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
BDBL: 10 Years in the Making
Fire Ants in a
677 (23rd all-time) Playoff appearances: 2 Division titles: 1 League titles: 0 Championship titles: 0 100-win seasons: 0 100-loss seasons: 2 Franchise RC leader: Ken Griffey, Jr. Franchise wins leader: Mike Hampton
In early December of 1998, a
40-year-old school teacher from Coon Rapids, Iowa named Eric Ernst
joined his brother Dave in the newly-formed Big Daddy Baseball League.
However, as Draft Day approached, both Ernst brothers pulled out of the
league due to conflicts with the scheduled draft dates. On
December 12th, 32-year-old computer analyst Bob Biermann, from Oakville
Missouri, was officially named as the owner of the newly-named Oakville
Biermann, who listed TV's King of
the Hill star Hank Hill as his team's manager, drew the sixth pick
of the inaugural draft. And with Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire,
Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez off the board, Biermann went with the next
biggest slugger available: Ken Griffey, Jr.. At 28 years old,
Griffey was considered to be in the prime of a burgeoning Hall of Fame
career, having posted back-to-back seasons in which he'd hit 56 home
runs in MLB. He had already clubbed 350 homers at that time, and many
thought that he would someday break Hank Aaron's all-time MLB career
record. For Oakville in 1999, Griffey hit .282/.385/.591 with 50
homers, 98 walks, 34 steals and 147.1 runs created, and finished second
in the EL MVP race. At the end of the season, Griffey was signed
to an eight-year, $80 million contract.
As the draft progressed, Biermann
continued to load up on sluggers, adopting the same strategy as the
Madison Fighting Mimes and Delafield Ogres before them. With his
next four selections, Biermann selected Javy Lopez (.250/.284/.546 w/ 47
HRs for Oakville), Tony Clark (.300/.364/.499 w/ 24 HRs), Raul Mondesi
(.237/.272/.442 w/ 25 HRs) and Chuck Knoblauch (.262/.348/.432 w/ 21 HRs.)
Loading up on low-contact, high-powered sluggers was an unusual strategy
for a team whose home ballpark was modeled after Montreal's Olympic
Stadium (HR factors of 57/81), but in the end, it worked.
Biermann didn't draft his first pitcher
until the 6th round, when he selected 26-year-old lefty Mike Hampton
(11-10, 223+ IP, 5.24 ERA for Oakville.) And by the end of 13
rounds, his starting rotation consisted of Hampton, Bobby Jones (16-8,
3.68 ERA in 205+ IP), Darryl Kile (11-11, 4.92 ERA in 234+ IP), Tim
Belcher (14-11, 4.37 ERA in 230+ IP) and Dave Mlicki (3-10, 5.95 ERA in
Playing in the hotly-contested Hrbek
Division against the Bourbannais Bad Boys, California Storm and Chicago
Black Sox, the Marauders jumped out to a 17-8 record to start the season
-- good enough for a share of first place in the division with the
Storm. Oakville then followed that with an impressive 19-11
Chapter Two, giving them a five-game lead one-third of the way through
While the rest of the league engaged in
a trading frenzy, Biermann held steady, and made just one trade the
entire season at the final Chapter Five deadline. In that trade,
the Marauders added another big bat (Ray Lankford), as well as Todd
Walker and John Franco. In exchange, he parted with a few young
players (Pokey Reese, Ed Sprague and Adam Kennedy) and a couple of draft
picks. Lankford hit .265/.325/.460 in 215 ABs for Oakville down
the stretch, while Walker hit .290/.304/.420 and Franco pitched just 18+
innings (with a 1.93 ERA) in relief.
The Marauders went just 40-40 in the
second half of the season -- just the third-best record in their
division over the second half -- yet thanks to their hot start they
managed to hang onto the division lead. Oakville finished the season with a
record of 88-72 -- two games ahead of the Bad Boys and Storm.
Despite playing in one of the toughest home run parks in the league, the
Marauders hit an astounding 241 longballs (second to only the Delafield
Ogres) and scored 826 runs (second to only the Ft. Lauderdale Marlins.)
On the hill, Oakville pitchers sported a 4.40 team ERA -- 8th in the Eck
League, despite issuing 633 walks in 1455 innings (a league-high average
of 3.9 BB/9.)
After a one-game playoff decided the
Eck League wild card winner, the Marauders faced off against the
Bourbannais Bad Boys in the EL Division Series. It was a classic
confrontation of offense against defense. Oakville enjoyed a huge
offensive advantage over Bourbannais, with 113 more runs scored and 114
more home runs, while Bourbannais' pitching staff and defense were
head-and-shoulders above Oakville's.
The Bad Boys opened the series with a
2-0 win in Oakville, with staff ace Al Leiter tossing eight shutout
innings. In the second game, Jones outdueled Kerry Wood in a 2-1
nail-biter. Oakville then took the series lead with another one-run
win (4-3) in Game Three. And in Game Four, Bourbannais eked out
another win by a score of 2-1 to even the series, with Leiter tossing seven more shutout innings.
Heading into the fifth and deciding
game of the series, the Oakville/Bourbannais series had been as exciting
and evenly-matched as any baseball series could possibly be. And
that's why it came as an awful shock when both Biermann and his
GM Chris Witt, each announced they would be resigning from the league at
the end of the playoffs.
"I see more people wanting to play
via NetMeeting next year," said Bierman, "and I just can't schedule
firm times. I can't participate in a NetMeeting league. It isn't
fair to the other 23 guys who want to play without the MP's."
Although both owners expressed a desire to finish the playoffs before their
official resignation, the Commissioner's Office immediately dismissed
both owners from the league and made the decision to have the computer
MP sim both sides for Game Five.
Despite the fact that neither manager
was around to see it, Game Five of the 1999 ELDS ranks among the most
exciting playoff games in BDBL history. After nine complete
innings, the score remained tied at 0-0. In the top of the tenth,
the Bad Boys put runners on first and second with one out, but pinch
hitter Chili Davis (who'd been inexplicably walked intentionally with
one out and no one on base) was then thrown out trying to steal third on
a pitch that got away from the catcher.
Dominant lefty closer Billy Wagner
(1.33 ERA in 20+ IP for Bourbannais in 1999) was then summoned to face
two lefty hitters in the Oakville lineup with one out. B.J.
Surhoff singled, and Griffey followed with a walk-off, two-run blast.
The Marauders headed to the first-ever
Eck League Championship Series against the Southern Cal Slyme, owned by
Bob Sylvester. Unfortunately, the Marauders now had no manager.
A substitute manager was needed; someone who would be properly motivated
to win a series while leading a team that wasn't his. The perfect
man for that job was an 11-year-old boy: Sylvester's son, Bobby.
The 1999 ELCS began on a high note,
with the Slyme and Marauders battling it out for 14 innings.
Oakville took a 7-5 lead in the top of the 14th, but SoCal scored a run
in the bottom of the 14th to cut that lead to just one run. Then,
with the tying run standing on second base with one out, Oakville
reliever Jerry DiPoto struck out Kelly Stinnett, and got Travis Fryman
to pop out to left for the final out.
The Slyme evened the series with a
one-run win in Game Two, needing a clutch two-run home run by Chipper
Jones in the eighth inning to do so. The Slyme then took the next
two games, and needed just one more win to close out the series victory.
But Oakville, led by their 11-year-old manager, weren't ready to call it
quits just yet.
The Marauders won a 3-2 nail-biter in
Game Five, then won yet another one-run game in Game Six (by a score of
4-3) to force a seventh game. Finally, in the fourth inning of
Game Seven, Oakville took a 3-2 lead, but SoCal then scored three in the
bottom half of the inning. And thanks to the Slyme bullpen of
Albie Lopez, Jim Corsi, Stan Belinda and Tom Gordon, they were able to
hold onto that lead to seal the series victory and advance to the
first-ever BDBL World Series.
Shortly after the Marauders were
eliminated, a new owner was named to take over the franchise. On
November 17th, Bob Bruzzone of Pleasanton, California, was welcomed to
the league. At 48 years old, he became the oldest member of the
league by four years. Upon arrival, Bruzzone stated, "I'm not the
kind of manager that would (quit the league) in the middle of a season."
It was music to the league's ears.
After renaming his team the "P-Town
Bandits" and shaking up the coaching staff, Bruzzone announced that his
first order of business would be reducing payroll. Walker, Edgar
Renteria and Lankford were immediately placed on the trading block.
True to his word, the very next day Lankford was packed up and shipped
to the South Carolina Sea Cats in exchange for a couple of draft picks.
A week later, Renteria was traded for another draft pick. By the
end of the week, Bruzzone had also traded away Mondesi, Walker, Orlando
Palmeiro and Lopez -- all for nothing but draft picks.
Unfortunately for Bruzzone, the 2000
draft class was the weakest class in league history. Because it
was the second draft ever held, the only free agents available that year
were the ones who weren't good enough to be signed on Cutdown Day.
As a result, four of the seven draft picks that were acquired weren't
even used. And with the picks that were used, the players selected
-- Steve Montgomery, Bruce Chen and Lou Pote -- were hardly worth the
Bruzzone, however, was not even around
to make those picks, as he resigned from the league on December 21st --
a little more than a month after he joined the league -- citing a recent
development with his father's health. With the league's first
Cutdown Day rapidly approaching, and the draft just around the corner,
the league didn't hesitate to name a replacement. That very same
day, 45-year-old Steve Babula from Wallington, New Jersey, became the
newest owner of the franchise -- which he re-named the "Boardwalk
December 23, 1999 Babula Addresses the Press
WALLINGTON, NJ - In a shocking transaction that will surely shake
the sim sports world, adult entertainment and brew pub industry,
Steve Babula has purchased the P-Town Bandits of the Big Daddy
Baseball League. The price paid for the successful franchise was not
announced. When questioned as to the rumors that the price was well
in excess of the value of the franchise, Babula replied, “I don’t
ask you about your business, don’t ask me about mine. Let’s just say
that I made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse”. Babula is known
to associate with numerous nefarious New Jersey low lifes. In
response to questions regarding why he wanted to own a team, Babula
replied that he has always loved to watch ball games and the “Feds”
won’t let him cross state lines anymore.
The team will now be known as the
Boardwalk Vulgarians. Team colors are black, teal, and gold. Both
home and away uniforms will be black. The home uniforms will feature
gold pinstripes. The team will play its home games at the Surf Club
in Ortley Beach, New Jersey. Owner Babula stated that there is no
better place to play than the Jersey Shore.
“All the beautiful, sandy beaches,
the zeppoli, the pizza, the sausage sanguwiches (sic), the Jersey
girls with the big hair, big nails, big attitudes, and big you know
what I am talking about. I love it here.” The Surf Club will seat
40,000 for baseball of which 25,000 seats are in luxury boxes. There
will be no tickets for sale for any Vulgarian home game. All seats
will be comped. The Surf Club is serviced by Hydroferry from New
York and Atlantic City.
Babula had little time to prepare for
the coming season, and it showed. After making one minor trade
(picking up Mark McLemore and Bob Wickman from the Madison Fighting
Mimes), Babula attempted to sign his rookie pitcher, Matt Clement, to a
ten-year contract. Fortunately for him, however, Clement was still
in his option year and thus ineligible to be signed long-term.
After the total deconstruction of the
Vulgarians lineup by Bruzzone, Boardwalk's 2000 offense was just a shell
of its formerly dominant self. As a result, the team was picked to finish in
last place in a division that now included the Akron Ryche (who had
replaced the Bad Boys.) The Season Preview wrapped up Boardwalk's
Outlook: This is
a very different team than the one that won the Griffin Division
last season. Kirt Manwaring and Paul Bako replace Javy Lopez and
his 47 home runs. Tom Goodwin and Dave Martinez patrol the outfield
that was once inhabited by MVP candidates Ray Lankford and Raul Mondesi. Alex Gonzalez takes over for Edgar Renteria. And
brilliant Cy Young candidate Chuck McElroy has been replaced in the
closer's role by John Franco. This is also a very different Griffin
Division than last year. The Chicago Black Sox aren't pushovers
anymore, the Cleveland Rocks' high-powered offense is even more
dangerous this year, and Pedro Martinez has moved into the
neighborhood. What a difference a year makes.
The Vulgarians ended the first two
chapters with a .500 record, and trailed the division-leading Black Sox
by four games. However, after going 11-13 in Chapter One, Babula
began to wave the white flag, and traded Tony Clark and Darryl Kile to the
Kansas Law Dogs for Rico Brogna and Scott Erickson at the Chapter Two
deadline. The following
chapter, he traded Knoblauch to the Salem Cowtippers for Xavier Nady and
Predictably, Boardwalk went into a
tailspin shortly thereafter, and sputtered to a league-worst 25-60
(.294) record in the second half. With his trade bait thoroughly
exhausted, Babula failed to make another trade the rest of the
season, and his interest clearly sank along with his team's record.
He missed several deadlines for
series completions and pitching rotations, and as the final weeks of the
season drew to a close, his lack of participation in the league became
such an issue that he was eventually asked to resign on September 13th.
Once again, the franchise was left without an owner, and once again the
league looked to the waiting list for a reliable owner who could step in
and take a long-term approach to his franchise. That owner was
found three days later when Gene Patterson -- a 31-year-old Certified
Athletic Trainer from Atlanta, Georgia -- was named as the fifth owner
of the franchise that would now go by the name of the "Atlanta Fire
The Vulgarians finished the 2000 season
with a record of 64-96 -- good for last place in the Hrbek Division.
Upon Patterson's arrival, speculation was that he would use the Rule
18.13 loophole to rid his franchise of the long-term contracts of
Hampton and Griffey, but Patterson instead elected to keep both players.
On November 27th, Patterson made his
first decision as GM of his new franchise, acquiring Jeff Cirillo from
the Salem Cowtippers in exchange for Bruce Chen. The trade worked
out well for both teams, as Cirillo hit .313/.382/.444 with 104.5 runs
created for the Fire Ants in 2001, while Chen went 10-4 with a 2.71 ERA
in 146 innings for Salem.
That same day, Patterson announced
another trade with the Cowtippers, whereby his 2nd round draft pick (a
pick Patterson stated he couldn't afford to use) was traded to Salem in
exchange for utility infielder Luis Alicea. Alicea hit
.293/.345/.399 in 607 at-bats for Atlanta, while that pick (the #4 pick
in the second round) was eventually traded by Salem and used to select Jorge
The very next day, Patterson continued
to make his mark on the franchise, sending Derek Lee to the Chicago
Black Sox for closer Jason Isringhausen. With first basemen Todd Zeile and Rico
Brogna under contract through the 2001 season, Lee was considered
Finally, Patterson traded his #1 draft
pick -- the fourth overall pick of the draft -- to the Marlboro
Hammerheads in exchange for reliever Scott Sauerbeck and pitching
prospect Jason Grilli. While Marlboro used that pick to select
Robb Nen (a one-year rental at $10 million), neither Sauerbeck (6.33 ERA
in 64 IP for Atlanta in '01) nor Grilli (who never pitched an inning in
the BDBL) improved the Atlanta franchise in any way.
With little money to spend on free
agents, thanks in part to the bloated contracts of Griffey and Hampton,
Patterson spent a total of $5 million in the draft on 31-year-old
catcher Damian Miller (.289/.345/.495 in 329 ABs) and 30-year-old
starter Steve Trachsel (6.33 ERA in 172 innings.) The remaining 11
spots on the roster were then filled with low-upside/low-market-value
players like Bill Simas, Matt Whiteside, Luis Sojo and Wilton Guerrero.
The 2001 season began with the Fire
Ants predicted to repeat their last-place finish, due in part to their
tough division, and in part because of their weak starting rotation
beyond their ace, Hampton. After two chapters of play, Atlanta sat
in last place with a record of 24-30, and Patterson began looking toward the future.
His first move to rebuild the franchise
was to acquire pitching prospect Alex Graman from the Stamford Zoots in
exchange for short-usage reliever Lou Pote. Unfortunately, Graman never
pitched an inning in the BDBL. It wasn't until the Chapter Five
deadline that Patterson was able to make his next trade, sending
Isringhausen to the Akron Ryche for Terrance Long and Vic Darensbourg.
Long contributed 100 quality (.310/.355/.470) at-bats to the Fire Ants,
and was eventually traded the following season. Darensbourg was a
free agent following the 2001 season, and his only contribution to the
franchise was a 7.65 ERA posted in 15+ innings.
Another season drew to its conclusion, and the Fire Ants wrapped it up with a 74-86 record -- a
10-game improvement over the previous year. The cost of that
improvement, however, was a much lower draft pick, as the Fire Ants fell
from #4 to #13 in the draft. Unfortunately, because the team still
had very little money (roughly $9.5 million) to spend on free agents,
their draft position hardly mattered.
Two developments during the MLB 2001
season threatened the prosperity of the 2002 Fire Ants. First,
Griffey suffered through the first of many injury-prone seasons at the age
of 31, accumulating just 364 at-bats. Second, after signing with the
Colorado Rockies in the winter of 2000, Hampton went from a true #1
starter (15-10, 3.14 ERA in 217+ IP in MLB 2000) to a huge liability
(203 IP, 5.41 ERA) in just one year. At a combined salary of $14.5
million, these two players -- locked into expensive, long-term contracts
through the 2007 season -- became enormous burdens to the
Patterson spent the winter jockeying
for a better draft position in some of the later rounds of the draft,
securing Madison's 6th-round pick and Bear Country's 16th-rounder.
He also traded away his second-round pick -- a pick he couldn't afford
to use -- for pitching prospect Brandon Claussen. Madison's
6th-round pick was used to select Shane Reynolds -- a quality
innings-eater with decent trade value -- while Bear Country's pick was
used to select third baseman David Bell. Rich Garces, Michael
Tucker, Jose Paniagua, Brian Roberts and Roberto Hernandez were among
Atlanta's own picks.
In the 2002 season preview, the Fire
Ants were picked to finish in second-place thanks to its solid starting
rotation, lineup and bullpen. Though the team lacked an MVP or Cy
Young candidate, they also seemed to have few holes to exploit, and were
thought to be a trade or two away from serious contention for a playoffs
However, one chapter into the new
season, Atlanta was sporting an atrocious record of 7-21, and Patterson
didn't hesitate to unravel the white flag. Prior to the Chapter
Two deadline, he traded both Reynolds and Long to the Cowtippers for
prospect Jake "The Rake" Gautreau, middle reliever Luis Vizcaino and
low-income starter Paul Byrd. Although Patterson called Gautreau
the "key to the deal," he never played an inning in the BDBL.
Instead, it was Vizcaino (39 IP, 2.08 ERA at $500K in salary in 2003)
and Byrd (15-13, 3.77 ERA in 241 innings at $100K in salary in 2003) who
made this a worthwhile trade for Atlanta.
Less than a month later,
Patterson made a trade that would make an even greater impact on his
franchise's future. The Villanova Mustangs had gotten off to a hot
start, and were looking for an impact bat from the left-hand side.
With early reports suggesting that Griffey was nearly fully recovered
from his injuries, Villanova's second-year GM Tony Chamra felt
comfortable taking a risk on the aging and injury-prone superstar.
In exchange, Patterson not only relieved his franchise of $45 million in
salary, but he acquired two decent young players (Juan Pierre and Scott Schoeneweis) in return. Unfortunately for Chamra, his risk
failed to pay off, as Griffey managed just 197 at-bats in MLB '02, and
166 at-bats in MLB '03 -- at $20 million combined.
At the time of the trade, the BDBL had
just passed a resolution to introduce a new free agent auction system,
and with Griffey's $10 million salary now off the books, and Cirillo
($7MM), Miller ($3MM), Surhoff ($5MM) and Zeile ($5MM) due to leave via
free agency, Patterson was lining himself up to be a high roller in that
auction. But he wasn't done yet.
Just days after dumping one seemingly "untradeable"
contract, Patterson did the impossible yet again when he dumped Mike
Hampton on the New Milford Blazers. Hampton, who had five years
and $46.5 million remaining on his contract, was inexplicably requested
by Blazers GM Billy Romaniello, who apparently had aspirations of
competing in 2002. Patterson jumped all over the offer, and the
Blazers went on to lose 111 games.
Despite losing 99 games in the 2002
season, Patterson finished in third place in the EL GM of the Year
voting, thanks to the trades of Griffey and Hampton.
Heading into the first-ever BDBL free
agent auction, the Fire Ants were sitting on a pile of cash (roughly $38
million) that was second to only the South Carolina Sea Cats.
However, after five days, Patterson found himself with no winning bids
and several holes still remaining on his roster. Desperate to
spend all that cash, Patterson submitted a bid of $15.5 million on
pitcher Greg Maddux, and at long last won his first bid. Maddux
posted a 2.62 ERA in 199+ MLB innings in 2002, but at age 36, and with
downward trends in hits allowed and strikeouts, he was one of the
riskiest free agents on the market.
Patterson's next big purchase was
Garrett Anderson, who had enjoyed a career year in MLB '02
(.306/.332/.539 with 56 doubles) at the age of 30. But with an
inconsistent history of low OBP's, Anderson, too, was considered a risky
signing at $9 million.
In the draft, Patterson signed more
aging veterans with dubious performance records, such as Brad Ausmus
($5M), Livan Hernandez ($3M) and Alex S. Gonzalez ($2M.) In the
end, despite spending $34.5 million on just five free agents, the Fire
Ants appeared to be in no better shape than they were before the
auction. In the 2003 Season Preview, Atlanta was picked to finish
in last place, due in large part to a lineup filled with low-OBP hitters
and a starting rotation that lacked quality beyond the high-priced
The Fire Ants limped out to a 12-16 start
before officially raising the white flag on May 26th, when they made
their first dump trade of the season, sending Luis Vizcaino to the
Madison Fighting Mimes for Trey Hodges.
With Maddux sporting a
4.90 ERA in the '03 MLB season at the end of May, Patterson once again
found himself in the position of trying desperately to find someone
willing to take a cumbersome salary off his hands. Exactly one week later, Patterson found
a taker. Matt Clemm of the Bear Country Jamboree was in desperate
need of an ace for his rotation -- so desperate that he was willing to
take Maddux. Not only did Patterson dump Maddux's salary, but
Clemm was also willing to trade four players -- including Scott
Podsednik -- to acquire the aging ace. The acquisition of Podsednik paid
immediate dividends, as he created over 100 runs (101.7) for the 2004
Atlanta finished the 2003 season with a
record of 69-91 -- 39 games behind in the Hrbek Division. For the
fourth year in a row, the Fire Ants finished in last place. And
heading into the 2004 season, there appeared to be no indication that
that streak would come to an end.
Patterson laid low that winter,
making just two trades. Tino Martinez, who would hit
.283/.364/.477 for Atlanta in '04, was acquired in exchange for young
pitcher Casey Fossum. Then, in a controversial trade with the
Allentown Ridgebacks, Patterson traded cheap starting pitcher Sidney Ponson (along with prospect Jayson Nix) in exchange for four players:
Paul Lo Duca, Mark Hendrickson, Aaron Rowand and Guillermo Quiroz.
At the time, Ponson was coming off his
best MLB season to date (216 IP, 3.75 ERA), and at just $2 million in
salary, he was considered a bargain. Meanwhile, Lo Duca's MLB
performance had been trending downward for four years, Rowand was a
26-year-old outfielder with a spotty minor league track record and no
major league job and Hendrickson was a 29-year-old coming off a poor MLB
second half, with a salary equal to Ponson's.
Patterson defended himself by stating,
"After looking around at other teams in my division, I've decided that
my best chance to compete will be in 2005...I think I helped myself
(with this trade) more than I hurt myself."
While the debate over the merits of
that trade continued, Patterson ultimately enjoyed the last laugh, as
Rowand enjoyed a productive 2005 season, hitting .332/.367/.572 for the
Fire Ants, with 54 doubles, 23 home runs, 100 runs scored, 84 RBIs, 22
stolen bases and 113.1 runs created -- all for only $1.1 million in
salary. Lo Duca (.266/.342/.419, 37 2B, 15 HR, 84 RBI, 79.6 RC)
enjoyed a fine season for Atlanta in '05 as well.
The Fire Ants went into the free agent
auction with $27.9 million in spending money, but only a few holes on
the roster to fill. Yet, despite Patterson's stated goal of
building toward 2005, his first free agent signing was middle reliever Latroy Hawkins at $6 million. Hawkins was coming off a career year
in MLB (77+ IP, 1.86 ERA), but at 31 years old, he was considered a
risky signing, as his salary required that he be signed for the 2005
season as well.
Next, Patterson signed second baseman
Luis Castillo to a $7.5 million salary -- also guaranteeing a minimum
one-year contract at season's end. For a 27-year-old hitter who
made his living off of slapping singles through the infield, this, too,
seemed like a waste of resources for a rebuilding team.
Finally, Bobby Abreu became the third
free agent signed by Patterson in the auction. Abreu was a
perennial all-star, and was as consistent as any player in baseball.
Patterson wrapped up the free agent signing period by signing Scott
Spiezio, Adam Melhuse, Scott Kinkade, Michael Barrett and Antonio Osuna
for a combined $4.5 million, and six other players for $100,000 each.
Patterson wasted no time shedding both
salary and players. Before Opening Day even began, he
shipped off several of the free agents he had just signed, including
Castillo, Spiezio, Melhuse, Kinkade and Barrett. Also gone were
Juan Pierre and Scott Shoeneweis. In exchange, the Fire Ants
received David Wells, Bubba Nelson, Darren Dreifort, John Grabow, Luis
Vizcaino, Tony Armas, Tommy Phelps and Derrick Turnbow.
The acquisition of Wells was most
curious of all. In the final year of his contract, Wells (213 IP,
4.14 ERA in MLB) was a valuable commodity as a full-time quality
starting pitcher. In exchange, Patterson traded Pierre
and Spiezio. At just $2.1 million in salary, and with one year
remaining on his contract, Pierre's stats were nearly identical to
Castillo's -- whom Patterson had just paid $7.5 million to acquire.
And at $2 million in salary, Spiezio (.265/.326/.453 in MLB) was a
reasonably-priced keeper as well.
But Patterson gambled that he would be
able to get more in trade for Wells later
in the year. And that gamble paid off big-time when, just two
chapters later, Wells was traded straight-up to the Gillette Swamp Rats
in exchange for pitching prospect Joe Blanton.
Aside from that trade, Patterson did
little but watch his team slide to its fifth straight last-place finish.
The Fire Ants fell out of the race early, and trailed the first-place
team by 16 games after just two chapters of play. They finished
the 2004 season with a 64-96 record. In his first four and a half
seasons at the helm of the franchise, Patterson owned a miserable record
-- a .410 winning percentage. But all of that was about to change.
Heading into the 2005 season, the Fire
Ants had a lot going for them. In addition to Rowand and Lo Duca,
Abreu enjoyed another terrific MLB season in 2004, and would hit
.291/.428/.504 with 43 doubles, 24 homers, 92 RBIs, 27 stolen bases and
136.9 runs created for Atlanta in '05. Paul Konerko, a 2003 trade
acquisition, bounced back from an off year to hit .265/.335/.488 with 36
homers and 114 RBIs for the Fire Ants. And Coco Crisp, a
28th-round draft pick in 2003, blossomed into a full-time starter,
hitting .301/.359/.449 with 78.2 runs created in his first full BDBL
Staff ace Livan Hernandez, who had been
acquired as a free agent for only $3 million in 2003, would go 13-11
with a 4.25 CERA in 252+ innings. Jaret Wright, a $100,000 flier
taken by Patterson in the 2004 draft, would go 14-6 with a 3.11 CERA in
203+ innings, with 173 strikeouts. And Hawkins, Patterson's
big-money free agent gamble in '04, would save 28 games for the Fire
Ants in 2005, with a 3.95 CERA in 55+ innings. And with a farm
system -- ranked among the top ten in the BDBL for the first time in
franchise history -- stocked with promising prospects like Blanton, Dan Haren,
Jeff Francoeur, Kyle Davies, Guillermo Quiroz and others, the Fire Ants
had enough trade bait to finally put a competitive team on the field.
After four and a half years of misery,
Patterson determined that the time was finally right to "go for it."
That winter, when the perpetually rebuilding Villanova Mustangs placed
superstar shortstop Miguel Tejada on the trading block, Patterson was
among the first to respond. In the end, he walked away with both
Tejada and young closer Chad Cordero in exchange for three very
promising young prospects: Blanton, Haren and Xavier Nady. While
Haren developed into a Cy Young contender, and Blanton became a solid
mid-rotation starter, Tejada carried the Fire Ants in 2005, batting
.311/.354/.530, with 36 doubles, 34 home runs, 113 runs scored, 121 RBIs
and 121.6 runs created. At $10.5 million in salary, Patterson
awarded Tejada with a two-year contract that winter, ensuring that he
would get more than one year of service in exchange for his top
Next, Patterson agreed to yet another
controversial trade with Allentown GM Tom "The Emperor" DiStefano.
As part of a seven-player trade, the Fire Ants traded starter Glendon
Rusch for Mark Mulder. A former Cy Young candidate, Mulder had an
off year in MLB '04, and was in the final year of his contract, while
Rusch's MLB stats were nearly identical at one-fifth the cost.
Mulder, however, gave Atlanta what they needed: innings.
In 240+ innings, Mulder went 16-13 on the season, with a 4.64 CERA, 28
home runs allowed and 103 walks.
One final trade that winter brought
pinch hitter-extraordinaire Todd Hollandsworth (.315/.393/.531 in 143
AB) to Atlanta in exchange for Podsednik (who turned out to be a
With little money left to spend,
Patterson was forced to sit out the auction. What little holes the
team had left were filled in the draft, where Patterson signed veterans
Mark Grudzielanek (.323/.356/.484 in 192 AB for Atlanta), Joe Randa
(.262/.322/.404) and Junior Spivey (.160/.313/.259) with his first three
Atlanta stumbled out to an 11-17 start,
but rebounded with a league-best 19-9 record in Chapter Two.
They swept the Sylmar Padawans in their first interleague series,
putting them just one game behind the Chicago Black Sox in the Hrbek
Division. Overall, Atlanta went 11-5 against their Ozzie League
opponents, and held
onto their slim one-game deficit throughout the chapter, tied with the Akron Ryche for second-place.
With the Black Sox adding to their
stockpile of talent throughout the year, Patterson tried to keep pace.
Prior to Chapter Three, he acquired Ray Durham (.279/.353/.502 in 319 AB
for Atlanta) in exchange for Spivey, Derrick Turnbow and a prospect.
But that would be the final trade of the season for Patterson, as Chicago broke away
from the pack, leaving Atlanta to battle it out with the Ryche for the wild card.
On August 24th, the Fire Ants captured
first place in the wild card race thanks to a 7-1 start to Chapter Five.
At that point, Atlanta owned a 23-9 record since the start of Chapter
Four -- the best record in the Eck League. The Fire Ants closed
out the chapter with a 75-57 record -- one game ahead of Akron.
The wild card race continued right up
to the final series of the season. In that series, which pitted
Atlanta against Akron head-to-head, the Fire Ants needed just one win to
clinch the wild card. In the first game of that series, a two-run
single by Rowand in the bottom of the eighth put Atlanta ahead by a
score of 6-5. Hawkins then came in and closed out the
playoffs-clinching victory by retiring the heart of the Akron lineup.
After five straight last-place finishes (a BDBL record), the Atlanta
Fire Ants were playing November baseball.
Unfortunately for Patterson, the road
to the World Series would not be easy. Atlanta's Division Series
opponents were the Allentown Ridgebacks, who compiled a league-best
record of 102-58, while outscoring their opposition by a league-best 247
runs. Although the Ridgebacks scored 926 runs, and featured a
powerful lineup with no weaknesses, it was their starting rotation that
was feared most of all. Led by eventual EL Cy Young winner Randy
Johnson (22-6, 2.31 ERA in 269+ IP), Roy Oswalt (20-8, 4.19 ERA), Jake
Peavy (15-7, 4.02 ERA) and former Fire Ant Rusch (13-2, 2.96 ERA),
Allentown's rotation ranks among the best of all time.
Despite overwhelming odds, the Fire
Ants shocked the BDBL world when they won Game One. With the score
knotted at 3-3 in the 9th inning, Atlanta scored four runs -- three on a
home run by Rowand off of dominant closer Billy Wagner. Hawkins
then loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but escaped with a
game-ending double play.
Jaret Wright held the Ridgebacks to
just one run on five hits and no walks through six innings in Game Two,
giving the Fire Ants two unlikely wins. Then, with the game tied
at 4-4 in the eighth inning of Game Three, the first seven batters in
the Fire Ants lineup all reached base against a trio of Allentown
relievers (including Wagner), and scored five runs in the inning to run
away with yet another unexpected win.
The Atlanta Fire Ants -- million-to-one
underdogs -- suddenly found themselves up three games to none in a
best-of-seven series against the league's best team. In the history of Major League Baseball, no
team (to that point) had ever lost a series when leading three games to
none, and in the history of the BDBL, only one team (the Chicago Black
Sox in the 2000 World Series) had ever managed this ignominious
But the Ridgebacks refused to roll over
that easily. Atlanta starter Livan Hernandez was pounded for seven
runs in eight innings in Game Four, giving Allentown their first win of
the series. Allentown's bats pounded out seven more runs in Game
Five, while Johnson tossed a complete-game four-hitter for win #2.
In Game Six, the Atlanta bullpen surrendered three runs in the eighth
inning, giving the Ridgebacks a 6-3 win, which evened the series at
three games apiece.
That forced a seventh and deciding
game, with the BDBL's greatest post-season pitcher, Roy Oswalt, on the
hill for Allentown. On the mound for Atlanta was Ted Lilly, who
had gone 11-11 with a 4.20 ERA during the regular season. With the
game tied at one apiece, Allentown scored three runs in the bottom of
the third inning, and then added another run in the fourth. They
carried that 5-1 lead into the eighth inning, when the Fire Ants mounted
a two-out rally. A triple by pinch hitter Charles Thomas (a .223
hitter during the regular season) plated two runs to cut the deficit to
two runs. But Durham then popped out to end the inning, leaving
Thomas stranded on third.
The next inning, Tejada connected for a
one-out double. But he, too, was stranded there when Wagner closed
out the game by retiring Abreu and Konerko on back-to-back ground-outs.
And thus, the magical 2005 Atlanta Fire Ants season came to an end.
The core of the wild-card winning
Atlanta team was in bad shape heading into the winter of 2006. The
heart of the lineup -- Crisp, Durham, Abreu and Tejada -- remained, but
the pitching staff was in shambles. Wright (6.08 ERA in 63+ MLB
innings) proved to be a one-hit wonder, Hernandez bolted to free agency,
and Lilly (5.56 ERA in 126+ MLB IP) suffered through a disappointing and
injury-plagued MLB season.
For the most part, Patterson stood pat
that winter, reluctant to wave the white flag so quickly after he had
finally tasted some BDBL success. He made just two trades in the
pre-season, re-acquiring Rusch from the Ridgebacks, and picking up Brian
Lawrence from the South Carolina Sea Cats in exchange for some spare
parts. Neither trade added much of a lift to the Atlanta pitching
staff, as Rusch went 4-4 with a 6.02 CERA in 111+ innings, while
Lawrence finished the season 5-15 with a 5.01 CERA in 212 innings.
With $30.3 million in spending money,
Patterson entered 44 bids on free agents in the auction. All but
one (Craig Monroe at $3 million) were losing bids. With the team
holding an unfamiliar late pick (20th) in the draft, Patterson spent a
combined $23 million on Scott Eyre, Cory Lidle, Mike Lieberthal, Joe
Crede, Mike Jacobs, Kip Wells, Xavier Nady and Joe Kennedy.
The Fire Ants headed into Opening Day,
2006, with a quality lineup, but a starting rotation of Lawrence, Lidle,
Brandon Claussen, Wells and Rusch. Given that, they were picked to
finish in last place once again in the Hrbek Division. And it
didn't take long for that prediction to come to fruition. The Fire
Ants got off to a 24-32 start after two chapters of play, and by the middle
of May, Patterson found himself placing several star players on the
chopping block once again.
Fortunately, he had plenty of quality
trade bait to peddle, as Tejada, Abreu and Durham were all due to be
free agents at year's end. Patterson negotiated for several weeks,
with Allentown GM Tom DiStefano offering advice behind the scenes.
Finally, a deal was struck, and the Fire Ants sent both Tejada and
Durham (along with others) to the Salem Cowtippers for five players,
including Ian Stewart and Scott Baker. Baker was then immediately
flipped to DiStefano in exchange for young pitchers Clay Buchholz and
At the time of those trades, Stewart
was considered to be among the top prospects in baseball. Earlier
that spring, he had been ranked #4 by Baseball HQ's Deric McKamey, #16
by Baseball Prospectus, #15 by John Sickels and #16 by Baseball America.
But 2006 would be a disappointing season for Stewart, whose performance
suffered due to various injuries. Meanwhile, Buchholz was just a
21-year-old pitching in Low Class-A at the time of the trade. But
he would soon climb up the prospect rankings, and would eventually
become known as one of the finest pitching prospects in the game.
Later that season, Patterson traded
what was left of his marketable talent, dealing Eyre to Villanova for
Bobby Crosby, and Abreu to Corona for Wily Aybar and Jeff Niemann.
In both trades, the timing of the trades (along with new BDBL rules
restricting how much talent could be acquired mid-season) made it more
difficult to get market value in return for these impact players.
The Fire Ants closed out the 2006
season in the oh-too-familiar position of last place, with a record of
66-94. It was the sixth time in franchise history Atlanta finished
in this position, and the fifth time in six seasons since Patterson took
over the franchise.
Heading into 2007, the team's outlook didn't
look much brighter. The pitching staff was still a mess, and the
lineup was now missing every big hitter that had carried the team to the
wild card just two years before.
With little to offer in the way of
trade bait, Patterson once again stood pat, for the most part. He
made just two minor trades, acquiring inning-eating starter Jamie Moyer
and light-hitting utility infielder Yuniesky Betancourt. Moyer
would lead the team in innings in 2007, but posted a 5.31 ERA, while
Betancourt hit just .292/.299/.431 on the season.
In the free agent auction, Patterson
signed Carlos Delgado (.247/.334/.504, 100.2 RC) at $7 million and Edgar Renteria (.253/.321/.374,
75.2 RC) to $5.5
million. Neither player was strong enough to carry the 2007 team,
neither was young enough to have much upside for the future, and due to
their price tags, neither player was likely to generate much interest in
trade. Renteria, however, enjoyed a resurgent season in MLB 2007,
and became valuable trade bait a year later.
In the draft, Patterson spent most of
his money filling holes on his roster with veterans, rather than
looking ahead to 2008 and beyond. His first six picks of the draft
were Claudio Vargas, Gregg Zaun, Marcus Giles, Jason Isringhausen, Casey
Fossum and Todd Jones. Again, due to their ages and performances,
none of these players were likely to help the team much in 2007 or
beyond, and none were likely to generate much interest at the trade
table. Because of this, the Fire Ants were taken to task in the
2007 Season Preview:
The Fire Ants finished in last place five years in a row before
winning the wild card in 2005. Then, they went right back into the
cellar again. What this franchise needs is a master plan. They
need to figure out where they are in the success cycle, then plan
accordingly. Right now, it seems like Atlanta is stuck in the same
cycle as MLB franchises like Kansas City and Pittsburgh, where
instead of stockpiling young players with some upside, they instead
plug holes with expensive, past-their-prime free agents in an
attempt to field a competitive team. It's like riding around in a
leaky raft and patching the holes with duct tape. It'll keep you
from drowning (at least temporarily), but you won't get very far.
The Fire Ants spent $30 million this winter, but you'd never know it
from looking at this team. $12.5 million of that money went to
Delgado and Renteria -- two good bargains at those prices, but
neither is likely to carry this team to the playoffs, and neither is
likely to fetch a lot in return at the trade table. Then, in the
draft, good money was spent on aging mediocrities like Zaun,
Isringhausen, Fossum and Jones. Those players aren't likely to ever
help this team in any way. All they can do is provide enough
innings and at-bats to get through this season. Frankly, there are
much better ways to spend $17 million. The Fire Ants also had more
than $30 million to spend last winter. And that money went to
mediocre, aging veterans like Craig Monroe, Cory Lidle, Mike
Lieberthal, Kip Wells, Xavier Nady, Joe Kennedy, Guillermo Mota,
Heath Bell and Wade Miller. At some point, this team needs to sit
down and draw up a two-year plan involving the acquisition of young
players with MLB experience and upside, and maximizing every penny
spent on salary. Until that happens, this vicious cycle may never
Patterson took those words to heart,
and vowed to formulate a winning strategy for the coming years.
Unfortunately, there was little for him to do as GM, as the team had
little to offer in trade bait. Repeatedly throughout the season,
Patterson's attempts to trade were rebuffed again and again. His
only move as GM over the first four chapters was to acquire Ross Detwiler and Frank Francisco
as free agents.
Finally, in Chapter Five, he found a
taker for light-hitting infielder Maicer Izturis and spare parts
Haigwood and Quiroz. In exchange, he received a low-cost
inning-eater for 2008, starter
Meanwhile, on the field, the Fire Ants
were fulfilling their pre-season predictions by getting off to a
start to the season after the first chapter. Eventually, they
would close out the season with a 58-102 record -- worst in the Eck League,
and second-worst in the BDBL. For the sixth time in seven seasons
at the helm, Gene Patterson was the owner of a last-place team.
suffering for Fire Ants fans was far from over, as 2008 would test the
patience of even the most loyal fan. Atlanta had little to offer
in trade that winter, but Patterson managed to squeeze a ton of value
out of what little he had. In exchange for closer Jason
Isringhausen, Patterson received a pair of soft-tossing young pitchers
in Kevin Slowey and Sean Marshall. Like many of Patterson's trades
throughout history, this trade was heavily criticized at the time, but
has turned out to be greatly beneficial to the franchise, as Slowey
developed into a low-cost top-50 starter during the 2008 MLB season.
That same winter, Patterson flipped
Litsch to the Southern Cal Slyme in what may be the greatest trade in
Patterson's career. In exchange for Litsch, the Fire Ants received
two dirt-cheap pitchers in Ervin Santana and Joey Devine. That
year, Santana blossomed into one of the top 15 pitchers in baseball,
while Devine managed to post a microscopic 0.59 ERA in his first full
Patterson wisely opted to sit out the
auction, passing on the expensive aging veterans in an overinflated
market. However, he was approached with an offer from Salem GM
Glander he couldn't refuse. In exchange for bidding $4 million on
Mike Cameron, Glander offered to trade young hurler John Danks to
Atlanta. Patterson happily obliged, and sent Cameron to Salem
after winning the bid. Danks then became one of the top pitchers
in baseball in MLB '08, at a salary of just $100,000.
In the draft, Patterson again shunned
aging veterans in favor of younger players with upside, such as Mark
Hendrickson, Rocco Baldelli, Felipe Lopez, Coco Crisp, Joe Crede and
Hong-Chi Kuo. While this strategy paid tremendous dividends for
the 2009 Atlanta team, the 2008 team was shaping up to be the worst team
the league had ever seen.
Heading into Opening Day, the Fire Ants
sported a pitching staff filled with inexperienced young pitchers
(Marshall, Santana, Hendrickson, Danks) and lineup that surrounded one
all-star-caliber hitter (Renteria) with several hitters who would have
trouble making the active rosters of the other teams in the league.
The outlook, needless to say, was not good:
Wow. If you thought the '07 Blazers
tested the limits of the definition of "replacement-level team,"
take a look at this '08 Fire Ants team. This is a truly awful team
from one through twenty-five. And unless something really strange
happens (which tends to happen a lot in DMB), Atlanta should break
New Milford's record for losses in a single season. However, not all
is gloom-and-doom. There are several young players who could play a
part in a 2008/2009 Atlanta revival, including John Danks, Rocco
Baldelli, Coco Crisp, Francoeur, Ian Stewart, Clay Buchholz, Joey
Devine and others. With our new rules in place, the Fire Ants could
be looking at a 2008 penalty as steep as $5.5 million. They'd better
turn it around in a hurry, or that penalty will stick!
As expected, 2008 was a brutal season
for Atlanta. The Fire Ants went just 25-55 in the first half, and
talk began heating up of the odds of Atlanta breaking the
once-considered-unbreakable BDBL record of 114 losses, set by the 1999
New Milford Blazers.
Patterson played out the string, while
keeping his focus on the 2009 ballclub. He picked up valuable
infielder Jorge Cantu in the second chapter, and then flipped him to the
Corona Confederates at the four deadline, along with Renteria, Kevin
Correia and disappointing young outfielder Jeff Francoeuer. In
exchange, he received young hurler Max Scherzer and two others.
That same chapter, he sent Crede to Nashville in exchange for top
prospect Mat Gamel. He then immediately flipped Gamel to the
Ridgebacks, getting young starter Andy Sonnanstine in exchange.
Finally, on October 28th, the
inevitable happened. The Fire Ants lost Game #115, setting a new
BDBL single-season record. They finished the season with an
incredible 118 losses, and yet oddly enough appeared well-positioned to
contend in 2009.
The Atlanta Fire Ants franchise lost
more games in the BDBL's first ten seasons than all but one other team.
In ten seasons, they managed an above-.500 record just twice. The
first of those seasons came in the league's very first year, when
original franchise GM Bob Biermann constructed a powerhouse lineup in a
drastic pitcher's park. Although the strategy worked in the short
term, the lack of quality pitching proved to be too difficult a hurdle
The team's next owner, Bob Bruzzone,
handcuffed this franchise with several expensive long-term contracts --
contracts that neither Steve Babula nor Gene Patterson opted to shed
through the Rule 18.13 loophole. By the time Patterson took over
the franchise, it was in very poor shape, and in desperate need of
pitching and young players with upside.
Patterson did a tremendous job in
undoing the mistakes he made by shedding several cumbersome contracts
that many felt were unmovable. More impressively, he did so
without having to sacrifice anything of value. He simply erased
those mistakes from the books.
As impressive as that feat was,
however, Patterson fell into a pattern for several years where he simply
patched the holes in his current roster with experienced veteran players
with little upside and little trade value. And this began a
vicious cycle, where his teams would remain barely competitive in the
current season, while having little to look forward to the following
Making matters worse, the Atlanta farm system
failed to produce a single player that made an impact to the franchise,
either as a member of the Fire Ants or as trade bait. The #1 prospects
in the Fire Ants farm system from 2000-2006 (as ranked by the BDBL Farm
Report) were Ben Petrick, Nick Neugebauer, Jason Arnold, Guillermo
Quiroz, Jeff Francoeuer and Mike Jacobs (who carried a $3 million
salary.) To date, that group has produced just 307.3 runs created
(mostly from Francoeuer) and 43.1 innings (all from Neugebauer.)
Every once in a while, however, the
stars align and everything falls into place. That is what happened
in 2005, when several players enjoyed unexpectedly good MLB seasons in
2004, including Livan Hernandez and Jaret Wright. Patterson saw
the opportunity to compete, and he acquired the key players he needed to
do so. But it cost him the franchise's two best prospects in Danny
Haren and Joe Blanton, and that sent the franchise back to the cellar
for the next three years.
Then, in 2008, Patterson bit the bullet and suffered through the worst season in league
history with the single-minded vision of building a long-term winner.
And through acquiring several young impact players that have since
become the foundation of
a multi-year playoffs-caliber team (an accomplishment for which
Patterson deserved to win the EL GM of the Year award), he executed that
At press time, the Atlanta Fire Ants
franchise is well-positioned to compete in 2009 and beyond. Their farm system is now filled
with some of the brightest young prospects in the game, and their roster
is filled with cheap, young stars with significant upside.
Atlanta's next ten years will undoubtedly be more successful (and fun)
than their first ten.