On the final day of November, 1999,
John Gill became the latest addition to the fledgling Big Daddy Baseball
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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+
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
2006 Just When You Thought It Was
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
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
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.
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.)
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.