Mike Ries, a 29-year-old Pepsi
warehouse worker from Massillon, Ohio, was officially welcomed into the
fledgling Big Daddy Baseball League on November 27, 1998. Ries
was a friend and co-worker of Akron owner D.J. Shepard, who had joined
the BDBL just a day earlier.
Ries drew the ninth pick in the
inaugural draft, and selected the third pitcher on the board, Roger
Clemens. At the time, Clemens was a 36-year-old, pitching in the
"twilight of his career," according to his former MLB GM Dan Duquette.
But for Ries' Massillon Tigerstrikes, Clemens went 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA
and 264 strikeouts in 248 innings -- numbers good enough to earn a
third-place finish in the EL Cy Young award balloting.
On the return trip through the snake
draft, Ries selected another veteran starter, Shane Reynolds. He
then filled out his top five with Shawn Green, Tony Womack and Mariano
Rivera, and selected Jason Giambi with his first pick of the $3 million
Placed in the Eck League's Petralli
Division, the Tigerstrikes were picked to finish in third place despite
a well-balanced roster with a very strong bullpen. Massillon
limped out of the gate with a 10-15 record in Chapter One, and by the
end of two chapters, they trailed the division leader by nine games,
with a record of 22-33.
While most GMs would have abandoned
their team at this point in the season, Ries went in the opposite
direction and bolstered his team by trading top prospect C.C. Sabathia
to the New Milford Blazers in exchange for slugger Dante Bichette prior
to the Chapter Three deadline. Bichette hit .325/.355/.507 with 15
home runs for Massillon down the stretch, and the Tigerstrikes topped
the division with a 13-11 record in Chapter Three.
At the all-star break, Massillon
trailed in the division by seven games, with a 35-45 record. But
despite not making a single trade throughout the second half, the
Tigerstrikes righted the ship and
went 51-29 (an incredible .637 winning percentage) in the second half, and captured
the division title by five games. In the first ten years of the BDBL's history, it was the only time a team ever trailed by seven games
at the half and won a division title.
With the #4 seed in the EL playoffs,
the Tigerstrikes were tasked with facing the league's best team, the
Southern Cal Slyme. And the Slyme began the ELDS with a convincing
10-4 victory in Game One, and then followed that with a 7-1 victory in
Game Two. Massillon eked out a 7-6 win in Game Three, but SoCal
starter Tom Glavine then closed out the best-of-five series with eight
shutout innings in Game Four.
The 2000 Tigerstrikes roster was nearly
identical to the 1999 version. However, the team's $10 million
ace, Clemens, had suffered
through an off year in MLB, and the bullpen beyond Rivera was subpar as
well, leading to a third-place prediction for Massillon in a
much-improved (and newly-renamed) Person Division.
Massillon began the 2000 season with an
8-16 record in Chapter One, as their pitching staff allowed more runs
than any other team in the league, with the exception of the
Coors-fueled Kansas Law Dogs. Ries reacted to the disappointing
chapter by trading Clemens to the Cleveland Rocks in exchange for
promising 25-year-old pitcher Chris Carpenter. Carpenter, however,
wasn't quite ready for prime time. He posted a 5-6 record with an
ugly 6.07 ERA for Massillon down the stretch, and followed that by going
5-33 over the next two seasons, with an ERA of 6.97. His 2001
season (2-18, 8.16 ERA) was among the worst seasons in BDBL history.
Despite swapping their ace for a
batting practice pitcher, the Tigerstrikes turned it around the following chapter by going 13-11, and
then followed that performance with a 14-12 record in Chapter Three.
Heading into the break, they were 35-40 -- 11 games behind the Kentucky
That momentum died, however, in Chapter
Four, as the team slid to an 8-20 record. Too late in the season
to make another heroic drive for the playoffs, Ries was forced to
ride out the remainder of the season from the sidelines. The Tigerstrikes
wrapped up the 2000 season with a record of 69-91 -- 18 games behind the Fox.
Once again, Ries led the Tigerstrikes
into the 2001 season with nearly the identical roster as the year before, making only one
pre-season trade with his friend Shepard, in which he acquired Jimmy
Haynes in exchange for Jarrod Washburn. Ries then slept through
most of the draft, adding only Matt Morris through the first 15 rounds.
This lack of movement was of no help to a roster that needed an
overhaul. The Tigerstrikes were predicted to finish in last place in
their division in the season preview:
Outlook: If I could
make only one prediction this year, and be graded at the end of the
year based upon the accuracy of that one prediction, I would predict
that the Massillon Tigerstrikes will lose 100 games this year. When
Massillon decides to begin rebuilding (if that effort hasn't already
started), they'll have some great trade bait in Rivera and Giambi.
Aside from possibly Morris, the Tigerstrikes don't really have too
many future impact players, so GM Mike Ries will have his work cut
out for him if he wants to get the Tigerstrikes back into the
That prediction proved to be accurate
within one game, as Massillon lost 99 games in 2001. The
Tigerstrikes ended the first half of the season with a record of 29-51,
good for last place in the division. Making matters worse, throughout that third
chapter, Ries simply disappeared. He didn't play any of his
games, and eventually had to have his games simulated via MP.
On June 14th, Ries was officially
dismissed as the owner of the franchise.
"It's never easy to say good-bye to any
member of our BDBL family," said Commissioner Mike Glander, "and Mike
has been a member for longer than most. Unfortunately, we haven't been
able to get in touch with him for several weeks now, and we have no idea
of knowing where he is, or whether he intends to remain a member of this
league. We have no choice but to find a replacement for his franchise."
At the time of his dismissal, Ries
ranked ninth in seniority among the existing BDBL owners. More than
anything, Ries was known for his "hands-off" approach, which
resulted in just five trades and one free agent acquisition in two and a
half years. In fact, the Massillon roster had become so neglected
that when Ries departed, it included a player (Brian Cole) who had died
in a car accident the prior winter.
The same day Ries was dismissed from
the league, Chris Schultheis, a
31-year-old accountant from Hampton Bays, New York, was announced as the new owner
of the franchise. Schultheis was a three-time champion in
another fantasy league, but it was his first exposure to Diamond Mind
Baseball. Schultheis immediately made his mark on the franchise by
making several moves, including releasing four players, making three
trades, and acquiring SEVENTEEN players via free agency.
Among his trade acquisitions, the most
significant was $10 million all-star center fielder Bernie Williams.
Williams, who was signed to two more seasons, came to the team as part
of a three-team trade with the Villanova Mustangs and New Milford
Blazers, costing Schultheis only Doug Mientkiewicz, utility infielder
Craig Counsell and reliever Rob Ramsay.
Massillon finished the season with a
61-99 record, but it was clear that Schultheis would play an active role
in turning the franchise's fortunes around.
He renamed the
franchise the "New York Knights," and made three trades in the 2001
In one of those trades, he dealt his team's #1 draft pick in exchange
for Moises Alou and two lower picks. That #1 pick was eventually
used to select all-star second baseman Roberto Alomar, and Alou was then
flipped to the Kentucky Fox (along with three others) in exchange for
Jose Cruz (.319/.380/.628, 44 HR, 145 RBI, 147.2 RC) and two others.
Cruz teamed with Williams (.322/.397/.585, 35 HR, 132.6 RC) and original
Tigerstrikes Shawn Green (.319/.406/.622, 48 HR, 156.1 RC overall) and
Giambi (.355/.501/.704, 44 HR, 125 RBI, 204.3 RC) to give the Knights
the most formidable lineup in the league.
With Morris (13-14, 4.97 ERA in 201+
IP) expected to contribute quality innings, and
BDBL legend Robert Person (11-10, 5.34 ERA in 170+ IP) added to the rotation
via trade, the Knights were considered to be a very
strong contending team heading into the 2002 season:
Outlook: When Chris Schultheis took over
this franchise in the middle of last year, this club was in
sad shape with no hope of contending in the near future.
Yet without having to trade the only two marketable players
on his roster (Giambi and Rivera), Schultheis was able to
build a team that could very well win this division. If he
does, he deserves some serious consideration for GM of the
Prediction: 1st place.
New York bolted out of the gate with a
17-11 record in Chapter One, then followed that with an 18-8 record in
Chapter Two. The Knights then went 15-11 in Chapter Three to
the first half with a division-best 50-30 record (four games ahead of
the Villanova Mustangs.) However, like his predecessor, Schultheis mysteriously disappeared
throughout the second and third chapters without explanation. With
the league unable to get in touch with him, he was eventually dismissed.
On May 4th, 2002, Steve Osborne was
introduced as the newest owner of the Knights franchise.
Osborne was a 41-year-old
assistant parks director from Hendersonville, Tennessee. He would
soon become known throughout the BDBL for his affection for Ty Cobb,
umpiring, practical jokes and an affinity for Japanese ballplayers.
Osborne inherited a team that was tied for first place, and he could
have easily stood pat while acclimating to the BDBL environment.
Instead, Osborne dove into the fray head-first and made four trades
in his first six weeks as GM, including trades of his top prospect, Kaz Ishii, closer Mariano
Rivera and offensive star Shawn Green.
The Knights went 50-30 over the second
half of the season, and easily captured the division title with a record
of 100-60. Osborne then managed against Scott Zook of the Phoenix
Predators in the EL Division Series. Phoenix took the lead with a
2-0 win in Game One, but New York then took the next two games.
Game Three was an historic win for
Phoenix, as the final score was 20-2. Person was pounded for 13
runs in five innings, as Osborne let him take the hit for the team.
New York then bounced back with a 6-2 victory in Game Five to tie the
series. Morris was then out-pitched by Barry Zito in Game Six, and
the Knights lost by a score of 1-0, forcing a decisive Game Seven.
In that final game, Phoenix took a 5-2
lead in the second inning, but New York battled back for five runs over
the final seven innings while holding the Predators scoreless, thus
earning the series victory.
In the EL Championship Series, New York
faced the most dominant team in BDBL history: the 2002 Allentown
Ridgebacks. During the regular season, Allentown had outscored
their opponents by a whopping 433 runs. It was the biggest
differential in BDBL history by a very large margin.
After a 16-2 Allentown win in the
series opener, New York bounced back with a 14-11 win in Game Two.
By the end of five games, the Knights had taken a 3-2 series lead, and
were just one game from eliminating the heavily-favored Ridgebacks.
But in Game Six, one of Allentown's three aces, Curt Schilling, held the
Knights to just one run on four hits through seven innings, while
striking out eleven. Then, in Game Seven, Allentown broke open a
2-2 ballgame in the seventh inning with a Mark Kotsay solo home run.
Barry Bonds then added a solo homer in the eighth, and that was more
than enough run support for the Allentown bullpen. New York lost
the series in seven heartbreaking games.
Following the 2002 season, Osborne
renamed the franchise the "Nashville Funkadelic" and moved the
team into a ballpark modeled after the hitter-friendly Riverfront
Stadium in Cincinnati. He then made
four trades in the pre-season, including a three-team trade in
which he added Ichiro Suzuki (.316/.365/.410 with 107 RC in 2003.) He also acquired slugger Gary
Sheffield (.328/.398/.533 with 114.1 RC) in a trade with the Oakland
Marauders, giving the Funkadelic another formidable
lineup. The acquisition of Suzuki was especially important to the
franchise, as he earned just $100,000 in 2003, and averaged 109.3 runs
created over the next five seasons -- each at below-market value.
And he came at very little cost to the franchise: free-agent-to-be Jason Giambi and Jose Valentin.
In the league's first-ever free agent
auction, Osborne signed just one player: Phil Nevin at $5.5 million.
The Funkadelic were then predicted to finish in second place in the
Person Division, thanks to their strong lineup, solid bullpen and a
starting rotation that included "three aces" in Morris, Ramon Ortiz and
Nashville jumped out to an 18-10 start
in Chapter One, as their high-powered offense led the league in runs
scored. In addition to Suzuki and Sheffield, Nashville's lineup
included shortstop Jose Hernandez (.303/.356/.500 w/ 29 HR), Richie
Sexson (.263/.338/.470 w/ 30 HR), and Jose Cruz (.257/.341/.476 w/ 24
HR) -- each of whom thrived in Nashville's new home park.
The Funkadelic took a step backward in
Chapter Two, going 12-14 to drop a game behind the Wapakoneta Hippos.
They then repeated the feat the following chapter, going 12-14 to head
into the all-star break with a 42-38 record -- six games behind the
At the break, Osborne overhauled his
pitching staff. First, he sent middle reliever Buddy Groom to the
Kansas Law Dogs in exchange for Joe Nathan. Over the next four
years, Nathan compiled an ERA of 2.19 over 292 innings, and saved 120
games. Next, Osborne traded his de facto ace, Morris, along with
#2 starter Javier Vazquez, getting Roy Halladay, Mark Redman and Dan
Plesac in return.
To that point in the season, Morris
(4-8, 6.56 ERA) had been a major disappointment, and Vazquez (7-9, 4.40)
had run hot and cold. Osborne hoped that their trades would be
addition by subtraction. True to form, Halladay went 8-5 with a 3.12
ERA for the Funk in the second half, while Redman went an astounding
11-3 with a 2.88 ERA in 20 second-half starts.
While Osborne was loading up for the
second half, Wapakoneta GM Bobby Sylvester was doing the same, adding
two all-star sluggers -- Brian Giles and Rafael Palmeiro -- from the
rebuilding Madison Fighting Mimes. The result was a 15-11 record
in Chapter Four for the Hippos and a stunning 10-16 record for
Despite the disappointing chapter,
Osborne continued fighting, and added another quality starting pitcher,
Omar Daal, at the season's final trading deadline. The team
responded by going 14-12 in Chapter Five, while the Hippos stumbled at
11-15. With one chapter remaining in the season, the Funkadelic trailed the Hippos in
the division by a seemingly insurmountable eight games, while the wild
card was out of reach at 11 games.
Nashville enjoyed a 16-12 final
chapter, but it wasn't enough to catch the Hippos, who won the division
by eight games. Nashville finished with an 82-78 record, good for
The acquisition of Halladay was beneficial to the
Funkadelic not only in 2003, but in 2004 as well. He was one of the top
young pitchers in baseball, and carried a bargain salary of just $2.1
million in '04 -- his final year under contract. He would finish
the season with a 19-8 record and a 2.80 ERA in 270 innings. In addition to Halladay, Nashville also returned all-stars Suzuki
(.294/.329/.435, 99 RC), Sheffield (.366/.445/.685, 191.1 RC) and Nathan
(4-5, 3.73 ERA, 23 SVs in 65+ IP)
-- all playing with salaries far below market value.
That winter, Osborne made just two
trades, acquiring Roberto Alomar (.248/.343/.355, 55.4 RC) to team with
Suzuki at the top of the lineup. He then attempted to fortify his starting rotation by
throwing big money at Kip Wells ($9 million) and Al Leiter ($6.5M) in
the auction. Neither pitcher adjusted well to the hostile
environment of The Mothership Connection, which was now being modeled
after Cincinnati's new ballpark, Cinergy Field. Wells went just
10-11 with a 4.69 ERA in 213+ innings for Nashville, while Leiter was
7-18 with an even 6.00 ERA in 195+ innings. Worse yet, both
players suffered through terrible MLB seasons in 2004, and both were
"Type H" free agents locked into those same salaries for the 2005
With Nashville picked to finish in
third place due to their weak pitching in a tough home ballpark, early speculation surrounded Halladay's eventual
destination, as the
free-agent-to-be would undoubtedly be the focus of a huge bidding war if
the Funkadelic were to drop out of the race.
Sure enough, Nashville went 11-17 in
Chapter One, and in mid-March Osborne announced that Halladay had been
hastily traded to the Stamford Zoots in exchange for an assortment of dubious
prospects. Roughly 48 hours later, however, it was revealed that
this trade was a hoax, orchestrated by Osborne and perpetrated on
Commissioner Glander, with the participation and cooperation of the
entire league. It was just the first of several elaborate pranks
pulled off by Osborne over the years to come.
After going 25-27 over the next two
chapters, however, trading Halladay had gone from prank to reality.
On May 26th, the Halladay Sweepstakes officially began. Nine days
later, the winner was announced. In exchange for Halladay,
Nashville received young phenom Jose Reyes, Justin Duchscherer, Jung
Bong and Joe Mays from the South Carolina Sea Cats. Osborne also
managed to offload Ramon Ortiz's $7 million salary for the '05 season.
It took a couple of years for Reyes to make an impact, but when he did,
he alone justified this trade.
Osborne soon hung the "for sale"
sign on the rest of his roster, and shipped off Sheffield, Dan Plesac and Alomar, among others. In exchange, he received Pat
Burrell and 24-year-old minor leaguer Ryan Howard. Burrell,
acquired for the free-agent-to-be Sheffield, hit .231/.348/.404 for the
2005 Funkadelic, while Howard (acquired from the Marlboro Hammerheads
for Plesac and reliever Aquilino Lopez) soon became one of the top young
power hitters in the game of baseball.
Nashville's season then took a dramatic
turn for the worse, as they fell to 8-16 in Chapter Four and 13-15 in
Chapter Five. At the end of five chapters, their record was 57-75
on the season, and there were eight teams with worse records in the BDBL.
At that point in the league's history, the #1 draft pick went to the
team with the worst record the previous year, which is why it
raised more than a few eyebrows when the Funkadelic wrapped up the
season with a
mind-boggling record of 3-25 over their final 28 games. It was the worst
performance by any BDBL team in any single chapter throughout the
history of the league, and it dropped the Funkadelic from 9th-worst all
the way down to a tie for worst record in the league. Nashville
finished with 100 losses on the season, and "earned" the #2 pick in the
With that #2 overall pick in the 2005 draft,
Osborne selected Bartolo Colon, Brian Schneider, Eddie Guardado, Jose
Cantu, Paul Byrd and Matt Stairs with his first six picks. He also
signed Ray Durham in the free agent auction to a $6.5 million salary.
With a very strong bullpen led by
Nathan and Japanese import Shingo Takatsu, and a solid-yet-unspectacular
lineup led by Suzuki, the Funkadelic were picked to finish in second
place in the division. It was no coincidence that two of the team's
most important players were Japanese. In addition to those two,
the rotation also included a Japanese countryman (Kaz Ishii), and the
farm club included several Japanese players, including 2005 farm draft
picks Tadahito Iguchi, Norihiro Nakamura and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Nashville began the 2005 season with a
13-15 record in Chapter One -- three games behind the Hippos. By the all-star break, that deficit had grown to an insurmountable 15
games, and it was once again time for Osborne to look toward the future.
At the Chapter Four deadline, he began his latest white-flag sale by
trading Kent Mercker to the New Milford Blazers in exchange for J.J.
Putz, who was eventually released following a 2006 season in which he
posted a 6.62 CERA for Nashville in 69 innings. He also traded
Leiter to the New Hope Badgers in exchange for three players (Randy
Wolf, Justin Leone and Jason Stokes) who never materialized as
worthwhile assets. That same chapter, however, Osborne added a
player from the free agent pool who should eventually become well worthwhile: Vanderbilt
left-hander David Price.
With little trade bait remaining,
Osborne made just one trade at the final deadline, acquiring spare parts
(which included a young Fausto Carmona, prior to his meteoric rise to
stardom) in exchange for Takatsu and utility infielder Junior Spivey.
With the rules now changed to award the
first draft pick to the non-playoffs team with the highest winning
percentage, Nashville went 44-36 over the second half of the season --
the best record in the division. They finished with a record of
78-82 -- nine games out of first place.
Heading into the 2006 season, Osborne
made four trades, acquiring Esteban Loaiza (8-8, 4.86 ERA) and Jermaine Dye (.296/.345/.560), among others.
With $12.6 million to spend, and only six open spots on his roster,
Osborne spent $4.5 million each on veterans Jamie Moyer and Kevin Mench
in the auction. He then made another trade during the draft,
acquiring left-handed slugger David Dellucci in exchange for Stairs and
Osborne's affinity for Japanese players
paid dividends with the selection of Tadahito Iguchi in the '05 farm
draft. In 2006, Iguchi hit .267/.324/.401 as a rookie, providing
69 runs created from the second base position. The addition of
Ryan Howard also provided an immediate boost, as Howard
hit .327/.391/.724 in his rookie season, with 37 home runs in only 330
at-bats. And with a strong bullpen, led once again by Nathan, and
a solid starting rotation of Colon, Byrd, Loaiza and Moyer, the Funkadelic
were once again picked to finish in second place in the Person Division.
A 17-11 first chapter was only good for the
third-best record in the tough division, as both the SoCal Slyme and South
Carolina Sea Cats went 18-10. Nashville's record, however, was a
bit of a mirage, as they outscored their opponents by only two runs.
That corrected itself the following chapter when the Funkadelic went
Following the first chapter, Osborne
acquired short-usage starter Jae Seo in exchange for Moyer and Carmona.
The Carmona part of that deal would come back to haunt him, though there
was no way of knowing it at the time. Then, on April 28th, great
tidings appeared in the form of Anthony Peburn. Peburn, the GM of
the New Milford Blazers, was on a mission in 2006, and that mission was
to make it to the post-season at any and all cost to the franchise's
future. Osborne happened to be in the right place at the right
time, and he happily traded Colon and Griffey to the Blazers in exchange for Jason
Bay and several others.
At the time, Bay was just 27 years old,
and was under contract through the 2010 season. With a salary of
just $100,000, Bay hit a combined .263/.362/.510 with 34 home runs and
108.8 RC for New Milford and Nashville in 2006. And he would
continue to pay great dividends over the next several years. And
with the oft-injured Griffey and Colon scheduled to earn $31 million
over the next three years, Osborne saved himself a ton of money as well.
The team hardly noticed the absence of
Colon, and the upgrade from Griffey to Bay resulted in a 15-9 Chapter
Three -- best in the division. At the break, the Funkadelic sat
six games behind the division-leading Slyme with a record of 43-37, but
just three games behind in the EL wild card race.
Chapter Four, however, was not nearly
as kind, and Nashville lost ground with a 9-15 record. That
was the last straw for Osborne, who raised the white flag once again. At the
final deadline, he jettisoned several players, including Seo, Loaiza and
Jermaine Dye. In exchange, the only player of significant value
received was Curtis Granderson.
Nashville finished the 2006 season with
a record of 71-89 -- good for last place in the division. In the
four full seasons under Osborne's leadership, the Funkadelic had
see-sawed from second place to fourth, back to second, and then back to
fourth. If the pattern continued, then, 2007 would be a banner
year for the franchise. And that it was.
After four years of collecting young
players with significant upside, the entire group seemed to hit their
peaks simultaneously. Granderson, just 26 years old, hit
.286/.357/.480 with 17 home runs and 79.8 runs created in just 433
at-bats, at only $1 million in salary. Bay (28 years old) hit
.274/.385/.513 with 36 homers, 115 RBIs and 115.7 runs created at $1.6M
in salary. Reyes (just 24) hit .274/.323/.493 with 23 triples, 26
homers, 132 runs scored, 47 stolen bases and 112.8 runs created, at just
$1.1M in salary. Howard, now 27 years old, hit .297/.399/.556 with
45 homers, 133 RBIs and 140.9 RC at the league-minimum $100,000 salary.
And Suzuki, now the old man of the group at 33, enjoyed his best year in
the BDBL, hitting
.350/.395/.465 with 127.1 RC at $6.1M in salary.
With more than half his starting lineup
contributing all-star-level production at just $9.9 million in salary
combined, that gave Osborne the ability to overspend on free agents.
And overspend he did. With the offense and bullpen set, the team
only lacked an ace starting
pitcher. And after being shut out of the bidding for aces Johan
Santana, Chris Carpenter and C.C. Sabathia, Osborne shelled out $12.5
million for Greg Maddux and $15.5 million for Jason Jennings. At
41 years old, Maddux provided 225+ innings of quality pitching, amassing
an ERA of 3.76 while going 9-7. Jennings chipped in a 19-6 record,
with a 3.63 CERA in 233 innings.
With one hole remaining in his lineup
at third base, and no money
left to fill it, Osborne turned once again to Peburn for help. And
once again, Peburn was happy to oblige, as he used $8.5 million
of his own salary cap to help Osborne fill that hole. In that deal, the Funkadelic received Chipper Jones, who hit .304/.387/.582 with 32 homers
and 104.3 RC in just 457 ABs. In exchange, all it cost were a few
dubious prospects, including Akinori Iwamura (another product of
Japanese farm system), Yoslan Herrera, Hong-Chi Kuo and David Dellucci.
After finishing the previous year in
last place, the Funkadelic were heavily favored to win their division in
2007. As expected, the Nashville offense scored runs by the bushel
that year, leading the league with 893 runs scored, 243 home runs, 643
walks and a .353 on-base percentage. They got off to a slow start,
going just 14-14 in Chapter One, but headed into the all-star break tied
with the Hippos atop the Person Division, sharing the best record in the
Eck League at 49-31 (.613.)
In Chapter Four, the Funkadelic went
14-10 against Wapakoneta's 10-14 record, giving them a comfortable lead
in the division. Osborne then made that lead a little more
comfortable by acquiring starter Freddy Garcia from the Great Lakes
Sphinx in exchange for Yunel Escobar. Garcia went 4-3 over the
final two chapters, with an ERA of 4.38 in 76 innings.
The Hippos continued to slide the final
two chapters, all the way to third place, and Nashville ran away with
the division, finishing with an EL-best record of 97-63. For the
second time in his four and a half years with the BDBL, Osborne was
heading to the playoffs.
His Division Series opponents that year
were the Cleveland Rocks, who had made history by finally making the
playoffs after eight failed attempts. Nashville took Game One
thanks to a four-run rally in the seventh, sparked by a bases-clearing
triple by Reyes. In the second game, the game was tied at 4-4
after nine innings. Cleveland took the lead in the top of the
tenth, but Nashville then scored in the bottom half of the inning to
force another inning. Cleveland then scored again in the 11th (a
rare run allowed by Nathan), but once again Nashville managed to tie the
game in the bottom half of the inning. Tad Iguchi then strode to
the plate with the bases loaded and one out and leaned into a Keith Foulke pitch, giving his team a walk-off-hit-by-pitch victory.
Nashville then took Game Three with a
sacrifice fly in the ninth, as the series shifted to Cleveland.
They then completed the sweep as Byrd pitched seven shutout innings in
Game Four. That set the stage for an ELCS battle against the
Kansas Law Dogs. Kansas was considered to be the favorite to win
the BDBL championship in 2007 since they moment they added Johan Santana and
Roger Clemens to a pitching staff that already included three solid
In Game One, Santana shut down the
powerful Nashville lineup by allowing just one run on five hits and walk
through seven-plus innings, with eleven strikeouts. Jennings then
returned the favor in Game Two, shutting out the Kansas offense for
In Game Three, Nashville took a 4-0
lead in the fifth, but the bullpen then gave it away, and Kansas rallied
for an 11-4 victory. The Law Dogs then carried that momentum into
Game Four, which they won by a score of 6-5, thanks to a five-run
inning. They then duplicated that feat in Game Five, scoring five
runs in the seventh to clinch the series with a 7-3 win.
Osborne faced several challenges in the
winter of 2008. The $15.5 million investment he had made in
Jennings had turned sour, as Jennings suffered through a horrendous 2007
MLB season (6.45 ERA in just 99 IP.) Bay also inexplicably slumped
through the entire '07 MLB season, and was no longer the minimum-wage
asset he had been the year before. At the age of 25, Reyes
inexplicably took a step backward as well, and would hit just
.267/.313/.390 for the Funkadelic in 2008. And after five seasons
serving as Nashville's unstoppable closer (120 saves, 2.23 ERA in 295
IP, 358 K), Nathan was gone to free agency.
With Jennings consuming a quarter of
the team's payroll, Osborne's first goal that winter was to find someone
to take that burden off his hands. He found a taker in Los Altos
Undertakers GM Jeff Paulson. It was a costly transaction, however,
as Osborne not only had to take on Ben Sheets' $10 million salary, but
let go of young stars Josh Hamilton, Joakim Soria and Brandon Erbe as
well. Despite decent MLB numbers, Sheets did not fare well in
Nashville's home ballpark, going just 11-9 with a 4.93 ERA in 155+
Next, in an effort to plug the gaping
hole in his lineup caused by the slumps of Bay and Reyes, Osborne traded
the face of his franchise, Suzuki, to the Sylmar Padawans in exchange
for $13 million slugger Manny Ramirez. Ramirez, however, suffered
through the worst year of his BDBL career, batting just .269/.359/.430
with 84.1 RC in 542 at-bats.
The addition of Ramirez left little
wriggle room under the salary cap, so Osborne's next move was to
jettison Jones and his $8.5 million salary to Cleveland in exchange for
$100,000 second baseman Dan Uggla (.233/.313/.492, 38 HR, 89.8 RC.)
Once again, Osborne's scouting efforts
in Japan paid dividends with the BDBL debut of Daisuke Matsuzaka in
2008. Matsuzaka led the Nashville pitching staff in innings (227),
wins (13), ERA (3.89) and strikeouts (230.) With Granderson
(.298/.365/.563, 124.1 RC) enjoying a career year at only $1 million,
and Maddux (15-9, 4.18 ERA in 213+ IP) and Howard (.252/.367/.583, 50
HR, 113.2 RC) returning for another season, the Funkadelic were picked
to finish in second place in the season preview.
Nashville posted a respectable 14-14
record in the first chapter. However, thanks to the overwhelming
dominance of the SoCal Slyme (24-4), that record meant they were
beginning the season in a 10-game hole. The situation just grew
darker after that point, as the Slyme continued to dominate (19-9 in
Chapter Two), while the Funk fell into a funk at 12-16. By the
all-star break, Nashville was staring up at a 17-game deficit in the
division with a record of 39-41.
Osborne reacted to his team's bleak
predicament by offloading Maddux to the Ravenswood Infidels, getting
Kerry Wood and three others in exchange. But there was little else
to be done. The fate of the 2008 season was etched in stone, as
the Slyme cruised to a BDBL-record 116-win season, and the
division-rival St. Louis Apostles captured the EL wild card with a 98-62
record. Nashville settled in at 76-84 on the season after going
37-43 over the second half.
By selecting two pitchers with his
first two picks, and a closer with his fifth pick, original GM Mike Ries'
vision for this franchise was clear. Originally playing in a
ballpark modeled after the relatively-neutral Skydome in Toronto (HR
factors of 94.7 for both LH and RH through Massillon's three years in
the dome), Ries' focus was on constructing a mostly-veteran ballclub
tilted toward pitching and on-base ability. That strategy was
justified when the team won the division title in the league's very
That 1999 team was hardly dominant,
ranking 9th out of 12 teams in the EL in runs scored and 5th in runs
allowed. But in a weak division that included a schizophrenic
Delafield Ogres team that had changed both owners and strategies several
times throughout the season, and a Ft. Lauderdale Marlins team that was
concentrated solely on the future, Massillon's performance was
In MLB, ownership often mistakes
successful results with a successful strategy, and the same thing may
have occurred with Ries. Perhaps out of satisfaction with the way
his core group of players had performed in 1999, he chose to simply keep
that group of players around for the next two years, regardless of the
changes in their performances and the changes within his division.
The result was a 91-loss season in 2000, and a 99-loss season in 2001.
In particular, Massillon's pitching
simply fell apart. The Tigerstrikes allowed 980 runs in 2000 (the
second-highest total in the EL) and 958 runs in 2001 (also the
second-highest total.) By 2001, the offense had crumbled as well,
as Massillon scored just 699 runs -- the lowest total in the EL.)
With no internal solutions available to plug those holes, and with Ries
standing pat with the roster he had at hand, the franchise suffered from
When Chris Schultheis took over the
team in mid-2001, he inherited a team that was in an advanced state of
disrepair. But he also benefited from good timing, as Jason Giambi
and Shawn Green were on the verge of posting career-best numbers in the
2002 season. Schultheis added to that offensive core by acquiring
Bernie Williams and Jose Cruz at very little expense. The result
was an unprecedented turnaround on offense, as the franchise scored 282
runs more in 2002 than they did in '01 -- an average of an additional
1.8 runs per game.
Steve Osborne's timing was equally
fortuitous, as he became the beneficiary of this good fortune when
Schultheis disappeared and was dismissed from the league. Just as
quickly as the Nashville offense improved, however, it completely
disintegrated. With the trades of Williams, Green and Giambi, and
the inevitable decline of Cruz, the Funkadelic offense experienced yet
another 200-run swing in the opposite direction, as they scored 230
fewer runs in 2003 than in '02 -- despite moving into a new ballpark
with home run factors of 117 for lefties and 135 for righties.
Osborne's decision to move into the
Cincinnati ballpark model in 2003 would play a major role in the team's
fortunes over the next several years. Because many of Nashville's
biggest stars (Howard, Griffey, Dye, Burrell, etc.) played in
homer-friendly MLB parks, they didn't receive a great deal of benefit
from playing in Nashville. Meanwhile, several of Nashville's
pitchers suffered in that environment. In the league's first
decade, Funkadelic pitchers surrendered 2,018 home runs -- second only
to the Kansas Law Dogs (2,066), who played most of their home games in
the greatest hitter's park in baseball history (Coors Field.)
In spite of that oppressive home
environment, Osborne found a way to make it work. In 2007, the
Funkadelic ranked #2 in the Eck League in fewest runs allowed (allowing
just two runs more than the #1-ranked Law Dogs, who had moved on to a
ballpark modeled after the more pitcher-friendly Camden Yards.)
That season, the Funkadelic pitching staff allowed 209 home runs -- the
third-highest total in the BDBL -- yet they ranked 6th in the BDBL with
just 738 runs allowed. They accomplished this feat by keeping
runners of the bases (a 6th-ranked 439 walks allowed) and playing
stellar defense (a 3rd-ranked .285 average on balls-in-play.)
Ballpark factors aren't everything, and
good teams can win in any environment. But having the right
personnel to fit your home ballpark certainly can make a difference.