Chuck Shaeffer was a self-described
"rocket scientist" from Morgan Hill, California. As a long-time
member and commissioner of a Diamond Mind league called the "Everyman
Baseball League," Shaeffer felt that his experience and expertise in
running an established, long-term league would be an asset to the
newly-founded BDBL. Shaeffer was so enthusiastic about the
opportunity to build the league from the ground-up, he brought two
fellow EBA owners with him in Ft. Lauderdale Marlins owner Bryan
Sakolsky and California Storm owner Jeff Clink.
Together, Shaeffer, Sakolsky and Clink
filled the final three spots in the BDBL, less than a month after the
league had formed. And together, the three lobbied endlessly to
change the BDBL's rules to their liking from the minute they were
introduced to the league. They petitioned the league to change its
drafting method (after the draft had already begun), salary structure
and several other major features of the rulebook. And when their
suggestions weren't immediately adopted by the league, they responded by
relentlessly questioning the commissioner's ability to lead and
predicting doom for the long-term health of the league.
Shaeffer's Morgan Hill Panthers adopted
the notorious home run-hitting haven of Coors Field (with average HR
factors of 144 for both lefties and righties) as their home ballpark
model. Not surprisingly, Shaeffer's draft strategy was to fill his
team with young power hitters, including #1 pick (20th overall) Scott
Rolen, Manny Ramirez, Ben Grieve, Travis Fryman and Frank Thomas.
Together, the five young players (all under the age of 32) totaled an
astounding 146 home runs and 603 runs created in 1999.
Schaeffer didn't draft a pitcher until
the 6th round, when he selected veteran Andy Benes. He filled out
his rotation with promising young starters Jaret Wright, Jason Schmidt,
Javier Vazquez and Odalis Perez.
By the end of the draft, Shaeffer had
built an impressive team filled with players in their 20's that was
expected to be competitive in 1999 and potentially dominant a year or
two down the road. The Panthers got off to a 10-15 start to the
season, and followed that with a 16-14 showing in Chapter Two.
Just prior to the close of Chapter Two,
the league's first trade was made between Commissioner Mike Glander's Salem
Cowtippers and the Virginia Cavaliers. In a sign of things to
come, this trade was highly controversial, as many felt the Cowtippers
had traded too little (Chad Curtis and five draft picks) for too much
(Ray Lankford and Todd Stottlemyre.) Glander reacted to the
criticism of his trade by invoking the Rule 9.3 out-clause,
nullifying his own trade and reworking it so that two more players were
added on Salem's side.
Among those who vehemently argued the
trade's fairness were Shaeffer and Sakolsky. On April 28th, both
Shaeffer and Sakolsky resigned, citing the trade as one of several
reasons for their resignation. Among the other reasons, Shaeffer
questioned the honesty of some of the BDBL's owners by citing
differences in their Pythagorean and actual won-lost records, and
implying they were cheating. Their joint letter of resignation
eventually filtered to the rest of the league, and a long e-mail flame
war ensued between Shaeffer, Sakolsky and several members of the league.
Eventually, the matter died down, and
the league grew a bit stronger as a result of the shared antipathy
toward Shaeffer and Sakolsky. Four days after their resignation,
Clink returned from vacation and resigned as well. Meanwhile, the
league moved quickly to replace Shaeffer with 30-year-old Indianapolis
native Dave Presser, who led the team to a 13-11 record in Chapter Three,
putting them eight games out of first place at the half.
After an 11-16 start to the second half of
the season, Presser made the franchise's first trades at the final
trading deadline, sending Mike Lansing to the Los Altos Undertakers in
exchange for top prospect Chad Hermanson, and Fryman to the Southern Cal
Slyme for prospect Seth Greisinger.
Down the stretch, Morgan Hill went
over the final two chapters to finish the season with a 77-83 record --
good for third place in the Higuera Division. As expected, the
Panthers performed well on offense, ranking fifth in the Eck League in
runs scored (781), but their pitching suffered in the harsh home climate
of Coors Field with a 4.81 team ERA (ranked 9th in the EL.)
As the season drew to a close, Presser
inexplicably disappeared. He failed to turn in his games, didn't
fill out his pitching rotation, and failed to return all e-mails sent to
him. As a result, the league decided it was time to replace him as
On November 2, 1999, Chris Luhning was
introduced as the newest member of the BDBL. A 30-year-old table
games supervisor at Station Casino in Kansas City, Luhning announced
that the franchise would be renamed the Kansas Law Dogs at the end of
the season. He wasted no time making his own mark on the
Luhning made several major deals that
winter. In his first trade, Vazquez and young closer Danny Graves
were sent to the Salem Cowtippers in exchange for Greg Maddux and Lee
Stevens. Maddux was coming off an extraordinary BDBL season and a
Hall-of-Fame-caliber MLB career. But at age 34, he was also coming
off his worst MLB season since his rookie year, and he would post a 5.79
ERA during the 2000 season, with 355 hits and 40 home runs allowed in
247+ innings. Luhning signed him to a three-year contract, hoping
for a bounce-back to Cy Young form.
Next, Luhning traded his young and
powerful third baseman, Rolen, in exchange for an even younger and
potentially more powerful third baseman, Troy Glaus. In his first
full season in the BDBL, the 23-year-old Glaus hit .265/.351/.524 for
the Law Dogs in 2000, with 30 home runs and 93.3 runs created. He
was signed to a four-year contract at a much lower initial salary ($3
million) than Rolen's $10 million paycheck. And over the next
three seasons, Glaus hit an astounding 141 homers in the comfy confines
of Kansas' The Fields of Tombstone Park.
Luhning made four more trades that
winter, each of little importance, and in Luhning's first BDBL draft, he
selected young hurler Carl Pavano with the 9th pick of the second round.
Ramirez (.334/.464/.655, 37 HR)
returned for the 2000 season, and posted a career-high in runs created,
with 172.5. The Law Dogs also returned an unexpected superstar in
35-year-old Steve Finley. Finley had been a 21st-round pick by
Shaeffer in the 1999 draft, and hit just .232/.321/.317 for the team
that year. But something magical happened to Finley that year, and
he turned into a power-hitting monster overnight. At a salary of
just $500,000, Finley hit an astounding .289/.360/.630 with 45 home runs
and 136.6 runs created in the 2000 BDBL season.
Just prior to the start of the season,
Luhning made two more blockbuster trades. First, he sent Finley
packing to the Cleveland Rocks, along with former top prospect Grieve.
In exchange, the Law Dogs received 26-year-old slugger Jermaine Dye
(.286/.339/.518, 29 HR, 94.9 RC in 2000) and 23-year-old rookie phenom
Carlos Beltran (.326/.376/.504, 21 HR, 48 SB, 132 RC.)
Next, the team's top young pitcher,
Schmidt, was traded to the division rival Southern Cal Slyme in exchange
for Luis Gonzalez and Cal Pickering. While Schmidt's 214+ quality
innings (not to mention his status as a future ace) proved difficult to
replace, the 32-year-old Gonzalez enjoyed an MVP-caliber season in 2000,
hitting .367/.438/.622 with 58 doubles, 32 homers, 130 RBIs and 175.5
runs created. And he would be even better in 2001 and 2002.
With their high-powered offense, but
very little pitching, Kansas was predicted to finish in last place in
the division. The Law Dogs got off to a 13-11 start to the season,
but Luhning wasn't finished dealing. On February 23rd, he made yet
another blockbuster trade, sending Manny Ramirez to the Chicago Black
Sox in exchange for four young players, including Raul Mondesi, Rick
Ankiel and Eric Munson. At the time, Ankiel was considered to be
the top pitching prospect in baseball, and Munson was considered among
the top young hitting prospects. Along with Alex Escobar, Chad
Hermanson and John Patterson, this gave Kansas five of the top prospects
"This will be a fun year for us,"
said Luhning. "We have no expectations. Just go out and
play the game the way it was meant to be played. Next year,
we'll be a little stronger, and hopefully we'll make a push up in
Although he had turned over a great
deal of the roster Shaeffer had built, Luhning was far from done.
Before the end of the first chapter, he made three more trades.
Stevens and Perez were shipped to Boise for Rico Brogna. Mondesi
was packaged with Pavano and two others to the division-rival Phoenix
Predators in exchange for J.D. Drew, Roy Halladay and two others.
And Brogna was then flipped to the Boardwalk Vulgarians in exchange for
Darryl Kile and Tony Clark.
For the most part, Luhning helped his
franchise tremendously with these trades. Drew played an enormous
role on both the 2001 and 2002 Law Dogs teams, posting an OPS over 1.000
each season. At 23, Halladay was on the verge of becoming one of
the top starting pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately for Luhning,
he released Halladay at the end of the season. Neither Ankiel nor
Munson ever fulfilled their lofty expectations, though Ankiel later
proved to be valuable trade bait. While Kile posted ugly numbers
in 2000 (6.73 ERA overall in 127+ innings), he would be the team's ace
just a year later. And Clark enjoyed a monster year in 2000,
clubbing 43 homers (38 for Kansas), with 125.9 runs created.
The Law Dogs followed their Chapter One
success by going 14-10 in Chapter Two, but then plummeted to 9-17 in the
third chapter. At the final trading deadline, Luhning
made a major move to strengthen his starting rotation, swapping Maddux
to the Blazers for lefties Chuck Finley and Jose Rosado.
"Hopefully this is the final piece of
the puzzle for us," said Luhning. "We needed to improve our
pitching staff and I believe we've done that. It will also open up
some cap dollars over the next couple of years."
The move worked, as Kansas went 47-38
(.553) over the second half of the season. But they couldn't keep
pace with the Predators, who went 49-36 over that same stretch. The Law Dogs finished the season with a
record of 83-77 -- just three games out of the division race and one
behind the Predators and Cleveland Rocks in the EL wild card race.
Heading into the winter of 2001, the Law Dogs were in very good shape.
The starting rotation included three "aces" in Kile (18-4, 4.68 ERA in
215+ IP, with an average of 9.4 runs of support -- an all-time BDBL
single-season record), Ankiel (15-8, 4.62 ERA in 191 IP) and Livan Hernandez (7-13,
6.98 ERA in 179+ IP) -- although Hernandez's performance was far from
The bullpen was solid as well, but it
was the Kansas lineup that was beyond compare. With eight hitters
sporting OPS's above 870, playing in the best hitter's park in baseball,
the 2001 Law Dogs were expected to shatter every league hitting record
in the book. Returning to the team were Drew (.332/.430/.592, 97.8
RC), Glaus (.308/.424/.642, 158.5 RC), Dye (.336/.413/.606, 142.1 RC)
and Gonzalez (.341/.409/.674, 169.1 RC), giving Kansas the most
formidable lineup the league had ever seen.
That winter, Luhning made a dozen trades
involving 30 players and 7 draft picks. Perhaps the most
significant of those deals was the acquisition of yet another slugger,
catcher Javy Lopez. Lopez hit .360/.406/.702 in just 178 at-bats
for Kansas, and hit .302/.347/.550 with 34 home runs overall on the 2001
season. In another significant trade, Luhning sent lefty ace Chuck
Finley to the Bowling Green Spoilers in exchange for closer Trevor
Hoffman (3.59 ERA in 75+ IP, 9 BB, 96 K overall), freeing up some salary
cap space in the process.
The Law Dogs jumped out to a promising
start, going 16-12 in Chapter One and 18-8 in Chapter Two. By the
all-star break, the Higuera Division race was all but over, as Kansas
enjoyed a comfortable 15-game lead over the SoCal Slyme with a record of
Luhning, meanwhile, kept dealing.
At the Chapter Two deadline, he sent Hoffman to the Kentucky Fox,
getting three bullpen arms (Bryan Rekar, Steve Kline and Jose Santiago)
in exchange. The trade was a disaster for Luhning, as Rekar went
8-5 with a 6.22 ERA for Kansas, as both a reliever and spot starter,
Kline posted an ugly 7.61 ERA in just 7+ innings, and Santiago managed
to pitch even worse, posting a mind-numbing ERA of 9.55 over 13+
At the Chapter Three deadline, Luhning
made three more trades. First, he sent Livan Hernandez and Javy
Lopez to Cleveland, getting all-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez and
replacement arm Chris Holt in exchange. Rodriguez picked up right
where Lopez left off for Kansas, hitting an astounding .417/.454/.783 down the
stretch, with 14 homers in only 180 at-bats. Holt posted a 6.04
ERA in 85 innings, but dumping Hernandez was considered to be addition
In his second trade that chapter,
Luhning added Jay Bell (.270/.354/.468) at the expense of two
inconsequential bench players and two draft picks. And in his
third trade, Luhning shockingly parted with his former "franchise
player" (and personal KC Royal favorite) Carlos Beltran, getting
slugging shortstop Miguel Tejada (.364/.433/.628, 107.9 RC in 387 AB) in
Adding Tejada allowed Luhning to move
Glaus to his more natural position of third base. It also gave the
Law Dogs a lineup filled with big-time power hitters from top to bottom.
But Luhning wasn't done. At the all-star break, he traded Ankiel
and two others to the Manchester Irish Rebels, getting another slugger
-- Carl Everett -- in exchange, along with two pitchers. Everett
hit .300/.383/.597 in the second half, with 18 homers in 243 at-bats.
He finished with 143.1 runs created on the season, giving Kansas four
hitters with more than 140 runs created.
With their high-powered offense leading
the way, Kansas went 53-27 in the second half, scoring 636 runs -- a
whopping 94 runs more than the next-highest total in the Eck League.
And at the final trading deadline of the season, Luhning continued to
wheel and deal to put his team in the best position possible for the
With his starting rotation depleted
after the trades of Finley, Hernandez and Ankiel, Luhning sought to
bolster that rotation by adding Rick Reed (3-0, 5.71 ERA in 41 IP for
Kansas) and Jeff D'Amico (5-1, 3.19 ERA in 45+ IP.) Reed wasn't
cheap, as he cost the franchise's top prospect, Carl Crawford. But
D'Amico (at the time, considered to be perhaps the top short-usage
pitcher in the league) cost only marginal pitching prospect Chad Durbin.
In the end, the Law Dogs finished with
an impressive 105-55 record. Even more impressive, they
established new team offensive records that will likely never be broken,
including batting average (.321), on-base percentage (.398), slugging
percentage (.580), home runs (364) and runs scored (1,282.) No
other EL team that season came close to matching those numbers.
The Chicago Black Sox scored over 1,000 runs that season (1,016) --
but fell 223 short of Kansas' total. The Cleveland Rocks hit 293
home runs as a team -- 71 short of Kansas. The Kansas lineup's
team performance in 2001 was simply mind-numbing.
That November, the Law Dogs locked
horns with the Black Sox, whose lineup would have easily been the best
lineup in the league in most seasons. The Division Series was
expected to be a toe-to-toe slugfest, yet surprisingly, the first four
games of the series looked relatively normal. Kansas took Game One
by a score of 4-3, and then took a 2-0 series lead with a 6-1 win in
Game Two (backed by stellar pitching from D'Amico, who went the
distance, allowing just one run on two hits and two walks.)
When the series shifted to Kansas, many
expected the fireworks to begin. Instead, Chicago prevailed with a
3-1 win, ironically enough with Ankiel earning the victory against his
former team. Kile and reliever Albie Lopez then combined to toss
a shutout in Game Four, allowing just seven base runners during a 6-0
The long-awaited slugfest
finally came in the final game of the series at Kansas' Fields of Tombstone.
Unfortunately for Luhning, it was Chicago doing most of the slugging, as
they scored nine runs in the second inning en route to an 18-8 win.
With the series returning to Chicago,
D'Amico followed his brilliant Game Two performance by getting roughed
up a bit in Game Six. He allowed four runs through five innings,
and Chicago evened the series with a 6-4 win, forcing the series to go
Finally, in Game Seven, Kansas'
historic offense posted double-digit runs on the board, scoring 10 runs
off of Ankiel (5 H, 5 R, 5 BB in 2 IP) and the Chicago bullpen.
Meanwhile, Kile (5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K) pitched well enough to
keep the Black Sox at arm's length, and the Law Dogs rolled to a 10-3
victory and into the EL Championship Series.
Kansas' opponents in the ELCS that year
were the Akron Ryche, who went 107-53 during the regular season, and
allowed fewer runs (740) than any other team in the Eck League.
Heading that team was its long-time franchise pitcher, Pedro Martinez.
Martinez began the series by pitching seven innings of two-hit ball in
Game One to give Akron the series lead. Kansas then took a 5-1
lead in the second inning of Game Two, but Akron chipped away at that
lead through the final four innings, culminating in Ryan Klesko's
walk-off home run off of Terry Adams in the ninth.
Trailing the series 2-0, Kansas built a
11-1 lead heading into the eighth inning of Game Three. But once
again, Akron began poking holes in the Kansas bullpen. They
scored five runs in the eighth, and then five more in the ninth to tie
the game. The game then stretched all the way to the 15th inning,
when Rodriguez finally put an end to it by launching a walk-off homer
off of former Kansas closer Hoffman, giving the Law Dogs their first win
of the series.
Kansas then tied the series with a
convincing 13-9 win in Game Four, as they pounded out 16 hits to Akron's
18. In Game Five, Martinez was once again brilliant (7 IP, 9 H, 3
R, 0 BB, 12 K), winning his second game of the series. Akron won
by a score of 15-8, putting them just one win away from the World
Series, with the series shifting back to Akron for the final two games.
In Game Six, Kansas broke open a 5-4
game by scoring three runs in the seventh inning -- all on a clutch,
two-out double by Rodriguez. The Kansas bullpen then held on to
win the game by a score of 7-6. Once again, Kansas would need a
Game Seven to decide the fate of their season.
Reed took the hill for Kansas in that
game, facing Akron's #2 starter Tim Hudson. A pair of homers by
Rodriguez and Everett gave Kansas a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning.
And with Reed (8 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K) pitching a gem, that would be
enough run support to give the Law Dogs the series victory. In
just his second season at the helm of the franchise, Chris Luhning was
heading to the BDBL World Series.
As with every Eck League team in the
early years of the league's existence, Kansas' World Series opponent
that season would be the Stamford Zoots. Stamford had won the BDBL
championship in both the 1999 and 2000 seasons, and many were counting
on the high-powered Law Dogs to put an end to that streak. But the Zoots were a formidable opponent, having won 112 games that season,
while allowing just 682 runs (second-best to the Salem Cowtippers in the
BDBL.) The question was whether Kansas' historic lineup would be
able to score against the league's best starting rotation. It was
the immovable object versus the unstoppable force.
Appropriately enough, the first game of
the series went into extra innings. Kansas was able to score four
runs in seven innings against Stamford's #2 starter (who finished just
one point away from winning the OL Cy Young) Kevin Brown. But,
after tying the game with a dramatic two-out homer by David Segui in the
bottom of the ninth, Kansas reliever Adams allowed a leadoff double to
Michael Tucker to start the top of the tenth inning. Three batters
later, Mike Williams allowed a go-ahead single to Omar Vizquel, and Phil
Nevin followed with one of his own. By the end of the inning,
Stamford had scored three runs, which proved to be enough support for
Mike Fetters to close out the game with a Stamford win.
Kansas trailed Game Two by a score of
6-5 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Fetters recorded two
quick outs to start the inning, but Glaus then tripled. And after
an intentional walk to Segui, Tejada delivered a walk-off three-run home
run to tie the series at one win apiece.
When the series shifted to Stamford,
Reed delivered a much-needed gem, allowing only one run in a
complete-game effort, as Kansas cruised to an easy 6-1 victory.
But in Game Four, Stamford turned the tables with a 6-1 win of their
own, evening the series once again. In that game, Luhning
attempted the use the "cover pitcher" strategy to counteract all of
Stamford's platoons, starting the right-handed Lopez for two batters
before turning the game over to the left-handed Scott Schoeneweiss.
But the strategy backfired when Lopez walked the first two batters of
the game, and Schoeneweiss allowed a two-out pinch-hit single to the
right-handed Magglio Ordonez. Meanwhile, Brown held the Kansas
offense to just one run on five hits.
In Game Five, D'Amico took the hill
against the OL's Cy Young winner, Randy Johnson. Shockingly,
Kansas pounded out five runs in the very first inning, and were able to
hold off a late surge by Stamford to eke out a 6-5 win, putting Kansas
just one win away from the BDBL championship. But in Game Six,
with the score tied at 3-3, the Zoots achieved the miraculously
improbable, scoring twelve runs in the eighth inning. For the
third time in the 2001 post-season, the Law Dogs were faced with a Game
Seven to decide the fate of their season.
In that game, Brown took the hill on
just three days rest, facing Reed on four days rest. Playing in
the Fields of Tombstone, each team took turns exchanging roundhouse
punches, and by the end of eight innings, Stamford owned a slim 6-5
lead. But in the top of the ninth, Kansas' bullpen once again came
into play, and the Zoots pounded out six runs against Williams (who had
owned a 7.21 ERA in 61+ innings during the regular season.)
Fetters then worked around a Tejada solo shot in the bottom of the ninth
to clinch Stamford's third consecutive BDBL championship.
The 2002 Law Dogs team returned most of
the lineup that had made a mockery of the BDBL record book in 2001,
including Gonzalez (.342/.451/.737 overall), Everett (.340/.403/.711 in
197 AB for Kansas), Ivan Rodriguez (.318/.348/.602 overall), Drew
(.344/.459/.571, 108.5 RC), Glaus (.309/.383/.671, 52 HR, 163.2 RC) and
Dye (.290/.349/.499, 107 RC.) Mike Sweeney (.318/.367/.601, 45 HR,
135.5 RC) was then added prior to Opening Day, giving Kansas yet another
MVP-caliber bat in the heart of the lineup. And the rotation
returned ace Kile, who inexplicably struggled (12-14 overall, with a
6.11 ERA and 275 hits allowed in 215+ innings) despite strong MLB
But with intense competition in the
Higuera Division coming from the fledgling Allentown Ridgebacks (under
the guidance of second-year owner Tom DiStefano) and Phoenix Predators
(under the guidance of Luhning's longtime friend, Scot Zook), the Law
Dogs were picked to finish in third place in the annual pre-season
Evidently, Luhning bought into this
prediction wholeheartedly. After a 19-9 start to the season, and a
16-10 showing in Chapter Two, Luhning did the unthinkable. In a
decision that was roundly criticized by the entire league, Luhning began
trading away the foundation of his team in exchange for cheap, young
players for the future. The first to go was Gonzalez, who was
posting Triple Crown numbers at the time (.351/.478/.800, with a
league-leading 21 home runs and 54 RBIs.) On April 12th, Gonzalez
was sent packing, along with Ivan Rodriguez and two prospects. In
exchange, Luhning received youngsters Pat Burrell, Marcus Giles and
Michael Barrett, and pitcher Andy Ashby.
Making matters worse, the beneficiary
of this trade was the team that actually trailed Kansas in both the
division and the wild card at the time -- the Phoenix Predators.
The Law Dogs continued to play .600 ball through the end of the chapter,
but with two of their biggest sluggers out of the picture, it was a pace
that would prove to be difficult to maintain.
At the end of two chapters of play,
Kansas sported a .648 winning percentage (35-19), was four games behind
the Ridgebacks in the division, two games ahead of Phoenix, and tied
with the Villanova Mustangs in the EL wild card race. The trade
was both inexplicable and indefensible. But with the Ridgebacks
sporting a .722 winning percentage en route to an historic season in
which they would set a record for runs differential, Luhning assumed
that his team would have no chance to beat Allentown in the playoffs.
Therefore, he concluded, his only other option was to play for next
year, despite his team's success.
During that same trading period,
Luhning also traded his closer, Tom Gordon, to the Stamford Zoots, in
exchange for Josh Fogg. Then, on May 22nd, Luhning made another
devastating trade, sending Sweeney and Everett to the Cleveland Rocks in
exchange for Jeremy Affeldt and J.T. Snow. Despite heading into
the all-star break with a .563 winning percentage, Chris Luhning was
officially in full rebuilding mode.
To the surprise of no one, the Law Dogs
went just 37-43 in the second half, and finished the 2002 season with a
record of 82-78. Despite the absences of Sweeney, Everett,
Gonzalez and Rodriguez, Kansas finished the season with more than 1,000
runs scored (1,020) for the second year in a row. Unfortunately
for them, they also allowed more than 1,000 runs (1,013.)
After tearing apart a successful team
in 2002, it would have been a travesty if the Law Dogs weren't
competitive in 2003. Fortunately for Luhning, the '03 season was a
success, thanks in part to the players he acquired in his sell-off of
'02, and the extra money he saved by trading away his team's best
With Tejada (.320/.349/.504, 114.3 RC)
returning for another strong season, and the 26-year-old Burrell
(.342/.415/.672, 51 HR, 162 RBI, 177.5 RC) enjoying a monster season in
his first full year in Kansas, the Law Dogs offense was an undeniable
strength once again. Luhning added to this arsenal by acquiring
Jeff Kent (.305/.352/.540, 34 HR, 118.9 RC) in his first trade of the
winter. Next, he shipped off Drew, Dye and top prospect John
Ford-Griffin to the Houston Heatwave, getting Beltran (.272/.359/.482
for Kansas) and Bobby Abreu (.329/.438/.520, 145.1 RC overall) in
On the mound, Lowe (17-7, 3.55 ERA in
231 IP overall) had become one of the top pitchers in the league.
And Andy Ashby, a $100,000 starter acquired as part of the Burrell trade
in '02, posted strong MLB numbers, though his BDBL numbers (9-8, 5.68
ERA in 168+ IP overall) didn't reflect it.
Luhning's final trade that winter was
acquiring Russ Ortiz from the Oakland Homicide. Ortiz -- a
29-year-old ace with a $5.5M salary -- who went 23-9 in 2003 despite
allowing 247 hits in 221+ innings, with 99 walks and a 5.25 ERA.
He came at the cost of free-agent-to-be Glaus, Giles and reliever Ricky
Stone. With Lowe, Ashby, Ortiz and David Wells (a $3 million free
agent acquisition in '02, who went 11-11 with a 3.99 in 214+ IP), the
Law Dogs had their best rotation to date.
In the first-ever BDBL free agent
auction, Luhning signed just one free agent, Joe Randa (.296/.345/.433,
69.9 RC), at $4 million. Kansas then headed into the season with a
strong team, both offensively and on the mound. Unfortunately,
they would have to deal with the defending BDBL champion Ridgebacks, who
were favored to win it all that season.
Chapter One demonstrated how difficult
the task of winning the division would be, as the Ridgebacks bolted out
to a 19-9 start, while Kansas finished four games behind at 15-13.
Before the chapter had ended, Luhning had traded his #4 starter, Wells,
to the Great Lakes Sphinx in exchange for two young pitchers, Aaron Cook
and Runelvys Hernandez. Although Luhning vehemently insisted the
trade was not the first of yet another firesale, neither of the two new
acquisitions would make much of an
impact that season.
Then, during the final week of March,
Luhning shipped off his ace, Lowe. In exchange, he acquired former
Stamford ace Tim Hudson. The 27-year-old Hudson was in the third
year of a six-year contract, and he would finish the 2003 season with a
15-11 record, and a 4.24 ERA in 248+ innings. But it was
considered a downgrade for the 2003 Law Dogs, and combined with the
trade of Wells, the impression was that Luhning was once again throwing
in the towel. Luhning conceded that the Hudson trade was made to
benefit the team's future more than the present.
“This deal hurts us overall for
this year," said Kansas GM Chris Luhning, "but improves our team
tenfold for the next three years. We gave up a year of the best
pitcher in baseball for three years of a top 5 pitcher at
below-market value. We wish good luck to Derek and hope he can help
Stamford bring home their fourth BDBL crown, but at the same time we
wish us good luck of upsetting the Ridgebacks and the Ryche. Just
remember, boys, anything can happen in a seven game series. Kansas
has the offense, you better have the pitching!”
Kansas remained consistent in Chapter
Two, going 16-10, while the Ridgebacks stumbled to a 14-12 record,
allowing the Law Dogs to pick up two games in the standings.
On May 30th, Ridgebacks GM Tom
DiStefano reinforced his reputation as a "Jedi master" at the trading
table when he re-acquired MVP slugger Barry Bonds. This
announcement was made just two days after the Law Dogs officially
captured first place from the Ridgebacks. Kansas finished Chapter
Three with their best chapter of the season at 19-7, while Allentown
repeated their mediocre 14-12 showing. The Law Dogs headed into
the all-star break with a three-game lead over Allentown, but with Bonds
now on board for the second half, and with a shortage of quality innings
available to Kansas following the trade of Wells, Kansas' position at
the top of the standings was thought to be short-lived.
On July 7th, the Ridgebacks swept four
games from the Law Dogs to pull within one game of the division lead.
A little more than a week later, the division was all tied up after
Kansas suffered a two-game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Rocks.
Nevertheless, by the end of four
chapters, Kansas retained their lead in the division by two games, and
Allentown was now not only looking ahead at catching the Law Dogs, but
looking in the rearview mirror at the Cleveland Rocks, who were in hot
pursuit of the EL wild card.
With one chapter remaining in the
regular season, Kansas still led the division with a record of 80-52,
while Allentown continued to trail by three games (with a four game lead
in the wild card.) The Ridgebacks then went 18-10 in the final
chapter to capture a spot in the playoffs, while Kansas rolled to a 21-7
chapter, locking up the division title in an upset. They finished
the season with a 101-59 record, scored more than 1,000 runs for the
third year in a row, and outscored their opponents by 230 runs (the
second-highest total in the Eck League.)
As luck would have it, their opponents
in the ELDS would be their division rivals, the Ridgebacks. The
defending champions had finished with a regular-season mark of 95-65,
which was considered by most to be a disappointment, given the presence
of Bonds and the league's best starting rotation.
In the first game of the series, Kansas
jumped all over Allentown ace Curt Schilling, scoring five runs in six
innings, and walked away with a convincing 8-4 win. Kansas then
carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning of Game Two, but Allentown
catcher Paul Lo Duca tied it up with a two-out homer in the eighth
inning. A three-run blast by Larry Walker off of Kansas closer
Darren Holmes gave the Ridgebacks the win, and the series shifted to
In Game Three, the score was deadlocked
at 2-2 heading into the eighth, but once again the Ridgebacks offense
rallied -- this time with four straight singles off of Buddy Groom.
Allentown took the series lead with a 4-2 victory.
Luhning handed the ball to his ace,
Hudson, in Game Four, working on only three days of rest, and Hudson
responded by pitching a gem (8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K.) DiStefano
gambled by going with part-time starter Jason Middlebrook, and while he
pitched well, it wasn't well enough, and the Law Dogs evened the series
with a 2-1 win.
Ortiz then took the hill in Game Five
-- also on only three days of rest. This time, Luhning's gamble
didn't pay off. Ortiz was pounded for five runs in the very first
inning, and the Kansas offense couldn't recover from that deficit
against a fully-rested Schilling. As the series shifted back to
Kansas' Fields of Tombstone, the Law Dogs found themselves one loss away
Once again, the two teams found
themselves entering the eighth inning with a tied score. And once
again, Kansas' bullpen proved to be the team's Achilles heel.
Allentown scored two runs in the eighth inning off of Mike DeJean, and
Allentown pinch hitter Julio Lugo added two insurance runs in the ninth
with a two-run blast off of DeJean, giving the Ridgebacks the win and
the series victory.
With Hudson (13-15, 3.20 ERA in 259+ IP
overall) and Ortiz (9-12, 5.00 ERA in 223 IP) returning to the Kansas
rotation, and Luhning adding Greg Maddux (13-14, 4.84 ERA in 240 IP) in
a winter trade with the Bear Country Jamboree, the Law Dogs once again
owned a solid foundation of starting pitching heading into the 2004 free
agent signing period.
Offensively, Kent (.273/.355/.440, 85.3
RC) and Burrell (.253/.328/.484 overall) were the only two full-time
returning players to the lineup. But Luhning was able to plug a
few holes with all the spending money he had after the free agent
defections of Ortiz, Tejada, Beltran and Abreu, among others. With
roughly $22 million to spend on free agents, Luhning made it his first
priority to re-sign Beltran (.261/.357/.428, 100.8 RC) for $12 million
in the auction. His only other signing in the auction was one-year
stopgap solution Rafael Palmeiro (.265/.373/.473, 91.9 RC) at $5
With a solid rotation filled with
groundball specialists, a decent (though not nearly as dominant as in
past years) lineup and a slightly less dominant Ridgebacks team
competing in the Higuera Division, the Law Dogs were picked to win the
But after one chapter of play, the
Higuera Division was a familiar story, with Allentown dominating with a
20-8 record while Kansas trailed five games behind at 15-13.
Allentown continued to build their lead through the next two chapters,
and by the all-star break, Kansas was looking at a deficit of a dozen
games in the division, with an overall record of just 41-39.
Rather than fold up the tent, as many
expected him to do given the pattern he'd established over the previous
two seasons, Luhning made a bold move toward contention by acquiring MVP
slugger Gary Sheffield from the Nashville Funkadelic on June 4th.
At the time, Sheffield was leading the Eck League in hitting (.379), was
ranked third in OBP (.473) and second in slugging (.752.) Heading
to the league's best hitter's ballpark for the second half of the
season, Sheffield was expected to post monster numbers. He didn't
disappoint, hitting .358/.424/.642 for Kansas to finish with 50 home
runs, 144 RBIs and 191.1 RC overall.
The cost for Sheffield was relatively
low, as Nashville received the 27-year-old Burrell, who had just one
year remaining on his contract, and was posting mediocre MLB numbers,
and Kaz Tadano, a Japanese import who never panned out. Luhning
made two other trades that chapter, adding Jay Payton, Mike Stanton and
Ben Weber at little expense.
The Law Dogs responded by going just
13-11 in Chapter Four. And with Luhning staring at a 12-game
deficit in the division, and a six-game deficit in the EL wild card
race, it was clear that it was time once again to throw in the
towel. Prior to the start of Chapter Five, Luhning went back to the
trading table, and flipped Hudson to the Chicago Black Sox for
young catcher Victor Martinez. Hudson was en route to another
solid season, and with two years remaining on his contract, he was still
considered to be one of the best pitching assets in the league.
But the 25-year-old Martinez was posting all-star numbers in MLB at a
salary of only $100,000, so the trade-off was worth it for Luhning.
That same chapter, Luhning took a bold
gamble when he claimed Derek Jeter off the free agent wire. Jeter
had been released by new Litchfield Lightning GM Tony Badger under the
Rule 18.11 escape clause for new owners. At the time, the
30-year-old Jeter was considered to be a huge risk, as he was in the
midst of a disappointing MLB season. And at $10 million in salary,
Jeter still had five years remaining on his ten-year contract. Yet
the gamble paid off for Luhning, as Jeter soon became valuable trade
The Law Dogs wrapped up the final two
chapters with a record of 26-30, and finished the 2004 season with a
break-even record of 80-80.
With the addition of Martinez
(.304/.370/.546, 30 HR, 111.2 RC overall) to the lineup in 2005, and the
return of Sheffield (.302/.398/.597, 44 HR, 140.5 RC), the Law Dogs were
once again looking like an offensive powerhouse.
2005 was also the debut year of rookie
David Wright (.293/.332/.502, 47.2 RC in 317 AB.) Wright was perhaps the
greatest farm selection in league history, having been selected in the
third round of the 2002 farm draft. By the 2004 season, he ranked
#20 in the BDBL's annual Farm Report. And by 2006, he had
developed into an annual all-star and MVP candidate.
That winter, Luhning cashed in on his
free agent dumpster-diving gamble on Jeter by flipping him to the Great
Lakes Sphinx (along with Jermaine Dye and two others) in exchange for
Magglio Ordonez (.295/.333/.516 in 190 AB), Armando Benitez (5-2, 34 Svs,
2.36 ERA in 80 IP) and two others. He then sent Kent to the SoCal
Slyme, getting Luis Castillo (.300/.393/.391, 105.1 RC), Kevin Brown
(7-8, 5.36 ERA in 141+ IP) and two others in exchange.
While the Kansas lineup appeared as
strong as ever, their pitching staff left much to be desired.
Brown was the de facto ace of the staff, and with little money to spend
on free agents, he would have to fill that role. In all, no Kansas
starter posted an ERA below 4.93 in 2005, but the Law Dogs still managed
to maintain a respectable 5.31 ERA due to their strong bullpen.
The Law Dogs got off to a 14-14 start,
outscoring their opponents by a league-high 43 runs in the first
chapter. But they fell to 13-15 in Chapter Two despite outscoring
their opponents once again. They remained a .500 team through the
all-star break, but fell a dozen games behind the Ridgebacks in the
division race, and six games behind in the wild card. And after a
disastrous 9-15 Chapter Four, Luhning wasted no time dusting off the
In his first trade at the final
deadline, Luhning unloaded free agent-to-be Sheffield, along with
Martinez and Brown. In exchange, he received veterans Mike Mussina
and Jason Kendall, along with prospects Andy LaRoche, Adam Jones, Jeff
Mathis and Rich Hill. Then, with his final deal of the season,
Luhning flipped Kendall to the Marlboro Hammerheads in exchange for Ryan
Madson and four others.
To date, the dump trades of 2005 are a
mixed bag. While Mussina proved to be a valuable addition to the
2006 team, and Hill later developed into a quality half-season pitcher,
the loss of Martinez offset some of those gains.
The Law Dogs wrapped up the season with
a 76-84 record -- 26 games behind in the division -- but were outscored
by just three runs on the season.
In the winter of 2006, Luhning made a
major decision with his team. In a drastic change of scenery,
Luhning scrapped Coors Field as his model ballpark and adopted the more
neutral Camden Yards of Baltimore as his new ballpark model.
Instead of an average home run factor of 144 for both lefties and
righties, his new park's home runs factors were a much more modest 97
for lefties and 112 for righties.
While the ballpark changed drastically,
the team was once again heavily weighted toward offense. Beltran
(.263/.337/.401, 80.9 RC) and Wright (.314/.384/.499, 119.5 RC) returned
to the heart of the lineup. And Luhning added slugger Pat Burrell
(.228/.325/.439, 85.3 RC overall) and Paul Konerko (.278/.388/.509,
118.3 RC overall) in the auction at the cost of $8 million and $7.5
He then added pitcher Matt Morris
(14-7, 3.52 ERA in 212+ IP) in the draft, adding him to a rotation that
included Mussina (13-13, 3.95 ERA in 191+ IP) and 2005 16th-round draft
choice Aaron Harang (8-16, 4.78 ERA in 224+ IP.)
Faced with playing in the league's
toughest division, the Law Dogs were picked to finish in last place.
And after an 11-17 start to the season, that prediction looked
prescient. Luhning watched helplessly as his team struggled
through the next two chapters, going 20-32, caused mostly by a pitching
staff that allowed the fourth-highest number of runs in the league.
At the all-star break, Luhning made his
first big move of the season, jettisoning Konerko and three others to
the Sylmar Padawans in exchange for highly-regarded prospects Brandon
McCarthy, Neil Walker and Lyle Overbay. The following chapter,
Luhning offloaded the disappointing Burrell in a salary dump to the Las
Vegas Flamingos in exchange for two players of little value.
The 'Dogs wrapped up the 2006 season
with a 65-95 record -- their worst record in franchise history.
Despite the horrific outcome of the
2006 season, Luhning had reason to be optimistic about 2007. On
offense, Beltran (.253/.359/.520, 35 HR, 111.3 RC) and Wright
(.304/.349/.504, 106.4 RC) were returning stronger than ever. And
Overbay (.324/.422/.597, 71.7 RC in 290 AB) had also developed into a
major asset. In the bullpen, Takashi Saito, a mid-season free
agent pickup in 2006, turned into the team's closer a year later, saving
28 games in 2007, with a 3.59 ERA in 75+ innings.
The starting rotation was also improved
thanks to the unexpected emergence of Mike Mussina as an ace.
Mussina was a $5.5 million signing in the 2006 auction, mostly because
he was a reliable old innings-eater. But to the surprise of many,
he developed into an ace in 2007, and went 19-7 for the Law Dogs, with a
3.66 ERA in 209+ innings. Harang (10-20, 5.62 ERA in 245+ IP) had
also developed into an ace, although his BDBL numbers certainly didn't
That winter, Luhning made six trades.
In one trade, he swapped Cook and two others to the Corona Confederates
in exchange for closer Billy Wagner. He then flipped Wagner (and
two others) in a three-way deal with the Cleveland Rocks and Las Vegas
Flamingos in exchange for Jorge Posada (.250/.349/.509, 29 HR, 82.9 RC)
and two others.
In the free agent auction, Luhning laid
out $11 million to reacquire Jermaine Dye (.324/.390/.585, 36 HR, 124
RBIs, 129.1 RC.) With Dye joining Wright, Beltran, Overbay and
Posada, the Kansas lineup was as strong as ever. And Mussina and
Harang appeared to form a strong front of the starting rotation.
With the Ridgebacks and Mustangs in the midst of rebuilding years, the
Law Dogs were picked to win their division.
Kansas got off to an 18-10 start, with
only the Mustangs (15-13) providing any sort of challenge. But on
March 12th -- just 40 days into the season -- Luhning pulled the trigger
on a trade that would immensely change the face of his team. In
exchange for prospects Adam Jones, Adam LaRoche and Chris Shelton, and
pitchers Ted Lilly and Wil Ledezma, the Law Dogs received Roger Clemens
and Paul Konerko. Clemens, who had yet to pitch a single inning
for the SoCal Slyme, would prove to be a significant contributor to the
Law Dogs, going 8-4 with a 3.64 ERA in 121+ innings down the stretch.
And Konerko hit .318/.388/.483 with 56.4 runs created in just 292
at-bats for Kansas.
The next chapter, Luhning made another
huge deal, sending Harang to the Corona Confederates (along with
McCarthy, top prospect Brandon Wood and three others) in exchange for
Johan Santana, Brett Myers, Chad Cordero and two others. Santana
was the top free agent in 2007, and netted a record $21 million salary
just a few weeks earlier. He was considered to be among the top
pitchers in the game, and for the Law Dogs, he went 15-3 with a 2.94 ERA
in 153+ innings down the stretch. By adding Santana and Clemens to
a rotation that already included Mussina, the Law Dogs were considered
to be shoo-ins to win the BDBL championship.
But Luhning was hardly finished
dealing. At the final trading deadline of the season, he continued
to stack his roster by adding closer Jonathan Papelbon (0.41 ERA in 22
IP, 14 SVs for Kansas) in a trade with the Corona Confederates,
sacrificing Brett Myers, Chad Cordero and Jose Tabata in exchange.
He added dominant lefty Dennys Reyes to the bullpen in exchange for a
couple of cheap bullpen arms. And he added Anibal Sanchez (4-3,
3.59 ERA in 50+ IP) as his team's #4 starter, in a trade with Southern
Cal involving Lidge and Reggie Willits.
Despite all of those significant
additions, the Law Dogs went a rather modest 46-34 in the second half --
two games worse than their first half record -- and finished the season
with a record of 94-66.
The Law Dogs drew the SoCal Slyme in
the Division Series. Slyme GM Bob Sylvester had made news all
season by consistently selling off big-impact players despite holding a
lead in the EL wild card race. In fact, two of the key players
Sylvester traded -- Clemens and Sanchez -- were now pitching against him
in the ELDS.
But it was Santana who took the hill
for Kansas in Game One of the series, and he did as he was expected,
allowing just two runs through six-plus innings en route to an easy 7-2
Kansas win. In Game Two, Kansas reliever Fernando Rodney
surrendered a three-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman in the seventh
inning, turning a 6-4 Kansas lead into a 8-6 deficit. But Kansas
rallied in the ninth with a pair of doubles and a clutch, two-out pinch
hit single by Bengie Molina to tie the score. But in the 12th
inning, Reyes allowed a pair of singles, and the Slyme took the lead
again. Kansas was then shut down in the bottom of the 12th, as the
Slyme evened the series.
In Game Three, SoCal's former ace,
Clemens, shut down the Slyme with one of the greatest pitching efforts
in BDBL post-season history. He tossed a complete game one-hitter,
allowing just one walk and striking out nine. But the Slyme fought
back to tie the series again in Game Four with a 6-4 victory, ruining
another solid effort by Santana.
Kansas then trailed by a score of 7-6
in the eighth inning of Game Five, but then scored six runs in the top
of the eighth en route to a 13-7 win. It was then Mussina's turn
to completely shut down the Slyme, as he, too, tossed a complete game
four-hit shutout, striking out 11 batters, to seal the series victory.
Next up were the Nashville Funkadelic,
who were the #1 seed in the Eck League, having gone 97-63 during the
regular season. Luhning sent one of his three aces, Santana, to
the hill to start Game One, and he delivered once again, allowing just
one run through seven-plus innings, and striking out 11, carrying the
'Dogs to a 3-1 victory.
Nashville pitcher Jason Jennings proved
equally tough in Game Two, contributing six-plus innings of scoreless
pitching toward a 6-0 shutout. Kansas then trailed by a score of
4-0 heading into the fifth inning of Game Three, but then pounded out 11
runs over the next four innings to win easily.
In Game Four, Kansas again came from
behind, turning a 3-0 deficit into a 6-3 lead after a five-run fifth
inning. The Law Dogs bullpen then held on to win by a score of
6-5. Santana then closed out the series with eight strong innings
in Game Five, as Kansas enjoyed another five-run inning en route to a
7-3 win. For the second time in franchise history, Chris Luhning's
Kansas Law Dogs were heading to the BDBL World Series.
This time, their opponents were the
surprising Badgers of New Hope, who had reached the World Series on the
back of their all-time-great slugger, David Ortiz. Ortiz had smashed
the BDBL single season home run record that year by clubbing a
mind-blowing 79 homers. In Game One, he was at it again, going
deep in the fourth inning to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.
Kansas trailed by two runs heading into the eighth inning, but then
scored six runs that inning to win by a score of 7-4.
In Game Two, Mussina took the mound for
Kansas, and held the high-powered New Hope offense to just one run
through six innings. The Law Dogs won by a score of 8-5, taking a
2-0 series lead into Kansas. Game Three was a BDBL classic, as it
stretched to the 15th inning. A total of 13 pitchers and 24
hitters were used in this game. In the bottom of the 15th, Kansas'
first two batters led off with a walk. Beltran then connected for
a walk-off three-run homer, putting Kansas just one win away from a BDBL
The Badgers finally put up a fight in
Game Four, scoring four first inning runs off of Santana, and eventually
won by a score of 7-3. But that merely delayed the inevitable.
Kansas took a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning of Game Five, and Luhning
handed the ball to his new closer, Papelbon, to record the final three
outs of the game. Papelbon did the job, getting Barry Bonds to
ground out to shortstop to end the game and the series, and crowning
Luhning as the new champion of the BDBL.
With his championship now firmly etched
on the BDBL History page for all eternity, Luhning was now faced with
the task of having to defend his title. After taking a year off to
regroup, the division rival Ridgebacks had returned to contention more
powerful than ever. And with the loss of Clemens, Mussina and
Posada to free agency, and Sanchez to injury, and with hardly any money
to spend on free agents due to the onerous salary of Santana, the Law
Dogs' situation looked bleak heading into the 2008 season.
But every once in a while, the BDBL's
own version of Santa Claus (Jim Doyle) arrives early and delivers an
unexpected surprise at the feet of some lucky BDBL team. In the
winter of 2008, that team was the Kansas Law Dogs. Evidently
desperate to add a relief pitcher to his roster, Doyle made an offer for
Papelbon that no sane person could ever refuse, dealing both 23-year-old
ace Matt Cain and slugging rookie Carlos Quentin to the Law Dogs.
Cain went 15-11 with a 3.67 ERA in 218+ innings for Kansas, providing
far more value for his $100,000 salary than Papelbon could in several
seasons worth of pitching. And the following year, Quentin developed into one of
the league's biggest bargains.
Despite unloading some salary in a
trade with the Corona Confederates (in which Jermaine Dye's $11 million
salary was swapped for Ray Durham's $6 million penalty), Luhning still
didn't have enough free cash to sign any free agents in the auction.
But with rookies Rich Hill (18-7, 3.66 ERA in 211+ IP) and Brian
Bannister (14-9, 3.81 ERA in 177 IP) each developing into valuable,
minimum-wage contributors in 2008, the need for free agents was
With Wright (.323/.398/.493, 24 HR, 46
SB, 127.5 RC) and Beltran (.267/.358/.495, 29 HR, 108 RC) returning to
the lineup, and Saito (2-5, 47 SVs, 1.69 ERA in 69+ IP) returning to the
bullpen, the Law Dogs appeared to be a well-rounded contender, though
not nearly as dominant as the year before.
To the surprise of many, however,
Kansas jumped out to a big lead early in the season, going 20-8 in
Chapter One to take a four-game lead over Allentown. They
continued their hot streak in Chapter Two, going 19-9, while the
Ridgebacks kept pace with the same record. And in Chapter Three,
both teams finished with identical 10-14 records while playing a mostly
While some pundits expected Luhning to
trade the free-agent-to-be Santana at the first possible opportunity,
Kansas' unexpected success appeared to put that plan on the back burner.
Instead, the question became how Luhning could wring enough innings out
of a starting rotation that was on pace to expire their usage after five
Luhning made a major move to solve that
problem at the all-star break trading deadline, sending three players,
including young hurler Gavin Floyd, to the Great Lakes Sphinx in
exchange for Gil Meche (8-7, 3.08 ERA in 114 IP for Kansas.) The
following chapter, he made another big move, adding closer Jason
Isringhausen (3.12 ERA in 26 IP) in a deal with the Badgers that came at
the inexplicably low cost of light-hitting shortstop Brendon Harris.
Kansas managed to fight off the
Ridgebacks all the way through the second week of September. They
entered Chapter Five with a three-game lead in the division, but after
going 15-13 on the chapter, they found themselves looking up by two
games. Making matters worse, the St. Louis Apostles had caught
fire late in the year, and held a one game lead over Kansas in the wild
With just three days left in the 2008
season, the Law Dogs still sat one game back in both the division and
wild card race. But Luhning had managed to play just four games to
that point, meaning the final 24 games of the season would have to be
decided mostly by MP. Kansas went 18-10 over the final chapter,
but the Apostles continued to roll with a record of 19-9, while the
Ridgebacks went 20-8 over that time. Kansas finished the season
with a 96-64 record, but it wasn't good enough to win either the
division (where they trailed by four games) nor the wild card (which
they lost by two.)
The 26th player on this franchise's
active roster, throughout the first seven years of their history, was
their home ballpark, modeled after baseball's most legendary hitter's
park, Coors Field. One popular theory (promoted by John Thorn and
Pete Palmer in The Hidden Game of Baseball decades ago) suggests
that teams that play in a hitter's ballpark should spent a
disproportionate amount of their resources on pitching, and vice-versa.
This franchise's original owner, Chuck Shaeffer, took the opposite
approach, and loaded his roster with power hitters. The result was
predictable: the team ranked fifth in the Eck League in runs scored,
ninth in runs allowed, and finished with a 77-83 record.
When Chris Luhning took over the
franchise in the winter of 2000, he made an astounding number of trades,
turning over most of the roster, but leaving intact Shaeffer's strategy
of building around young power hitters. Once again, Kansas ranked
among the top of the league (#2) in runs scored, and at the bottom (#12)
in runs allowed, resulting in another near-.500 season (83-77.)
In 2001, everything came together
brilliantly for the Law Dogs. Through trades and free agency,
Luhning assembled a lineup that will likely never be matched, and scored
so many runs (1,282 to be exact) that the pitching staff (which allowed
a 10th-ranked 941 runs) was rendered inconsequential. The offense
carried the Law Dogs into the World Series, but unfortunately for
Luhning, the dice stopped rolling his way once the Stamford Zoots came
into town (a common fate for teams facing Stamford in the playoffs.)
The vaunted Kansas lineup hit just .237/.321/.494 against Stamford's
trio of aces, while the Zoots pounded out a .324/.420/.569 line against
In 2002, Luhning abandoned a very
competitive team by trading away several star players despite his team's
.600+ winning percentage. Once again, the Law Dogs offense scored
runs in bushels (1,020, ranked #2 in the EL), and once again, Kansas
pitching trailed the league with over 1,000 runs allowed.
In 2003, Kansas pitching gave their
best performance to date, allowing "only" 807 runs (ranked 7th in the
EL.) As always, their offense led the league with over 1,000 runs
scored, and the result was another division title. But once again,
they were derailed in the playoffs by a team that featured three ace
starting pitchers (Allentown.)
In 2004 and 2005, the Colorado Rockies
experimented with a humidor, and the right-handed home run factors for
Coors Field fell to 129 in '04 and just 109 in 2005. But the Law
Dogs kept scoring runs (853 runs in '04 and 942 in '05) and allowing
runs (819 in '04 and 945 in '05), resulting in two more near-.500
Finally, in 2006, Luhning made the
long-awaited move out of Coors Field. At long last, he could
acquire ace pitchers and expect them to perform like aces. The
following year, he acquired two of the best pitchers in all of baseball
-- Roger Clemens and Johan Santana -- and rode them straight to the BDBL
It doesn't always work out quite that
neatly. Several teams throughout BDBL history have assembled two
or three ace pitchers and a lineup filled with all-stars, only to fall
short of the championship. If success were measured solely by
championships, there wouldn't be many successful franchises in the
BDBL's first decade. The fact that Luhning was able to accomplish
as much as he did (859 wins, three division titles, two league titles
and a BDBL championship) while playing with the handicap of a home
ballpark modeled after Coors Field, speaks volumes to his ability as a