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Big Daddy Baseball League

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

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March, 2009

Franchise History: Los Altos Undertakers

Undertakers in a box:

Franchise wins: 910 (3rd all-time)
Playoff appearances: 6
Division titles: 6
League titles: 0
Championship titles: 0
100-win seasons: 3
100-loss seasons: 0
Franchise RC leader: Larry Walker
Franchise wins leader: Chan Ho Park

Jeff Paulson was just a 22-year-old college student when he applied for ownership in the Big Daddy Baseball League, less than two weeks after the league's official birth date.  He was the first owner to join the BDBL outside of the original four owners from the old CBL of 1987-1990.

Drawing the tenth pick of the inaugural draft, Paulson set his sights on 32-year-old slugger Albert Belle.  Belle paid instant dividends for the Undertakers, hitting .319/.418/.632 in that 1999 season, with 50 home runs, 162 RBIs and 159 runs created.  He would eventually become the first Undertaker to have his number retired by the franchise, despite playing just two seasons for the club.

On the way back through the snake draft, Paulson solidified the heart of his lineup by adding 32-year-old lefty slugger Larry Walker (.339/.450/.533, 121.5 RC.)  He then used his next three selections to form his pitching staff: Trevor Hoffman (79 IP, 1.37 ERA, 51 SVs), 23-year-old Scott Elarton (8-2, 2.88 ERA in 56+ IP) and 26-year-old Chan Ho Park (18-10, 4.52 ERA in 231+ IP.)

The selection of Elarton at such an early stage of the draft led many to believe that Paulson was focusing on the future more than the present.  Aside from Park, only one other pitcher selected by Paulson was eligible to throw more than 150 innings in 1999, and that was 41-year-old knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, who was selected in the 16th round.  That 16th round pick proved brilliant, however, as the old man went 18-8 with a 4.06 ERA in 217 innings.

With their apparent focus on the future and dearth of quality innings and at-bats, the Undertakers weren't expected to be very competitive in a Griffin Division that included the Litchfield Lightning, Gillette Swamp Rats and New Milford Blazers.  But Paulson shocked the league by getting off to a hot start at 16-9 in Chapter One, and then carried that hot streak into Chapter Two, where he led the league with a 22-8 record.  By the all-star break, the Undertakers owned the best record in the BDBL at 51-29.

Despite playing in a pitcher-friendly ballpark modeled after San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium, the Undertakers ranked fourth in the OL in runs scored at the break, and just seventh in runs allowed.  While the starting rotation struggled at times, it became apparent that Paulson's strategy was to utilize his bullpen to its fullest extent.  Seven different relievers pitched 50 or more innings for the Undertakers in 1999 with ERA's under 3.50.  In the years to come, Paulson's bullpen strategy would be mimicked by many different teams with varying degrees of success.

At the Chapter Four trading deadline, Paulson made his first trade as GM, adding starter Ismael Valdez from the rebuilding Chicago Black Sox franchise, while parting with top prospect Michael Barrett in exchange.  The next chapter, Paulson made several more trades, adding another starter, Ramon Martinez, along with second baseman Mike Lansing and all-star slugger Mo Vaughn, among others.  The Undertakers went 48-32 in the second half, and captured the division title with a record of 99-61 -- five games ahead of the wild-card-winning Litchfield Lightning.

The Lightning were managed by Phil Geisel, who had a habit of making careless decisions with his roster.  Perhaps the most egregious of those careless decisions was made at the end of the 1999 season when, in an effort to catch the Undertakers in the pennant race, Geisel overused eleven different players on his roster, including his team's ace (and Cy Young candidate) David Cone, leadoff hitter Otis Nixon, #2 hitter Eric Young and starting right fielder Marquis Grissom.

The Undertakers were then tasked with facing a watered-down Lightning team that included just 21 eligible players on their post-season roster.  The assumption was that the heavily-favored Undertakers would easily roll over the Lightning in the best-of-five Division Series.  But as BDBL history has proven so many times, assumptions are often proven wrong.

In Game One, Litchfield starter Pete Harnisch went toe-to-toe with Los Altos' newest ace, Martinez, and trailed by a score of 1-0 heading into the eighth inning.  With two outs in the eighth, Paulson called upon Hoffman to record the final four outs.  Instead, he allowed a double to Mark Grudzielanek and a two-run home run to Edgar Martinez, giving the Lightning the improbable series lead.

Litchfield then continued to stun the league by taking Game Two by a score of 4-2, backed by the pitching of Denny Neagle.  But Los Altos finally awoke from their slumber and took the next two games to force a fifth and deciding game.  It would be one of the greatest games in playoffs history.

With Los Altos leading by one run with only four outs to go, Paulson once again turned to Hoffman to close it out.  The first batter he faced, J.T. Snow, ripped a base hit up the middle, plating the tying run from second.  In the bottom of the eighth, Vaughn led off the inning for Los Altos with a single, and Paulson made the crucial decision to pinch run for him.  The pinch runner, Rich Amaral, stole both second and third base, but failed to score when Paulson decided to let Hoffman bat for himself with two outs.

After pitching a scoreless ninth, Hoffman was left in to start the tenth.  With two outs and first base open, Paulson intentionally walked Barry Bonds to get to Snow.  Snow struck out, seemingly ending the inning.  But the third strike passed through the legs of catcher Tony Eusebio, allowing the go-ahead runner from third to score.  Litchfield reliever Eric Plunk -- who had amassed a 4.70 ERA during the regular season -- then closed out the bottom half of the inning, including Amaral, to end the series.

 

Following that devastating embarrassment, Paulson hit the trade tables that winter, determined to defend his division title.  He made eight trades, and in what became typical Paulson fashion, 14 draft picks changed hands in those eight trades.  Among the players who departed were two of the team's stars the previous year, Park and Vaughn.  Tino Martinez was acquired from the SoCal Slyme to fill Vaughn's place in the lineup.  But before Opening Day began, Paulson then flipped Martinez to the Phoenix Predators in exchange for Sean Casey (.327/.398/.523 overall, with 131.3 RC.)

With his many draft picks, Paulson selected Francisco Cordova with the first pick of the second round to replace Park.  Cordova went 11-8 with a 4.80 CERA in 173+ innings, and became the team's #2 starter behind Valdes (17-10, 4.21 ERA in 220+ IP.)  And of course, the Undertakers also returned what was billed as the "best bullpen in the BDBL, hands-down."

Offensively, Paulson added leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton (.306/.405/.475 with 64 SB and 101.7 RC) in a pre-season deal, and Belle (.264/.399/.508 w/ 39 HR and 129 RC) and Walker (.311/.411/.587 w/ 111.8 RC) returned to the heart of the lineup.

Despite the fact that most of the division-winning ballclub was returning in 2000, the BDBL press remained skeptical of Paulson's odds of repeating the same trick from 1999 with a cobbled-together bullpen and second-rate starting rotation.  The Undertakers were picked to finish in last place in the Griffin Division.  Once again, Paulson was put in a position to prove himself, and once again, he delivered, going 14-10 in Chapter One, 14-10 in Chapter Two, and 18-8 in Chapter Three to take a commanding five-game lead at the half.  For the second year in a row, the Undertakers owned the best record in the Ozzie League at the half.

Prior to the Chapter Three deadline, Paulson found himself trading his first baseman for the third time that season (the sixth different first baseman in the eight-chapter history of the franchise.)  Out went Casey, and in came 24-year-old slugger Paul Konerko:

"This was a difficult decision, giving up Sean Casey," stated Paulson.  "However, I thought it was the best move to make.  Because of guys like Larry Walker and Kenny Lofton, we have faced a steady diet of left-handed pitching all year.  Paul Konerko gives us another power bat from the right hand side -- not only this year, but for years to come.  He might not give us the high average Casey would have, but he is going to give us a bit more power."

After hitting .366/.433/.656 over the first two chapters, Konerko hit just .243/.313/.441 in his new home.

At the deadline, Paulson made another big trade, sending Martinez and two top prospects (Aaron Myette and Michael Cuddyer) to the New Milford Blazers in exchange for ace pitcher Alex Fernandez.  He also picked up lefty slugger Cliff Floyd from the Minneapolis Haymakers in exchange for Brian Hunter and a couple of draft picks.  Fernandez went just 1-5 for his new team, with an ERA of 4.69 in eight starts.

Meanwhile, Los Altos continued to feel the heat on the back of their necks from the Litchfield Lightning, who went an astounding 60-25 over the second half of the season.  But despite that .700 record, it wasn't enough to catch the red-hot Undertakers, who went 57-28 to finish with 104 wins -- two games ahead of the Lightning.

The Undertakers were then tasked with facing the Salem Cowtippers in the Division Series.  The Cowtippers had won their division for the second year in a row, but in a watered-down Benes Division where the second-place team finished a dozen games below .500.  In that series, Cowtippers manager Mike Glander attempted a "cover pitcher" strategy to counteract Paulson's platoon-heavy lineup.  The strategy failed, and Los Altos easily won the best-of-five series in four games, despite scoring the same number of run in the series (21) as Salem.

Los Altos then advanced to their first OL Championship Series, where they faced the defending-champion Stamford Zoots.  Stamford owned three dominant aces -- Cy Young winner Randy Johnson, runner-up Kevin Brown and John Smoltz -- and employed a three-man rotation throughout the series.  Smoltz kicked off the series with a Stamford win, allowing just one run through seven innings.  Johnson then shut out the Undertakers lineup for eight innings in an easy Game Two win.

When the series shifted to Stamford, however, Los Altos battled back for two convincing wins (8-3 and 7-1) against Brown and Smoltz to even the series at two wins apiece.  But Stamford then won Game Five behind the pitching of Johnson, as Zoots slugger Rafael Palmeiro launched a pair of home runs off of Alex Fernandez and the Undertakers bullpen.  Then, in Game Six, Stamford took a 1-0 lead in the second inning.  And behind the pitching of Kevin Brown and five Stamford relievers, that lead held up.  Stamford advanced (and eventually won) the BDBL World Series, while Paulson was once again eliminated from the post-season tournament.

 

In the winter of 2001, Paulson once again attacked the trading market with ferocity.  He made a total of nine trades that winter, involving nearly as many draft picks (18) as players (19.)  After trading Park the previous winter, Paulson re-acquired the 28-year-old hurler in exchange for a couple of backup infielders and top prospect Jack Cust.  Park went 16-10 for the Undertakers in 2001, with an ERA of 4.17 and 262 strikeouts (and 135 walks) in 246 innings.

In addition to Park, Paulson also acquired veteran hurler Woody Williams (12-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 184+ IP in BDBL '01) in a trade with the Bowling Green Spoilers that involved the departure of former bullpen stars Hoffman and John Rocker.

Among Paulson's many draft picks that year were Shawn Estes, Brad Fullmer, Alex Fernandez, Rudy Seanez, Matt Whisenant, Donnie Bridges and Shawn Sonnier -- all selected with picks acquired via trade.

Returning to the team were franchise staples Walker (.268/.420/.445 in 321 AB) and Belle (.280/.344/.471.)  And despite trading Hoffman, Rocker, Antonio Osuna and Mike Venafro that winter, Paulson had once again assembled a bullpen that was considered the best in the Ozzie League.  Finally, after two years of underestimation, the Undertakers were picked to win their division heading into the 2001 season:

Weaknesses:  Unusually poor defense, especially in the infield where two "Pr"-ranged fielders man the corners.  Offensively, it's hard to imagine how this team will break 700 runs scored.  And if this team does score 700 runs, it's hard to imagine how they will win more than 85 games.  So why on earth am I predicting a first-place finish for a team that can't possibly win 85 games given my projections?  Three reasons: a) I simply refuse to make the same mistake three years in a row, b) if the Undertakers always do the opposite of what I predict they'll do, then I won't have to face them in the playoffs if this pattern continues, and c) never, ever, underestimate the power of Jeff Paulson to squeeze blood from a stone.

Outlook: I have predicted a last-place finish for the Los Altos Undertakers for the past two years, and they have won two division titles and a BDBL-best 203 games during that time.  For two years, I have been unconvinced that the Undertakers had enough starting pitching to win their division.   This year, I believe they finally do.  Only now, I'm not convinced that they can possibly put together enough offense to compete.  Then again, I wasn't totally convinced that my team could be beaten in a short series last November by a lineup that included Terry Shumpert, Jerry Hairston, Darrin Jackson, Brent Mayne and Shawon Dunston.   So I'm pretty sure there is no way to predict what this team will do simply by looking at them on paper.

Despite that lofty prediction, however, the Undertakers limped out of the gate with a 12-16 record in Chapter One.  They then followed that with the division's best Chapter Two record at 16-10.  At the end of that chapter, Paulson made another trade, swapping pitchers (Williams for Ramon Martinez) with the Akron Ryche.  Los Altos then went 13-13 in Chapter Three, and headed into the break six games behind the division leader, with a record of 41-39.

Despite maintaining that striking distance to the post-season, however, Paulson packed it in, and began trading away various impact players to contending teams in exchange for future considerations.  First, he traded Elarton (a 15-game winner in BDBL '01, with a 3.97 ERA in over 200 innings) to the Bear Country Jamboree in exchange for prospect Jamey Wright and a couple of farm picks -- a trade that saved the Undertakers $7 million in 2002.

At the Undertaker Press conference, GM Jeff Paulson had this to say. "It's never easy admitting that you don't have the horses to compete for a division title. I'm sure many of you out there thought we had a legitimate chance to win. All I can say is that I know this team very well. They were fighting as hard as they could. I was in negotiations with another Ozzie League team that would have given us a great shot this year. But terms could not be released. With that in mind, I truly believed we did not have the makings of a World Series team.

"Looking over the roster, I really thought we had some players developing that could impact our team greatly next year. So after much debate I decided it was time to pack it in this year and build for next.

..."While I am sure this is difficult for the great fans of Los Altos to comprehend, this trade and the trades to follow will give us a chance to build for years to come."

Next, he traded free-agents-to-be Konerko (.301/.371/.450 overall in BDBL '01) and Mike Remlinger to the South Carolina Sea Cats in exchange for Scott Brosius and two more draft picks.  Then, on June 22nd, with his team just five games out of the wild card race, Paulson traded valuable reliever Scott Williamson and outfielder Eric Davis to the Cleveland Rocks in exchange for a couple of middle relievers (David Weathers and Mike Magnante) with 2002 value.

Roughly two weeks later, Paulson traded the face of his franchise since the inaugural draft, Albert Belle, to the division-leading Gillette Swamp Rats in exchange for reserve outfielder David Dellucci and lefty specialist Randy Choate.  At the time, Belle was signed through the 2002 season, but after suffering a career-ending injury in 2000, that contract was rendered moot.

Not surprisingly, the Undertakers went 22-58 in the second half -- the worst record in the BDBL -- and finished with a 63-97 record.

 

Determined not to spend another year rebuilding, Paulson made a bold trade in the winter of 2002, dealing top prospects Ben Sheets and Christian Guzman to the Kentucky Fox in exchange for Aaron Sele (6-9, 5.41 ERA in 118+ IP in his final year under contract), Octavio Dotel (1.88 ERA in 110 IP, with 11 saves) and Shawon Dunston (.267/.288/.523 in 176 AB in his final season.)  Dotel would lead yet another star-studded Undertakers bullpen that included no fewer than eleven pitchers with 30+ innings pitched and ERA's under 4.00.

Paulson made four other trades that winter, including the departures of two more valuable relievers (David Weathers and Mike Magnante) in exchange for prospects, and the acquisition of three draft picks.

With the sixth overall pick of the 2002 draft, and $25 million to spend, Paulson selected 24-year-old all-star third baseman Eric Chavez.  He then added veterans Kevin Millar, Frank Thomas and Tim Salmon with his next three picks.  And with one of the many picks he acquired through trade, he added yet another bullpen arm in Ramiro Mendoza (3.30 ERA in 101 IP.)

With Walker (.300/.425/.522, 29 HR, 127.7 RC) returning for his final year under contract, and with Chavez and Millar now filling the role as his protection in the lineup (once filled by Belle), the Undertakers were again picked to win the Griffin Division.  Once again, the Los Altos starting rotation of Park, Sele, Estes and Jason Marquis appeared to be below-average, but by now, the league had bought into Paulson's bullpen-first philosophy.

Los Altos wasted no time converting any remaining disbelievers, as they got off to a league-best 23-5 start to the 2002 season.  Led by Walker and Chavez, they scored the second-highest number of runs in the Ozzie League, and led the second-place Lightning by eight games.  By the end of two chapters, that lead had grown to an insurmountable dozen games, and another division title was all but assured.

At the end of February, Paulson made what most considered to be a major acquisition, adding Craig Biggio at the expense of Juan Uribe (who was termed the franchise's "shortstop of the future" at the time of the deal.)  But Biggio failed miserably with his new team, hitting just .236/.345/.348 over 131 games.  His only saving grace was being hit with 26 pitches, which kept his on-base percentage high.

At the Chapter Three deadline, Paulson made another major acquisition, adding ace pitcher Tom Glavine at the expense of two more top prospects (Rafael Soriano and Eric Hiljus.)  This time, the acquisition paid major dividends, as Glavine went 14-5 over the final four chapters, with an ERA of 3.66 in 147+ innings.

Meanwhile, Park was enjoying his best season to date.  He finished the season with a record of 25-10 and a 3.26 ERA in 254 innings -- a performance good enough to earn the 2002 OL Cy Young award.  By the end of four chapters, the Undertakers owned an impressive 72-34 record -- a .679 winning percentage that was second only to the Salem Cowtippers in the Ozzie League.  While the Undertakers were expected to win their division with a patchwork lineup and pitching staff, no one expected them to dominate in this way.  Their performance was so unusual, they became the subject of a "From the Desk of the Commish" article that season, dedicated to finding an answer as to why the Undertakers were so good.

At the season's final trading deadline, Paulson continued to add star power to his roster in an effort to strengthen his team as much as possible heading into the post-season.  He traded another top prospect, Carlos Pena, to the SoCal Slyme in exchange for another ace starter, Jason Schmidt.  Schmidt started just seven games for Los Altos, and went 4-0 with a 3.26 ERA.  And Chavez was then traded to the Madison Fighting Mimes in exchange for right-handed slugger Jeff Bagwell (.282/.374/.508 in 52 games.)

The Undertakers headed into the playoffs with their strongest lineup in franchise history, and were the hottest team in the BDBL (42-12, a .778 winning percentage) over the final two chapters.  They closed out the season with an astonishing record of 114-46, setting a new BDBL record for wins by a team in a single season.  They then demolished the Madison Fighting Mimes in the Division Series, outscoring them 30-9 in four games.  The Los Altos pitching staff held the powerful Madison lineup scoreless through the first 29 innings of the series, and the Undertakers lineup then pounded Madison for 15 runs in the final game, rubbing salt into an open wound.

That series win set the stage for an OLCS match-up against the Cowtippers.  And the Undertakers carried their hot streak into that series with two quick wins in the first two games.  But in Game Three, Salem ace Brad Penny tossed a complete game five-hitter, and Salem then tied the series with a 3-1 win in Game Four.

In Game Five, Salem held a 3-1 lead heading into the ninth, but a two-out, two-run single by Danny Bautista tied the game in the top half of the inning.  After a scoreless 10th inning, Paulson handed the game over to lefty reliever Juan Moreno.  Moreno was a Chapter Five free agent pick-up for Paulson in 2001, and had just completed one of the greatest seasons by any reliever in league history.  In 42 innings, Moreno allowed just ten hits and four runs (three earned), giving him a mind-boggling ERA of 0.64 during the regular season.  He was particularly devastating against left-handed batters, who went just 1-for-24 (.042) against him.  But facing the heart of the Salem lineup in the bottom of the 11th, Moreno allowed a walk and a base hit with one out.  Robin Ventura -- a left-handed batter -- then stepped to the plate and drove home the game-winning run with a single up the middle.

Los Altos recovered from that devastating loss, however, with a 4-3 win in Game Six.  And that forced a seventh and deciding game, with Penny taking the mound against the OL's Cy Young award winner, Park.  The game remained scoreless through the first six innings before Salem slugger Sammy Sosa launched a leadoff homer off Park to start the seventh.  The next inning, the floodgates opened, and Salem scored six runs off the vaunted Los Altos bullpen.  The Undertakers mounted a rally in the bottom of the eighth, scoring four runs, but it wasn't enough.  Jeff Paulson had lost another post-season series.

 

Despite his masterful management of his lineup and bullpen throughout the 2002 season, Paulson finished a distant second to Mike Glander in the OL Manager of the Year balloting.  And with several key players (including Park, Walker, Biggio and Glavine) due to leave via free agency, he was once again faced with fielding a competitive team without a foundation of returning stars.  That winter, Paulson made a total of six trades.  And with the league adopting a new rule banning the trading of draft picks, Paulson was stripped of one his trademark tools.

Among those six trades, Paulson added #1 starter Jamie Moyer from the Bear Country Jamboree while attending Jamboree GM Matt Clemm's annual Halloween party.  In that deal, Paulson added $6.9 million in salary, but gained the starting pitcher he needed to fill the hole left by Park.  Moyer went 20-7 for Los Altos, with a 3.72 ERA in 242+ IP.

Paulson also added part-time starter Andy Benes and reliever Joey Eischen in a deal with the Chicago Black Sox.  While neither Benes (3-6, 4.35 ERA in 80+ IP) nor Eischen (4-1, 4.00 ERA in 54 IP) lived up to expectations, it cost the team Salmon, who enjoyed a monster year (.330/.433/.592 with 119.6 RC) for Chicago in 2003.

In a three-team trade with the Nashville Funkadelic and SoCal Slyme, Paulson added several key players, including Jason Giambi (.330/.473/.568 in BDBL '03), Jose Valentin (.250/.308/.444), Mike Remlinger (5-2, 1.60 ERA in 73+ IP) and Julio Franco (.317/.380/.469 in 145 AB.)

In the first-ever BDBL free agent auction, Paulson went bargain-hunting, and landed short-usage stars Roberto Alomar ($3M) and Matt Franco ($2M) at cheap salaries.  Then, in the 2003 farm draft, Paulson made a decision that would earn him much ridicule over the coming years when he selected 15-year-old high school sophomore Justin Upton in the first round.  Paulson added three more high schoolers and three more college players in that draft, establishing a pattern that would earn him a great deal of razzing through the next several years.  The abuse would be worth it, however, as the Undertakers farm system ranked among the top six in the annual BDBL Farm Report in every year from 2004-2008, thanks in large part to players who were selected as amateurs.

Once again, the Undertakers headed into the 2003 season with a bullpen filled with specialists of every flavor, and a lineup filled with platoons at every position except one (first base, where Giambi lived.)  Once again, the depth on the bench and in the bullpen came at the expense of the starting rotation, which featured the lackluster team of Moyer, Schmidt, Ryan Franklin and Steve Sparks.  And once again, despite their non-threatening appearance on paper, the Undertakers were picked to win their division.

As expected, Los Altos jumped out to a hot start, going 19-9 in Chapter One, while outscoring their competition by a league-best 43 runs.  After a 14-12 Chapter Two, the Undertakers' lead in the division had grown to nine games, as the rest of the division played .407 baseball.

Another long and boring summer ensued, as the Undertakers continued to run away with the division race before it even began.  By the all-star break, Los Altos owned a 13-game lead in the division, with a .613 winning percentage.  That lead then grew to 21, 25 and 29 games over the next three chapters.  In the end, the Undertakers finished with a record of 98-62, while the other three teams in the division each finished with more than 90 losses.  The second-place Lightning were so awful, in fact, they were outscored by their opponents by a whopping 215 runs.

At the final deadline, Paulson made his final move to strengthen his team before the playoffs.  Having learned his lesson the previous year, however, Paulson refused to sacrifice any of his top young prospects to strengthen his team this time.  Instead, he swapped starters with the first-place Akron Ryche of the Eck League's Hrbek Division, sending Giambi, Alomar and Schmidt to Akron in exchange for Odalis Perez (who went 23-7 combined in 2003, with a 3.07 ERA in 240+ IP), Jeremy Giambi and Mark Loretta.  At the time, Giambi led the Undertakers in OBP, slugging, at-bats, home runs, RBIs, walks and runs created.  The trade of the Undertakers' one and only full-time hitter ensured that no hitter on the Los Altos roster would finish with more than 480 at-bats in 2003.

On September 24th of that year, the Undertakers set an unusual record for the modern era by stealing their 222nd base of the season.  Los Altos finished the season with 252 stolen bases -- 131 more than any other team in the Ozzie League -- led by center fielder Dave Roberts, who swiped a BDBL-record 91 bags in 129 attempts.

In the Division Series, Paulson was tasked with facing his longtime friend, Matt Clemm.  Moyer -- who was traded by Clemm earlier that year -- defeated his former team by pitching six innings of one-run (unearned) ball.  In Game Two, an error by the multiple-gold-glove-winning starter for the Jamboree (Greg Maddux) led to five unearned runs in a 6-4 Los Altos win.  But Bear Country then tied the series with a pair of one-run wins in the next two games.

The Jamboree then took Game Five by a score of 5-1 to capture the series lead.  And in Game Six, the Undertakers' newest starter, Perez, was shelled for six runs in five innings.  Once again, Paulson was sent packing early.

 

In the winter of 2004, a radical realignment of divisions was passed by league vote, and the Undertakers were now the sole remaining member of the original Griffin Division.  They would now be competing in a division comprised solely of California-based teams, including the Silicon Valley CyberSox, Sylmar Padawans and Bear Country Jamboree.

After making just five small trades that winter, involving mostly prospects and younger players for future consideration, Paulson found himself in an enviable position heading into the free agent auction, with $33.2 million to spend -- the second-highest amount in the league -- and just two holes on the roster to fill.  In the very first auction lot, Paulson signed his first player -- übercloser Eric Gagne -- at a salary of $7.5 million (a record for a relief pitcher in the auction.)  Gagne earned every penny of that salary in 2004 -- and then some.  In 85 innings, he allowed just two runs (one earned), with just 24 hits allowed (an average of 2.5 hits per nine), 15 walks (1.6/9), 0 home runs and 132 strikeouts (14.0 per nine.)  He compiled a microscopic ERA of 0.11, with a BDBL-record 62 saves.  Out of the 30 runners he inherited on the season, only three scored.  At the end of the year, he was the unanimous selection as the OL Cy Young award winner, becoming the first reliever to ever win the award.

Paulson later added Shawn Chacon ($5M), Jim Thome ($7.5M) and Moyer ($9.5M) in the auction, adding great depth to the team.  Each provided great value for the dollar, as Chacon went 12-7 with a 3.18 CERA in 148+ innings, Thome hit .253/.386/.547 with 46 home runs and 129.7 runs created, and Moyer went 18-6 with a 2.56 ERA in 236 innings.

With a much stronger starting rotation in place, Gagne heading another strong bullpen, and a much less platoon-heavy lineup, the Undertakers were once again picked to win their division.  And once again, after one chapter of play, they led the division with a 16-12 record, as the other three teams in the division failed to outscore their competition.  And by the end of two chapters, Los Altos had once again managed to run away with the division, enjoying a league-best nine-game lead over the Jamboree.

The Undertakers went 52-28 (.650) in the second half of the season -- the second-best record in the Ozzie League -- and wrapped up the season with a league-best 106-54 record.  And for the second year in a row, none of the other three teams in the division managed a record above .500.

Paulson made just two trades during the 2004 season, both at the Chapter Five deadline. In one trade, he added slugger Preston Wilson (.241/.304/.471 overall), and in another, he added starter Tim Wakefield (15-6, 2.89 ERA in 218 IP overall) and bench players John Vander Wal and Julio Franco.  Neither trade cost him a great deal in future talent, as Paulson once again resisted the temptation to touch his collection of top prospects, which was quickly becoming the best in the BDBL.

The Los Altos farm club ranked just 19th out of 24 teams in the 2003 annual BDBL Farm Report, but thanks to several mid-season free agent acquisitions the Undertakers' farm rose to #6 in the ranking in 2004.  Over the next four years, the Los Altos farm would rank #2, #1, #1 and #2.

More than perhaps anyone else in the league, Paulson had enjoyed a great deal of success in drafting farm free agents during the regular season.  Among the many success stories from this group were Juan Moreno, Ryan Franklin, Juan Uribe, Jon Rauch, Jeremy Hermida, Rickie Weeks, David Bush, Micah Owings and Jered Weaver.  But after years of lobbying, Paulson finally managed to convince the league to pass a rule that disallowed farm free agents from being acquired during the season, with the exception of one chapter.  And thus, another one of Paulson's trademark tools was removed -- only this time, it was by his own doing.

With the top seed in the playoffs, the Undertakers faced off against the fourth-seeded Ravenswood Infidels in the 2004 OL Division Series.  As Los Altos was heavily favored to win, it came as no surprise when Wakefield out-pitched Ravenswood ace Johan Santana to win Game One by a convincing score of 8-0.  In Game Two, Los Altos held a 1-0 lead heading into the ninth.  Paulson had handed the ball to his superhuman closer, Gagne, and he wriggled out of a jam in the seventh, and followed that with a scoreless eighth.  But in the ninth, Paulson left him on the mound to record three more outs against the top of the Ravenswood lineup.  And Gagne ran into trouble, allowing a single and walk to the first two batters he faced.

Paulson stuck with Gagne, and the next batter attempted to bunt both runners into scoring position.  Instead, Los Altos catcher Brandon Inge nailed the lead runner at third.  But Gagne then walked Carlos Delgado to load the bases.  Once again, Paulson stuck with him, and the next batter, Ivan Rodriguez, then plated the tying run with a squeeze bunt.  Frank Catalanotto then followed with an RBI single, plating the go-ahead run on Gagne's 36th pitch of the game.  Los Altos lost by a score of 2-1.

In the next game, the two teams carried a 3-3 tie into the eighth.  Paulson turned to lefty reliever Darrell May to hold the score, but instead he allowed an RBI double to lefty hitter Doug Mientkiewicz, and Ravenswood closer Damaso Marte then struck out the side in order in the ninth inning to win another one-run game, 4-3.

In Game Four, Los Altos took a 3-1 lead early in the game, but once again the vaunted Undertakers bullpen failed to get the job done in middle relief, as Curt Leskanic allowed three runs to score in his one inning of work, and Los Altos fell by a score of 7-3.  Then, in Game Five, Ravenswood took a 2-1 lead after four innings, but Santana lasted just 4 2/3 innings before giving way to the Infidels bullpen.  And four Ravenswood relievers showed the Undertakers how it is done, preserving another one-run win, giving the Infidels an unlikely upset series victory.  Although it was little consolation to Paulson, the Infidels would also upset the Salem Cowtippers and Chicago Black Sox en route to the BDBL championship.

 

After two heart-breaking failures in the post-season, Paulson began to reassess the long-term strategy of his franchise.  He then made a decision to begin stockpiling young talent in an effort to build a long-term dynasty that would dominate the league for years to come.  And with a farm system that included Weeks, Hermida, Chris Nelson, Weaver, Kyle Sleeth, Jeremy Sowers and Upton, among others, he was already off to a good start.

In keeping with this new philosophy, Paulson traded several of his best players in the winter of 2005, including Loretta, Perez, Craig Monroe, Brian Shouse and Thome.  And in exchange, he took on millions in unwanted salary while loading up his roster with more top prospects, including Edwin Jackson, Adam Miller, Jeff Clement, Alex Gordon, Brian Dopirak and Franklin Gutierrez.  These trades gave Los Altos eight of the top 60 prospects in baseball, and the #2 ranked farm in the BDBL.

The Undertakers were left with just $13.3 million to spend on a dozen players heading into the auction, and Paulson made it clear that he would not be a factor in the auction, signing just one player -- Rafael Palmeiro at $1.5 million (the lowest salary every paid to a player in the auction.)  He then used the #24 pick in the draft to fill innings and at-bats with veterans like Brett Boone and Cliff Floyd, and to stockpile more young players in the $1 million rounds of the draft.

The stripped-down, bare-boned version of the Undertakers featured just one star player -- Gagne -- and a team full of veteran retreads and not-ready-for-primetime rookies.  The forecast for the 2005 season was anything but sunny:

Outlook: This is just plain ugly.  We've seen rebuilding teams before in the BDBL, but never anything quite this drastic.  Looking at this team, it is hard to imagine how they could have won more games than any other team in the league only a year ago.  For all the other Griffin Division teams that have grown tired of finishing 20 games behind the Undertakers every year, 2005 is a golden opportunity for sweet redemption.  The Undertakers are so awful this year, it will be embarrassing to lose one game to them (and I plan to lose at least half a dozen.)  If Los Altos finishes with more than 55 wins, Jeff Paulson should not only be named Manager of the Year, but he should have his own wing named after him in the not-yet-built BDBL Hall of Fame.  With most of the Undertakers' best prospects having less than a year of professional experience under their belts, it may be quite a while before we see this team back on top.

Prediction: 4th place.  By about 60 games.

Before the first pitch of the 2005 season had been thrown, Paulson unloaded the biggest trade bait he had, dealing Gagne to the New Hope Badgers in exchange for Jeremy Hermida, Mike DeJean and Jeff Bajenaru.  Gagne enjoyed another big season for New Hope, compiling a 0.97 ERA in 74+ innings, with a 6-2 record, 43 saves and only 35 hits allowed.  While DeJean and Bajenaru never amounted to much, Hermida added yet another top 30 prospect to the Undertakers farm.

While the Undertakers got off to a slow start at 13-15, it wasn't nearly as slow as most people anticipated.  By the all-star break, however, they had fallen 12 games out of the race with a 32-48 record.  They then duplicated that 32-48 record in the second half to finish 64-96 overall -- their worst record since 2001.

 

In the winter of 2006, Paulson replicated his strategy from the previous winter, and wrote off the coming season in favor of further stockpiling his cache of young talent.  For the second year in a row, he traded several impact players, and took expensive players off the hands of his competitors in exchange for prospects -- in effect, "buying" these prospects for large sums of salary.  Among the prospects he added during this time were Kevin Youkilis, Mike Pelfrey, J.J. Hardy, Jon Broxton, Nick Adenhart, Jeff Fiorentino and Tim Stauffer.  All but the final two in that list became either a top prospect or a valuable addition to the roster over the coming years.

The Undertakers went into the auction with $29.1 million to spend, and Paulson spent $13 million of that on two starting pitchers: Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan.  Mulder pitched roughly half a season for Los Altos before he became trade bait, while Suppan lasted the entire season, posting a 4.31 ERA in 213+ innings before he, too, was unloaded in the off-season.

In the draft, Paulson spent another $15 million on two more pitchers: Jason Schmidt ($10M) and Eric Gagne ($5M.)  Schmidt had missed most of the 2005 MLB season with an injury, and Paulson was hoping to "buy low," given some of the exorbitant salaries starting pitchers were fetching on the open market.  Gagne had also missed most of the '05 MLB season, and Paulson was hoping for the same "buy low" opportunity with him as well.

The Undertakers were picked to finish in third place in a watered-down division, and the general consensus was that it may be another few years before their core of young players would mature enough to form a contending team.  But after two chapters of play, Los Altos was stunning the league once again by hanging in the race with a 28-28 record -- just three games behind the division leading Silicon Valley CyberSox.  By the all-star break, however, Silicon Valley's lead had grown to nine games, and Paulson once again raised the white flag.

At the deadline, he traded three star players -- Cliff Floyd, Chavez and Mulder -- to the division rival Padawans (who were tied with the Undertakers at the time) in exchange for Derek Lowe and Casey Blake.  It was a trade meant to boost the Padawans into contention at the expense of their future.  However, Lowe (10-6) ended up winning more than twice as many games over the second half as Mulder (4-5.)  And while Mulder became a $7.5 million liability the following season, Lowe became a bargain at the same salary.

Despite waving the white flag, the Undertakers caught fire in the second half, and posted a 42-38 record -- only one win less than the best team in the division, the Padawans.  Despite all predictions and odds, the Undertakers hung in the race throughout the entire season.  They went into their final series of the season needing only two wins to secure a one-game playoff to decide the Griffin Division championship.  Three wins would have given them the division title outright.  But despite playing against the worst team in the league -- a Bear Country squad that went 64-96 that year -- Los Altos loss three out of four, and their season came to a shocking end.  They finished the season tied for second place, with an 80-80 record, just one game behind Sylmar.

 

Following the unexpected success of the 2006 season, the 2007 season was shaping up nicely for the Undertakers, as several pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place.  Paulson's big-money gamble on Schmidt turned out to be a brilliant move, as the former ace returned to his Cy Young-caliber form.  The Los Altos farm system finally began to pay dividends, as several players matured at once.  Weaver, a mid-season pick-up in 2003 while he was a sophomore in college, gave the '07 team 134+ innings with an 8-6 record and a 2.94 ERA with 146 strikeouts.  Broxton, one of Paulson's many trade acquisitions during his rebuilding period, added 11 wins and 10 saves while pitching out of the bullpen.  Jeremy Sowers, a fourth-round selection in the 2003 farm draft, went 6-3 with a 3.62 ERA in 97 innings.  And two more trade acquisitions -- Aaron Heilman (5-4, 3.97 ERA in 77 IP) and Kevin Youkilis (.258/.347/.404) -- made contributions as well.

With so many players making such big contributions at such small salaries, the Undertakers well well-positioned heading into the auction.  But Paulson cleared even more salary by making several more trades that winter.  In one of those deals, he added young, $100,000 slugger Adrian Gonzalez (.323/.375/.538 with 44 2B, 29 HR and 120 RC) in exchange for one of his excess starting pitchers, Lowe.  In another trade, he added $500,000 platoon monster Chris Duncan (.341/.427/.662, 84.2 RC in only 287 AB.)  And then, with the luxury of having so much excess cash at hand, he picked up $10 million shortstop Michael Young (.297/.346/.421, 45 2B, 84.1 RC) in exchange for another extraneous starting pitcher, David Bush.

Paulson went into the auction with a whopping $37.8 million to spend on only nine roster spots.  And on the third day of the auction, Paulson made his intentions known for the coming season by signing ace starting pitcher Chris Carpenter to a $20 million salary.  Not only did Carpenter give the Undertakers a 21-8 record, with a 3.07 ERA in 243+ innings, and finish a close second to Erik Bedard in the OL Cy Young race, but he was kind enough to suffer a season-ending injury in April of that year, thus freeing the team from his $20 million commitment in 2008.

Next, Paulson added yet another starting pitcher by signing Ben Sheets for $10 million.  Sheets (11-2, 2.88 ERA in 115+ IP) was only available to pitch half the season in 2007, but he would be a full-time ace in a short series, and would likely be a full-time bargain in 2008.  Finally, on the last day of the auction, Paulson added J.D. Drew (.244/.359/.453, 80.1 RC in 464 AB) at a salary of just $5.5 million.

With so many weapons, the Undertakers found themselves back in a familiar position of power, as they were picked to win not only the division in the 2007 Season Preview, but the BDBL championship as well:

Outlook: For the past two years, Jeff Paulson has been stockpiling young talent in preparation for this season.  Finally, after all those farm picks, mid-season farm pick-ups and dump trades, the Los Altos Undertakers are in a position to reclaim the division title they lost after the 2004 season.  And, boy, are they set up nicely.  We haven't even begun to enter into the primes of the careers of Hermida, Weaver, Sowers, Weeks, Gonzalez, Rios and Broxton, as they're all 26 years old or younger.  And right behind them, we've got Matt Garza and Mike Pelfrey on the cusp of stardom.  And right behind them, there's B.J.'s little brother Justin, Elvis Andrus, Nick Adenhart and Hunter Pence.  Oh, and did I mention Alex Gordon?  2007 may be the final opportunity ANY of us has to win a BDBL championship for a long, long time.

Prediction: 1st place.  The first of many division championships for the Undertakers begins this year.  The only question is: When will this streak end?  The hip new trend is to spend 33% of your team's total salary on one player, but the Undertakers are the only team who can actually pull it off, thanks to all their minimum-wage superstars.  Los Altos will have no trouble winning this division this year.  And with this pitching staff, they will have no trouble advancing in the post-season, either.  After so many gut-wrenching post-season defeats, Jeff Paulson will finally make it to the World Series in 2007, and at long last he will capture his first -- of what is sure to be many -- BDBL trophies.  You read it here first.

It seemed like familiar old times when the Undertakers bolted out of the gate in 2007 with a BDBL-best 20-8 record.  And by the all-star break, their lead in the division had grown to eight games, as both the Jamboree and Broncs were being outscored by their opponents, while the Padawans were underachieving with a record ten games below .500 despite a positive runs differential of nearly 50.

Prior to the Chapter Three deadline, Paulson made a shocking trade with the Villanova Mustangs, dealing Schmidt and two others in exchange for short-usage utility infielder Esteban German and reliever Brian Fuentes.  Schmidt was injured early in the MLB season, and Paulson feared that he would be stuck paying his $10 million salary in 2008.  And despite his status as a #1 starter, the Undertakers' starting rotation included four other quality pitchers for the playoffs, making Schmidt an unnecessary luxury.  German (.382/.464/.508 in 191 AB) was dominant off the bench for the Undertakers, while Fuentes (2-4, 5.85 ERA in 47+ IP) was a bit of a disappointment.  (Schmidt, it turned out, missed the remainder of the MLB season and was released without penalty the following winter.)

That same chapter, Paulson added two more short-usage players in Daryle Ward (.333/.437/.567 in 60 AB) and Javier Valentin (.245/.287/.422 in 102 AB) and yet another reliever in Bobby Howry (2-2, 4.87 ERA in 44+ IP.)  By doing so, it appeared that he was trying to recreate the success he had enjoyed earlier in his BDBL career, using the same formula of stockpiling short-usage hitters and relief specialists.

And that formula seemed to work, as the Undertakers went 52-28 (.650) over the second half of the season, finishing with a 99-61 record -- 21 games ahead of the second place Broncs and Jamboree.

Los Altos then went into the playoffs with a roster that seemed tailor-made for a short series.  Their opponents in the Division Series were the New Hope Badgers, who had won the OL wild card on the back of David Ortiz, who had set new BDBL single-season records that season for home runs (79) and RBIs (205) while creating 190.5 runs.  Ortiz teamed with two other lefty sluggers -- Barry Bonds and Grady Sizemore -- in a lineup that led the Ozzie League in runs scored (887), slugging (.468), home runs (254) and walks (716.)

Bonds made his impression in Game One of the series, taking Fuentes deep for a two-run blast with two outs in the eighth inning, turning a 2-1 Los Altos lead into a 3-2 loss.  The next game, the Undertakers carried a 2-2 tie into the ninth inning, but once again their bullpen (Trevor Miller and Aaron Heilman) blew it, allowing two walks and two singles in the ninth that scored three runs.

In Game Three, Sheets was pounded for eight runs in four-plus innings, and the Undertakers lost by a score of 8-5.  New Hope then completed the improbable sweep with a 7-6 victory in Game Four, on a walk-off home run by Morgan Ensberg off of Heilman.  For the sixth time in nine seasons, Paulson was sent home without so much as an Ozzie League title.

 

At the start of the 2007 season, it was thought that the Undertakers were on the verge of a long-term dynasty, backed by their young, extremely talented and inexpensive starting rotation.  Incredibly, however, nearly every pitcher in that vaunted rotation suffered from either injuries or poor performance in MLB '07.  Carpenter was shut down in April and never threw another pitch.  Weaver suffered from a sophomore slump and suffered various maladies throughout the year.  And Sowers, Garza and Pelfrey failed to advance as quickly as expected.  Another great young pitcher from the '07 rotation, Josh Johnson, also lost the entire season due to injury.  And Schmidt also lost the majority of the season before he was traded.

All that remained were Sheets (who also lost a good portion of the season and would throw just 155+ innings in the BDBL) and partial seasons from Weaver and Garza.  Feeling as if there were no other choice, Paulson once again looked to shed salary and star-caliber players in exchange for more youth and upside.

He began the winter by dealing Alex Rios to the Salem Cowtippers in exchange for 25-year-old former ace Jeremy Bonderman.  Bonderman was coming off a disappointing MLB season, but Paulson hoped for a comeback.  But after disappointing yet again in the 2008 MLB season, Bonderman's cumbersome contract was offloaded to the Marlboro Hammerheads (along with four prospects) for Shaun Marcum and Mike Moustakas.

Next, Paulson dealt Drew to the Chicago Black Sox in exchange for closer Francisco Cordero and two others (assuming Andruw Jones' $5 million penalty in the process.)  Cordero was later flipped to Salem in exchange for young lefty Jon Lester.

In another firesale deal that winter, Paulson traded Sheets to the Nashville Funkadelic, getting several promising young players (Josh Hamilton, Joakim Soria and Brandon Erbe, among others) in exchange.  That trade cost the Undertakers a $15 million penalty, but given the performances of Hamilton and Soria in MLB '08, it was worth every penny.

Finally, after waiting several years for Hermida and Pelfrey to emerge as big league stars, Paulson's patience finally wore off, and he traded both players to Villanova, getting young hurler Adam Wainwright (another minimum-wage pitcher) in exchange.

After a winter spent concentrating so intensely on the future, the Undertakers were picked to finish in third place in the Season Preview.  With no fewer than five legitimate closers in the bullpen, Paulson once again turned to his time-tested formula for success.  And just like he had done so often in the past, this formula proved successful early in the season, as the Undertakers jumped out to a division-best 17-11 record (tied with the San Antonio Broncs.)

When San Antonio stumbled early in Chapter Two, Los Altos backed into first place, and found themselves leading the division by three games at the end of March.  But Los Altos then stumbled themselves in Chapter Three, going 7-13 in their first 20 games.  Their four-game lead at the start of the chapter disappeared, and they found themselves tied with the Jamboree on the second day of June.

Trailing by just one game at the half (with a record of 40-40), Paulson made his big move of the season, acquiring Marcum from Marlboro in exchange for Bonderman and four others.

"As you already know, this is always very painful for the organization to do, trade away some of our excellent farm talent," said GM Jeff Paulson, looking bright red from sunburn at the afternoon news conference. "Los Altos has always been known for a few things: the best-looking GM in the BDBL and outstanding farm teams. Today, we took a big hit, but it is a risk we feel we need to make in order to become a champion." In acquiring starting pitcher Shawn Marcum and prospect Mike Moustakas, Los Altos gave up three of the top 50 prospects in all of baseball, as well as one of the top catching prospects in the game.

"Only time will tell if we made a mistake giving up these kids. We gave up some fantastic arms. If Marlboro wins a championship with these guys, they better give us some of the winnings."

Marcum excelled for Los Altos down the stretch, going 6-6 with a 2.84 ERA in 85+ innings.  He would eventually finish fifth in the OL Cy Young award race, and would become yet another valuable $100,000 member of the 2009 Los Altos rotation.  Bonderman, meanwhile, became an expensive burden, and the four prospects traded by Los Altos (Nick Adenhart, Adam Miller, Chris Marrero and Bryan Anderson) each dropped in the prospect rankings after suffering through off-years.

By the first week of July, the Jamboree's lead in the division had grown to three games, thanks to a 17-7 record in Chapter Four.  At the final trading deadline, Paulson made four trades -- each designed to help the team in 2009.  Among his acquisitions that chapter were Braden Looper, Jonathan Sanchez, Chris Coste and Ryan Dempster.  The first two of those players became valuable trade bait the following winter, while the latter two became valuable contributors to the 2009 team.

Los Altos went 29-27 over the final two chapters to finish with a record of 83-77 -- eight games behind the Jamboree.

In his ten years as GM and manager of the Undertakers, Jeff Paulson has proven to be among the league's greatest innovators -- if not the greatest.  The bullpen-first strategy he implemented in the league's very first season, and repeated throughout most of his career, has been mimicked (though not nearly as successfully) by other GM's throughout the league ever since.  His heavy use of platoon players -- often sneered upon by the league's baseball purists -- has nevertheless proven to be wildly successful, and has also been mimicked by GM's both past and present.

Paulson was among the first GM's in the league to concentrate heavily on high school and college players.  This strategy, too, has been a rousing success, providing the Undertakers with endless trade bait, and culminating in a 2009 team where over half the players on the roster earn salaries far below their market values.

Managerially, Paulson has consistently wrung every ounce of performance out of his personnel year after year, employing bullpen and bench platoons that cause nightmares for opposing managers.  And he has been unafraid to test new strategies, including complex pitcher-fielder swaps designed to ensure the optimal lefty-righty match-ups.

All of these factors have led to a record that ranks #3 all-time.  And yet, the one missing line item on Paulson's impressive résumé is that elusive BDBL trophy.  The question is: why?  Why has the ultimate measure of success eluded a team that has dominated the competition throughout the regular season so often?

Ironically, much of the blame lies with the team's annual strength: its bullpen.  Because bullpen performances occur in such small samples, and because the playoffs comprise an even smaller sample, there is a ton of variability involved.  Unfortunately for Paulson, that variability (or "randomness") hasn't worked in the Undertakers' favor.  Too often, relievers that dominated during the regular season have cost the Undertakers wins in the post-season.  And in a short series, every win is absolutely critical.

To wit:

  • In 1999, Trevor Hoffman dominated the regular season (4-2, 1.37 ERA in 79 IP, just 34 hits allowed and 51 saves.)  But in the best-of-five Division Series against Litchfield, Hoffman cost the Undertakers not one, but TWO, games.  In Game One, he allowed a two-run homer to Edgar Martinez, blowing a 1-0 lead.  And in the fifth and deciding game, he walked the bases full in the 10th inning, and then allowed the game-winning hit to J.T. Snow.
  • In 2002, Juan Moreno completely dominated the regular season (42 IP, 10 H, 0.64 ERA) and left-handed batters went just 1-for-24 against him.  But in Game Five of the OLCS, Moreno allowed two base runners in the bottom of the 11th inning, and then allowed a game-winning single to a left-handed batter (Robin Ventura.)
  • In 2003, Mike Remlinger was among the league's most reliable relievers (73.1 IP, 38 H, 1.60 ERA.)  But in Game Four of the OLDS, Remlinger was handed a 4-2 lead in the ninth and proceeded to allow two walks and a walk-off three-run homer to Brian Buchanan.
  • In 2004, Eric Gagne was the most dominant reliever in BDBL history (85 IP, 24 H, 15 BB, 132 K, 0.11 ERA.)  But in Game Two of the OLDS, Gagne blew a 1-0 lead by allowing a pair of walks and a pair of singles in the ninth inning.
  • In 2007, lefty specialist Brian Fuentes blew a 2-1 lead when he served up a two-run homer to lefty Barry Bonds in Game One of the OLDS.  The very next game, Trevor Miller and Aaron Heilman teamed together to turn a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning into a 5-2 Badgers win.  And in the fourth and final game, the Undertakers bullpen blew their third save opportunity of the series when Heilman served up a series-ending walk-off homer to Morgan Ensberg.

To be fair, not all of these events could be blamed solely on bad luck.  In 1999, for example, Hoffman was pitching his third inning, and threw a total of 44 pitches en route to his blown save in Game Five.  And in 2004, Gagne was also pitching his third inning of relief (36 pitches total) when he allowed two runs in the ninth.  However, the point remains that pitching -- especially relief pitching -- is highly volatile and highly unpredictable in any short series.  And given that the bullpen was the strength of many Los Altos teams in post-season history, it has also proven to be the team's Achilles Heel.

The 2009 Undertakers are the culmination of a long-term strategy, where the goal has been to construct a team that will not only dominate in 2009, but for many years thereafter.  Many GM's have attempted this strategy, but few have succeeded.  The problem with this strategy is that expectations often fall short -- especially when they are centered around prospects under the age of 25.

For example, the Villanova Mustangs spent three years trading star players and taking on millions in unwanted salary in an effort to stockpile young talent toward a long-term dynasty.  That "dynasty" lasted just one season, however.  Granted, it also resulted in a BDBL championship, which many would argue made the three-year rebuilding process worthwhile.  But Villanova GM Tony Chamra certainly expected more than one contending team from a core of cheap, young, talented players that included Rich Harden, Dontrelle Willis, Zach Greinke, Travis Hafner, Casey Kotchman, Aaron Hill, Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton and Brian McCann.  But with the exception of McCann, all of those players have been miserable disappointments to date.

In 2005, Paulson stripped a team that had won 106 games the previous year, and embarked on a two-year rebuilding period.  That year, he assembled a #2-ranked farm system whose top seven prospects were Adam Miller, Rickie Weeks, Jeremy Hermida, Edwin Jackson, Chris Nelson, Brian Dopirak and Franklin Gutierrez -- all top-55 prospects.  And yet all seven of those prospects have since proven to be disappointments.

Now, this isn't to suggest that this strategy would never work; only that it hasn't worked to date.  The 2009 Undertakers certainly have the ingredients to buck that trend.  Offensively, Matt Wieters looks like a future annual MVP candidate who is very likely to make an impact the minute he is activated to the 25-man roster.  Justin Upton and Alex Gordon were both highly-regarded top-five prospects in the minor leagues, and both are likely to become long-term impact players.  And Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Hamilton are both star-caliber players making far below market value and locked into long-term contracts.

On the mound, Joba Chamberlain, Matt Garza and Jon Lester are three of the top young pitchers in baseball, and Brian Matusz is among the game's top pitching prospects.  All will be making far below market value for many years to come.

Because so many Undertakers are making such big impacts at such low salaries, Paulson is perhaps the only GM in the BDBL who can legitimately afford to spend $22 million on a single player like C.C. Sabathia.  Years of planning, collecting and waiting have culminated in a 2009 team that many expect to dominate the league and win the BDBL championship.  With the makeup of the '09 roster, many expect the Undertakers to dominate the next decade even greater than they dominated the first.  And as long as Los Altos continues to earn a pass into the post-season Tournament of Randomness, Paulson may eventually win that elusive trophy.