Moffatt was one of the original 24 owners in the Big Daddy Baseball
League. An outspoken, 50-year-old former Marine, Moffatt managed
his franchise from the sunny paradise of Maui, Hawaii. Roughly two
weeks into his tenure as owner, the league decided to get a jump-start
on the upcoming inaugural draft by allowing owners to draft players via
e-mail, with no time restrictions. Moffatt sent an angry response
to this decision via the league's e-mail list:
Now there's a "gutless" decision.
When the same idiots who want to draft
before the disk is even out start changing the rules and salary
before the season ,will we do that? Real disappointing start for a
Less than three hours after sending
that e-mail, Moffatt resigned from the league. A replacement owner
was quickly named the following day. Tim Zigmund, a 43-year-old
computer programmer from Minneapolis, gladly accepted his invitation to
join the league. He named his franchise the "Plattsburgh Champs"
after his hometown of Plattsburgh, New York, and their legendary sea
monster, "Champ." He then filled his coaching staff with members
of the 1969 Montreal Expos.
With the 21st pick in a very
slow-moving draft, Zigmund had plenty of time to consider who would be
his franchise's first player. When that decision was finally made,
Zigmund selected 30-year-old perennial all-star catcher, Mike Piazza.
Piazza would hit .279/.330/.504 with 33 home runs and 96.2 runs created
in 1999. Over the next three seasons, he would hit 105 homers and
create 319.4 runs -- outstanding production from a catcher.
Zigmund continued to strengthen his
lineup up the middle by selecting 33-year-old second baseman Craig
Biggio (.302/.377/.476, 21 HR, 121.9 RC) with his second pick of the
draft, just seven picks later. With his next four picks, Zigmund
landed Andres Gallarraga (.277/.372/.527, 35 HR, 110.7 RC), Bobby Abreu
(.298/.378/.450, 93.9 RC), Matt Williams (.240/.303/.370, 55.8 RC) and
David Justice (.251/.339/.429, 68.3 RC.) Of his first six picks,
only Abreu (25) was younger than 30 years old.
Zigmund didn't select his first pitcher
until the 7th round, when he picked two under-30 pitchers back-to-back:
28-year-old Rick Helling (12-11, 4.25 ERA in 220+ IP) and 25-year-old
Tony Saunders (8-7, 4.88 ERA in 186+ IP in his only BDBL season.)
Zigmund then went back to fortifying his lineup, selecting Tony Gwyn,
Tony Batista and Juan Encarnacion with his next three picks.
By the end of the draft, the Champs
appeared to be an excellent offensive team (though not nearly as strong
as you'd expect, given Zigmund's drafting patterns.) The pitching
was abysmal, however, with Orel Hershiser (14-11, 4.78 ERA in 201+ IP)
and Jamey Wright (9-12, 4.08 ERA in 172+ IP) filling out the rotation.
With the #4 pick in the farm draft,
Zigmund selected highly-coveted prospect Pat Burrell. But in
demonstration of his disdain for the farm system, Zigmund made just two
more picks (Joe Lawrence and Luis Rivera) in that draft before filling
the final two spots on his farm club with boxers Mike Tyson and Evander
Competing in the Ozzie League's Benes
Division, against the Akron Ryche, Marlboro Hammerheads and Salem
Cowtippers, the Champs got off to an 11-14 start -- the worst record in
the division, and six games behind the Ryche. They followed that
chapter with an impressive 17-13 record in Chapter Two, and crept to
within two games of the front-running Cowtippers. By the all-star
break, the Champs had pulled into a virtual tie for first atop the
division. Predictably, Plattsburgh led the Ozzie League with 415
runs scored at the break. Surprisingly, they also ranked 5th in
fewest runs allowed.
But Chapter Four was disastrous for the
Champs, as they went just 10-17, while the Cowtippers caught on fire,
going 20-7. That opened up a nine-game lead for Salem, and sealed
the fate of the division. However, Plattsburgh was still in the
thick of the playoffs hunt, as they trailed the OL wild card leading
Litchfield Lightning by just five games.
With his team in the thick of a
playoffs push, Zigmund stood pat for the most part. Aside from
hiring a firing a new coaching staff every few weeks, Zigmund made very
few moves to change his roster. He signed two free agents in
Chapter Three and signed two more at the Chapter Five deadline.
And he made just two trades at the final trading deadline, getting
middle reliever Jim Mecir from the Madison Fighting Mimes and backup
catcher Mike Stanley from the Virginia Cavaliers. In retrospect,
his most significant move of the season came in the final chapter, when
he plucked college freshman Mark Teixeira out of free agency and added
him to the Plattsburgh farm.
The Champs went just 39-41 during the
second half of the season, giving them an overall record of 86-74 --
good for second place. They finished eight games out of the wild
card race and a dozen games out of the divisional race.
Throughout the course of the 1999
season, Zigmund was a vocal participant on the league's forum.
(His most famous contribution being his defense of Mark Johnson as a
superior catching prospect to Salem's Ben Davis.) As often as he
participated in league discussions, however, he was not nearly as
involved in the day-to-day operation of his franchise. After
making only a handful of transactions during the 1999 season, Zigmund
sat out of the trading frenzy that winter and went into the 2000 season
with virtually the same roster as the one he had managed the year
Although the personnel was the same,
several players were expected to give improved performances in the 2000
season. Darren Oliver, a 19th-round selection in the inaugural
draft, went 12-7 with a 3.43 ERA in 168 innings for the 2000 Champs.
Abreu improved to hit .305/.410/.488 on the season, with 120.1 runs
created. Matt Williams (.291/.350/.495, 27 HR, 88.4 RC) saw a
172-point increase in his OPS. And Mike Stanley (.266/.377/.474,
20 HR, 66.3 RC) also enjoyed a resurgent year. Biggio
(.265/.348/.426, 105 RC), Gwynn (.319/.369/.465, 92.8 RC) and Piazza
(.269/.324/.441, 81.8 RC) also returned to the Champs, giving them one
of the league's best lineups once again. To that core of hitters,
Zigmund added Jose Canseco (.251/.350/.550, 64.9 RC) in the second round
of the draft.
Although Plattsburgh's pitching staff
was still considered to be below par, the Champs were picked to finish
second in the Benes Division in the annual BDBL Season Preview:
would be an understatement to say that Tim "Stand Pat"
Zigmund loves his players. He loves them so much, it pains
him to part with any of them. After a winter of inactivity,
this year's team is a carbon copy of last year's
second-place squad. But with notably weaker competition in
the Benes Division this year, and with the balance of luck
tilting in their favor, their offense may just be enough to
carry them into the postseason.
1st place. With only a slight lead over the spunky Salem
Cowtippers, Tim Zigmund finally acknowledges that pitchers
are an evil necessity and he trades away prized prospect Pat
"The Bat" Burrell one day before the trading deadline in
order to snag an ace for his staff. That one trade gives
him enough of an edge that the Champs win the division
championship on the final day of the season.
Roughly two months into the 1999
season, the BDBL welcomed Tim's brother, Eric, into the league.
Eric took over the Delafield Ogres franchise in the Eck League's Person
Division. Eric's franchise, which he renamed the "Minneapolis
Haymakers," was then moved into the Ozzie League's Butler Division to
start the 2000 season. The first trade between the two Zigmund
brothers then occurred prior to the start of the 2000 season, when the
Salem Cowtippers traded prospect Alfonso Soriano to the Haymakers in
exchange for pinch hitter Armando Rios. Eric Zigmund then flipped
the young prospect to his brother in exchange for young shortstop Felipe
Lopez (with several draft picks exchanging hands as well.)
The 2000 season began with both the
Champs and Haymakers sporting 12-12 records at the end of the first
chapter. By the end of Chapter Two, Plattsburgh held a 21-27
record and trailed the Cowtippers by nine games. Throughout the
first two chapters, Zigmund uncharacteristically disappeared from the
league forum. Equally inconsistent with his reputation, Zigmund
also became less and less available to play head-to-head games.
During the final week of April, he announced his resignation from the
league, citing health problems.
"I have to say this is the saddest of
all resignations I've received," said BDBL commissioner Mike
Glander. "Tim was an excellent owner. He was never afraid to express
his opinion, he was very active on the league message board, and he
constantly kept me in check as a commissioner, calling me on every
possible infraction of my duties as league commissioner. I will miss
him greatly, and wish him the best."
Three days later, the league announced
that for the first time ever, a franchise would be co-owned by two new
owners: David Myers and John Miernicki. "We wouldn't (have applied
to the BDBL) if we weren't in it for the long-haul," stated Myers at the
time. "We're interested in putting together a dynasty -- not
turning ourselves into the Florida Marlins."
With Myers serving mostly as the
franchise's GM, while Miernicki assumed control over managing the games,
the Champs led the Benes Division with a 16-10 record in Chapter Three,
and headed into the all-star break just four games behind Salem.
Halfway through the chapter, Myers made
his first BDBL trade, sending the now college sophomore Teixeira to
Salem in exchange for pitching prospect Wes Anderson. "Kid has a
huge stick," said Myers in reference to Teixeira, "quite a prospect.
But I'm equally impressed with the 97 mph fastball of Anderson.
So, although it seems relatively minor at this point, I'm good with the
It would be the one and only trade made
by Myers that season. Meanwhile, after posting the division's best
record in Chapter Three, the Champs fell to 8-20 the following chapter,
digging themselves into an inescapable hole. With one chapter
remaining in the season, Plattsburgh sat with a 55-75 record -- 19 games
behind the division leader. That is when Miernicki decided he had
had enough. Roughly four months after proclaiming they were "in it
for the long haul," both Myers and Miernicki resigned.
"I feel I've been virtually
non-existent from the beginning," said Myers at a hastily-organized
press conference from his home office in Ohio. "I tried to work
several deals, but except for (one) relatively minor
exchange...nothing happened. That's okay, my intent was to be more
active in the off-season, but even the very small role I've had to
maintain has been difficult."
..."The BDBL doesn't interest me
at all," said Miernicki, who has yet to manage a game this chapter.
"I don't know why, but I don't feel like I'm a part of the league."
When asked to comment on his manager's statement, former Plattsburgh
manager Mike Piazza countered, "John who?"
"Maybe it's all the Yankee-lovin' slant on everything," said
Miernicki, "or the fact that these guys are all much more serious
about baseball than I am."
..."Playing live over the net was cool at first," Miernicki
explained, "but I have quickly gotten very tired of 45 minute games
where the opponent thinks he's managing Game 7 of the World
Series...It's to the point where I feel like I'm wasting 2-4 hours
playing a series instead of enjoying it...The BDBL is for a more
serious baseball person than I."
The league wasted no time filling the
void left by Myers and Miernicki. That evening, the league
announced that the BDBL was "going global." Dean Ashley, a
27-year-old college student living in Perth, Australia, was introduced
to the league as the new owner of the Plattsburgh franchise. Like
Myers and Miernicki, Ashley assured the league that he was "in it for
the long haul."
Plattsburgh finished the season with a
third-place record of 70-90. Ashley, meanwhile, made his first
mark on the franchise by releasing Williams, Oliver and Rudy Seanez, all
That winter, Ashley renamed his
franchise the "Perth Breeze," and made his first BDBL trade, dealing his
franchise's #1 prospect, Burrell, to the Chicago Black Sox in exchange
for Derrek Lee, Jay Canizaro and two farm picks. That season,
Burrell would hit .321/.411/.552 with 76.7 runs created in just 324
at-bats for the Black Sox. He would enjoy a long and productive
BDBL career, highlighted by his 2003 season (.342/.415/.672, 51 HR, 162
RBI, 177.5 RC) for the Kansas Law Dogs. Lee, meanwhile, had a
quality season (.321/.388/.573, 30 HR, 98.9 RC) for the Breeze in 2001,
but tailed off the following two years, posting an OPS below 800 in both
seasons. And with those two farm picks, Ashley selected Ed Rogers
and Ross Gload -- neither of whom ever had much of a career.
Ashley continued wheeling and dealing
that winter, acquiring two-fifths of his starting rotation through a
pair of trades. In exchange for Juan Encarnacion, Ashley acquired
Dave Burba (8-15, 5.52 ERA in 207+ IP) from the Law Dogs. And in
exchange for Abreu, Ashley added Bartolo Colon from the Cowtippers.
But he then flipped Colon to the Allentown Ridgebacks in exchange for
Delino Deshields (.277/.371/.450, 103.1 RC overall) and a farm pick that
was used to select Brad Baker. He also picked up outfielder Derek
Bell (.299/.375/.463, 84.5 RC) to replace the departed Abreu.
"After we completed the deals for
Burba and Colon, we were left needing two outfielders and a further
starting pitcher. We moved quickly to secure the services of Derek
Bell. However, with Bell having some issues with left-hand pitching
and Craig Biggio to miss a lot of games, we were looking for another
outfielder who could bat in the first two. DeShields fits the bill
perfectly. Allentown wanted a pitcher to build around and we had
Asked if the deal meant that he had
in fact effectively traded Bobby Abreu (traded to Salem for Colon)
for the much lighter hitting DeShields Ashley replied "Not really.
We also got a first round farm draft pick in the latest deal, giving
up a late round free-agent pick. But the big attraction of DeShields
was his salary. At $1m in 2001, DeShields fills a hole that would
previously required a $5m draft pick to remedy. The deal frees up
enough salary room to get both the starter we needed and a
replacement for Colon".
With his final trade of the winter,
Ashley made a bold move, trading his franchise's top young player,
Alfonso Soriano, to the New Milford Blazers. In exchange, he
received starter Kenny Rogers (11-14, 4.25 ERA in 231 IP) and New
Milford's #1 draft pick -- the first overall pick of the draft.
"It's disappointing to lose a
prospect like [Soriano], but I couldn't see the deal happening
without him. Fortunately we have some good farm draft picks to
replenish the system".
On the issue of who would be taken with the prized pick, Ashley was
somewhat coy. "Who would you take?" he asked. When Al Leiter was
suggested he replied, "Interesting. Very interesting" and declined
to comment further.
Just days later, Ashley made it
official, selecting Leiter (15-5, 4.50 ERA in 216 IP overall) with the
first pick of the draft. For the first time in franchise history,
the Breeze featured a bona-fide ace at the top of the rotation.
However, Leiter's supporting cast (Burba, Jim Parque, Rogers and Steve
Sparks) was still less than impressive. And with Salem and
Marlboro expected to field strong contenders, the Breeze were picked to
finish in third place in the division.
Perth jumped out to a solid 15-13
record in the first chapter, but the Cowtippers (22-6) blew away the
competition right out of the gate. And after posting an 11-15
record in Chapter Two, and falling a dozen games out of the division
race, it became apparent that Perth would not have the personnel to
compete in 2001.
At the Chapter Three deadline, Ashley
began to stockpile draft picks for 2002, trading Jose Jimenez and
Glenallen Hill to the South Carolina Sea Cats in exchange for their #6
pick and #1 and #2 farm picks.
For his part, Ashley managed to remain
active in the league, and played most of his games head-to-head despite
a 9-to-12-hour difference in time zones. But as the season wore
on, Ashley became less and less involved. And when he secured a
full-time job in early July, his participation in the league dwindled to
the point where a decision needed to be made. On July 22nd, the
league announced that Ashley had agreed to step down as owner of the
franchise. In his place, 24-year-old college student Adam Musson
was introduced to the league.
Like his predecessors, Musson vowed
that he planned to be "around the BDBL for quite some time." His
first decision as owner of the franchise was to trade Richard Hidalgo,
Leiter, Roberto Hernandez and Deshields to the Chicago Black Sox in
exchange for 34-year-old veteran Moises Alou, three other players and
Chicago's #2 farm pick. The trade greatly strengthened the Chicago
team as they headed into the playoffs. Alou posted an 825+ OPS in
each of the following two seasons.
The Breeze went 34-46 over the second
half of the season -- tied with Marlboro for the second-best record in
the division. Overall, they went 66-94, which was good for third
place. As the season came to an end, Musson followed in the
footsteps of his predecessors by proclaiming that his schedule had
become too busy to continue managing his franchise in the BDBL.
And on October 22nd, he officially stepped down as owner of the
On November 14th, Scott Romonosky -- a
30-year-old auditor from Schaumburg, Illinois -- was introduced as the
seventh owner of the franchise in its three-year history.
"We welcome Scott to the BDBL
family," said BDBL commissioner Mike Glander. "The Breeze franchise
has seen a lot of turnover since Tim Zigmund left office, and he
hope that Scott can bring some stability to that once-proud
Romonosky indicated that he hopes to
turn over his team's two superstars, Moises Alou and Mike Piazza, in
exchange for some quality pitching. "The Breeze need two or three
above-average starters along with a top-notch closer," said
"I will make a concerted effort to
turn around the Breeze franchise," he continued, "thus making my
division a little more competitive, and thus a little more
interesting with a tighter race."
Romonosky has roughly seven weeks to
do just that before Draft Day, 2002.
Unlike his predecessors, Romonosky did
not make a long-term commitment to the BDBL. And unlike his
predecessors, he did stick around.
After renaming his franchise the
"Sphinx" and moving them to the Great Lakes region, Romonosky began the
arduous task of turning his franchise into a winner. It would be
an uphill battle. His first decision as GM was to release Derek
Bell, Shane Andrews and Kenny Rogers without penalty, taking advantage
of the loophole provided to new owners.
That winter, Romonosky would make seven
trades. Each and every one was an unmitigated disaster. The
first trade of his BDBL career was with the Salem Cowtippers. In
that deal, he swapped valuable inning-eating starting pitcher Steve
Sparks (15-7, 3.88 ERA in 225+ IP, at just $1.5 million in salary) in
exchange for prospects Aaron Rowand and Gookie Dawkins. Rowand
would create just 26.4 runs over the next three seasons, and was traded
in the middle of the 2003 season. Dawkins would never play a
single game in the BDBL.
Great Lakes held the 7th pick in each
round of the 2002 draft, but with little room under the cap, Romonosky
elected to trade away several of his early picks. Both his #1 and
#2 picks were traded to Marlboro in exchange for Glendon Rusch (7-11,
5.04 ERA in 164+ IP), Julio Lugo (.216/.277/.282 in 213 AB), Milton
Bradley (.192/.288/.192 in 52 AB) and Marlboro's #2 pick (Jason Bere:
3-18, 5.73 ERA in 171+ IP.) Not only did the four players acquired
in this trade perform at replacement level, but Great Lakes failed to
save much salary. In retrospect, Romonosky would have been far
better off if he had used his first two draft picks (which were used to
select Jamie Moyer and Paul Konerko) himself.
Next, Romonosky dealt Moises Alou
(.299/.365/.460, 86.8 RC in 2002) and two draft picks in order to
acquire the New York Knights' #1 pick. New York held the #4
overall pick in the draft, and with a talented free agent class, this
guaranteed that a star-caliber player would be coming to Great Lakes.
But instead, Romonosky traded this pick -- once again to Marlboro -- in
exchange for Tony Armas (10-14, 4.66 ERA in 189+ IP), Rusty Greer
(.280/.385/.366 in 82 AB) and Ellis Burks (.223/.357/.457 in 184 AB.)
This trade made little sense for Great Lakes, as both Greer and Burks
were free agents, and consumed $8 million in combined salary despite
totaling just 266 at-bats.
The key to that trade for Romonosky was
the acquisition of the 24-year-old Armas, who looked to be a budding ace
in the making. However, Armas posted ERA's of just 4.66 in 2002
and 4.67 in 2003 before suffering a season-ending injury. He was
released without penalty prior to the '04 season.
Next, Romonosky picked up flame-throwing
closer Armando Benitez (2-10, 4.27 ERA, 30 SVs in 63+ IP) from the
Villanova Mustangs. But the price was steep, as it cost the
franchise pitching prospect Adam Wainwright and Great Lakes' 6th round
Later that winter, Romonosky traded his
#1 farm pick (the 7th pick overall in the farm draft) in exchange for
Jose Macias and the Stamford Zoots' #1 farm pick. Stamford held
the last pick in that draft, and Romonosky went into that draft with a
full farm system, so when Stamford's pick came up, Romonosky passed.
As for Macias, he hit .249/.320/.345 in 365 AB's for the Sphinx in 2002.
He then came to bat 42 times in 2003 before he was released with a $1
After the draft, the Sphinx were left
with a roster that had incredible depth (over 7,200 at-bats before the
110% BDBL mark-up), yet suffered from a dearth of quality. Piazza
(.309/.378/.577, 40 HR, 119.6 RC in his best BDBL season) and reliever
Chad Fox (10-7, 3.64 ERA in 69+ IP in his best season) were the only two
players on the Great Lakes roster who were even remotely considered
all-star-caliber players. And with Salem and Marlboro once again
forming competitive teams, the Sphinx were picked to finish in third
place, just ahead of the woeful Manchester Irish Rebels.
Two chapters into the season, that
prediction seemed right on target, as the Sphinx sported a third-place
record of 25-29, three games behind Marlboro and two ahead of
Manchester. On April 17th, Romonosky officially threw in the
towel, trading Burks to the Allentown Ridgebacks in exchange for
prospect Morgan Ensberg. He then sent a pair of $5 million
pitchers -- Fox and Tim Wakefield -- to the Bear Country Jamboree in
exchange for Pokey Reese and Vladimir Nunez. Of the three players
acquired, only Ensberg would enjoy great success in the BDBL.
Unfortunately for Romonosky, all of that success would come after he was
traded during the winter of 2004.
With little trade bait remaining on the
Great Lakes roster, Romonosky's trading days were done for the season.
His only job for the remaining 104 games of the season was to manage his
team to a 66-94 record.
Those 94 losses gave Great Lakes the #8
pick in the draft. But for the first time in BDBL history, the
draft was not the primary method of free agent acquisition. The
free agent auction was introduced in the winter of 2003, and Romonosky
had freed up roughly $22 million to spend, with a dozen spots on his
roster to fill.
Romonosky played it conservatively,
signing only three players in the auction: Scott Sauerbeck for $3
million, Luis Gonzalez for $7.5 million, and John Burkett for $3.5
million. He then spent another $8.4 million in the draft on
veterans Ben Grieve, Todd Zeile, Raul Mondesi, Jeff Nelson, Shawn Estes
and four others.
The 34-year-old Gonzalez was a bit of a
risk, as his $7.5 million salary guaranteed that he would be signed for
the 2004 season. But coming off an MLB season in which he'd hit
.288/.400/.496 with 28 homers, he was considered to be a relatively safe
bet. Unfortunately, he would hit just .230/.370/.406 for the
Sphinx in 2003.
With Benitez and Sauerbeck (5-5, 4.21
ERA in 64+ IP) in the bullpen, and Gonzalez now providing protection for
Piazza (.247/.331/.475, 64.3 RC) in the lineup, there was some cause for
optimism in Great Lakes. But once again, the Great Lakes starting
rotation, led by Burkett (5-13, 4.11 ERA in 171 IP), was considered
sub-par, as was the back end of the bullpen and the bottom third of the
At this point in their evolution, the
Sphinx appeared to be an old team "in desperate need of an infusion of
youth," according to the BDBL's Season Preview. Expected to once
again finish in third place in the highly-competitive Benes Division,
the Sphinx had plenty of trade bait and were expected to use it early in
After two chapters of play, Great Lakes
owned a 24-30 record, tied with Manchester for last place.
However, after getting off to an atrocious 8-20 start in Chapter One,
Romonosky made the odd decision of trading for Kansas Law Dogs ace David
Wells, giving up promising young starters Aaron Cook and Runelvys
Hernandez in exchange. The 40-year-old Wells went 10-9 with a 3.65
ERA in 180 innings for Great Lakes, and had another year under contract.
The Sphinx limped into the all-star
break with a division-worst 34-46 record. At the break, Romonosky
somehow found himself entangled in one of the biggest trades in BDBL
history. In a blockbuster four-team, 18-player trade with the
Allentown Ridgebacks, Cleveland Rocks and Villanova Mustangs, Romonosky
traded Julio Lugo, Aaron Rowand and Jeff Nelson and ended up with
pitching prospects John Maine and Boof Bonser. And in the process,
Barry Bonds somehow made his way to the Ridgebacks, where he won an EL
MVP and carried Allentown to the World Series.
At the final deadline, Romonosky made
his final trade of the season, dealing Benitez to Marlboro in exchange
for prospects Joel Guzman and Steve Smitherman -- neither of whom ever
played an inning in the BDBL. Great Lakes wrapped up the season
with a last-place 67-93 record -- one game behind Manchester in the
Benes Division standings.
In the winter of 2004, the league
agreed to a radical realignment of divisions. As part of that
realignment, the Sphinx franchise was displaced from the Benes Division,
where it had resided since the origin of the league, and placed in the
Eck League's Higuera Division. Great Lakes would now be competing
for the division title against the Allentown Ridgebacks, Kansas Law Dogs
and Villanova Mustangs.
That winter, Romonosky made a pair of
trades with their former division rivals, the Cowtippers, trading Luis
Gonzalez and Milton Bradley to Salem for Carlos Guillen, Eric Byrnes,
Brett Tomko, Brad Lidge, Keith Ginter and Jeff Weaver. In the
final year of his contract, Guillen (.229/.317/.305 overall) turned in a
disappointing season in 2004. Byrnes (.263/.331/.424) was somewhat
useful in 2004, before turning in an all-star performance in 2005.
And Lidge (6-11, 17 SV, 4.95 ERA in 78+ IP) was also a bit of a
disappointment for the '04 Sphinx.
Next, Romonosky made a blockbuster deal
with another former division rival, Marlboro. In an eight-player
trade, Romonosky sent Derrek Lee, David Wells and three others to
Marlboro in exchange for Jeff Bagwell (.304/.398/.539, 95.6 RC) and two
Finally, Romonosky traded with a new
division rival, sending Ensberg and Piazza to Villanova in exchange for
Ty Wigginton, Corey Lidle and two others. While Ensberg hit an
impressive .281/.339/.569 with 31 homers in his first full season, and
Piazza wrapped up his final year under contract by posting a 929 OPS in
244 AB's, Wigginton (.253/.304/.432) and Lidle (8-13, 5.60 ERA in 172
IP) merely filled at-bats and innings with replacement-level
In the auction, Romonosky signed
another aging veteran in Steve Finley (.270/.357/.432) at $6 million,
and added Magglio Ordonez (.338/.388/.544, 129.9 RC) for $11 million,
guaranteeing both a one-year contract at season's end. Those two
additions, in combination with Bagwell and Byrnes, gave Great Lakes an
impressive lineup. And the addition of Lidge bolstered the
pitching staff, which once again featured a mediocre starting rotation
led by seventh-round pick Burkett (6-16, 4.92 ERA in 183+ IP),
second-rounder Jon Garland (6-11, 4.12 ERA in 190+ IP) and Kyle Lohse
(14-12, 4.32 ERA in 208+ IP.)
Great Lakes was picked to finish last
in the newly-aligned Higuera Division, and with little to offer in
trade, the consensus was that it would be a long year in Great Lakes.
That consensus proved accurate when the Sphinx got off to a 23-33 start
to the season, and fell 15 games behind in the division race after just
two chapters of play.
Once again, Romonosky threw in the
towel at the all-star break. And once again, he received little in
return for his best players. In exchange for Finley, Guillen and
Javier Lopez, he received perennial disappointment Corey Patterson from
the Zoots, along with someone named Jon Adkins. Patterson would
hit .239/.301/.390 for Great Lakes in 2005, and would cost the team $1.1
million to release at the end of the season. Adkins pitched just
one season for the Sphinx, and contributed a 4.48 ERA in 58+ innings of
middle relief in '05.
Also at the all-star break, Romonsky
offloaded Bagwell and Michael Tucker, getting Reed Johnson and Chad
Tracy from the SoCal Slyme. Johnson posted OPS's of 663 and 725
over the next two seasons under contract, while Tracy hit .272/.336/.428
over the next four seasons -- all with Great Lakes.
The Sphinx continued to tumble in the
standings throughout the second half, going 33-47 to finish with an
overall record of 66-94 -- the third time in four years the team
finished with that record. After his trades in Chapter Two,
Romonosky was once again left without any viable trade bait, and simply
rode out the string, failing to make even one free agent acquisition the
rest of the way.
With Ordonez consuming $11 million in
salary while providing less than 200 eligible at-bats, the Sphinx began
the 2005 season already in a deep hole. Romonosky attempted to
rectify that situation by dealing Ordonez -- along with Benitez, Reed
Johnson and prospect Adam LaRoche -- to Kansas in exchange for Derek
Jeter (.295/.351/.463, 103.7 RC), Jermaine Dye (.282/.318/.509, 68 RC)
and two others. While Great Lakes saved little money in this trade
(Jeter's salary was $10 million), the Sphinx received two productive,
full-time players at the cost of a lights-out reliever, a fourth
outfielder and a prospect.
Also that winter, Romonosky unloaded
Byrnes and three others to the Marlboro Hammerheads, getting C.C.
Sabathia and three others in return. With two years (including
2005) and just $5.2 million remaining on his contract, Sabathia (10-10,
4.72 ERA in 202+ IP) was a bargain, despite his horrendous '05
In the auction, Romonosky once again
loaded up on expensive veterans, and committed to long-term deals with
them by exceeding the $5 million threshold. 33-year-old Kevin
Millar (.289/.379/.461, 100.6 RC) was signed for $6.5 million, and
Freddy Garcia (13-11, 3.75 ERA in 228+ IP) for $10.5 million. And
in the draft, Romonosky took a second-round gamble on Andy Pettitte
(5-4, 4.20 ERA in 90+ IP), who was coming off an injury-shortened MLB
Returning to the bullpen was Lidge
(7-11, 4.23 ERA, 149 K in 85+ IP), who was expected to post "Gagne-like
numbers" according to the Season Preview, but the lineup still lacked a
hitter with a 900+ OPS, and despite the moves made to bolster the
rotation, it was still considerably mediocre. As such, the Sphinx
were once again picked to finish in last place in the division.
And once again, that prediction looked
to be right on the money when Great Lakes went 11-17 in the first
chapter, and followed that with a 14-14 showing in Chapter Two. By
the all-star break, the Sphinx were once again floundering at the bottom
of the Higuera Division with a record of 37-43 -- 15 games behind the
The white flag was raised yet again in
Great Lakes, and at the Chapter Two deadline, several impact players
were ushered out the door, including Lidle, David Weathers, Lidge, Gary
Mathews and Ross Gload. Mathews and Gload, in particular, were two
valuable platoon players who would play a crucial role in the 2005 BDBL
World Series. In exchange for those two, however, Great Lakes
received just J.D. Closser (BDBL career: .209/.319/.363 in 201 AB) and
Jon Leicester (BDBL career: 8.66 ERA in 37+ IP.)
In addition to those two, Romonosky
received David Aardsma, Fernando Cabrera, Michael Cuddyer, Aaron Miles,
Denny Bautista, Chad Orvella and J.C. Romero. Of that group, only
Cuddyer ever added any value to any BDBL franchise. (And
unfortunately, it wasn't the Great Lakes franchise.)
Later in the year, Romonosky dealt
reliever Ugueth Urbina, receiving Nook Logan and Erasmo Ramirez in
return. Again, neither player would ever be of any value to any
Predictably, the Sphinx wrapped up the
season with a 67-93 record. It was the fourth year in a row the
team finished with either 66 or 67 wins.
Finally, however, there was justified
reason for optimism heading into the 2006 season. Garcia (12-14,
3.47 ERA in 244+ IP) returned to the starting rotation as a bona-fide
ace of the staff, with Pettitte (16-11, 3.40 ERA in 233 IP) serving as a
"#1(a)." Chad Tracy (.284/.339/.458, 87.7 RC) also returned to the
starting lineup, and enjoyed a career year. And at long last,
Justin Morneau -- a first-round farm selection by Dean Ashley in 2001 --
made his full-season debut for the Sphinx, hitting .259/.321/.501 with
19 homers and 64.6 runs created in 397 at-bats. (In 2005, Morneau
had hit .304/.379/.593 for Great Lakes in just 253 at-bats.)
To that foundation, Romonosky added
slugging third baseman Troy Glaus (.226/.334/.456, 32 HR, 91.4 RC),
starting pitcher Tim Hudson (10-14, 4.89 ERA in 208 IP) and shortstop
Jimmy Rollins (.273/.314/.406, 79.7 RC) in a deal with the Hammerheads,
costing the team Jeter, Garland and prospect Lance Niekro.
Later that winter, Romonosky added
another slugger in Geoff Jenkins (.310/.376/.544, 28 HR, 118.8 RC), who
came at the steep price of Sabathia. Cuddyer was flipped to the
New Hope Badgers in exchange for four players, including spot starter
Claudio Vargas (7-4, 5.12 ERA in 128+ IP.) And in a six-player
trade with the Nashville Funkadelic, the Sphinx added Jason Marquis
(10-15, 4.56 ERA in 223+ IP) and two others in exchange for Dye
(.282/.332/.529, 34 HR, 92.3 RC), Wigginton and top prospect Chris
After acquiring so many high-priced
players, the team was left with just $2.7 million to spend on free
agents. And there were still some holes left to fill in the
lineup. However, despite trading away Sabathia and Garland, the
Sphinx owned a formidable starting rotation for the first time in
franchise history. According to the Season Preview, "Pettitte,
Garcia and Hudson are good for at least 50 wins, and the bullpen is
The BDBL press was impressed:
2nd place. With a pitching staff like this, the Sphinx would have to
screw up pretty badly not to make the playoffs. If they don't screw
up, it will be the first playoff appearance for this franchise.
(They are one of just four teams remaining that have never played
November baseball.) In other words, there is a lot at stake here.
The Sphinx will win the EL wild card in a tight race. How much
farther they go depends on how well their aces perform under
pressure. As some of us know all too well, great pitchers tend to
fall apart at the worst possible times.
Despite the lofty predictions, however,
Great Lakes slumped out of the gate. After two chapters of play,
they sat in an all-too-familiar position: in last place, with a 23-33
record. On April 21st, Romonosky made his first white-flag trade,
sending Pettitte to the South Carolina Sea Cats in exchange for Curt
Schilling (who was coming off an injury-plagued MLB season), top
prospect Lastings Milledge and two other prospects.
The following chapter, Eddie Guardado,
Marquis, Dustin Hermanson and Millar all departed, in exchange for
youngsters David Purcey, Wily Tavares and Orlando Cabrera. Those
would be the final trades of the season for Romonosky, as he once again
captained his team to a last-place finish and a record of 60-100 -- the
franchise's worst record to date.
In the winter of 2007, Romonosky made a
big decision, changing his ballpark model from one modeled after San
Francisco's AT&T Park (with five-year average home run factors of 68 for
left-handers and 80 for right-handers) to Texas' Ballpark in Arlington
(HR factors of 105 for lefties and 108 for righties.)
The acquisition of Schilling (13-11,
3.41 ERA in 222 IP, with a 26/205 BB/K ratio) turned out to be a great
one for the Sphinx franchise, as the ace came with a price tag of only
$5 million. After a quiet winter, where he made just two minor
deals, Romonosky looked to make a big splash in the auction.
There, he signed slugging outfielder Carlos Lee (.308/.351/.507, 108.5
RC) for $8.5 million, and ace John Smoltz (13-15, 3.98 ERA in 251 IP)
for $15.5 million. With Smoltz, Schilling and Garcia (12-14, 5.17
ERA in 226+ IP) atop the Great Lakes starting rotation, and with Morneau
(.294/.351/.562, 46 HR, 124.8 RC) blossoming into one of the league's
best young hitters, the Sphinx were well-positioned to make a
long-awaited run at a playoffs spot.
Adding fuel to the Great Lakes
bandwagon were the return of Glaus (.229/.334/.469, 35 HR, 85.4 RC) to
the starting lineup, and the 6th-round acquisition of slugger Aubrey
Huff (.288/.365/.507, 22 HR, 87.9 RC.) With Morneau, Lee, Glaus
and Huff, the Sphinx were thought to own a formidable lineup from top to
Once again, bold predictions were made
in the Season Preview:
Last year, a second-place finish was
predicted for the Sphinx on this page, along with the quote, "The
Sphinx would have to screw up pretty badly not to make the
playoffs." Well, in case you missed it, Great Lakes finished with
100 losses last year -- only about 35 games shy of the playoffs.
Looking at this team, with two dominant aces, a dominant closer and
a powerful offense, it is once again hard to imagine them not making
the playoffs. But I've been wrong before.
2nd place. The wild card race basically boils down to the Sphinx and
the Slyme. Their starting rotations are about equal, the Slyme's
lineup is slightly better, and the Great Lakes bullpen is much
better. So it's a draw. Their schedules are roughly equal in terms
of strength, which leaves only one deciding factor: How much can
each team improve itself through trade? The Sphinx have Lastings
Milledge, Thomas Diamond, Kei Igawa and Joel Guzman for trade bait.
The Slyme have Jacoby Ellsbury and...well, that's about it.
Therefore, the slight edge goes to Great Lakes. With two strong
starters, a bullpen ace and a few thumpers in the lineup, the Sphinx
could be a very strong playoff team, and the prediction here is that
they advance to the ELCS and face their division rivals.
After a somewhat disappointing 14-14
start to Chapter One, Great Lakes fell to 12-16 in the second chapter.
Shockingly, by the midpoint of the season, they were once again looking
up at three teams in their division, with a familiar record of 35-45.
Incredibly, Scott Romonosky was once
again a seller at midseason, rather than a buyer. At the break, he
made his first white-flag trade, dealing Schilling to the Cleveland
Rocks in exchange for youngsters Josh Fields and Erick Aybar. As
of this writing, it appears that Fields may never become a useful player
in the BDBL, while Aybar is showing signs of being useful rather soon.
At the final deadline, Romonosky
offloaded Garcia to Nashville, getting Yunel Escobar in exchange.
Another young shortstop with great potential at the time, Escobar proved
to be a valuable acquisition.
Despite all the unloading of stars, the
Sphinx improved to 36-44 in the second half and finished with a 71-89
record -- the best record to date of Romonsky's BDBL career.
With the Cleveland Rocks making the
playoffs in 2007, the Great Lakes Sphinx franchise became the only
franchise remaining in the BDBL that had yet to play a single
post-season game in nine seasons. Romonosky was determined to end
that streak once and for all. In the winter of 2008, the Great
Lakes pitching staff once again looked to be formidable, with Smoltz
(9-14, 4.32 ERA in 225+ IP, 241 K) returning to the #1 spot in the
rotation. John Maine, who had been acquired as part of the Barry
Bonds blockbuster trade way back in 2003, finally made his full-season
debut in 2008, and was expected to be a major asset in the rotation,
after having posted a 3.91 ERA during the prior MLB season.
(Despite the gaudy MLB numbers, however, Maine would post a 6.80 ERA in
the BDBL in 2008.)
Carlos Marmol, a mid-season farm free
agent acquisition in 2006, took over as closer for the Sphinx in 2008,
and saved 29 games, with a 3.61 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 72+ innings.
And Morneau (.291/.364/.478, 88.2 RC) and Carlos Lee (.254/.308/.431, 26
HR, 79.5 RC) returned to the lineup.
To that core of returning players,
Romonosky added veteran Jeff Kent (.277/.326/.473, 26 HR, 76.7 RC) for
$5.5 million in the auction, along with Michael Young (.294/.340/.432,
20 HR, 99.6 RC) at $8 million and Billy Wagner (3-7, 4.07 ERA in 73 IP)
at $5.5 million. As all three veterans came with a price tag above
$5 million, all three were guaranteed a contract in 2009. And with
a new rule in place that season, all three would have no-trade clauses
for the 2009 season.
That same winter, Romonosky rebuilt his
ballpark model with nearly-neutral dimensions across the board.
One of the potential problems with this team appeared to be the back end
of the starting rotation, which was filled with mediocrities like Boof
Bonser, Matt Belisle and Matt Chico. Yet, despite that weakness,
the Sphinx were picked to finish in second place in their division.
During the draft, Romonosky made two
more trades, shoring up his starting rotation by adding starting
pitchers Gil Meche (14-12, 3.24 ERA in 236+ IP) and Justin Germano
(7-10, 5.88 ERA in 147 IP) at the expense of four players, including
Milledge, Alexei Ramirez and Sean Gallagher.
Just as they had done in every year of
Romonosky's tenure as owner, however, the Sphinx got off to a slow
start. They went just 9-19 in Chapter One, leaving
the BDBL press dumbfounded:
This year, I predicted the Sphinx would finish in
second place and contend for the wild card. And after one chapter of
play, they are 9-19 on the season.
How can this be? Three reasons:
1. Stunning underperformance by the offense.
...2. Stunning underperformance by the pitching staff.
...3. Poor performance at home.
...So, what can we expect going forward?
Since there is no reasonable explanation for Great Lakes' team-wide
slump, I would expect them to bounce back very shortly. We've seen
something like this happen countless times before. (Remember when
the '04 Black Sox started 8-20 and finished with over 100 wins?) And
if Scott Romonosky has enough patience to stick this one out for
another chapter or two, he'll probably be rewarded.
Despite the optimism, the Sphinx
continued losing. They went just 12-16 in Chapter Two, and 7-17 in
Chapter Three, and limped into the all-star break with the second-worst
record in the BDBL.
The inevitable white flag sale began at
the Chapter Three deadline, when Byrnes (and Miguel Montero) was
offloaded to San Antonio in exchange for promising young catcher Ryan
Doumit. Romonosky then made three more trades at the break,
jettisoning Smoltz, Germano, Meche, Shane Victorino and Morneau, among
others. In return, he received Joe Blanton, John Lannan, J.A. Happ,
Gavin Floyd, Chris Young and Mike Napoli. Unlike some of the
white-flag trades made by Romonosky over the previous years, these
trades yielded a bounty of quality, young players with upside potential.
The rest of the season was superfluous.
The Sphinx franchise closed out the season with a 59-101 record -- and,
for the tenth time in franchise history, no playoff appearance.
Through the league's first decade, no
franchise spent as many years below that red line, and no other
franchise failed to make the playoffs in each of those ten years.
In a league where most teams experienced significant disparity of
success from one year to the next, the Great Lakes Sphinx franchise was
BDBL history is filled with teams that
have gone from worst-to-first in the span of only one year. This feat was
accomplished no fewer than ELEVEN times in the first ten seasons of the
league's history. The Nashville Funkadelic franchise even managed
this feat twice during that time. So how does any
franchise endure a ten
year stretch without making it to the playoffs even once? The
formula is pretty simple:
Step 1: Bad free agency
decisions. Spend lots
of money on expensive, aging veterans with little trade value. For
example, in 2003, the Sphinx had little chance of competing for a
playoffs spot, and they had $22 million to spend on free agents.
Instead of using that money to acquire young players with upside
potential, Romonosky signed Scott Sauerbeck, Luis Gonzalez, John
Burkett, Ben Grieve, Todd Zeile, Raul Mondesi, Jeff Nelson and Shawn
Estes. Not only did those aging vets lead the team to a 62-98
finish, but they had such little trade value that the team was unable to
replenish their roster enough to make a run at the 2004 playoffs.
Step 2: Ignore the farm system.
Since the 2001 season, the Sphinx franchise has ranked among the bottom
four teams in the BDBL's annual Farm Report four times, including three
years in a row from 2007-2009. In his seven seasons as owner of
the franchise, the most productive player drafted by Romonosky to emerge
from the Sphinx farm system is Bobby Jenks -- a relief pitcher who has
posted a 4.97 ERA in his three-year BDBL career.
Step 3: "Rebuild" by trading your most
valuable players for little-to-no return. If you study all eleven
teams that have gone from worst-to-first in one year, you'll notice a
very obvious commonality: during their last-place seasons, all eleven
teams traded valuable players in exchange for cheap, young players who
led the team to victory the following season. Great Lakes
franchise history is littered with trades that did not work out for the
team in the long run.
Step 4: Lather. Rinse.
Repeat. It's one thing to make a few bad decisions. It's
another to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, year after
To his credit, Romonosky may have
turned a corner in 2008, when he traded several impact players and
received several good, young players with upside potential in return.
However, he then threw $20.5 million at one player -- Johan Santana --
in the 2009 auction, and another $6.5 million to sign J.D. Drew.
By allocating over 42% of his team's total salary to just two players --
and locking them in to guaranteed two-year contracts -- Romonosky has
severely handcuffed himself going forward.
As of this writing, the Sphinx are
heading toward another 100-loss season. Once again, there is some
cause for optimism in 2010, as Santana is surrounded by several quality,
inexpensive starting pitchers. Gavin Floyd, J.A. Happ, Ubaldo
Jimenez and Jered Weaver will earn a combined salary of just $2.4
million in 2010, and this will offset Santana's salary, as $22.9 million
is a reasonable amount of money to pay for five quality starters.
Add a little more offense, and there is
reason to believe that Great Lakes' lengthy streak of ignominy is
finally nearing its end.