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Big Daddy Baseball League

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slant.gif (102 bytes) BDBL: 10 Years in the Making

Commish

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May, 2009

Franchise History: Chicago Black Sox

Black Sox in a box:

Franchise wins: 868 (6th all-time)
Playoff appearances: 4
Division titles: 4
League titles: 2
Championship titles: 0
100-win seasons: 4
100-loss seasons: 1
Franchise RC leader: Andruw Jones
Franchise wins leader: Mark Prior

On the final day of November, 1999, John Gill became the latest addition to the fledgling Big Daddy Baseball League:

November 30, 1998

CHICAGO, IL - The Big Daddy Baseball League had a record day today with the addition of THREE new teams. The league is now at 75-percent capacity after just three weeks in business.

John Gill, a 34-year-old Chicago salesman, is the latest to throw his hat into the ring. Gill has played in several fantasy leagues over the past twelve years, and has extensive knowledge of both major and minor league baseball.

"I drafted Nomar Garciaparra and Andruw Jones two years before they came up in the majors," said Gill.

"I am very pleased with the progress of this league," said league commissioner Mike Glander from his home in Salem, New Hampshire. "There were some nay-sayers who doubted I could get this league off the ground from the very beginning. In particular, there is a fellow in New Jersey with a fin growing out of his back who still has doubts to this day. But just as I have done time and time again, I am proving everyone wrong. This is a quality league, and people know quality when they see it."

With the 14th pick in the inaugural draft, Gill focused his efforts on building a youthful team that would contend far into the future.  With the first pick of his draft, he selected 22-year-old center fielder Andruw Jones.  Jones had taken the big leagues by storm as a 19-year-old rookie in 1996, and by 1999 he was considered to be a perennial all-star and one of the brightest young players in the game.  For the 1999 Black Sox, however, Jones hit just .259/.302/.486, with 28 home runs, 33 steals and 83.4 runs created.

Next, Gill selected Moises Alou -- a 32-year-old veteran.  25-year-old Darin Erstad, 30-year-old Tim Salmon and 29-year-old closer Troy Percival rounded out the $5 million picks.  In a sign of his strategy to come, Gill didn't select his first starting pitcher (25-year-old Ismael Valdes) until the seventh round.

By the end of the draft, it was apparent that Gill's focus was not on the 1999 season.  The Black Sox included an impressive collection of talented young players, including Jones, Miguel Tejada and Troy Glaus, but while these players all held promising futures, they were too inexperienced to lead the Chicago team to contention in 1999.

Despite the low expectations, the Black Sox got off to a 13-11 start to the '99 season, and trailed the division leaders by just four games.  By the end of two chapters, the team was still playing two games above .500, and trailed the wild card leaders by only one game.  Heading into the all-star break, Chicago was an impressive 41-37, and trailed the EL wild card leaders by just two games.

But Gill wasn't happy with mere contention.  At the break, Gill made the decision to pack it in and collect even more ammunition for the 2000 season.  First, he traded his top pitcher, Valdes, to the Los Altos Undertakers in exchange for 22-year-old catcher Michael Barrett.  Next, he dealt all-star outfielder Tim Salmon to the Salem Cowtippers in exchange for 24-year-old center fielder Roger Cedeno.

Then, in a blockbuster deal with the California Storm, Gill traded Alou, Joey Hamilton, Juan Guzman and Antonio Osuna in exchange for Richard Hidalgo and Rick Ankiel.  At the time, Ankiel was #1 prospect in the game of baseball, after having dominated the minor leagues (161 IP, 106 H, 222 K in 1998, 137+ IP, 98 H, 194 K in 1999.)  Oddly, of all the young players acquired by Gill during that firesale, only one (Cedeno) played a significant role in a Black Sox uniform.  Ankiel pitched just 8.1 innings in 2000 before he was traded.  Barrett was traded before the 2000 season.  And Cedeno played two and a half seasons for the Black Sox, and compiled a 917 OPS with 104.4 runs created during the 2000 season.

At the next deadline, Gill continued his roster purge by sending Erstad to the Stamford Zoots in exchange for a draft pick.  While the Zoots flipped Erstad for all-star impact hitter Eric Davis, Gill later traded that pick (which was used to select Bruce Chen.)

Predictably, the Black Sox tanked the rest of the season, and finished the second half of the season with a BDBL-worst 17-61 record (a .218 winning percentage.)  Even the New Milford Blazers, who set a record for losses during the 1999 season that stood for eight more seasons, won more games in the second half of that season than Chicago.

After heading into the all-star break with a contending team that was just two games behind the wild card leaders, the Black Sox finished the BDBL's inaugural season with a 59-101 record -- the second-worst record in the BDBL.

 

Once the regular season had ended, Gill wasted no time in continuing to prepare for a run at the 2000 championship.  After spending the entire 1999 season accumulating talented young players, Gill spent most of the 2000 season trading in those same players for more immediate benefit.  He made a total of eight trades that winter, dealing Glaus, Tejada, Barrett and Todd Hollandsworth among others.  In exchange, he added sluggers Raul Mondesi, Carlos Delgado (.272/.391/.572, 45 HR, 133.6 RC in 2000), Scott Rolen (.287/.394/.592, 32 HR, 99.1 RC) and Nomar Garciaparra (.345/.394/.558, 125.6 RC.)

By the end of the winter, Gill had built himself a formidable roster, worthy of contention not only in 2000, but for years to come.  Not only were Jones (.264/.338/.469, 102.6 RC,) Rolen and Garciaparra all high-impact all-star hitters, but all three were under the age of 27.  All three also carried salaries of $10 million each, which led to considerable debate in the BDBL press as to whether a team could afford to carry so many expensive players and have enough money left over to fill out the rest of the roster.

For the Black Sox, spending so much money on the offense meant that the pitching would likely have to suffer.  The starting rotation was led by Todd Ritchie, a free agent acquisition during 1999 who was released twice before he was picked up by Gill.  And the rest of the rotation was headed by Andy Benes (a 4.81 MLB ERA), Ryan Dempster (4.71), Kelvim Escobar (5.69) and James Baldwin (5.10.)  Yet, incredibly, the Black Sox managed to lead the Eck League with a 4.12 ERA in 2000.  Offensively, Chicago was as dominant as any team could be.  They hit .285/.364/.492 as a team, with a league-leading 244 home runs and 987 runs scored.

As expected, the Black Sox jumped out to an early lead in the division, with a 14-8 record, and by the end of two chapters they had grown that lead to four games.  But Gill wasn't satisfied quite yet.  In a trade just prior to the Chapter Three deadline, Gill sent his prized pitching prospect, Rick Ankiel, his #1 pick in the 1999 farm draft, Eric Munson, and young slugger Raul Mondesi to the Kansas Law Dogs in exchange for Manny Ramirez.  At 28 years old, and signed to a very reasonable four-year, $26 million contract, Ramirez joined Rolen, Garciaparra and Jones in a Chicago lineup that could be matched by no other team in the BDBL in terms of both raw production and upside potential.  With Ramirez hitting .342/.461/.670 with 149.1 runs created in just 442 at-bats down the stretch, the Black Sox appeared to be an unstoppable force.

"I hated trading Ankiel," said Chicago GM John Gill, "but I could not pass up having Ramirez in right field for the rest of this year.  Munson will be a tough loss, too, but you can never tell with prospects. Manny Ramirez will bat 4th against both right-hand pitchers and left-hand pitchers. Carlos Delgado will be dropped to 5th followed by Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones. I would say now that 1,000 runs this year is not out of the question. We made this trade believing that Ramirez will put us in the driver's seat on the trek to the BDBL World Series."

On June 10th, Gill made yet another big trade, acquiring free-agent-to-be Al Leiter from the Manchester Irish Rebels in exchange for Escobar and Donnie Sadler.  Leiter (10-2, 4.76 ERA in 119+ IP down the stretch) gave the Black Sox a legitimate ace at the top of their rotation.  It also gave them four of the 24 original first-rounders from the BDBL's inaugural draft.

From the acquisition of Ramirez prior to Chapter Three through the end of the season, the Black Sox played at a phenomenal pace, going 76-34, to finish the season with a record of 106-54 -- a new single-season BDBL team record.  In one year, Gill's Black Sox had gained 47 wins.

In the Division Series, Chicago rolled over the wild-card-winning Phoenix Predators, three games to one, outscoring them 27-14.  The Kentucky Fox then won the first game of the ELCS, as the Fox jumped all over Ritchie for three runs in the first inning, and then held on for the 4-3 win behind the pitching of Tim Hudson.  But Chicago bounced back with a dramatic 10-inning win in Game Two, decided by an RBI single by leadoff hitter Randy Velarde.  Game Three featured a come-from-behind win for the Black Sox, with Carlos Delgado hitting a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth inning en route to a 7-3 Chicago victory.

In Game Four, the Black Sox crept to within one game of the World Series, as Benes (7.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 8 K) pitched an outstanding game in a match-up against Hudson.  But Kentucky bounced back with a 5-4 win in the fifth game, forcing a Game Six.  And there, Leiter earned his keep by allowing just one run over six innings.  Chicago won easily by a score of 4-1, and John Gill headed to the BDBL World Series.

Gill's opponent in that series was infamous BDBL legend Paul Marazita, who had guided his Stamford Zoots to the league's first-ever championship in 1999.  But the Zoots looked completely overmatched by the Black Sox in the 2000 series, as they dropped the first three games of the series, putting Gill just one win away from winning the BDBL championship trophy.  To that point in MLB history, no team had ever lost a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games.  But Gill soon learned that the BDBL can be a cruel and merciless pastime that has little in common with MLB.

As it was very late in the night, both Gill and Marazita decided it would be best to simply "get it over with" and conclude the series as quickly as possible.  So they played Game Four, and Stamford finally got on the board with an 8-2 win, as one of Stamford's three dominant aces -- John Smoltz -- pitched a gem, holding the vaunted Chicago offense to just one run on four hits through seven innings.

With Marazita electing to go with a three-man rotation throughout the 2000 playoffs, the key stat in Smoltz's line was that he threw just 91 pitches.  In the highly-unlikely event that the series would stretch to seven games, then, that pitch count would prove crucial.

The night stretched on, and Stamford won Game Five behind the pitching of ace #1, Kevin Brown (7 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 3 K, 86 pitches.)  In Game Six, it was ace #2's turn, Randy Johnson, who allowed just one run through five innings en route to a 5-1 Stamford win.

Just like that, Chicago's three-games-to-none lead had been erased, and the entire 2000 season boiled down to one final game -- winner take all.  As planned, Stamford turned to Smoltz, pitching on just three days of rest.  Gill went with his newly-acquired ace, Leiter.  The Zoots jumped on the board with a two-run homer by Mike Lowell in the second inning.  An unfortunate balk by Turk Wendell in the eighth inning led to another Stamford run.

Meanwhile, the Chicago offense -- perhaps the most productive offense in BDBL history -- was completely stymied by Stamford's pitching.  Smoltz threw 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball, and allowed only four base runners.  He was pulled in the middle of the seventh inning for a relief pitcher by the name of Bobby Chouinard.  Chouinard walked a batter to put runners on the corners with two outs, but pinch hitter Butch Huskey then grounded out to end the inning.  The legendary triumvirate of Donne Wall, Yorkis Perez and John Johnstone then closed out the game, preserving the shutout and completing the greatest comeback in the history of the BDBL.

Marazita walked away with his second straight BDBL championship, while Gill walked away shaking his head in utter shock and disbelief.

 

With the core of his lineup returning for 2001, Gill was confident he would return to the World Series sooner rather than later.  Ramirez (.385/.489/.716, 156.3 RC), Jones (.300/.352/.506, 125.6 RC), Garciaparra (.378/.427/.624, 146.9 RC), Delgado (.375/.491/.787, 228.7 RC) and Rolen (.297/.357/.552, 101.8 RC) were even more impressive in 2001 than they were the previous season.  In particular, Delgado established new single-season records in 2001 for OBP, slugging and runs created en route to an all-time classic season.

Adding to that core of impressive young talent, Gill added 24-year-old rookie Pat Burrell (.321/.411/.552, 76.7 RC in 324 AB) to his roster that winter by first swapping Jason Isringhausen for Derrek Lee, and then flipping Lee for Burrell.

As impressive as the 2000 Black Sox offense had been, the 2001 team was even better.  Together, they hit .300/.376/.521 as a team, with 272 home runs and 1,054 runs scored.  Adding to that star-studded lineup, Gill was able to piece together an impressive array of arms for the bullpen.  While the starting rotation was again the team's weakness, that weakness was more than canceled out by the strength of the lineup and bullpen.

Unlike the 2000 team, which saw little challenge to the Hrbek Division title, the 2001 team was faced with a significant challenge in the Akron Ryche.  And after one chapter of play, Akron's 21-7 record stood as the best in the Eck League.  Meanwhile, Chicago's record was a shockingly underwhelming 14-14, as the team's pitching and defense allowed a whopping 171 runs.

Gill sought to plug that hole prior to the second chapter by trading his "ace," Dempster to the Zoots in exchange for Rick Helling.  Dempster had been a disappointment for Chicago, going 0-3 with a 4.81 ERA in six Chapter One starts, while Helling (16-8, 4.41 ERA in 192 IP) proved to be a significant upgrade.  But the key to this trade from Gill's perspective was acquiring 23-year-old slugger Ruben Mateo -- the 7th-ranked prospect in baseball in the BDBL's 2000 farm survey.

With the help of Helling, Chicago improved to 16-10 in Chapter Two, and went 17-9 in the third chapter.  Heading into the break, the Black Sox were an impressive 47-33, but with both Akron and the surprising Cleveland Rocks both playing .600 ball, that record was only good for third place in the division.

Chicago continued to pick up speed, going 18-8 in Chapter Four.  Then, at the final trading deadline of the season, Gill orchestrated yet another blockbuster trade.  In an effort to build for the future while simultaneously maintaining a contending team in 2001, he traded Ramirez, Mateo and Carlos Perez to the Manchester Irish Rebels.  In return, he reacquired both Moises Alou and Rick Ankiel.  Gill then flipped Alou (along with three others and a farm pick) to the Perth Breeze, getting Richard Hidalgo, Al Leiter, Roberto Hernandez and Delino Deshields in return.

"This is a win-win situation for both teams," stated Chicago GM John Gill. "Manchester gets a stud in Ramirez and potential star in Mateo. We are sacrificing some offense between Ramirez and Alou, but we are getting back a strong pitcher for this year in Rick Ankiel. Plus, since both teams got 'ripped' by the critics for their last trades (Dempster to Zoots and Everett to Kansas), we figured we would see who would get criticized the most - the two dumbest GM's - who is dumber. But seriously, this trade will work well for both teams."
Gill's final statement was "this is by no means a 'dump' trade by me.  We are going for it this year, and we do plan to sign Ankiel to a long term contract. We will be looking at he and Beckett to anchor our staff in the future. We do not think he is done, but you never know."

At the time of the trade, the 21-year-old Ankiel was coming off a humiliating experience in the 2000 post-season, in which he'd walked 11 batters in just four innings.  In MLB 2001, he had been limited to just 24 innings (with 25 walks, 3 hit batters and 5 wild pitches) due to a highly-publicized mental breakdown.  But he would be a valuable addition to the 2001 Black Sox, as he went 7-2 with a 3.27 ERA in 66 innings down the stretch.  And the following year, he was traded back to the Irish Rebels.

Replacing Ramirez in the lineup would prove to be more difficult.  He was hitting an astounding .404/.501/.755 at the time of the trade, and was thus completely irreplaceable.  But Hidalgo hit an acceptable .343/.426/.635 down the stretch, and with so many other sluggers in the lineup, Ramirez's bat was hardly missed.  The 25-year-old Hidalgo was also several years younger, and several million dollars cheaper, than Ramirez.  He finished the 2001 season batting .303/.380/.577 overall, with 44 home runs and 129.4 runs created.

Leiter also proved to be a valuable addition, as he went 7-0 over the final two chapters, with a CERA of 3.84 in 86+ innings.

The Black Sox went 59-21 over the second half of the season -- the best record in the BDBL -- and outscored their competition by 188 runs (also best in the league.)  After chasing them all season, the Black Sox crept into first place over the Ryche during the final week of the season.  But in the end, Akron finished the season on top, with an impressive 107-53 record.  Chicago finished just one game behind at 106-54, becoming the first team in BDBL history to win 100 games in back-to-back seasons.

Their opponents in the Division Series that year were the Kansas Law Dogs.  As impressive as the Black Sox offense was in 2001, it was far outshined by Kansas.  The 2001 Law Dogs set records for offensive production that will likely never be broken.  They hit .321/.398/.580 as a team, hit a mind-boggling 364 home runs (nearly 100 more than Chicago's second-best total), and scored a whopping 1,282 runs -- all league records.

Game One was a match-up between Leiter and Kansas ace Darryl Kile.  Neither starter lasted beyond the fifth inning, however, as the teams carried a 2-2 tie into the eighth inning.  A two-run pinch hit single by Carlos Febles gave Kansas a 4-2 lead in the top of the eighth.  Garciaparra then hit a solo shot in the bottom of the inning to make it a one-run game.  Todd Hundley then led off the bottom of the ninth with a double, and advanced to third on a sac bunt.  But he was stranded there when Deshields lined out to first and Cedeno followed by striking out for the final out of the game.

Kansas then took a commanding 2-0 series lead with a 5-1 victory in Game Two, sending the series to Kansas, and a ballpark modeled after Denver's Coors Field -- the most notorious hitter's park in baseball history.  But despite the intimidating environment, Game Three was a pitcher's duel, with Chicago (backed by Ankiel allowing one run in seven innings) winning by a score of 3-1.

In Game Four, Chicago's offense was once again held in check in the post-season, as Kile and the Kansas bullpen combined to pitch a shutout.  That put Kansas one win away from advancing to the ELCS.

In Game Five, Kansas' home park finally came into play, as the Black Sox pounded out 18 runs on 16 hits en route to an 18-8 win.  Chicago then forced a Game Seven with a 6-4 victory in Game Six.

In Game Seven, Gill sent his rookie ace Ankiel to the hill to face the veteran Kile.  This time, Ankiel provided an eerie imitation of his 2000 MLB playoffs performance and a chilling vision of things to come.  Through just two innings, Ankiel walked five batters, allowed five hits, and also threw a wild pitch.  Chicago was unable to dig out of that hole, and the final game of the series was lost by a score of 10-3.

 

Heading into the winter of 2002, Gill was faced with a depleted offense due to the fact that Garciaparra missed most of the 2001 MLB season because of injury.  He would be limited to just 79 at-bats for the '02 Black Sox, at a salary of $10 million.  With Helling returning to his status as a #5 starter and Ankiel still fighting a losing battle against his own brain, the 2002 Chicago rotation was in shambles.

Rather than try to plug those holes in the rotation, Gill opted to strengthen his lineup even further.  He began by trading Burrell, Cedeno and Barrett -- three former building blocks of the franchise -- to the Phoenix Predators in exchange for Raul Mondesi and Aramis Ramirez. In the final year of his contract, Mondesi hit .259/.345/.514 with 36 home runs, 30 steals and 108.4 runs created for the '02 Black Sox.  Ramirez, a 24-year-old power hitter with a $500K salary, was immediately signed to a six-year deal by Gill, and hit .298/.334/.533 in his first full season in the BDBL, with 49 doubles, 34 homers and 114.4 runs created.

Next, Gill traded his #2 starter, Paul Wilson, to the Salem Cowtippers in exchange for catcher Jason Kendall.  In the first year of a four-year deal with Chicago, Kendall hit .286/.343/.410 with 86 RC.

Gill then traded his de facto "ace," Leiter, to the Cleveland Rocks, leaving his team with no starting pitching whatsoever.  In exchange, he received a 6th round draft pick, which Gill later used to select shortstop Edgar Renteria.

Ankiel was traded to the Salem Cowtippers that winter in exchange for shortstop prospect Bobby Hill (a trade that benefited neither team.)  And lastly, Gill pulled the trigger on yet another blockbuster, sending his all-star third baseman, Rolen, to the Akron Ryche in exchange for Sidney Ponson and a young pitcher with no professional experience named Mark Prior.  While Rolen continued to add to his all-star resume with the Ryche, Prior became the top young pitcher in baseball, and looked like a surefire annual Cy Young contender by his second year in the league.

Gill went into the free agent draft that winter with no starting pitchers on his roster, and he didn't draft a starting pitcher until the 16th round (Carl Pavano, who pitched just 24 innings for the team in '02.)  Gill didn't truly begin to add to his starting rotation until the 21st round, and the first three pitchers in his rotation were all selected in the $100,000 rounds at the end of the draft.  In the end, the Chicago rotation consisted of Bobby Jones (11-15, 6.03 ERA for Chicago), Chris Holt (8-12, 6.35), Darren Oliver (7-11, 5.20), Tomo Ohka (4-6, 6.32) and Andy Benes (6-7, 6.39.)  If not the worst rotation in BDBL history, it certainly ranks among the top three.

To no one's surprise, Chicago got off to a slow start, going 4-24 in the first chapter.  By the end of two chapters, the Black Sox were sporting a winning percentage barely above .200.  It didn't take long for Gill to begin waving the white flag once again.

With his first trade the regular season, Gill traded closer Keith Foulke along with prospect Francisco Rodriguez to the Madison Fighting Mimes in exchange for top prospects Hee Seop Choi and Adam Johnson.  Unfortunately for Gill, this trade was a disaster for Chicago.  Not only was Foulke traded for two prospects who never panned out, but the "throw-in" in this trade, Rodriguez, became an annual all-star and one of the top closers in the game for several years thereafter.

Gill redeemed himself, however, with his Chapter Four trade with the Marlboro Hammerheads, in which he acquired young fireballer Carlos Zambrano in exchange for middle reliever Mike Trombley.  The 21-year-old Zambrano soon became one of the top pitchers in the game, and enjoyed a long career of shuttling between the Chicago and Marlboro franchises.

Incredibly, the Black Sox posted a 41-39 record in the second half of the season -- tying them for the best record in the division.  But they had lost so much ground in the first two chapters that it didn't matter.  Chicago finished the 2002 season with a record of 61-99, narrowly missing becoming the only team in the BDBL to twice lose 100 games and twice win 100.

 

At this point in the franchise's history, it became clear that Gill had adopted an "all-or-nothing" strategy, whereby he would either "go for it all" by trading every young player on the team for immediate benefit, or "wave the white flag" by trading every valuable player on the roster for young talent.  This strategy had resulted in two 100-win seasons and two 99-loss seasons.  But in 2003, that string would be broken.

Just one year after heading into the season with the worst starting rotation in league history, the 2003 Black Sox owned perhaps the best young pitching staff in league history.  Pitching as a 22-year-old rookie, Prior was already making an impact on the Black Sox by throwing 116 innings in 2003, with a 10-6 record, 142 strikeouts and a 3.58 CERA.  Joining Prior in the rotation was 23-year-old Josh Beckett and 22-year-old Zambrano.

Beckett was an historic free agent acquisition for the BDBL.  Just following the conclusion of the BDBL's first farm draft, Gill selected Beckett as a free agent, making him the first-ever high school player selected to a BDBL farm team.  Beckett made his BDBL debut in 2002, pitching just 25 innings.  And in 2003, Beckett struck out 129 batters in 112+ innings, but with an ugly 5.94 ERA and 7-11 record.  Zambrano went 6-5 for the '03 Black Sox, with a 4.12 ERA in 109+ innings.

In addition to that bright, young pitching staff, the Black Sox were also returning several veterans to the starting lineup, including Garciaparra (.309/.364/.538 with 126.1 RC in his comeback season), Jones (.239/.306/.453) and Kendall (.293/.375/.377.)  Aubrey Huff, Gill's second-round selection in the 2000 farm draft, also blossomed into a star in 2003, hitting .312/.362/.534 with 26 homers and 85 runs created in his first full season.

In addition to that group of hitters, Gill signed Mike Sweeney to an $11 million salary in the first-ever BDBL free agent auction.  Sweeney hit .344/.413/.551 over the full season in 2003, with 116.3 runs created.  Gill also added Moises Alou (.261/.308/.414 in 379 AB) in the 11th round of the free agent draft, rounding out his lineup.

With all three of Chicago's young pitchers limited in innings, that meant the team would have to rely upon veterans Dave Burba, Ryan Dempster, Joey Hamilton and Chan Ho Park to carry most of the workload.  But with all four pitchers sporting ERA's well over 5.00 in the prior MLB season, that was a tall order to fill.

Chicago began the season with a 13-15 record in Chapter One, and followed that with a 15-11 Chapter Two.  But Chapter Three was a 9-17 disaster, and the team headed into the all-star break 16 games behind in the division and 10 behind in the wild card race.

At that point in the season, Gill began looking for ways to cash in some of his star players in exchange for future considerations.  Tim Salmon -- a winter acquisition by Gill -- was traded as part of a three-team deal with the Salem Cowtippers and Villanova Mustangs.  In exchange for the slugger, Gill received prospect Khalil Greene, who soon became one of the top prospects in baseball.

Then, in another three-way trade involving the Southern Cal Slyme and Wapakoneta Hippos, Gill traded Ohka and Luis Castillo and somehow ended up with superstar prospect Prince Fielder.

At the final trading deadline of the season, Gill dealt Sweeney to the Villanova Mustangs in exchange for light-hitting second baseman Jose Castillo, in a trade that was essentially a salary dump.

July 23, 2003
Sweeney Traded to...Villanova?
Chicago (AP) - The Chicago Black Sox have reluctantly thrown in the towel for the 2003 BDBL season, and turn their eyes to the future as Chicago GM John Gill traded slugging first baseman Mike Sweeney to the Villanova Mustangs in exhange for prospect Jose Castillo.

"We already have several first basemen next season," explained Gill.  "Aubrey Huff, Dimitri Young and Hee Seop Choi. Additionally we have Prince Fielder for 3-5 years from now. We just felt that we had an abundance of talent at first base, and figured we would send Mike to a team that could better utilize him. We like Mike and love his bat. Right hand bats like his are few and far between. But, he has a history of back troubles and that is why we agreed to this deal.
It frees up some cash for us to pursue a free agent or two for next year. Mike is the type of player that Villanova can build around, and he is only 29 years old. We have the contracts of Andruw Jones, Nomar Garciapparra, Jason Kendall and Aramis Ramirez taking up salary space. We feel this is a deal that will benefit both teams."

The Black Sox closed out the season with a 37-43 record, giving them a 74-86 record for the year.  But with Prior, Zambrano and Beckett all gaining another year of experience, the 2004 team was looking very good on paper.

 

That winter, however, Gill made the decision once again to "go for it all."  And that meant sacrificing two of his three young aces.  In the first trade, he sent Zambrano back to Marlboro, along with two others.  In exchange, he received replacement ace Ben Sheets and prospects Jeff Mathis and Bobby Crosby.  Sheets went just 12-9 with a 4.52 ERA in 223 innings for Chicago in 2004, while Zambrano went 15-7 with a 3.78 ERA in 238 innings for Marlboro.  Sheets was two years older and $1 million more expensive than Zambrano, but Gill was counting on Mathis and Crosby to offset that difference.

Beckett was sacrificed (along with two others) for yet more offense.  In exchange, Gill received 25-year-old slugger Vernon Wells (.293/.344/.545 with 83.2 RC in 2004), Brett Myers (12-7, 5.63 ERA in 2004) and prospect J.J. Hardy.  Again, it was Gill's hope that the upsides of all three young players would offset the loss of his 24-year-old budding ace.

Gill made three other significant trades that winter.  In one deal, he traded his team's first-ever signing, Jones, to the South Carolina Sea Cats, getting superstar slugger Vladimir Guerrero in exchange.  Guerrero's salary was $6 million more than Jones', but Gill felt his production was well worth the extra money.  Guerrero didn't disappoint, as he hit .354/.437/.614 with 100 RC in only 373 at-bats.

Gill also made a highly-controversial trade with the Stamford Zoots, acquiring Chipper Jones in exchange for two veterans (Alou and Scott Linebrink) and two top young prospects (Choi and Corey Patterson.)  Jones hit .292/.387/.529 for the Black Sox, with 125.4 RC, while Alou hit .322/.366/.493 with 75.7 RC for the Zoots.  Choi and Patterson were later flipped for more impact players.

Finally, Gill bolstered his rotation with the addition of free-agent-to-be Brad Penny (16-9, 4.58 ERA in 206+ IP), acquired at the expense of middle relievers Ron Villone and Scott Williamson.

With little money remaining, and few holes to fill, Gill signed just one player in the free agent auction: Ugueth Urbina, at a salary of just $3.5 million.  The Black Sox were then named the favorites to win the Hrbek Division in the annual BDBL Season Preview:

Outlook: You may remember that the downfall of the 2000 Black Sox was its starting pitching.  Up three games to none in a best-of-seven series, Chicago couldn't put it away because they didn't have a stopper in their rotation.  This year, the Black Sox have that stopper.  But is one stopper enough?  We'll find out in November.

That "stopper" referred to above was Mark Prior.  Prior's 2004 season ranks among the best ever by any pitcher in BDBL history.  He began the season with a string of 20 consecutive wins, and didn't suffer his first (and only) loss until October 14th.  His final stat line that season is staggering: a 24-1 record, 270 strikeouts in 226+ innings, and a 3.46 ERA.  For a 23-year-old pitcher, Prior's performance was phenomenal.  Prior to the 2004 season, Gill had signed him to an eight-year contract.  Unfortunately for Gill, 2004 would be Prior's one and only great season in the BDBL.  He suffered through an injury-plagued 2004 MLB season, and pitched just 116.2 innings in BDBL '05.  He then threw 172 innings in 2006, but that would most likely be his final full season, as his career all but ended at the hands of Dusty Baker.

Offensively, the Black Sox were fueled by the phenomenal season of Huff, who hit .338/.388/.654 with 55 doubles, 44 homers, 158 RBIs and 148.5 runs created -- all at a salary of just $1.1 million.

Despite the lofty expectations heading into the 2004 season, the Black Sox suffered through perhaps the most bizarre chapter ever to begin the season.  As their division rivals, the Akron Ryche, went 20-8 in the chapter, the Black Sox suffered through a peculiar team slump, and wrapped up the first chapter with a record of just 4-28.  Just 28 games into the season, the Black Sox found themselves staring up at a twelve-game deficit in the division.

Garciaparra (.202/.283/.374), Ramirez (.223/.231/.427) and Guerrero (.254/.361/.424) each suffered through a miserable slump, and the team that was hyped as having the greatest lineup in league history hit just .260/.321/.448 as a team.  Worse, however, was the performance of the pitching staff, as the team posted a dreadful 6.17 ERA in the first chapter.

On March 2nd, a frustrated Gill posted a note on the BDBL's Selling forum that his "whole team is available."  But after cooling off for a while, Gill decided to stick it out for another chapter and see where this team was heading.  It was a good thing he did.

In Chapter Two, the Black Sox posted a BDBL-best record of 22-6, outscoring their opponents by a league-best 76 runs.  The Chicago offense bounced back to score 174 runs in the chapter, and the pitching staff posted a sparkling 3.17 ERA.  With Akron going 15-13 in the second chapter, Chicago managed to gain seven games in one chapter.  The Black Sox then went 18-6 in Chapter Three, and seemingly accomplished the impossible by not only catching, but surpassing, the Ryche in the standings.

Gill continued to add more firepower to his arsenal throughout the season.  At the Chapter Five deadline, he added ace pitcher Mike Mussina from the New Milford Blazers, sacrificing only Aaron Sele and Jose Acevedo in exchange.  He then flipped Mussina to the Stamford Zoots, along with Aramis Ramirez, in exchange for Manny Ramirez.  Ramirez hit .382/.460/.750 over the final two chapters, and joined an impossibly-talented lineup that already included Guerrero, Jones, Garciaparra and Kendall.

Just days later, Gill added impact starting pitcher Tim Hudson to his rotation, sacrificing catching prospect Victor Martinez (a mid-season free agent pick-up in 2003) in exchange.  Hudson went 6-4 down the stretch, with an ERA of 2.70 in 80+ innings, and was signed through the 2006 season at a seemingly reasonable contract.

Chicago dominated the second half, going 54-26 to finish the season with 102 wins -- the third time in franchise history the team had won triple-digit games.  On October 27th, they captured their second Hrbek Division title, and drew their division rivals, Akron, in the Division Series.

As always, Akron's 2004 team revolved around their ace, Pedro Martinez.  Like Prior, Martinez had enjoyed a classic season in 2004, posting a 1.81 ERA in 204+ innings, with only 127 hits allowed, and 223 strikeouts.  Game One featured a match-up between Prior and Martinez -- a game that promised to be a classic before it even began.  But while Prior was his usual dominant self (6.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 12 K), Martinez was pounded by the relentless Chicago offense for five runs on ten hits in just seven innings.  Chicago won handily by a score of 9-4.

In Game Two, the two teams took a tied game into the 12th inning.  Akron then took the lead in the top of the 12th on a base hit by Brian Jordan.  But the heart of the Chicago lineup stepped to the plate in the bottom of the inning and scored a pair of runs to win the game, with the winning run scoring from third on a squeeze bunt.

With the series shifting to Akron for Game Three, Ramirez clubbed two home runs en route to a 6-4 Chicago win, putting the Black Sox just one win away from the Championship Series.  But that celebration was put on hold by Martinez, who pitched a gem (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 8 K) in Game Four to keep his team alive.

Pitching on four days of rest, Prior was uncharacteristically hittable in Game Five, as he allowed nine hits and five runs through just six innings of work.  Akron held off a late Chicago rally to eke out a 6-5 win, extending the series another game.

After winning the first three games of the series, and then losing the next two, Gill undoubtedly began having nightmares of the 2000 World Series.  But with Hudson on the hill for Game Six, those nightmares were erased with a laugher in which Chicago won by a score of 10-0.  Once again, Ramirez came through for Chicago, hitting a pair of home runs en route to the series MVP award.

Next, the Black Sox faced the Allentown Ridgebacks in the ELCS.  Prior took the hill in Game One, facing Allentown's Roy Oswalt (perhaps the greatest post-season pitcher in league history.)  And again, Prior was unexpectedly pounded for eight runs on nine hits en route to a 14-8 Allentown victory.  Hudson then delivered in Game Two, by not only pitching a tremendous game, but hitting a three-run double with two outs in the second inning.  Chicago failed to score again the rest of the game, by Hudson and the Black Sox bullpen were able to hold on for a 3-2 win to even the series.

Game Three was a BDBL classic.  With Mark Mulder toeing the rubber for Allentown, Chicago pounded out a total of 20 runs on 26 hits, and won by a score of 20-4.  Mulder allowed 16 earned runs through six-plus innings, on 22 hits, and threw 152 pitches.

But the Ridgebacks soon proved that there is no such thing as "momentum" in baseball.  They scored six runs in the first inning of Game Four, and held on for an 8-6 win to even the series once again.  In Game Five, Prior out-dueled Oswalt, as Chicago hammered four home runs, and Oswalt uncharacteristically allowed seven earned runs through seven innings.

Finally, in Game Six, Chicago scored six runs in the fifth inning to take an 8-4 lead.  But Allentown then fought back to tie the game in the eighth inning, thanks to a two-out, three-run pinch hit home run by Sammy Sosa off of Ugueth Urbina.  The game extended to the 12th inning, where Allentown took the lead in the top half of the inning on a solo homer by Corey Koskie.  Jason Kendall then led off the bottom of the inning for Chicago by reaching on an error.  He was pushed to third on a double by Jones.  And Ramirez then followed with a walk-off, two-run double.

For the second time in five years, the Chicago Black Sox were heading to the BDBL World Series.  In what was billed as an all-Chicago series, the Black Sox's opponents were the Ravenswood Infidels.  Ravenswood had gone 92-68 during the regular season, and were the fourth seed in the OL playoffs.  They were considered to be a "Cinderella story" team in that they made it to the BDBL World Series by beating two heavily-favored teams.  But most pundits saw the fairy tale story ending there, as the Black Sox were simply too dominant a team.

Ravenswood proved the pundits wrong, however, in Game One of the series, as Ravenswood ace Johan Santana (6 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 9 K) out-pitched Prior (7 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 8 K) in a 7-2 Ravenswood win.  The Infidels then took a 2-0 series lead with an 11-7 victory in Game Two, as Sheets was bludgeoned for 10 earned runs through just 3+ innings.

In Game Three, Ravenswood kept rolling, to the utter shock and bewilderment of all who witnessed it, winning by a score of 6-1 behind the brilliant pitching of Jeremi Gonzalez (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 5 K) -- a pitcher who had sported a 5.03 ERA for Ravenswood during the regular season.

With their backs against the wall, Chicago managed to win Game Four by a score of 13-9.  But with Santana on the hill in Game Five, it was all over but the crying.  Prior (8 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 10 K) pitched a tremendous game, but Santana (6.2 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) was once again dominant, and the Chicago bats once again fell silent.  Ravenswood became the most unlikely BDBL champions in league history with a 4-2 win.

 

Following that disappointing loss, Gill had very little work to do that winter, as the 2005 team was returning several players, and looked to be every bit as strong as the '04 team.  The injury to Prior meant that he would pitch only 116+ innings in '05 (with a 9-3 record, 3.64 ERA and 134 K's.)  But taking his place at the top of the rotation was Sheets, who had blossomed into one of the top starting pitchers in baseball.  Sheets went 23-6 for the Black Sox in '05, with a 2.91 ERA in 260 innings, 269 strikeouts and only 57 walks.

Offensively, the lineup welcomed the returns of Manny Ramirez (.311/.407/.633 with 156.8 RC overall), Wells (.293/.344/.545, 83.2 RC), Huff (.287/.352/.509 with 36 HR and 109.4 RC) and Kendall (.305/.396/.377 overall.)  Greene (.259/.343/.460, 17 HR, 74.9 RC) also enjoyed an impressive rookie season.

That winter, Gill managed to jettison Garciaparra's contract to the Sylmar Padawans -- a saving that cost him Crosby.  But with Greene manning shortstop for the foreseeable future, Crosby seemed to be unneeded excess.  Gill then made another blockbuster deal with his favorite trading partner, Ken Kaminski of the Marlboro Hammerheads, sending Hudson and two others to Marlboro in exchange for ageless wonder Roger Clemens.  At 42 years of age, Clemens was in the final year of a contract that paid him just $6.5 million in 2005.  He would win 17 games in '05, with a sparkling 2.42 ERA in 234+ innings, making him one of the top pitchers in the league.

But Gill was curious to see what Clemens' market value was to other teams, so he dangled Clemens on the Selling forum.  The Salem Cowtippers took the bait, and Clemens was flipped to Salem in exchange for 26-year-old ace-in-the-making Brandon Webb.  Webb went 14-9 for Chicago in '05, with a 4.33 ERA, and was signed to a four-year deal at cut-rate salaries.

In the free agent auction, Gill once again looked to boost his lineup, and spent $16 million of his $20 million budget to re-acquire Vladimir Guerrero.  Guerrero enjoyed another MVP-caliber season, hitting .347/.393/.618 with 42 home runs, 140 RBIs and 151.6 runs created.

With a solid starting rotation, strong bullpen and devastating lineup, the Black Sox were once again picked to win the Hrbek Division.  Unlike the previous season, Chicago bolted out of the gate with a league-best 18-10 record in Chapter One.  They continued playing .600 ball through the all-star break, and led the division by two games at the half.

At the Chapter Two deadline, it became time once again for Gill to trade Manny Ramirez, as he had done three times before.  And in exchange for Ramirez, Gill re-acquired both Aramis Ramirez and Mike Mussina.  Aramis (.306/.364/.548, 87.2 RC) played nearly as well as Manny (.323/.419/.639) over the final five chapters, while Mussina (8-5, 4.87 ERA in 107+ IP) provided decent innings in his return to Chicago.

On July 27th, Gill pulled off yet another midseason blockbuster trade, and once again, he added more offense to his already powerful lineup.  In a nine-player trade with the Kansas Law Dogs, Gill added Gary Sheffield to his lineup and re-acquired Victor Martinez.  Sheffield hit .323/.431/.652 down the stretch, which more than made up for the loss of Ramirez.  And Martinez -- at 26 years old and only $100,000 in salary, one of the top young assets in the game -- hit .335/.402/.632 in 182 at-bats for the Black Sox.

In exchange, Gill parted with Mussina and four top prospects: Andy LaRoche, Adam Jones, Jeff Mathis and Rich Hill.  Of the four, none has come close to providing Martinez's value over the course of his contract.

While the Ryche battled against the division rival Atlanta Fire Ants for the EL wild card, the Black Sox ran away with another division title.  On the backs of Sheffield, Martinez, Guerrero, Wells, Huff and Greene, Chicago went 54-26 down the stretch.  They clinched their second straight division title on October 27th, and finished with 100 or more wins for the third time in franchise history (102-58.)

That November, the Black Sox faced the Wapakoneta Hippos in the Division Series.  The Hippos sported a record of just 87-73 during the regular season, which made them the #4 seed in the playoffs.  Considered to be the overwhelming underdogs, the Hippos lost the first game of the series 8-5, but bounced back to win Game Two by a score of 8-6.  Once again, Chicago's starting pitching abandoned them during the post-season, as 40-year-old veteran Kevin Brown (ace of many past Stamford Zoots champions) closed out his BDBL career by allowing eight earned runs on a dozen hits in just 2 1/3 innings.

Webb took the hill for Chicago in Game Three, and performed nearly as poorly, allowing six runs (four earned) through 5 1/3 innings, thanks to six walks.  Hippos ace Jason Schmidt pitched seven shutout innings of one-hit ball against the suddenly quiet Chicago offense, giving Wapakoneta an 8-3 win and a 2-1 series advantage.

In Game Four, it was Prior's turn to be pounded by the suddenly explosive Hippos offense: 7 runs on 7 hits and 6 walks through just 5 innings.  Suddenly, this Hippos team -- which scored 76 fewer runs than Chicago during the regular season -- was on an unstoppable tear, and just one win away from the biggest upset of the 2005 playoffs.

In Game Five, Chicago sent Sheets to the hill to face Wapakoneta's Jake Westbrook.  And once again, Chicago's offense was stymied by the Hippos' pitching.  The series ended with an easy 5-0 Wapakoneta shutout.  Chicago's vaunted offense hit just .221/.306/.356 as a team in the series.  Guerrero went just 5-for-20 with one RBI.  Ramirez went 4-for-18.  Martinez went 3-for-18.  And Huff was an atrocious 1-for-15.

Three Chicago Black Sox teams had won 100 or more games during the regular season, and none of those teams had won a BDBL championship.

 

By the winter of 2006, it became apparent that Gill had constructed a team that would be competitive year in and year out.  The '06 Black Sox were once again returning several all-star hitters in Aramis Ramirez (.299/.337/.493, 75.3 RC), Wells (.288/.349/.543, 81.2 RC) and Greene (.255/.298/.427, 52 RC.)  And the starting rotation returned Sheets (10-10, 4.04 ERA in 169+ IP overall), Prior (10-10, 4.97 ERA in 172 IP) and Webb (13-15, 5.25 ERA in 235 IP.)  Jeremy Bonderman, Gill's first round pick in the 2003 farm draft, gave the Black Sox another good, young arm in the starting rotation, as he added 188 innings to the team at a salary of just $1.6 million.

Gill continued to make headlines in the winter of '06 with three blockbuster trades.  First, he traded Guerrero and top prospect Fielder to the Corona Confederates, re-acquiring Manny Ramirez in exchange (along with prospect Conor Jackson.)  It marked the fifth time Gill had acquired Ramirez in trade, and Ramirez rewarded Gill's loyalty by hitting .273/.361/.548 overall in 2006.

Next, Gill traded prospect J.J. Hardy to the Los Altos Undertakers, and re-acquired Carlos Delgado in exchange (marking the second time Gill had traded for Delgado.)  In the process, Gill also managed to cut several million dollars in salary by offloading Jose Vidro and Darin Erstad to the rebuilding Undertakers.

Finally, Gill flipped Delgado, and traded Victor Martinez for the second time, getting MVP candidate Derek Lee in exchange.  Lee was expected to have a monster season in 2006, and he did just that, hitting .300/.399/.621 with 45 doubles, 45 homers, 123 RBIs and 144.1 runs created overall.

After sitting out the free agent auction, except for the signing of #5 starter Kyle Lohse at a salary of $2.5 million, Gill signed Juan Pierre, Jason Kendall and Francisco Cordero in the free agent draft.  The end result was a team that was once again picked to win the Hrbek Division.

But just as they did in 2004, Chicago shocked the BDBL establishment by getting off to a mind-boggling 8-20 start.  This time, however, the team's slow start was met with conspiratorial whispers by the BDBL press.  Given Gill's historic all-or-nothing approach, some felt that he had intentionally taken a dive in the first chapter by putting his second-best team on the field.  And by doing so, he had given himself a convenient excuse to begin rebuilding, free of criticism.

On March 7th -- just five weeks into the season -- Gill placed his three most marketable free agents on the chopping block.  Less than 48 hours later, all three (Sheets, Ramirez and Matt Wise) were traded to the Marlboro Hammerheads.

The Black Sox owned a playoff-caliber team heading into this season.  Any team with a lineup that includes Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Manny Ramirez and Vernon Wells, and a pitching staff that includes Sheets, Mark Prior, Brandon Webb and Jeremy Bonderman, should be expected to compete-- slow start or no slow start.  And the Hrbek Division is wide open this year.  But John Gill took one look at his team this past winter and decided it wasn't good enough to win it all.  (Back in January, Gill wrote on the board: "I look forward to picking much higher next year and listening to the whining and crying of the people picking down low where I am this year...I can't wait til next year.")  He then handed the ball to Chan Ho Park (5.52 CERA) and Carl Pavano (5.74) a total of eight times in Chapter One, which, not surprisingly, sabotaged his team's early record.

For his part, Gill denied sabotaging his team, and insisted that his playing time decisions were based on usage issues.  With that March 9th trade with Marlboro, Gill managed to once again trade Manny Ramirez. And once again, he re-acquired Carlos Zambrano. By this point in league history, this game of hot potato between Marlboro and Chicago had become a running joke:

March 9, 2006
Just When You Thought It Was Safe...
MARLBORO, NJ - The Marlboro Hammerheads and Chicago Black Sox have done it again.  For the fifth time in BDBL history, Carlos Zambrano has been traded between Marlboro and Chicago.  And for the fourth time, he has been traded for Ben Sheets.

Zambrano joins the Black Sox, along with the injured Scott Rolen and rookie Craig Hansen in exchange for Sheets, Manny Ramirez and Matt Wise.

This marks the sixth time in eight seasons that Ramirez has been traded in the BDBL.

The Black Sox improved to 14-14 in Chapter Two, but their deficit in the Hrbek Division had grown to seven games, and after two chapters they owned the worst record in the Eck League at 22-34.  After a 12-12 Chapter Three, Chicago headed into the midseason break with a record of 34-46 -- good enough for second place in the division, but 13 games behind the Akron Ryche.

After an 11-13 Chapter Four performance, Gill made his final trade of the season, sending Lee and Cordero to the Sylmar Padawans in exchange for Paul Konerko, Bernie Castro and Matt Bush.

Chicago wrapped up the season with a 70-90 record, good for third place in the Hrbek Division -- their worst record since the inaugural 1999 season.

 

Gill then headed into the winter of 2007 with another solid core of returning veterans, including Kendall (.312/.381/.430, 93.2 RC), Wells (.293/.341/.514, 102 RC) and Zambrano (13-14, 5.56 ERA in 233 IP.)  The Black Sox also owned one of the top pitchers in baseball, as Webb (18-8, 2.76 ERA in 254+ IP in BDBL '07) had become a bona-fide ace.  But with just two years (including '07) remaining on Webb's contract, Gill sought an opportunity to flip the low-cost ace for a young bat with several years of production ahead of him.  He found that bat in former Salem franchise player Mark Teixeira.  At a salary of just $3.1 million, the 27-year-old Teixeira hit .296/.376/.577 with 46 doubles, 38 homers, 126 RBIs and 127.8 runs created for the 2007 Black Sox.  Signed through the 2011 season, Teixeira was expected be the face of the franchise for the next several years.  Just two years later, however, Teixeira was sent packing back to the Cowtippers.

In addition to Webb, Gill also parted with Konerko, Conor Jackson and Rolen in that deal, and received top prospect Fernando Martinez in exchange.  Gill also made another trade with the Salem organization that winter, sending 24-year-old righty Jeremy Bonderman (20-7, 4.24 ERA in 229 IP in '07) to Salem in exchange for 26-year-old lefty Jeff Francis (14-8, 4.81 ERA in 217+ IP.)

For the first time ever, Gill spent big money on a free agent pitcher in the auction that year, shelling out $8 million for Barry Zito (11-12, 5.27 ERA in 198+ IP.)  That addition seemingly gave Chicago its best front three starters ever, in Zito, Francis and Zambrano.  Gill also added light-hitting speedsters Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre for short money in the auction, and wrapped up the final day of bidding by signing catcher Ivan Rodriguez to a $5.5 million salary.

Shortly after signing Rodriguez, however, Gill received a once-in-a-lifetime "Godfather" offer from Manchester Irish Rebels GM Jim Doyle.  Seemingly out of the blue, Doyle offered Gill three of the top young prospects in the game -- Yovani Gallardo, Adam Loewen and Jarred Saltalamacchia -- in exchange for Rodriguez and catching prospect Kurt Suzuki.  It took Gill a matter of nanoseconds to agree to the deal.

Although the front three starters in the Chicago rotation were impressive, the back two of Loewen (4.70 CERA in 112 MLB IP) and Chan Ho Park (137 IP, 4.62 ERA in MLB) were not so impressive.  Due to the perceived weakness in the starting rotation and bullpen, and tough competition within the division from the Akron Ryche and Cleveland Rocks, the Black Sox were picked to finish the 2007 season in third place.

True to form, the Black Sox got off to a 12-16 start in Chapter One, but followed that up with two good chapters, and headed into the all-star break with a .500 record -- just one game behind the league leaders (Akron and Cleveland.)

As Chapter Four got underway, Gill found himself in a familiar position of having to make a tough decision to either sacrifice part of his franchise's future to compete in the current season or throw in the towel and build for the future.  On July 18th, Gill made his decision crystal clear by announcing back-to-back trades.

In the first trade, Gill flipped Fernando Martinez (the top prospect acquired in that winter's Salem trade) to the South Carolina Sea Cats.  In exchange, he picked up key reliever Scot Shields and re-acquired a familiar old face in center fielder Andruw Jones.  After excelling for the Sea Cats (1.99 CERA in 65+ IP) throughout the first four chapters of the season, Shields was inexplicably disastrous (7.20 ERA in 20 IP) for Chicago.  Jones, however, was brilliant, hitting .273/.353/.615 with 18 home runs and 45.6 runs created in just 205 at-bats down the stretch.

Next, Gill made the decision to deal with Tom "The Emperor" DiStefano, and entered into negotiations for Allentown's 29-year-old ace Roy Oswalt.  Oswalt was a BDBL post-season legend who had carried the Ridgebacks to two BDBL championships.  Although he began to show signs of wear-and-tear in the 2007 MLB season, he had three years remaining on a seemingly reasonable contract.  And for Chicago, he was brilliant down the stretch, going 9-1 with a 3.29 ERA in 82+ innings.  His price was steep, however, as it cost Chicago four of their top prospects: Gallardo, Billy Rowell, Loewen and Chris Volstad.

Chicago kept pace with the division leaders in Chapter Four, going 12-12, and they followed that up with a 14-14 record in Chapter Five.  They then wrapped up the season with their best chapter, going 18-10.  But their two .500 chapters had opened up too much ground between themselves and the two teams ahead of them.  On October 25th, the Cleveland Rocks officially captured their first playoffs appearance, thanks to the Black Sox, who took three of four from Akron to eliminate the Ryche from the race.

Chicago finished the 2007 season with an 84-76 record -- only five games behind the Rocks.

 

The Black Sox made a minor change heading into the 2008 season involving their home ballpark.  After nine seasons of playing in a park modeled after the hitter-friendly Bank One Ballpark in Arizona, Gill created a custom-designed home park that closely mirrored Bank One, with the exception of a much lower triples factor for both lefties and righties, a slightly lower LH HR factor (from 110 to 104) and a slightly higher HR factor for righties (from 105.3 to 108.)

Teixeira (.324/.396/.646, 40 HR, 133.9 RC) returned for another big season in the heart of the Chicago lineup, and Gill added Vladimir Guerrero (.334/.404/.558, 135.1 RC) and Placido Polanco (.354/.392/.504, 124 RC) that winter in a trade with the St. Louis Apostles, giving the Black Sox yet another formidable lineup.  The St. Louis trade came at a steep price, as it cost Chicago the low-cost/high-output bat of Dustin Pedroia, but it gave them a lineup that many felt would keep them in contention.

In the auction, Gill added closer Joe Nathan (4-7, 16 SV, 3.95 ERA in 73 IP) to stabilize a bullpen that had been decimated by the off-season trades of Francisco Cordero and Jose Valverde.  And with Oswalt (19-4, 3.30 ERA in 232 IP), Francis (18-13, 4.21 ERA in 235+ IP) and Zambrano (13-18, 3.64 ERA in 235+ IP) returning to the rotation, and sophomore Manny Delcarmen (4-5, 21 SV, 4.19 ERA in 43 IP) returning to the bullpen, it appeared Chicago had enough pitching to contend as well.

The Black Sox got off to a rough start at 13-15, but their main competitors in the division (Akron) were equally slow out of the gate at 14-14, keeping it a tight race.  Chicago then busted out with a 17-11 showing in Chapter Two, but then fell to 12-12 the following chapter.  At the all-star break, Chicago clung to a slim one-game lead in the division over both Akron and Cleveland, with a record of 42-38.

Gill made just one trade during the season, sending Eric Hinske to Marlboro for Randy Winn.  No additional trades were necessary, as Chicago upped their winning pace to 47-33 over the second half, while Cleveland and Akron each posted sub-.500 records over the same timeframe.  The Black Sox finished with an 89-71 record, and easily captured their fourth Hrbek Division title by ten games.

The Black Sox then faced the heavily-favored Southern Cal Slyme in the Division Series.  The Slyme had set a new BDBL wins record in 2008 with an astounding 116-44 record.  Yet, they soon learned a time-tested lesson that regular season records matter not at all during a short series.  Chicago pounded Southern Cal's pitching throughout the series, hitting .301/.438/.504 as a team and scoring 40 runs in four games.  The Slyme, meanwhile, were dominated by Chicago pitching, hitting just .225/.307/.302 as a team, with just 29 runs scored.  Chicago swept the series in shocking fashion, bringing a swift end to Southern Cal GM Bob Sylvester's dreams of a BDBL championship.

Next up were the Allentown Ridgebacks, who had been heavily favored to win the BDBL championship in pre-season polling, yet had a difficult time merely winning their division.  Allentown pounded their former ace, Oswalt, in Game One, scoring four runs on ten hits through six innings en route to an easy 6-0 win.  The Black Sox tied the series in the second game thanks to the pitching of Zambrano (6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K.)

A match-up between Francis and Allentown ace Tim Lincecum turned into a slugfest in Game Three, resulting in an 11-8 Allentown win.  The Ridgebacks then took a 3-1 series lead when Chicago's #4 starter, Jeff Suppan, was pounded for seven runs on 14 hits in seven innings.

With their backs against the wall, facing a 6-3 deficit and possible elimination, the Black Sox rallied for seven runs in the fifth inning of Game Five, and won by a score of 15-9, forcing the series to shift back to Allentown.

In Game Six, a two-out RBI single by Norris Hopper tied the score, eventually forcing extra innings.  With his bullpen depleted, Gill turned to long reliever Brett Tomko to hold the score for one more inning in the bottom of the tenth.  But with two outs, pinch hitter Cody Ross sent a Tomko pitch deep into the seats for a walk-off homer.

 

While other franchises have dabbled in the "all-or-nothing" approach to team building, perhaps no GM has executed this strategy better than John Gill.  From the very beginning, Gill drafted a young team with an eye on the future more than the present.  He then purposely tore down a .500 team in 1999, and the result was back-to-back 106-win seasons in 2000 and 2001.  He then spent the following two seasons in rebuilding mode, with the result being back-to-back 102-win seasons and two more division titles.

Through it all, Gill's emphasis has been on his offense.  The Black Sox clubbed over 2,000 home runs in the league's first decade.  (Only the Kansas Law Dogs, playing in a home ballpark modeled after Coors Field, hit more.)  Chicago's 8,499 runs scored ranks third behind the Cowtippers (8,508) and Law Dogs (8,900.)  And as a team, the Black Sox hit .290/.357/.485 -- an 842 OPS that ranks second behind Kansas.  A .290/.357/.485 average would be very good for any one player, but for an entire team -- over an entire decade -- it is an unfathomable accomplishment.

Gill spent more than twice as much ($519.6 million) on his offense over the first ten years than he spent on his pitching staff ($244.4 million.)  And not surprisingly, the team's pitching performances suffered as a result, as Chicago ranked 20th out of the 24 teams in the BDBL in runs allowed through the first decade.

A great deal of Chicago's success has been owed to Gill's management of the farm system.  Chicago's average ranking in the annual BDBL Farm Report (7.2) ranks behind only the Los Altos Undertakers (4.6) and Salem Cowtippers (6.0.)  The list of players drafted or signed by Gill is extremely impressive, including Beckett, Josh Hamilton, Jason Marquis, Aubrey Huff, Victor Martinez, Bonderman, Kurt Suzuki and Evan Longoria.  And through trade, Gill added future stars such as Yovani Gallardo, Dustin Pedroia, Conor Jackson, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Khalil Greene and Mark Prior.  Incredibly, most of Chicago's top prospects fulfilled their predicted potential values, unlike top prospects on other teams.

And unlike many GM's, Gill has been unafraid to trade those prospects -- or any player, really -- if it benefits his franchise.  Gill has been at the center of more blockbuster trades in BDBL history than perhaps any other GM, and the result was 868 career wins, four division titles, two league titles, and a near sweep of the World Series that instead resulted in one of the biggest upsets in league history.