Stein's prophecy. The next day, however, the Akron Ryche swept the Infidels, resulting in a tie for the OL wildcard.

For the first time in league history, two one-game playoffs were needed to decide the final two places in the BDBL postseason!

After hyper-stressing for 160 games during the regular season, and then getting swept in his final series of the season to force a one-game playoff, the last thing Brian Potrafka needed was for that one-game showdown to be stressful. A nice 10-0 shellacking in either direction would have sufficed. Instead, he got the exact opposite.

The Infidels clung to a slim 2-1 lead heading into the ninth. Just three outs away from a ticket to the postseason. Pinch hitter Edwin Rios led off with a double for Cleveland. Two batters later, Cody Bellinger doubled him home. Tied game. The score remained tied through nine and continued for two more innings. Finally, mercifully, Ravenswood's Yonathan Daza delivered the walk-off double off of Clayton Kershaw in the bottom of the 11th, sending the Infidels to the postseason.

The EL one-game playoff between the Brothers Luhning was decidedly less dramatic. Kansas took a 3-0 lead in the very first inning and, thanks to the pitching of Adrian Sampson and three relievers, coasted to an easy 5-1 win.

Potrafka's prize for winning the wildcard was facing the unstoppable Los Altos juggernaut in the Division Series. The Infidels never had a prayer. Los Altos pitching shut them out in both of the first two games. After 23 straight shutout innings, Ravenswood finally scored their first run of the series in the sixth inning of Game Three. But they lost that game, anyway, and went on to lose the series in five quick games.

Chris Luhning's fate was virtually the same. Facing a red-hot Lake Norman team, the Law Dogs lost two close games to start the Division Series, lost an 11-6 laugher in Game Three, and then lost the final game in extra innings. Series MVP Willy Adames delivered the crushing blow with a solo shot in the top of the tenth inning of Game Four.

The Division Series battle between Darien and Akron was expected to be epic, and it mostly fulfilled expectations. Akron's pitchers held Darien's powerful offense at bay in the first two games, limiting them to just four runs in two games. Darien took a 3-1 lead in the top of the 12th inning of the second game, only to blow that lead, and the game, in the bottom half of the inning. Darien's bats finally woke up in Game Three, beating Akron by a score of 14-3. Akron starter Gerrit Cole, who was red-hot in the second half, reverted to his first-half self throughout the postseason.

Behind the stellar pitching of Tony Gonsolin, the Blue Wave managed to tie the series by shutting out the Ryche in Game Four. The Darien bullpen then imploded again in Game Five, blowing a 4-3 lead by allowing two runs in the top of the ninth. That bullpen then repeated the feat in the final game of the series, blowing a 7-5 lead by allowing Akron to score three runs in the bottom of the ninth. Joey Meneses delivered the crushing blow with a pinch hit two-run blast and Jesse Winker finished them off with a walk-off RBI single.

The Cinderella story of the 2023 Myrtle Beach Hitmen came to an end with the Hitmen turning back into pumpkins. The Charlotte Mustangs swept the Hitmen right out of the playoffs with little effort, winning the first two games by two runs each, and the second two by five runs or more.

The sucky version of Gerrit Cole reared his ugly head once again in the OLCS. He allowed six runs (five earned) in his Game One loss, and then did it again (six runs, all earned) in Game Five. Meanwhile, his opponent, series MVP Shane Bieber, tossed 13+ innings in the series and allowed just one run. Akron managed to win Game Two thanks to the pitching of Corbin Burnes, but were shut out in Games One and Four. The Undertakers easily coasted to their sixth World Series.

In the ELCS, the top-seeded team won yet again, as the Monsters cruised past the Mustangs. For the second playoff series in a row, Willy Adames emerged as the MVP of the series, clubbing three homers in five games. Charlotte won the third game of the series thanks to the pitching of Sandoval, but it was the only game of the series where the Monsters scored fewer than four runs. Joe Demski, in only his third BDBL season, then headed to the World Series.

The Kid versus The GOAT. It was the match-up that was destined to be. Incredibly enough, it was the Kid who landed the first punch. Jose Quintana and three Monsters relievers somehow managed to keep the league's second-most potent offense off the board in Game One with a 3-0 shutout. Sadly, it would be the last moment of joy worth cheering for Monsters fans.

Los Altos flipped the script in Game Two, shutting out the Monsters by a score of 4-0 behind the pitching of their winter auction acquisition, Max Scherzer. Los Altos then took the series lead with a resounding 10-6 win in Game Three.

Game Four was an instant classic. With Lake Norman's bullpen running on fumes, they needed their starter, Joe Ryan, to go far in the game. However, after a series of back-and-forth punches were landed by both teams, Ryan was sent to the showers in the fifth. Los Altos pinch hitter Sam Haggarty tied the game with his eighth inning home run. Eventually, the game was forced into extra innings.

Lake Norman's closer, Daniel Bard, was forced to throw more than three innings and 62 pitches due to the strained bullpen situation, and yet he got the job done, allowing no runs. Because of his efforts, the game extended all the way into the 14th inning, where Kyle Tucker came through with a two-run single at the top of the inning. The drama wasn't over, however. Los Altos closer Emmanuel Clase allowed a run to score and then loaded the bases before enticing star free agent Manny Machado to ground out to end the game.

As if that game hadn't provided enough excitement and drama, Game Five then went into extra innings as well. A pair of singles and a sac fly in the bottom of the ninth tied the game and forced extras. With the bullpen still depleted, Lake Norman then handed the ball to starter Merrill Kelly in the top of the tenth. After a walk, series MVP Kyle Tucker delivered a two-run homer to put Los Altos in the lead. Matt Moore then closed it out with a three-up, three-down bottom of the tenth.

"Get a life!"

-- Billy Baseball

I hate to end this year's review on such a down note, but I would be remiss if I wrote a summary of all that has happened this year without mentioning the passing of my lifelong friend, Billy "Baseball" Romaniello. Without Billy, it's quite possible the BDBL wouldn't exist. I can't quite remember which one of us came up with the idea, way back in 1982, to form a baseball league based on a computer simulation, but I'll give him credit since I'm not that imaginative. And if I hadn't formed that league, who knows if it would have ever occurred to me to form another.

So, on Thanksgiving Day, when it's your turn to tell everyone around the dinner table what you are thankful for, in addition to expressing gratitude for the BDBL as you would normally do, say a word of thanks to Billy as well.

I miss you, buddy. Rest in peace.