clearpix.gif (43 bytes)
clearpix.gif (43 bytes)
Big Daddy Baseball League

O F F I C I A L   S I T E   O F   T H E   B I G   D A D D Y   B A S E B A L L   L E A G U E
slant.gif (102 bytes) BDBL: 10 Years in the Making

clearpix.gif (43 bytes)

September, 2009

Franchise History: Great Lakes Sphinx

Sphinx in a box:

Franchise wins: 678 (22nd all-time)
Playoff appearances: 0
Division titles: 0
League titles: 0
Championship titles: 0
100-win seasons: 0
100-loss seasons: 2
Franchise RC leader: Mike Piazza
Franchise wins leader: Freddy Garcia

Mike 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 structure
before the season ,will we do that? Real disappointing start for a new

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 Holyfield.

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 before.

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:

Outlook: It 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.

Prediction: 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 deal."

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 without penalty.


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 one".

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 franchise.

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 franchise."

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 Romonosky.

"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 draft pick.

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 million penalty.

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 lineup.

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 the season.

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 others.

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 performances.

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 performance.

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 season.

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 division-leading Ridgebacks.

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 franchise.

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 Young.

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 obscenely deep."

The BDBL press was impressed:

Prediction: 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 bottom.

Once again, bold predictions were made in the Season Preview:

Outlook: 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.

Prediction: 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 remarkably consistent.

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 year.

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.