BOCA RATON, FL -
History was made today when Bryan Sakolsky, owner of the Ft.
Lauderdale Marlins, stepped to the podium and announced the first
ever selection in the Big Daddy Baseball League: Alex Rodriguez.
And that is how it all began.
selection of A-Rod was considered to be a no-brainer at the time. Just 22
years old, Rodriguez had already won a major league batting title, placed in the top
ten in MVP voting twice, and had already hit over 100 home runs.
He was coming off an MLB season in which he had hit .310/.360/.560, with 42
homers and 46 stolen bases, making him only the third 40/40 player in
baseball history. And, as if that weren't enough, he also featured "Ex" range at shortstop,
making him a five-tool superstar.
Over the next ten years, A-Rod would
hit an astounding .294/.385/.571 with 456 home runs, 1,225 RBIs and
1,343.3 runs created -- all for the same franchise. He was awarded
a 10-year, $100 million contract in the winter of '99, and he played
every one of those seasons as a member of the Bear Country Jamboree
Drawing the #1 pick in the draft
allowed Sakolsky the advantage of owning the premier franchise player in
baseball, but it also meant that he would
have to wait 47 more picks before he could make another selection.
By the time the draft snaked its way back to the Marlins (more than a week
later), most of the top starting pitchers in the game were long gone.
But Sakolsky's long-term strategy became crystal clear over the next
several rounds, as he loaded his roster with young hitters with ample
upside potential, including Ray Durham (26 years old), Jim Thome (27),
Johnny Damon (24), Rondell White (26) and Fernando Tatis (23.)
Sakolsky didn't begin to form his
pitching staff until pick #7, when he selected 25-year-old Brad Radke, and it wasn't until the 21st round that he finally
selected the tenth pitcher on his staff (the 25-year-old Julian Tavarez.)
In between, he loaded up with more youth in Jose Cruz, Jr. (24), Pat Hentgen (29), Dave Nilsson (28), Hideo Nomo (29), Shawn Estes
(25), Matt Anderson (21), Paul Konerko (22), James Baldwin (26), Esteban
Yan (23), Jay Buhner (33), Terry Adams (25) and Brian Meadows (22).
Out of his first 25 picks of the draft,
only two players -- Buhner and 24th-round pick Todd Jones (age 30) --
were over the age of 29. Clearly, Sakolsky's vision was to build a
long-term dynasty. A 31-year-old stockbroker from Boca Raton, Florida, Sakolsky
stated in his application that he wanted to join the BDBL in order to
have "as much fun as possible." But soon after joining the league,
he began to wear out his welcome. In mid-December, as the first
round of the draft was underway, Sakolsky joined forces with two friends
he had met in another Diamond Mind league, Chuck Shaeffer and Jeff
Clink. Together, the three of them relentlessly lobbied to change
several rules -- including draft rules while the draft was in progress.
When they didn't get their way, they often responded with sarcastic
remarks that rubbed several people in the league the wrong way.
The Marlins went just 11-14 in Chapter
One, but bounced back with a 20-10 record in Chapter Two.
Just as the second chapter was coming to a close, Sakolsky (and Shaeffer)
resigned from the league. In their resignation letter (which they
later leaked to the entire league), they accused several teams of
cheating, scolded Commissioner Glander for a pair of trades he made and
predicted that the league would never last due to its flawed salary
structure and set of rules.
Shortly after Sakolsky's resignation,
Chris Klug was named as the new owner of the Marlins franchise,
following a league vote. A
45-year-old game designer from Freehold, New Jersey, Klug was selected
due to his experience with computer simulations and his friendship with
fellow Oakville Marauders GM Bob Biermann. However, less than two
later, Klug himself resigned after he was directed to replay a series
in which he did not follow his opponent's instructions.
Once again, the Ft. Lauderdale
franchise found itself without an owner. But rather than rush to
fill that void with yet another temporary owner, the league decided to
allow the franchise to be managed strictly by MP through the end of the
season, while a search for a more permanent owner was conducted.
With all of this turmoil surrounding
the franchise, the team's record suffered as well. The Marlins
went just 30-46 through the next three chapters, as their pitching
collapsed. Not only was the team suffering on the
field, but off the field the absence of reliable and active ownership
meant that the Marlins made zero trades or free agent acquisitions during the 1999 season to
improve their 2000 ballclub.
The team finished with a record of
69-91 -- 17 games out of first place in the Petralli Division. They
led the Eck League in runs scored (835), but finished last in the EL in
ERA at 5.47 and allowed a whopping 954 runs -- 75 more than any other
team in the league.
On October 21st, the league finally
found the man to take over the beleaguered Marlins franchise. Joe
Brennan, a 39-year-old high school teacher from Rego Park, New York, became the third different
owner of the franchise, which he renamed the Queensboro Kings.
Brennan's first act as GM was a pair of
dubious trades made in the winter before the 2000 season. First,
Brennan sent Damon to the Gillette Swamp Rats in exchange for middle
reliever Mike Jackson. Damon was coming off another all-star
season, and at just $5 million in salary, he was a bargain. And at
just 26 years of age, he had several outstanding seasons ahead of him. Jackson was 35
years old and carried the same $5 million salary as Damon. He
pitched just one season for the Kings, and posted a 5.44 CERA in 75+
innings, with 16 home runs allowed.
In his second trade, Brennan sent Corey
Koskie to the Stamford Zoots in exchange for another middle reliever, Dennis Cook. Koskie posted an .801 OPS in part-time duty (367 AB's) for Stamford in
2000, while Cook posted a 4.92 ERA in 89+ innings for Queensboro -- at a
salary $1.9 million greater than Koskie's.
With the Kings spending $7 million on
mediocre middle relievers, they had little room under the salary cap to
spend on free agents that winter. But, as the league was only two
years old, no team went into the 2000 season with many holes to fill. In the 2000 Season Preview, the Kings
were picked to finish in second place in their division, based on an
improved starting rotation, led by Radke (14-12, 3.59 ERA for Queensboro)
and rookie Kris Benson (15-9, 3.51 ERA in 210+ IP), and a strong
The Kings battled with the Kentucky Fox
for first place in the newly-renamed Person Division throughout the first two
chapters. But when the two teams faced each other for eight
head-to-head contests at the end of Chapter Two, the Fox emerged with
seven wins, putting the Kings four games behind in the division.
By the all-star break, Kentucky's lead had grown to eight games over the
Along the way, Kings starter Shawn
Estes became the second pitcher in BDBL history to throw a
His no-hitter came against a very strong Cleveland Rocks lineup that
included Roberto Alomar, Frank Thomas, Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero
and Steve Finley -- a lineup that scored 894 runs during the regular
season. It wasn't the prettiest no-hitter ever thrown, as Estes
walked eight batters (and struck out seven), while throwing 137 pitches,
but it was a no-hitter nevertheless.
The Kings finished the 2000 season five
games behind in the division, with a record of 82-78. That season
featured a heated race for the EL wild card that ended in a one-game
playoff between the Phoenix Predators and Cleveland Rocks. In
total, six different EL teams finished with 82-87 wins that season.
Throughout the season, Brennan failed
to execute a single trade to help his team down the stretch. Nor
did he acquire a single free agent during the season. For the
second year in a row, the Kings' roster remained static throughout the entire regular season. While other
teams were either in "go for it" or "rebuild" mode, the Kings were
languishing in Baseball Purgatory -- too good to pack it in, but not
good enough to make the playoffs.
On November 6th, Brennan added his name
to the long list of former owners of this franchise. He had all
but disappeared throughout the second half of the season, and explained
that he had been having problems with his computer. He cited these
problems as his reason for resigning from the league.
very next day, the league
welcomed Matt Clemm as the fourth owner of the franchise. Clemm was a 24-year-old "customer care
specialist" with Yahoo!, and a longtime friend of Los Altos Undertakers
owner Jeff Paulson. He renamed the franchise the Bear Country Jamboree,
which was then moved to the Ozzie League, where Clemm and Paulson could
Because hardly any transactions had
been made by the previous two owners, the team Clemm inherited was
almost entirely built by Sakolsky in the inaugural draft. And each
of Sakolsky's first five picks in that draft proved to be big
contributors to Clemm's 2001 team:
Rodriguez hit .298/.415/.605, with
49 home runs, 135 RBIs, 109 walks, 11 stolen bases and 151.7 runs
Durham, in the final year of his
contract, hit just .250/.334/.399 (numbers that paled in comparison
to his MLB performance), but played solid defense.
Thome enjoyed his first
MVP-caliber season, hitting .292/.423/.600, with 40 doubles, 42
homers, 123 RBIs, 121 walks and 146.5 RC.
Damon also enjoyed the best season
of his BDBL career, hitting .325/.382/.518 with 22 homers, 132 runs
scored and 140.6 RC -- but, thanks to Brennan, that performance was
for the Swamp Rats.
And Rondell White hit
.307/.364/.495 for the Jamboree, with 15 homers and 65.8 RC
in only 368 at-bats.
Together, the four remaining players
from the group above hit a combined .286/.391/.530, with 117 home runs,
385 runs scored, 378 RBIs, 325 walks and 25 stolen bases for the 2001
Jamboree. In addition, Carlos Lee (Sakolsky's second pick in the
1999 farm draft) hit .298/.341/.471 for the Jamboree, with 18 home runs
and 70 RBIs.
On the mound, Sakolsky's fourth-round
farm pick, Kris Benson, led all Jamboree starters in 2001 with a 3.41
ERA in 221+ innings. Hideo Nomo -- Sakolsky's 10th pick of the
inaugural draft -- went 14-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 194+ innings. And
Brad Radke (the 7th pick of that draft) led the team with 17 wins
(against 13 losses) and 230 innings pitched.
Clemm's first decision as GM of the
Jamboree was to release Tatis, Watson and Nilsson using the Rule 18.13
escape clause. Then, he made four trades that winter, picking up
minor role players
Frank Catalanotto, Turk Wendell and Paul Lo Duca among others. He then used his
first two picks in the draft to add
Kenny Lofton and Benito Santiago.
for Clemm, when his franchise was moved to the Ozzie League, it was to
the Butler Division. And that division was ruled by the
Stamford Zoots, who had won the BDBL championship each of the prior two
years. In 2001, the Madison Fighting
Mimes had also assembled a very strong team, and as a result, the
Jamboree were picked to finish in third place in the 2001
Season Preview despite having a team that was described as "very, very solid with very few [weaknesses.]"
The Jamboree began the season with a
16-12 record in Chapter One -- only one win behind the Zoots. Unlike past GMs in franchise history,
however, Clemm was not content to merely sit on his hands throughout the
entire regular season. Prior to
the Chapter Two trading deadline, Clemm made a key trade with the
Marlboro Hammerheads, adding closer Robb Nen to his bullpen, along with
Aaron Boone. In exchange, he parted with prospects Phil Nevin,
Ruben Rivera and Chris Brock -- none of whom ever materialized as impact
players. Nen compiled a tidy 1.52 ERA in 65+
innings for the Jamboree, saving 29 games in just five chapters.
And Boone hit .275/.338/.482, with 10 homers and 37 RBIs in just 80
The following chapter, Bear Country
pulled within one game of the Zoots after pounding Stamford's legendary
ace Randy Johnson, and handing him his first loss of the season.
But just five days later, they were torched in two games by the hapless
New Milford Blazers by scores of 11-0 and 11-5. Those two losses
pushed them five games behind Stamford. It was a deficit they
would never make up.
While the division race was all but
over, however, the wild card was still up for grabs. Throughout
the summer, Bear Country waged a hard-fought battle against the
Litchfield Lightning and Gillette Swamp Rats for that final Ozzie League
playoff spot. In early September, the Jamboree faced off for two
games against the Swamp Rats, with the wild card lead on the line.
Bear Country's bullpen -- which had been its strength since the
acquisition of Nen -- imploded at just the wrong time, and the Jamboree
lost ground in the race. They would finish the season with a
record of 94-66 -- just two games behind the Lightning
in the wild card race, and 18 games behind the mighty Zoots.
There was a staggering difference between the Jamboree and Lightning,
however. While the Lightning outscored their opponents by just 33
runs that season, the Jamboree ranked third in the OL with a 114-run
differential. Bear Country outperformed their Pythagorean record
by just two wins, while the Lightning outperformed theirs by a whopping
By the winter of 2002, Clemm had become
the longest-tenured owner in franchise history. Durham and Nen
became free agents at the end of that 2001 season. Benson missed
the entire 2001 MLB season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
And Brennan had inexplicably awarded a contract of only one year to
Carlos Lee, so he was gone, too. But A-Rod, Thome and Radke
remained from the Sakolsky Era, giving the Jamboree three potent
Rodriguez enjoyed yet another MVP-caliber
season in 2002, hitting .319/.418/.672 with 57 homers, 130 RBIs and
165.2 RC for the Jamboree. Thome also reached a career-high in homers
(53), while hitting .292/.418/.619 with 147.6 RC overall. And Clemm's
32nd-round selection of Lo Duca a
year earlier proved prescient, as the catcher enjoyed a career year,
hitting .308/.361/.470 with 18 home runs.
That winter, Clemm enjoyed a quiet
pre-season, making only two minor trades for Steve Trachsel and
Neifi Perez. Then, in the fifth round of the farm draft, Clemm became the first GM in BDBL
history to draft a player
who was still playing in Japan at the time. That player's name was Hideki
Matsui, and he was rumored to be coming to the U.S. at some point over
the next couple of years.
In the 2002 Season Preview, Bear
Country was predicted to finish in third place behind the Mimes and
Zoots. The Jamboree began the season with a 15-13 record in Chapter
One, and at the all-star break, they found themselves at the top of the OL wild card race by one game over their division rivals, the Fighting
Just before the all-star break
deadline, Clemm made two trades to bolster his team down the stretch.
First, he sent two non-prospects (Pokey Reese and Vladimir Nunez) to the
Great Lakes Sphinx for inning-eater Tim Wakefield and stud reliever Chad
Fox. Then, he turned around and traded Fox straight-up to the
Salem Cowtippers for MLB 20-game winner Jamie Moyer. Wakefield
went 5-7 down the stretch, with a 4.04 ERA in 84+ innings, while Moyer
went 8-4 with a 4.56 ERA in 128+ innings.
Clemm also made BDBL history that chapter
when he acquired 16-year-old Lastings Milledge as a free agent. Five
months after making Hideki Matsui the first NPL player in the BDBL, Milledge
became the first high
school junior ever to be selected in the BDBL. Two chapters later,
Milledge was traded (along with Boof Bonser and Tom Wilson) to the
Cowtippers for the legendary Willie Harris. That same chapter,
both Harris and Matsui were packaged together and sent to Gillette in
exchange for John Burkett.
Despite the three key additions to
their rotation, the Jamboree went just 43-37 in the second half -- the
worst record in the Butler Division -- while the
Fighting Mimes ran away with the wild card by going 48-32 (.600.)
Burkett went 7-3 with a 2.67 ERA in 84+ innings for Bear Country before
leaving to free agency. Milledge quickly became one of the top
prospects in baseball, ranking as high as #9 on Baseball America's top
prospects list (in 2006.) And Matsui enjoyed several low-cost
all-star seasons for the Swamp Rats franchise.
Clemm took an enormous gamble by
sacrificing two prime trading chits in exchange for 84 innings, and that
gamble failed to pay off, as the Jamboree finished the season four games
behind in the wild card race, with a record of 87-73.
the 2003 season, Bear Country was once again expected to be a
competitive team, but with Stamford and Madison expected to be
formidable competition once again, the Jamboree were again
predicted to finish in third-place in the Season Preview.
As always, A-Rod enjoyed another MVP-caliber MLB season, and Thome was
returning for his final year under his contract after another
extraordinary MLB season.
On the mound, Bear Country's top two
starters were acquired via trade during the 2002 season. The same chapter Clemm traded
Milledge and Matsui, he also made another trade with the Southern Cal
Slyme, where he had acquired Randy Wolf in exchange for three non-prospects
(Alex Sanchez, Ken Huckaby and Kevin Grybowski.) And after posting
a 2.81 ERA in 163+ innings in MLB '02 (as a hybrid starter/reliever),
Wakefield had become the team's new ace.
Clemm made a pair of trades in the
winter of 2003. First, Lo Duca was jettisoned to Oakland in
exchange for Erubiel Durazo, Chris Reitsma, Pedro Astacio and Jason
LaRue. Next, Moyer was sent to Los Altos in exchange for Jim Mecir,
Todd Hollandsworth and Ken Harvey. By doing so, Clemm was taking a
page out of the Stamford Zoots playbook, exchanging two full-time
starters in exchange for several part-time role players. Both
trades proved to be of great benefit to the team, as nearly every player
acquired by the Jamboree contributed in his own way. Reitsma went
11-2 with a 3.15 ERA in 142+ innings for Bear Country in '03.
Mecir went 7-2 with a 3.29 ERA in 65+ innings. Hollandsworth hit
.243/.349/.421 with 16 homers in 378 at-bats. And Durazo hit
.247/.381/.500 with 13 homers in just 194 at-bats.
That winter, the BDBL entered into a
new era of free agency, where an auction system was adopted as the new
method of signing the top free agents. But the Jamboree were all
but shut out of this radical new exercise, as they went into the auction
with just $16.1 million to spend on 15 players. On the fourth day of
the auction, two closers went on the block: Octavio Dotel and Chris Hammond. Just to be safe, Clemm placed a $5 million bid on both
pitchers, and at the end of the day, he was shocked to learn that he'd
won both bids.
Both Dotel (96+ IP, 1.96 ERA, 41 SVs)
and Hammond (79+ IP, 2.38 ERA, 5 SVs) earned every penny of their
salaries for the Jamboree; however, those two signings left very little
money with which to fill in the rest of the roster. Clemm did the best he
could with limited resources by signing John Thomson in Round 6 of the
free agent draft and Mark McLemore in Round 11. Both players would
play key roles for the 2003 Jamboree, as Thomson would go 13-8 on the
season, with a 3.68 ERA in 185+ innings, and McLemore would hit
.261/.385/.361 overall, in 299 at-bats.
Bear Country bolted out of the gate,
going 19-9 in Chapter One. Unfortunately, that blazing-hot start
was only good for second-best in their division, as the Zoots went 20-8.
The Jamboree continued their hot streak in the second chapter, winning
eight games in a row at one point to pull themselves into a virtual tie
for first place. With the Madison Fighting Mimes just two games
behind them, the Butler Division race was shaping into the best pennant
race in the BDBL early in the 2003 season.
Madison upped the ante by trading for
Ivan Rodriguez, and the Zoots saw that bet and raised it by acquiring
ace Derek Lowe. Bear Country finished the second chapter in the
same spot they began: one game behind Stamford. The Jamboree then
went 16-10 in Chapter Three, and went into the all-star break with a
49-31 record (.613) -- three games behind Stamford.
At the mid-season trading deadline,
Clemm made his big move, adding ace Greg Maddux (a $15.5 million free agent
signing in the off-season) from the Atlanta Fire Ants. At the time
of the trade, Maddux owned a 4.63 ERA in the first half of the 2003 MLB
season, so this trade was deemed to be a huge risk for the Jamboree.
As such, the cost to acquire Maddux was only Scott Podsednik (who had
been picked up by Clemm as a free agent just six weeks before) and three
role players (Eddie Perez, Carlos Febles and Vinny Castilla.)
Maddux was quite simply outstanding for the Jamboree in the second half,
going 10-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 112+ innings.
The Jamboree cruised to their first
playoff appearance by going 50-30 (.625) in the second half, and easily
captured the OL wild card by a dozen games over the Salem Cowtippers.
They finished the 2003 season with an impressive 99 wins and the
second-best runs differential (171) in the Ozzie League.
Appropriately enough, Clemm then met his old friend, Paulson,
in the OL Division Series. Moyer, who had been traded to Los Altos
by the Jamboree in the pre-season, got the Game One start for Los Altos
after going 20-7 with a 3.71 ERA during the regular season. Bear
Country countered with their own pre-season acquisition, Chris Reitsma,
who allowed five earned runs in 5+ innings in Game One to take the loss.
Two untimely errors then gave Maddux the loss in Game Two, and the
Jamboree headed back home, down two games to none.
From there, however, the Jamboree
pitching took over, allowing just 10 runs on 32 hits over the final four
games of the series. Bear Country took all four games, with
winning Game Six with eight stellar innings of work, sending them onto a
League Championship Series against the dreaded Zoots of Stamford.
It was just another typical year for
Stamford. They won 115 games in 2003, breaking the all-time BDBL record.
They won nearly 80% of their games (78.8%) after the all-star break.
And they outscored their opponents by 267 runs
-- nearly 100 runs more than the next best team (Bear Country) in the OL.
Nevertheless, Bear Country managed to
win Game One thanks to a five-run rally in the seventh inning. The
two teams then traded wins in Games Two, Three and Four. Stamford
then eked out a win in Game Five on a two-run blast by career backup
infielder Chris Woodward.
Then, one game away from elimination, Clemm elected to give the starting assignment to reliever Mike Crudale.
Crudale was a controversial choice because he had thrown only 52.2
innings in MLB '02, and was therefore ineligible to start under BDBL
rules. However, a loophole had been discovered earlier in the 2003
season, and because of the way a "starting pitcher" was defined, a
pitcher like Crudale (who started one out of 49 games in MLB) was
technically immune to this rule. Despite (or, karmically, because
of) the attempt to circumvent
the rulebook, Crudale was pounded for two hits
and five walks in 1.2 innings before he was lifted for starter Randy
The Jamboree held a 5-1 lead in the
fifth inning. With Wolf still on the mound, Stamford scored a run
on three straight hits and a walk. Clemm then lifted Wolf in favor
of Chad Paronto (himself an extreme short-usage reliever.)
Stamford manager Paul Marazita countered by calling upon pinch hitter
Gregg Colbrunn, who then deposited a Paronto pitch into the bleachers
for a grand slam home run. The Jamboree eventually lost by a score
of 9-5, bringing an end to their fairytale season.
The winter of 2004 was particularly
rough for Clemm and the Jamboree. Wolf and Thomson suffered
through poor MLB seasons, and neither was expected to be an
above-average BDBL pitcher. Wakefield left via free agency.
Dotel was traded for prospects that winter, and Hammond didn't survive
Cutdown Day, leaving the Bear Country bullpen more than a little bare.
And with Thome gone to free agency after five years of faithful service,
the always-potent Jamboree offense was reduced to A-Rod surrounded by a
bunch of mediocrities.
Clemm was able to dump Maddux's bloated
salary, but only by agreeing to take on Sammy Sosa's equally-bloated $14 million
salary in return (saving just $1.5 million.) On the plus side, Clemm figured to be a major player in the auction, with $27 million to
spend. His first purchase was pitcher Hideo Nomo, signed for $9.5
million. At 34 years of age, Nomo had posted back-to-back MLB
seasons of 200+ innings and a sub-3.40 ERA, and seemed to be a low-risk
acquisition. But his career would take a sharp downward turn that
year, as he then posted an 8.25 ERA in MLB '04 and a 7.24 ERA in his
final MLB season in 2005.
Clemm spent another $4.5 million on
third baseman Joe Randa in the auction and $5 million on Preston Wilson
in the draft. Another $5 million was spent on Jason Isringhausen
and Rod Beck, and $2 million was spent on Sterling Hitchcock, Danny
Bautista and Rick Reed. Clearly, none of these free agents was
acquired for his potential impact value to the future of the Jamboree
franchise. But Clemm had won 85+ games in each of the past three
seasons, and he was determined to "go for it" in 2004.
There was, of course, a little extra
motivation involved in this decision. The prior September, the league
had voted in favor of radical divisional realignment. Finally, after
five years of fighting an uphill battle against the Zoots, the Jamboree were shifted into
the "All-California" Griffin Division, where they would go head-to-head
against Paulson and the Los Altos Undertakers, plus the Sylmar Padawans
and Silicon Valley CyberSox. More than simply wins and losses,
pride was now at stake for Clemm.
The newly-aligned Griffin Division race
began in an unusual fashion, with all four teams being outscored by the
competition over the first two and a half months of the season. On
April 11th, the Jamboree took over sole possession of first place after
sweeping the Salem Cowtippers. But the Jamboree's reign didn't
last long, as the Undertakers reclaimed the lead by sweeping the
Manchester Irish Rebels three days later. Los Altos finished the
chapter with a stunning 21-7 record and never looked back. From
Chapter Three through the end of the season, the Undertakers played .663
baseball, and won 22 games more than Bear Country. While Los Altos
finished with 106 wins (most in the BDBL), the Jamboree finished ten
games under .500 at 75-85.
Unfortunately, Clemm failed to
recognize (or acknowledge) the direction his team's season was heading,
and at the Chapter Three deadline he traded three of the team's top
prospects (Laynce Nix, Chris Reitsma and Koyie Hill) to Silicon Valley
in exchange for free-agent-to-be Jarrod Washburn. Washburn went
just 5-7 with a 4.42 ERA in 134+ innings for Bear Country down the
stretch. And while none of those three prospects ever amounted to
much, it was trade bait poorly spent.
A chapter later, with the Undertakers
clearly running away with the division, Clemm made a controversial
white-flag trade with the Allentown Ridgebacks. In exchange for
Sosa, Beck, Hitchcock, Rick Reed and Fred McGriff, Bear Country received
pitching prospects Merkin Valdez, Scott Schoeneweis and Chad Gaudin,
plus former top prospect Ben Grieve. The centerpiece to the trade,
Valdez, had been ranked the #40 prospect in baseball by Baseball America
that spring, but he would pitch a total of just 1.2 innings in his MLB
career. None of the other players Bear Country received in this
trade would ever help the Bear Country franchise in any way. In
fact, given Schoeneweis' 8.01 ERA in 111+ innings in 2005, this trade
hurt the franchise more than it helped.
The situation was bleak for the
Jamboree heading into the winter of 2005. Rodriguez was
still the centerpiece of the lineup, though he suffered through an
"off-year" his first year with the Yankees, batting "just"
.286/.375/.512 with 36 homers -- his lowest OPS since he was a
21-year-old in 1997. Sosa's bloated salary was now history, but
the team was stuck with Nomo's $9.5 million salary. And Thomson
(198+ IP, 3.72 ERA) was the only viable starter on the Jamboree roster.
The bullpen was barren, and the only support for Rodriguez in the lineup
were the thoroughly-mediocre Carlos Pena (.241/.338/.472) and Brian
The Bear Country farm system ranked
among the worst in the BDBL from 2000-2004, ranking among the bottom
five in the annual BDBL Farm Report in each of those years. Since
Sakolsky's brilliant farm draft in 1999, which produced three impact
players for the franchise, only one impact player emerged from the
Jamboree farm. And that player -- Hideki Matsui -- had been traded
for a two-chapter rental.
Unlike the winter of 2004, when some
hope remained that the Jamboree would field a competitive team, the 2005
season would clearly be a rebuilding year. With the franchise in
desperate need of an infusion of youth, Clemm made three trades in the
winter of 2005 to give his team just that.
First, Thomson was sent to the
Wapakoneta Hippos in exchange for John Lackey and Felix Diaz.
Lackey was a 25-year-old pitcher who'd thrown 198+ innings in each of
the past two seasons, sporting ERAs of 4.63 and 4.67. But he would
become a low-cost ace of the Jamboree for the next two years, despite
numbers that paled in comparison to his MLB performance.
Perhaps due to Bear Country's oppressive home ballpark (modeled after
Wrigley Field in Chicago), Lackey went just 17-23 for Bear Country in
2006 and 2007 before he was traded in mid-2007.
Next, Hollandsworth was sent packing to
the Atlanta Fire Ants for 28-year-old Scott Podsednik. While
Podesednik was never a star (posting OPS's of 605 and 689 in his two
full seasons with the Jamboree), he provided at-bats, speed and defense
at a reasonable salary. Finally, Roberts, Gregg Zaun, Jamey Carroll and
Fernando Nieve were packaged to the Marlboro Hammerheads in exchange for
Kevin Youkilis, Jodi Gerut, Jason Christensen and Dan Wheeler.
Youkilis, a 25-year-old who was dubbed the "Greek God of Walks" by Billy
Beane, turned out to be the most valuable player involved in that trade,
though he was traded a year later.
While the Jamboree had very little
talent heading into the 2005 season, they did have a good amount of
money to spend in the auction and draft. Unfortunately, they spent
most of that money on aging veterans. $6 million went to
30-year-old Jose Vidro, whose career quickly went into a nosedive soon
after. $5.5 million went to 37-year-old Luis Gonzalez, who had one
decent year left in his career.
Another $5.5 million went to 36-year-old Sammy Sosa, who hit just
.221/.295/.376 in MLB '05. Not only did those three veterans cost
the Jamboree a total of $17 million, but because they were all "Type H"
players, Bear Country was locked into spending another $17 million on
them in 2006 unless they could somehow get rid of them.
Clemm's auction spending spree wasn't
done, however. He also spent $6.5 million on pitcher Brad Penny.
At 26 years old, Penny wasn't exactly an aging veteran. But he was
considered to be a risk, given the fact that he pitched just 11.2 innings
in the final two months of the 2004 MLB season due to two separate
injuries to his pitching arm. With rumors spreading all winter
about questionable MRIs and unreported injuries, Penny was far from a
sure bet to make any sort of positive contribution in BDBL '06.
As such, Clemm immediately regretted
signing Penny, and posted his availability on the BDBL forum almost
immediately after signing him. He soon found a taker in the
Salem Cowtippers, who offered prospect Kendry Morales. Morales was
a 22-year-old switch-hitting phenom from Cuba, who had just defected the previous summer. Before he had ever played a
single game in the U.S., Morales was ranked the #76 prospect in baseball
by Baseball America that winter.
Clemm made another trade before Opening
Day, sending Vidro (along with Quintin McCracken) to the Chicago Black
Sox for Chipper Jones and Roberto Alomar. The 33-year-old Jones
had an injury-plagued 2004 MLB season, in which he hit .248/.362/.485 in
just 472 at-bats. At $10 million in salary, Jones had one year
remaining on his contract, and Clemm was banking on Jones making a full
recovery. Unfortunately, Jones' 2005 MLB season was cut even
shorter by injuries, as he managed just 358 at-bats.
The 2005 BDBL season was as nightmarish
as expected for the Jamboree. Prior to that season, the league
voted to reward or penalize teams based on their number of wins and
losses that season. The Jamboree's main goal heading into the
season was to avoid the harshest of those penalties, which triggered
after 110 losses. They barely managed to attain that goal by
losing 108 games. The once-great Bear Country offense hit just
.240/.317/.408 as a team, while the pitching staff allowed over 1,000
runs (1,006 to be exact), while posting a 5.78 team ERA.
Unfortunately for Jamboree fans, the
2006 BDBL season wasn't looking very promising, either. The team
had very little trade bait to offer in 2005, so no impact talent was
added during the regular season. On the positive side, Lackey (209
IP, 3.44 ERA, 199 Ks in MLB) had blossomed into a bona-fide ace, Rodriguez
(.321/.421/.610) bounced back with an MVP year, and Richie Sexson, a
6th-round flier taken by Clemm in the '05 draft, also bounced back from
injury to hit .263/.369/.541 with 39 homers.
On the negative side, the lineup was
filled with aging veterans on the downside of their careers, from Sosa
to Mike Piazza to Luis Gonzalez. The back end of the starting
rotation was very weak, and there was little depth in the bullpen and
bench. Making matters worse, there was very little trade bait on
the roster to help the team's rebuilding effort.
Nevertheless, in what was considered to
be an extremely weak division, the Jamboree were picked to
finish in second place behind the Sylmar Padawans. That winter,
Clemm made a pair of trades prior to the draft. First, he sent
prospect Kevin Youkilis to the Los Altos Undertakers in exchange for
middle reliever Russ Springer. This would become yet another
costly mistake, as Youkilis would become a cheap and valuable
full-time starter for many years to come.
Next, Clemm was able to jettison
Chipper Jones' $10 million salary to the self-flagellating New Milford
Blazers in exchange for starter Chris Capuano, infielder Rich Aurilia,
and a $5.5 million penalty in the form of Magglio Ordonez. Capuano
would become a valuable, low-cost innings-eater for the Jamboree in 2006
(228+ IP, 4.02 ERA) and 2007 (240+ IP, 4.87 ERA), while Aurilia was later flipped to
the Salem Cowtippers for Vinny Castilla and prospect Alberto Callaspo.
In the auction, Clemm's one and only
signing was the 37-year-old Piazza, at what was considered to be a
bargain-basement price of $3.5 million. Roughly six weeks later,
Piazza was sent to Salem in exchange for 22-year-old pitching prospect
Bolstered by the second-place
prediction in the pre-season preview, Clemm traded away another good,
young prospect (Dustin Pedroia) prior to Opening Day, getting aging
veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski in exchange. But after going 7-21 in
Chapter One, Clemm would once again find himself looking toward the
future, beginning with the trades of Piazza and Aurilia at the Chapter
By the all-star break, the Jamboree
were 18 games behind in the Griffin Division race, and any hope of
seeing the playoffs was long gone. With the second pick in the Chapter
Four free agent draft, Clemm selected reliever Ramon Ramirez with his
one and only farm pick, passing on Evan Longoria, James Shields, Takashi
Saito, Pedro Alvarez, Pat Neshek and Adam Lind, among others. A
24-year-old reliever, Ramirez had posted a 2.10 ERA in 34+ innings in
MLB through June. But he then posted a 6.23 ERA in the month of
July, and finished with a 3.46 ERA. He would pitch just one season
for the Jamboree, posting a CERA of 7.62 in 64+ innings.
At the final trading deadline, Clemm
sold off the last remaining players who held some semblance of market
value -- both to the Blazers. In exchange for Sosa and reliever
Dan Wheeler, the Jamboree received Joe Saunders, John Wasdin, Mike
Burns, Franklyn German and Marlon Anderson. Anderson posted an 863
in part-time duty in 2007, and eventually became trade bait, but for the
most part the trade was a flop.
While the 2006 season played out in
excruciating fashion, a ray of hope began to shine from the most
unexpected of sources: the Bear Country farm system. After ranking
among the bottom five teams in the BDBL's annual farm report from
2000-2004, the Jamboree finally began to assemble some young talent to
get excited about. With his first pick in the 2005 farm draft (#11
overall), Clemm selected Francisco Liriano. At the time, it seemed
like a dubious pick, as Liriano had hardly set the world on fire as a
minor leaguer. In 316.2 minor league innings, Liriano owned a 3.84
ERA, with 292 hits allowed, 124 walks and 347 strikeouts. He had
ranked #83 on Baseball America's top-100 prospects list back in 2003,
but had since fallen off their radar.
But 2005 was a breakthrough year for
Liriano, as he posted a microscopic 1.78 ERA in Triple-A, with 112 Ks in
91 innings. He bolted up the Baseball America prospect list, all
the way to #6. Then, in MLB '06, Liriano became perhaps the best
pitcher in baseball in the second half of the season, and finished with
a 2.16 ERA in 121 innings, with a stellar 32/144 BB/K ratio. But
tragedy struck the Jamboree franchise on September 13th of that year,
when Liriano heard a pop in his elbow after throwing a pitch. He
suffered a tear in his UCL, and missed the entire 2007 MLB season.
Aside from Liriano, Clemm was also
excited about pitching prospects Volquez, Jason Hirsch and Homer Bailey.
For the first time since the inaugural season of 1999, the Jamboree had
a bevy of young pitchers worth getting excited about.
While waiting for those pitching
prospects to ripen, Clemm was faced with the task of improving upon a
team that had lost 96 games in 2006, and avoiding another steep penalty.
To that end, he signed shortstop Carlos Guillen to a $9.5 million salary
in the free agent auction, and then spent $7.5 million on Tim Hudson in
the draft (making him the first $7.5M free agent signing in league
history.) Clemm continued to spend money on veterans in the draft,
spending another $7 million on Jay Payton, Jose Vidro and Jason Varitek.
With the ascension of Lackey to ace
status (pitching in the final year of his contract), and backed by a
couple of solid inning-eaters in Capuano and Hudson, and with Liriano
serving as the team's swing starter/closer, the Jamboree had their best
pitching staff in place since their wild-card-winning 2003 team.
And with Guillen joining A-Rod in the lineup, the Bear Country lineup
was also vastly improved from the previous two years. As such, the
Jamboree were picked to finish second in the watered-down Griffin
The Jamboree have suffered through two horrific seasons in a row,
but the suffering may be over. If Liriano hadn't missed the final
two months of the MLB season (and if the Twins hadn't wasted the
first six weeks of the season pitching him out of the bullpen), Bear
Country might have had an outside chance of going from worst to
first in one year. As it stands, though, this team just doesn't
have the firepower to compete against the Undertakers in this
Bear Country finished the first chapter
with a respectable 14-14 record, but as expected, the Undertakers were
running away with the division already, with a league-best record of
20-8. By the all-star break, the Jamboree were in second place,
eight games behind the Undertakers.
Fearing his team would never catch up,
Clemm officially waved the white flag by placing his most marketable
commodity, Lackey, on the chopping block. After a brief bidding
war, the New Hope Badgers emerged as the winners, offering Jake
Westbrook, Michael Wuertz, Travis Blackley and Kyle Blanks in exchange.
This group of players was far from impressive, however. Westbrook
was a free agent at the end of the '07 season, and was eventually traded
the next chapter for Mike Stanton, Angel Pagan and Curtis Thigpen (none
of whom ever added any value to the Jamboree.) Wuertz merely
filled innings in middle relief for Bear Country in 2008. Blackley wasn't much of a prospect at the time of the trade, and was
eventually released. And while the 300+-pound Blanks seemed like a
dubious acquisition at the time, he may yet prove to be useful down the
With his trade bait exhausted, for all
intents and purposes, Clemm merely rode out the second half of the
season, trying to avoid any penalty for having a poor record. The
Jamboree went 39-41 in the second half, and finished tied for second
with a 78-82 record -- 21 games behind the Undertakers.
With Liriano gone for the entire 2008
BDBL season, and Lackey now a free agent, the Bear Country starting
rotation consisted of Hudson (15-13, 4.30 ERA in 232+ IP), Gaudin
(14-10, 4.89 ERA in 191 IP) and spare parts like Paul
Maholm (4-5, 5.86 ERA in 109 IP.) But in the winter of 2008, Clemm made two major moves
to shore up that rotation -- moves that instantly changed his team into
In his first trade of the winter, Clemm
acquired ace starter Brandon Webb (18-11, 3.35 ERA in 249+ IP), along with reliever Rafael
Soriano (8-8, 2.91 ERA, 17 SV in 77+ IP) and two others, from the Salem Cowtippers. Webb was
not only among the top five pitchers in baseball, but he owned a bargain
salary of $3.1 million -- a savings of perhaps $17 million below his
market value. In exchange, Clemm parted with several pieces of the
team's future, including John Danks, Josh Willingham and Matt Kemp --
all products of the Bear Country farm system.
Next, Clemm picked up a #2 starter in
the form of A.J. Burnett (15-7, 3.72 ERA in 174 IP), who was also a bargain at just $6
million. And in exchange, he traded top prospects Homer Bailey and
Jason Hirsch to the New Milford Blazers. In doing so, Clemm had
fortified his starting rotation by pushing Hudson -- a quality starter
in his own right -- to the #3 spot in his rotation. And to do so,
he added two free agents-to-be at the expense of five prospects who were
all drafted by Clemm as farm free agents.
Another product of that farm system,
Corey Hart (.289/.333/.507, 24 HR, 107 RBI, 90.2 RC), evolved in an asset at the plate. And with
Rodriguez (.274/.404/.545, 43 HR, 140.7 RC) and Guillen (.283/.349/.504,
103.5 RC) returning to the lineup, the Jamboree
owned a decent lineup, capable of holding their own against the better
teams in the league.
With less than $4 million to spend on
free agents, Clemm would have to be content with the personnel he had at
hand heading into Opening Day. The Jamboree stumbled out of the
gate, going 13-15 in Chapter One, as both the Undertakers and San
Antonio Broncs went 17-11 on the chapter. Bear Country then went
14-14 in Chapter Two, and 14-10 in Chapter Three.
But while the Jamboree was barely
playing .500 ball, both the Undertakers and Broncs stumbled badly over
those two chapters, and Bear Country entered the all-star break one game
ahead of the Undertakers in first place, with a record of just 41-39.
After a 17-7 showing in Chapter Four,
Los Altos GM Paulson began waving the white flag, and Clemm happily
accepted his surrender. The Jamboree went 50-30 in the second half of
the season to finish with a record of 91-69. They captured their
first division title on October 25th, and eventually won the division by
eight games over the Undertakers.
The Jamboree then headed into their
second-ever appearance in the playoffs, and faced the Salem Cowtippers
(103-57) in the Division Series. Webb, who was traded by Salem to
Bear Country earlier that year, got the call in Game One for Bear
Country, and the Cowtippers scattered five runs over four innings
against him. A three-run blast by A-Rod in the fifth inning made
it a one-run game, but the Cowtippers then pounded out two more runs in
the eighth inning to walk away with a 7-4 victory.
In Game Two, Bear Country took an early
4-0 lead in the third inning, but Salem chiseled away at that lead by
scoring one run in each of the next five innings. Salem catcher
Kenji Johjima then launched a grand slam home run off of Bobby Jenks in
the eighth, and the Cowtippers won by a score of 9-6.
When the series shifted to Bear
Country, the results remained the same, as the Cowtippers offense
continued to pound away at Bear Country's pitching. Salem scored
six runs in the second inning en route to a 14-4 laugher. Down
three games to none, and facing Salem's ace, Erik Bedard, the Jamboree
offense finally woke up from their hibernation in Game Five. Seven
runs crossed the plate in the first two innings, and the Cowtippers
couldn't catch up. The Jamboree won by a score of 7-5.
But in Game Six, it was time for
Salem's $17 million off-season investment to earn his money. Josh
Beckett delivered with eight shutout innings, allowing just five hits
and a walk. Salem cruised to a 7-0 victory and sent the Jamboree
home for the winter.
Bear Country Jamboree wins by season
Long-term success in baseball depends
upon the quality of the farm system and the younger players on the
roster. Perhaps no franchise in the BDBL has demonstrated this to
greater effect than the Jamboree.
The Jamboree were a combined 280-200
(.583) in Matt Clemm's first three full seasons at the helm (2001-2003.)
And the players primarily responsible for that success (Rodriguez, Thome,
Benson, White, Durham, Nomo, Radke, Lee, etc.) were all drafted by Bryan
Sakolsky in the league's inaugural draft of 1999. Sakolsky's
master plan was to build a long-term dynasty around these young players,
all in the primes of their careers, and that plan worked beautifully.
But when those players' contracts
expired, the Jamboree franchise had no talented young players to take
their places, and the franchise suffered with a 269-371 record (.420)
over the next four seasons. During that time, Clemm
Then, between 2005-2007, the Bear
Country farm system rose in the annual BDBL Farm Report from #22 in
2004, to #12 in 2005, to #3 in 2006, and #9 in 2007. That 2006
farm club included the likes of Danks, Bailey, Hirsch, Willingham, Kemp
and Hart. Not coincidentally, all six of those players played a
key role in the Jamboree's first-ever division title in 2008 -- the
first five as trade bait, and the last as a key role player in that
In 2008, the Jamboree farm system fell
back to #23 in the BDBL farm report, and once again it appears as though
the Jamboree will have no quality young players to take the place of
Webb and Burnett when they depart for free agency. Rodriguez's
contract is due to expire at the end of the 2009 season, which will
leave a gaping void in the lineup that hasn't ever existed in the
history of this franchise. How Matt Clemm fills that void, and how
quickly he is able to restock his farm system and roster with quality
young players, will determine the fate of this franchise over the next