A week before the BDBL's inaugural
draft kicked off via e-mail, 16-year-old Canadian Neil Parker was forced
to abandon his team when hockey practice got in the way of the live
draft. In stepped Brian Hicks, a 32-year-old therapist in a
psychiatric hospital. Given the insanity that was the BDBL during
its inaugural season, Hicks' experience in the mental health field was
almost a necessity.
Hicks drew the #2 pick in the inaugural
draft, which meant he had the option of building his franchise around
any player in baseball, with the exception of Alex Rodriguez. And
to Hicks, that choice was a no-brainer. The 1998 MLB season was an
instant classic, given the massive attention given to Mark McGwire's
and Sammy Sosa's chase of Roger Maris' all-time single-season home run
record. McGwire eventually finished with a mind-boggling 70 home
runs, 162 walks, a .470 on-base percentage and a staggering .752
slugging percentage. No one since Babe Ruth had posted numbers
like that, and even at the age of 34, McGwire still seemed to have
plenty of gas left in his tank.
McGwire hit .308/.466/.698 for
Hicks' Madison Fighting Mimes ballclub that season, with a league-leading 66
home runs, 168 walks, 138 runs scored and 156 RBIs. He created
nearly 200 runs (194.8) all by himself, which represented over 22% of
Madison's total runs created.
By taking McGwire with his first pick,
Hicks had set in stone the hitting-first philosophy of his franchise,
which played its home games in a ballpark modeled after the
power-lefty-friendly Busch Stadium of St. Louis. He had no other
choice, as every quality ace pitcher was gone by the time the draft
snaked back around to him. With his second pick, then, Hicks
selected the next best offensive player on the board in Gary Sheffield
(.309/.417/.523, 25 HR, 110.2 RC for Madison in '99.) Two picks later, he added
yet another righty slugger in Jeff Kent (.250/.302/.497, 29 HR, 70.8 RC.) Together, McGwire, Sheffield and Kent would create nearly
half (42.4%) of Madison's runs that season.
With his next two picks, Hicks
continued to load up on offense, selecting Matt Stairs (.269/.344/.437,
20 HR, 83.2 RC) and Ken Caminiti (.259/.350/.519, 32 HR, 96.9 RC) with his final two $5 million picks. In doing so, Hicks had
ensured that his team would be a force to be reckoned with offensively.
But in drafting so many players on the wrong side of 34 years old, he
also ensured that his plan would only work for a year or two.
Hicks didn't draft a pitcher until the
6th round, when he selected the 23-year-old Kevin Millwood (10-10, 4.65
ERA in 186 IP) to be his team's de facto ace. He then rounded out
his rotation with 23-year-old Steve Woodard (5-17, 5.56 ERA in 173+ IP)
in the 8th round, 28-year-old Wilson Alvarez (9-11, 4.97 ERA in 150+ IP)
in the 12th round, and 33-year-old veteran John Burkett (7-14, 4.56 ERA
in 207+ IP) in Round 16.
Clearly, Hicks' strategy was to
overwhelm the opposition by scoring tons of runs, while assembling a
pitching staff that was good enough to keep them in games, and young
enough to have some upside going forward. And for the first
chapter of the season, that strategy appeared to work well enough.
The team went 11-13 that chapter (four games behind the Antioch Angels
and two ahead of the Stamford Zoots), and scored a league-best 122 runs.
While the Zoots loaded up in Chapter
Two with the acquisition of Randy Johnson from the New Milford Blazers,
the Fighting Mimes went just 11-17 in Chapter Two, and entered the
all-star break with a 35-45 record -- 14 games behind Stamford.
They limped to the finish line with a 35-45 record in the second half,
and finished their first season
with a record of 70-90 -- 27 games out of first. As designed, they
scored a ton of runs (825, good for third in the OL), but they allowed
even more runs (829), as every pitcher in the starting rotation finished
with a higher ERA than he compiled in MLB.
Heading into the 2000 season, the Mimes
appeared to be in tremendous shape. Millwood (16-6, 3.39 ERA in
236 IP in BDBL '00) enjoyed a career year, and would be among the top
pitchers in the league. McGwire (.275/.414/.665, 68 HR, 146 RBI,
168.6 RC), Kent (.267/.326/.453, 23 HR, 84.6 RC), Sheffield
(.298/.422/.538, 38 HR, 138.4 RC) and Stairs (.311/.424/.658, 41 HR, 140
RBI, 125.2 RC) each performed better than they had the previous season. And Brian Giles, a
27-year-old flier taken by Hicks in the 9th round of the inaugural
draft, blossomed into an MVP candidate (.295/.416/.581, 43 HR, 142.8 RC)
Determined to unseat the Zoots in the
Butler Division, Hicks made no fewer than THIRTEEN trades in the winter
of 2000, all in an effort to shore up his starting rotation, bullpen and
bench. A total of 28 players and nine draft picks exchanged hands
in those trades. Perhaps the most significant off-season
acquisition for the Mimes was starter Tom Glavine (15-9, 4.23 ERA in
223+ IP), who came with a $10 million price tag. Tim Crabtree
(2.02 ERA in 49 IP) and Graeme Lloyd (3.48 ERA in 67+ IP)
were acquired to shore up the bullpen. Brett Saberhagen (10-2,
3.00 ERA in 126+ IP) was added to the back end of the rotation.
And Mark McLemore, Tony Graffanino, Jose Vizcaino, Ricky Gutierrez, Wade
Boggs, Orlando Palmeiro and Jeff Reboulet were added to shore up the
Amazingly enough, the cost of adding
all these players was minimal. Not one player from the powerful
starting lineup was sacrificed, and none of the players traded (Jason
Johnson, Gerald Williams, Buddy Groom, Bob Wickman, Ryan Dempster, Rick
Croushore, Marlon Anderson, Steve Woodard, Paul Quantrill, etc.) would
ever amount to much.
Despite all these improvements,
however, the Stamford Zoots were still the team to beat -- not only in
the division, but in the BDBL. In the 2000 Season Preview, the
Mimes were predicted to become the first BDBL wild card team to win 100
games. Aside from the Zoots, Madison also had to contend with a
much-improved Minneapolis Haymakers team, whose powerful lineup was
rivaled only by Madison's, and the Hudson Hammerheads, who owned a
potent lineup of their own.
The season began on a familiar note for
Madison, as they posted an 11-13 record in Chapter One -- four games
behind the Zoots and Hammerheads. The Mimes improved to 15-9 in
Chapter Two, but the Zoots continued their torrid pace at 17-7. By
mid-season, Madison was posting the third-best record in the Ozzie
League at 43-32 (.573), but still trailed the Zoots in the division by
Hicks continued to add talent to his
team throughout the year, acquiring Jose Vidro (.309/.363/.481, 76.3 RC
for Madison) at the Chapter Two deadline. Not to be outdone,
however, the Zoots made the biggest trade of the year at the Chapter
Five deadline, adding ace pitcher John Smoltz to a rotation that already
included aces Johnson and Kevin Brown.
Stamford began Chapter Six with a slim
two-game lead over the Mimes. That chapter, the Salem Cowtippers
played a crucial role in deciding who would win the Butler Division.
Salem won three of four games against Stamford that chapter. In
their previous series, the Cowtippers lost the first three games of a
four-game set against the Mimes. They then trailed Madison by a
score of 7-0 in the third inning of Game Four. But the Cowtippers
fought back, and scored four runs in the bottom of the third, and seven
more runs in the sixth, en route to a 12-10 victory. The
importance of that one game soon became evident.
The Mimes held a one-game lead in the
division with eight games remaining. Then, in the final series of the season,
the Zoots faced the Hudson Hammerheads with the fate of Madison's 2000 season
on the line. Stamford needed two wins in that series to tie
for the division lead, and three wins to win the division outright.
To Hicks' chagrin, Stamford owner Paul Marazita managed all four games against the
MP. The Zoots won the first two games, clinching a tie. After losing
Game Three, Stamford then took a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning of Game Four.
They then tacked on four runs in the top of the ninth to make it an 8-2
game. Hudson rallied for four runs off of Smoltz (pitching in
relief) in the bottom of the ninth, but Bobby Chouinard saved the day
when he got Sammy Sosa (who represented the tying run of the game) to
ground out to end the game.
Despite finishing the season with 98
wins, the Mimes went home that November, and watched the BDBL playoffs from
the sidelines once again. The reason? The Litchfield Lightning won
102 games that season -- two games fewer than the Los Altos Undertakers
in their division. Madison scored more runs (948) than any other
team in the Ozzie League, cracked 268 home runs as a team, and sported a
stellar 4.25 team ERA. But in the end, it wasn't enough.
Despite the frustration of having
achieved so much and come so close, but falling short, Hicks continued to forge
ahead in an attempt to keep up with the Zoots. Entering the final
year of his contract, McGwire (now 36 years old, and one year away from
retirement) logged just 266 at-bats for the Mimes in 2001, but hit
during that short time, with 32 homers and 80 RBIs. At $10 million in salary, however, he was
now a burden to his team as a part-time player. With Kent
(.283/.371/.487, 114.8 RC overall), Sheffield (.328/.423/.683, 52 HR,
169 RBI, 160.2 RC overall) and Giles (.298/.411/.533, 35 HR, 102 RBI,
134.7 RC) still hanging around, however,
offense was the least of Hicks' worries.
On the mound, Millwood (17-11, 4.67 ERA
in 206 IP) suffered through a miserable season. And with
Glavine gone to free agency, the Fighting Mimes found themselves in
desperate need of a #1 starter. They also desperately needed a few
bullpen arms as well, and that desperation manifested itself when Hicks
traded top prospect Vernon Wells to the Allentown Ridgebacks in exchange
for Bob Wickman. While Wells would become one of the biggest
bargains in the BDBL over the next six years, Wickman gave his team just
66.2 innings in 2001, with a 3.78 ERA and 3 saves. He would pitch
just one more season in Madison before becoming a free agent.
Fortunately, Hicks had dipped into the
Japanese market during the 2000 draft, and selected Kazuhiro Sasaki with
his second round pick. Unfortunately for Hicks, Sasaki's MLB
numbers (62+ IP, 3.16 ERA) were nowhere near his BDBL performance (54
IP, 6.50 ERA.)
To fill the hole in his starting
rotation, Hicks traded closer Rod Beck (and a 28th round draft pick) to
the Villanova Mustangs in exchange for Villanova's #1 pick. Then,
with that pick (the fifth selection overall), Hicks selected David Wells
(10-12, 4.59 ERA in 204 IP overall.) He then filled the rest of his
rotation with a collection of part-timers, including Matt Herges, Elmer
Dessens, Jose Mercedes and Willie Blair.
Despite their lackluster rotation,
Madison was once again predicted to finish in second place behind the
Zoots. The Mimes began the 2001 season with a 15-13 record in
Chapter One, but followed that with an 11-15 second chapter. Just
one-third of the way into the season, Madison was looking up at two
teams in the division, and was eight games behind the division-leading
Zoots. At this point, Hicks made the decision to go for broke, and
three top prospects (Jerome Williams, Abraham Nunez and Andy Morales) to
the Ridgebacks in exchange for lefty starter Mike Sirotka (9-11, 4.91
ERA in 205+ IP overall.) But Madison repeated their 11-15 record
in Chapter Three, and by the end of four chapters, they had fallen a
whopping 22 games behind in the division, and ten games back in the wild
With no hope of competing in 2001,
Hicks decided to hold a white flag sale. Every player on the
roster was made available, and playoffs-bound teams began wrestling for
a place in line. Hicks made four trades at the deadline, including
sending Wells to Cleveland in exchange for Terry Mulholland. But
his biggest trade was a controversial ten-player deal with the Salem
Cowtippers. Kent, Sheffield and Sirotka were all sent to Salem in
exchange for Randy Velarde, Pedro Astacio, Hee Seop Choi, Benji Gil,
Dewon Brazelton, Adam Johnson and Randy Keisler. Needless to say,
Stamford owner Paul Marazita was the loudest protester of them all,
calling the trade a bad joke.
That trade, however, would play a major
role in Madison's rebirth the following season. By moving those
three players -- all free agents at the end of the season -- Hicks
was able to assemble enough firepower to reduce his rebuilding time to just one
season. That winter, Astacio and Brazelton were sent back to Salem
in exchange for Jeff Bagwell (.285/.385/.551, 37 HR, 132 RBIs, 126.8 RC
overall in 2002.) Hicks then used his first pick in the draft (the 8th pick
overall) to select first baseman Rafael Palmeiro (.277/.393/.565, 41 HR,
While both hitters enjoyed an
extraordinary season, both were also first basemen. And this meant
that Hicks was forced to play one of them (Bagwell) at the hot corner,
with predictably disastrous defensive results. At the final trading deadline of the
'02 season, Hicks
solved the problem by trading
Bagwell to Los Altos in exchange for true third baseman (and gold
glover) Eric Chavez. Chavez hit .280/.322/.481 with 31.8 runs
created over the final two chapters.
With Giles (.264/.386/.497, 34 HR,
114.6 RC) and Vidro (.312/.366/.492, 75.0 RC) still on board, the
Madison offense continued to rank among the best in the BDBL in 2002.
On the mound, Madison was bolstered by the sudden emergence of
Joe Mays. Mays, who was a Chapter Five farm free agent pick-up way
back in 1999, seemingly emerged from nowhere in MLB 2001, with a Cy
Young caliber season. Never again in Mays'
career did he pitch more than 156 innings or post an ERA lower than
5.38. Nevertheless, Mays would be the ace of the Madison rotation
in 2002, going 21-4 on the season, with a 3.43 ERA. He was the
first Fighting Mimes pitcher to win 20 games, and he placed fourth in
the 2002 OL Cy Young award voting.
Beyond Mays, Madison seemed to have
great depth in their starting rotation, with Miguel Batista (13-7, 3.87
ERA in 149 IP), Elmer Dessens (6-2, 5.18 ERA in 111+ IP), A.J. Burnett
(9-10, 5.10 ERA in 164+ IP), Kelvim Escobar (5-7, 3.71 ERA in 121+ IP)
and Millwood (5-9, 4.79 ERA in 126 IP overall.) For the first time ever, the
starting rotation of the Madison Fighting Mimes appeared to be its
Unfortunately for the Mimes, they still
had to contend with the Stamford Zoots in their division. Although
Randy Johnson was now gone from Stamford, the team found an unlikely
replacement in the form of Mark Buehrle. They also traded for
reigning AL Cy Young winner Roger Clemens in the off-season, and had
half a season left from Kevin Brown as well. They were also the
beneficiaries that winter of the single most lopsided trade in BDBL
history, getting MVP candidate Chipper Jones from the Manchester Irish
Rebels in exchange for #6 starter Ryan Dempster. As such, Madison was
once again predicted to finish in second place behind the Zoots.
Madison fought neck-and-neck with
Stamford, and the two teams were tied at the top of the division after
two chapters of play. At the Chapter Two deadline, Hicks added
dominant closer Keith Foulke (6-3, 2.18 ERA in 70+ IP for Madison.) In exchange, he sacrificed middle reliever Mike Trombley and
two of the players he had acquired from Salem the previous year: Choi
and Johnson. Then, midway through the second chapter, Hicks
brokered a deal for ace Greg Maddux (13-12, 3.24 ERA in 247+ IP overall), who
was acquired in exchange for Vicente Padilla and Millwood.
Despite their efforts, however, the Zoots
inevitably pulled away from the pack
and opened up a six game lead by the all-star break. By the end of
Chapter Four, that lead had grown to a dozen games.
Despite finishing 13 games out of
first, however, the Fighting Mimes would make the playoffs for the first
time in franchise history. Madison finished the season with a
91-69 record -- four games ahead of the Bear Country Jamboree in the OL
wild card race.
Unfortunately for Mimes fans, their playoffs experience would be an abbreviated one. Facing a
dominant Los Altos Undertakers team that won a then-BDBL-record 114
games and outscored their opponents by 246 runs, the Madison offense was
held scoreless through the first 30 innings of the OLDS. By the
time Madison's offensive machine began purring, they were already down
by a score of 6-0 in the fourth and final game of the series. The
Fighting Mimes scored 9 runs that game, but lost by a score of 15-9.
Although the Mimes failed to advance
past the Division Series in 2002, Hicks made perhaps the most
important acquisition in franchise history that season -- an acquisition
that eventually led to a BDBL championship -- when he took a flier on
a former MLB Rule 5 pitcher named Johan Santana. Santana had
compiled an MLB ERA of 5.90 over 129+ innings to that point in his
career. He was a 33rd-round draft pick by the Allentown Ridgebacks
in the 2001 draft, but after posting a 4.74 ERA in 43+ innings in MLB
'01, he was released by Allentown and dumped back into the free agent
pool. He survived 38 rounds of the 2002 draft without being
selected, and then survived a free agent acquisition period in Chapter
One before Hicks finally plucked him off the free agent scrap heap at
the Chapter Two deadline. Santana became a dominant middle
reliever in MLB '02. And a year later, he became one of the best
starting pitchers in baseball over the next several seasons.
The following winter was eerily quiet
for Hicks and the Fighting Mimes. The GM who once made 13 trades
in one winter failed to make a single trade in the winter of 2003,
opting instead to use his $10.5 million to fill the few remaining holes
in his roster. In the first-ever BDBL auction, Hicks signed
catcher Benito Santiago (.235/.252/.393 overall) to a conservative $5 million salary, filling the
final hole in his starting lineup. He then selected Paul Shuey,
Robert Person and nine others in the draft to fill Madison's 35-man
In the spring of 2002, Hicks had taken
a flier on a farm free agent named Rodrigo Lopez, and that small
investment paid huge dividends when Lopez (11-13, 3.85 ERA in 208+ IP)
became the ace of the 2003 pitching staff. Burnett (15-7, 3.69 ERA
in 227 IP, with 234 K's) had become a solid #2 starter, and Santana (7-3,
3.77 ERA in 93 IP) gave the Fighting Mimes three aces to use in a short series.
With Vidro (.323/.388/.498, 130.9 RC),
Giles (.300/.428/.665, 45 HR, 143.1 RC overall), Palmeiro (.298/.405/.615,
39 HR, 125.6 RC overall) and Chavez
(.300/.366/.516, 30 HR, 107.6 RC) returning for another season, the starting lineup was
as powerful as ever.
Once again, the Madison Fighting Mimes find themselves with
enough firepower to not only compete in this
toughest-of-tough divisions, but win it outright. They came
within a game of doing so in 2000, then finished a distant
second last year despite winning 91 games. With the
strongest pitching staff this franchise has ever assembled,
this may finally be their year. A key mid-year pick-up or
two would put them over the top.
The Butler Division race got off to a
torrid start, with the surprising Bear Country Jamboree jumping into a
virtual tie for first (with the Zoots) after an eight-game winning
streak early in Chapter Two. Meanwhile, Madison trailed just two
games behind. Early in the second chapter, Hicks pulled the
trigger on a blockbuster trade, acquiring all-star catcher Ivan
Rodriguez in exchange for top prospect Francisco
Rodriguez. Rodriguez hit .285/.314/.465 for Madison down the
stretch -- a bit of a disappointment, yet far more production than what
Santiago (.235/.259/.373) had been giving his team.
Heading into the all-star break,
Stamford began to pull away from the pack, right on schedule. And at the midpoint of the
season, they held a three-game lead over Bear Country, and a seven-game
lead over Madison. On June 22nd, just days into the second half of
the season, Hicks threw in the towel, and traded Giles and Palmeiro to
the Wapakoneta Hippos in exchange for Adam Dunn and James Loney.
Four weeks later, the fire sale continued when Vidro, Burnett and Juan
Acevedo were ushered out the door in exchange for Alex Cintron, Kelvim
Escobar and others. It would be the final trade of Hicks'
illustrious BDBL career.
One of the founding fathers of the BDBL,
Hicks announced his resignation from the league on September 17th,
wrapping up his BDBL career with an impressive record of 406-394. After nearly five
seasons of playing second fiddle to the Zoots, watching helplessly as
Marazita added impact player after impact player while sacrificing
little in return, Hicks had
had enough. He handed over the team to a friend of his from
the comedy club circuit in Chicago, Brian "Skizm" Potrafka. Hicks
had no idea that a little over a year later, Potrafka would lead his
former franchise to a BDBL championship.
Madison played the final chapter with
Potrafka at the helm, and finished with a record of 78-82 -- 37 games
behind the Zoots, who set a BDBL record with 115 wins, including 63 wins
in the second half (a .788 winning percentage.) On the day that
Potrafka took over, the BDBL passed nine new rules to be added to the
league constitution. Among them was a rule proposing radical
realignment of all six divisions. No longer would the Madison
franchise (now called the "Ravenswood Infidels") have to worry about
competing against the Stamford Zoots. Instead, the Infidels were
moved to the Benes Division, where they would compete against the
Marlboro Hammerheads, Manchester Irish Rebels and Gillette Swamp Rats.
Potrafka began his BDBL career by
cleaning house, using Rule 18.13 to his advantage by releasing several
undesirable contracts and replacing them with free agents like Doug
Davis, Larry Bigbie and Barry Larkin. That winter, Potrafka made
four trades in which several role players (Casey Fossum, Garrett
Stephenson, Frank Catalanotto, Dan Miceli and Eduardo Perez) were
acquired. He then made a big splash by signing the #1 free agent
in the 2004 draft, Carlos Delgado (.309/.431/.620, 43 HR, 133 RBIs,
162.3 RC) for
With plenty of money left to throw
around, Potrafka then signed relievers Paul Quantrill (2.24 ERA in 84+
and Damaso Marte (1.54 ERA in 82 IP) for $10 million combined. Luis
Matos (.290/.357/.431, 73.2 RC) was then added on the final day of the auction.
In the draft, Potrafka continued to pad his bullpen by selecting Ray
King (4.01 ERA in 56+ IP overall) in the 6th round.
By the 2003 MLB season, Santana had
emerged as a dominant starting pitcher.
For the 2004 Infidels, he was merely solid, going 16-10 on the season,
with a 3.83 ERA and 191 Ks in 173+ innings. Dontrelle Willis
(11-10, 5.36 ERA in 166+ IP), a rookie who was originally acquired by Hicks
as a farm free agent during the fifth chapter of 2002, became the team's #2 starter.
And Jae Seo (14-5, 4.37 ERA in 200 IP), a Chapter Three pickup by Hicks
the previous season, filled in as the #3 starter.
Offensively, all of the team's biggest
weapons from previous years were gone: Palmeiro, Giles, McGwire,
Sheffield and Kent. In their place were newly-signed free agent
Delgado, and the newly-acquired Ivan Rodriguez (.313/.397/.477, 107 RC) and Adam
Dunn (.203/.343/.421, 55.6 RC.) Chavez (.311/.389/.483, 106.3 RC) was still around as
Heading into the 2004 season, the
Infidels were picked to win their division over a wishy-washy Marlboro
Hammerheads team. Marlboro stumbled out of the gate, going just 1-7 in their first two series, and finishing the chapter with
a record of 13-15. Meanwhile, Ravenswood jumped out to an 18-10
record, led by an offense that ranked among the top two in nearly every
The Infidels then went 16-12 in Chapter
Two, and by the halfway mark of the season, only two games separated
themselves, the Hammerheads and the Gillette Swamp Rats in the Benes
Division race. Ravenswood finished strong, going 47-33 over the second half of the
season, and finished with a 92-68 record. They captured their division by
six games over the Hammerheads. Much of that deficit could be
attributed to the Hammerheads' 0-12 record against the Salem Cowtippers
that season. Ironically enough, Ravenswood would later repay the
Cowtippers by thrashing them in the OL Championship Series.
The Infidels went into the playoffs
with the fewest wins of any playoff team that season. Their
opponents in the OL Division Series were the Los Altos Undertakers, who
won a BDBL-best 106 games. Los Altos began the series in a way
that many expected, with their dominant pitching staff shutting out the
Ravenswood lineup through the first 17 innings. But in the 18th
inning, the Undertakers brought their all-world closer, Eric Gagne, out
to the mound to preserve a 1-0 lead. Gagne, who had signed with
the Undertakers at the seemingly-astronomical salary of $7.5 million the
previous winter, enjoyed the most dominant season of any pitcher in
league history in 2004. In 85 innings of relief, Gagne had allowed
just 24 hits and 15 walks. He saved an all-time BDBL record 62
games, struck out 132 batters, and allowed just one earned run (a 0.11
ERA) all season long.
But in Game 2 of the 2004 OLDS, Gagne
finally became mortal. He was brought into the game in the seventh
inning, and after completing a 1-2-3 eighth inning, it was clear that he
had tired by the ninth. He surrendered a single and two walks to
load the bases. Ivan Rodriguez then laid down a sacrifice squeeze
for out number two, scoring the tying run. Frank Catalanotto then
followed with an RBI single, scoring the go-ahead run. Quantrill
then closed it out for Ravenswood in the bottom of the ninth to tie the
series at one win apiece.
Ravenswood then reeled off three wins
in a row to clinch the series, sending them to their first-ever
appearance in the League Championship Series. There, they met the
Salem Cowtippers, who, after finally slaying the Zoots dragon in the
OLDS, seemed to be a team of destiny. But after Salem took two out
of the first three games, something strange happened with their all-ace
pitching staff of Curt Schilling, Brandon Webb and Barry Zito. In
Game 4, Schilling allowed three runs in the first inning. In Game
5, Webb allowed four first-inning runs. And in the first inning of Game 6, the
Infidels scored SIX times off of Zito. The Cowtippers' offense
wasn't able to dig out of any of those holes, and the Infidels completed
their second major upset of the playoffs, giving them a date with the
Chicago Black Sox in the World Series.
The Black Sox took an unusual route to
the playoffs, going just 8-20 in Chapter One, and then winning 93 games
the rest of the way. The Black Sox batted .297/.365/.504 as a
team, with a BDBL-best 1,041 runs scored and 244 home runs. No
other team in the BDBL scored more than 937 runs or hit more than 229
But in an All-Chicago World Series, the
mighty Black Sox offense managed just 25 runs in five games.
yet, the Ravenswood offense, which had averaged 5.5 runs per game during
the regular season, scored 37 runs in the World Series -- an average of
7.4 runs per game. Quite simply, the Infidels offense caught fire
in Game 3 of the OLCS and never cooled off.
And that is how Brian Potrafka, a
rookie owner in the BDBL, won the most coveted prize in the league in
Rather than take a few weeks off to
bask in the glory, Potrafka went right to work in the off-season.
After briefly toying with the notion of rebuilding in 2005, Potrafka
decided to go for it instead.
His first challenge was be to find a way to shed Delgado's salary.
After posting his career-best numbers en route to an $11 million salary
the previous winter, Delgado hit just .269/.372/.535 in 458
injury-plagued at-bats in MLB '04. He found a taker in the Akron
Ryche, who offered $4 million disappointment Richard Hidalgo and $2
million middle reliever Steve Reed (4.50 ERA in 60 IP.)
And thus began a complex game of "Hot
Potato." First, Jeremi Gonzalez's burdensome $6 million salary
went to Villanova (along with two top prospects in Dontrelle Willis and
Nick Swisher) in exchange for all-star catcher Michael Barrett and a
now-overpriced Brian Giles.
Then, Giles went to Akron, and Delgado returned to Ravenswood.
Then, Delgado was traded once again -- this time to Los Altos -- along
with two prospects (Franklin Gutierrez and Antonio Perez) in exchange
for Jim Thome. With a $7.5 million salary and outstanding MLB
stats (.274/.396/.581 w/ 42 homers), Thome seemed to be a terrific replacement
for Delgado. Unfortunately, it cost the Infidels franchise two
all-star-caliber young players in Willis and Swisher.
Potrafka dumped more salary that winter
by unloading Chavez, getting Mike Lowell (.300/.376/.507, 27 HR, 118.6
return. He also added salary by taking a $5 million Placido
Polanco (.298/.341/.430, 67.2 RC) in a salary dump by Salem.
In the auction, Potrafka shored up the
starting rotation by signing Tom Glavine (11-11, 4.58 ERA in 228+ IP)
for $6 million, and Greg Maddux for $5.5 million. He then flipped
Maddux for Brad Penny (11-8, 3.04 ERA in 157 IP) prior to
Led once again by the league's best
pitcher, Johan Santana (21-8, 2.43 ERA, 279 K in 248+ IP),
the Infidels were not only picked to defend their division title in 2005,
but they were picked to win the OL championship as well. Once
again, Ravenswood featured a strong lineup, with four players with OPS
splits over 1.000, and a strong bench. On paper, the Infidels
appeared to be a much stronger team in 2005 than they were in their BDBL
championship season of 2004.
But plans for another post-season
parade were put on hold when the Infidels got off to a 12-16 start in
Chapter One. This surprisingly awful start was punctuated by
Potrafka's often-hilarious ranting and raving on the league message
"This game can go to F****in hell
are my thoughts on the matter." -- Brian "Skizm" Potrafka, 1/29/05
(Yes, his first series of the year.)
"All series have been postponed indefinitely. I don't want to look
at this game for a few weeks." -- 1/29/05
"Finished up a third series, none of which I have won, and I must
say I've hated every second of it. Pure hell. Keys could not be
punched fast enough. Hated my team. Hate the other team. Like being
trapped in prison. Like breathing poison gas. Wanting to cut
throats." -- 1/31/05
"I really need to play on days that are already completely ruined.
Days that have a chance. Because with DMB, there isn't one." --
"Make me an offer, cherry-pickers. Ravenswood looking to 'build for
the future.' Ideally, I want a good team in the future -- kind of
like the one I have now...oh, wait. That's not too good!" -- 2/9/05
"Time to go barf and shower now." -- 2/9/05
"Everything stands on its head, dicky dice roll gayness, burger king
crown in the closet, an entire farm sacrificed so I can be worse
than the biggest rebuilding team in the league. There are no
baseball gods, but there is something more malicious behind the
cause and effect besides physics. To whomever is responsible, I say
kill me and F.U.." -- 3/19/05
"Losing in this game is like anal rape...what an f'ing nightmare."
"I have zero thoughts about trying to win this division. I'm just
trying to break 60 wins and get a good draft spot." -- 3/23/05
But the team soon rebounded, and went
15-13 in Chapter Two, closing within a game of the Manchester Irish Rebels
at the one-third mark of the season. At that point, Potrafka
pulled the trigger on a trade with the rebuilding Rocks of Cleveland.
In exchange for three pitchers -- none of whom would ever amount to much
-- Potrafka added starter Kelvim Escobar (8-8, 4.33 ERA in 135+ IP)
and two relievers.
Potrafka continued to add to the
bullpen and bench throughout the season, adding Troy Percival, Junior
Spivey, Shingo Takatsu, Bernie Williams, Ugueth Urbina and Ron Villone
through trade. Meanwhile, the Manchester Irish Rebels -- who
bolted out of the gate with an 18-10 record in Chapter One -- quickly
collapsed, leaving the Infidels and Marlboro Hammerheads to battle it
out for the
Benes Division title.
In mid-August, the Hammerheads briefly
managed to pull into a tie for first-place in the division, but
Ravenswood took back their lead two days later. The third-place
Las Vegas Flamingos even got into the act, winning 17 games in Chapter
Five to pull within two games of the division lead. The race went
right down to the wire, and was decided during the final week of the
season, in a big series between Ravenswood and Marlboro. In the
end, Marlboro collapsed, and Ravenswood captured the division by five
Once again, the Infidels went into the
post-season as the #4-ranked team in the Ozzie League. In the
Division Series, they faced the Salem Cowtippers -- the team they had
knocked out of the playoffs the year before. Santana shut down the
Cowtippers offense in Game One, while Salem ace Curt Schilling was
spanked for five earned runs in six innings. For a moment, it
appeared that history was repeating itself.
But the Cowtippers bounced back with a
7-0 shutout win in Game Two, and Greg Maddux tossed his best game of the
season for Salem in a 9-2 Game Three win. Ravenswood then evened
the series with an 8-7 win in Game Four, with Takatsu striking out Jose
Hernandez with the tying run on second base.
But the Salem offense finally managed
to get to Santana in Game Five, while Schilling gave his team eight
stellar innings of work. The Infidels then took a 3-0 lead in the
first inning of Game Six, against Roger Clemens, but the Cowtippers
bounced back and tagged Ravenswood starter Brad Penny for six runs in
six innings. Clemens and two relievers held the Infidels scoreless
the rest of the way, and Salem walked away with a series victory and a
small measure of revenge.
The 2006 Infidels were a GM's worst
nightmare. Heading into the winter of '06, the Infidels looked to
be a bit weak in some areas, but not weak enough to warrant a full-scale
deconstruction. They also looked a strong in some areas, but
not strong enough to warrant a full-scale drive to the pennant.
With no clear direction in which to take his team, Potrafka made just
one trade -- a swap of middle relievers Ron Villone and Shigetoshi
Hasegawa -- that winter. He then signed two players (reliever
Cliff Politte at $5.5 million and David Dellucci at $6 million) in the
free agent auction. What little money was left was spent filling
holes with aging veterans Matt Lawton, Rick Helling, Elmer Dessens and
Julio Franco in the draft.
The biggest question surrounding the
Infidels that winter was: if they did fall out of the race early, would
they put Johan Santana -- perhaps the biggest trade chit in league
history -- on the trading block? And if so, what on earth is fair
market value for such a dominant impact starting pitcher?
That question was answered when the
Infidels performed miserably early in the season, going 10-18 in Chapter
One. Potrafka hastily placed Santana on the block, and just 28 days into the season --
still well before MLB's Opening Day -- Santana was gone. He was
sent to the Allentown
Ridgebacks in exchange for a package of young players including Edwin Encarnacion and
That was just the first of many
white-flag trades for Potrafka that season. Jae Seo, who was also acquired in
the Santana trade, was flipped for Jamie Moyer and Fausto Carmona.
Politte was traded for prospects. Eight more players, including
Franco and Glavine, were traded at the final trading deadline in
exchange for several cheap players -- the most significant of which was
Ravenswood finished the 2006 season
with a record of 66-94 -- their worst record in franchise history.
In the winter of 2007, Potrafka was eager to put his franchise's
rebuilding era behind him and return to his winning ways. That
winter, he made no fewer than eight trades. By the end of the
trading season, he had completely transformed his team once again.
first deal was a whopper. That winter, Sylmar Padawans GM John
Duel was in a real bind financially, as he owed a guaranteed $67.1
million in salary to the contracted players on his roster. The
most marketable player on the Padawans roster, by far, was ace Roy
Halladay, who had three years remaining on a very reasonably-priced
contract. Duel placed Halladay on the trading block, with the hope
of packaging him with a few big contracts. And after a few days of
negotiations, Potrafka emerged as the winner. Considering the
prize, the expense was very reasonable. In exchange for Halladay
and four others, the Infidels parted with only two players: Brandon
Phillips and prospect Cesar Carillo.
Halladay effectively replaced Santana
in the Ravenswood rotation, winning 14 games in 2007 (14-13), with a
3.39 ERA in 239 innings -- at a salary of only $6 million. That
same winter, Potrafka added Frank Thomas (.271/.411/.526, 37 HR, 111.3
RC), Randy Winn (.284/.334/.424, 74.9 RC overall) and three others in a
trade with the Allentown Ridgebacks. The cost for these players
was substantially greater than Halladay, however, as the Infidels
sacrificed top prospect Tim Lincecum in this deal. Soon
thereafter, Lincecum became the most valuable player in the BDBL.
Next, Potrafka acquired Kenny Lofton
(.254/.297/.326, 44.1 RC) in a trade with the Hammerheads. Dunn
was jettisoned to the San Antonio Broncs in a salary purge. And
BDBL legend Randy Johnson (11-16, 5.90 ERA in 212 IP) was added in
another deal with Marlboro, in which top prospects Eric Hurley and Joey
Votto were sacrificed.
In the wild-and-wacky, inflation-driven
free agent auction of 2007, Potrafka remained on the sideline due to a
lack of funds. He then went into Opening Day with a team that was
expected to finish in second place behind the Irish Rebels.
After a 15-13 start to the season, the
Infidels went an astounding 22-6 in Chapter Two. Meanwhile,
Manchester was playing .500 baseball. Once again, it appeared as
though the Infidels were running away with the division. But an
8-16 Chapter Three closed the gap a bit, prompting Potrafka to head back
to the trading table.
Just prior to the all-star break, he
traded a pair of middle relievers (Casey Janssen and Ron Flores) and a
"B"-grade prospect (Chris Carter) to the San Antonio Broncs in exchange
for dominant closer J.J. Putz. Putz went 5-0 for the Infidels down
the stretch, with a 4.79 ERA and 22 saves in 43+ innings.
Next, he flipped Winn, Freddie Lewis
and Damian Easley to the rebuilding Marlboro Hammerheads in exchange for
expensive all-star outfielder Bobby Abreu (.297/.440/.510, 73 RC in 290
AB as an Infidel.) While the two players added $14.5 million to
Ravenswood's 2008 payroll, they also gave the Infidels two major impact
players at the cost of next-to-nothing.
The following chapter, Potrafka
repeated the trick, adding free-agent-to-be Jake Westbrook (3-4, 5.36
ERA in 62+ IP for Ravenswood) in exchange for three players with zero
future value (Mike Stanton, Angel Pagan and Curtis Thigpen.)
Meanwhile, the Infidels continued to
rack up wins, going 46-34 in the second half to outpace the Las Vegas
Flamingos (44-36 over that same stretch) in the division.
Ravenswood finished the season with a 91-69 record -- 10 games in front
of Las Vegas.
Once again, Potrafka entered the
post-season with the #4 seed in the Ozzie League. And once again,
this meant a date with the Salem Cowtippers in the OLDS. Salem had
finished the regular season with a 110-50 record -- 11 wins more than
any other team in the BDBL -- and outscored their opponents by 245 runs
(67 more than the next-best team in the BDBL.) Needless to say,
the Infidels were considered to be the underdogs in this series.
But once again, the Baseball Gods played a practical joke at Salem's
The Cowtippers took Game One of the
series in convincing fashion, winning 11-4 over Halladay. In Game
Two, Ravenswood jumped all over Salem starter Kelvim Escobar in the
first inning with an RBI double by Robinson Cano and a two-run homer by
Eric Hinske. A pair of doubles by Cano and Thomas gave the
Infidels another run in the third, and Salem wasn't able to overcome
that deficit. Putz ended the game by striking out three batters in
the ninth, leaving the tying run stranded at third base.
In Game Three, the Infidels managed to
score four runs against Salem ace Brandon Webb to tie the game in the
fifth inning. In the eighth, a two-out double by Abreu gave
Ravenswood the lead. And once again, Putz struck out three batters
in the ninth inning, leaving the tying run stranded in scoring position.
Game Four appeared to be a nail-biter,
as Salem held a 2-1 lead through four and a half innings. But in
the bottom of the fifth, circus clowns invaded the field, and Ravenswood
scored TEN runs on an endless series of hilarious bloopers, including a
pop-up to the middle of the diamond that was dropped by Salem third
baseman Miguel Cabrera when he tripped over the pitcher's mound.
The series then concluded with a 4-2
Ravenswood win, as Halladay (8 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 3 K) outpitched Erik
Bedard (6 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 4 K.) For the second time in four
years, the Infidels had beaten the Cowtippers in a post-season series in
which Salem was heavily favored to win.
The Infidels then advanced to the OLCS,
where they faced the New Hope Badgers and their ridiculously productive
first baseman David Ortiz. Ortiz had shattered the single-season
BDBL home run record that season by clubbing 79. And in Game One
of that series, Ortiz's inevitable homer came in the sixth inning,
cutting Ravenswood's lead to 4-2. The Badgers then scored four
more runs that inning to take the lead, and New Hope walked away with a
In Game Two, Johnson took the mound for
Ravenswood, and managed to shut down the high-powered Badgers offense,
allowing just one run through five innings. The bullpen committee
of Cla Meredith, Fabio Castro, Scott Olsen and Jason Frasor then shut it
down the rest of the way, as the Infidels cruised to an easy 6-1
But in the very next game, the Badgers'
offense kicked it into high gear once again, and scored eight runs in
the second inning en route to a 13-5 win. But once again,
Ravenswood's pitching stepped up and shut down New Hope in Game Four, as
Tim Hudson held them to just two runs in seven innings to even the
series as two wins apiece.
The Infidels then took the series lead
in Game Five, when shortstop Jose Valentin clubbed a three-run home run
off of Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning. Putz then struck out
three batters in the ninth for the save. But in Game Six, New
Hope's offense once again rose to the occasion, as they scored five
first-inning runs en route to a 10-5 win.
That forced a seventh and deciding
game, and a match-up of New Hope's Andy Pettitte against Ravenswood's
Brad Penny. With the Infidels leading 1-0 in the third, New Hope
slugger Barry Bonds connected for a three-run double, giving the Badgers
the lead. Grady Sizemore then added a two-run blast for the
Badgers in the fifth inning to extend that lead. And after a
leadoff homer in the ninth by Frank Thomas, the Infidels managed to put
two runners in scoring position with two outs against Rivera. But
pinch hitter Chris Coste then grounded out to second to end the game,
the series and the season.
Infidels were in good shape heading into the 2008 season. Halladay
(14-11, 3.46 ERA in 244+ IP) returned to the starting rotation, Putz (7-5,
27 SV, 2.41 ERA in 71 IP) returned to the
bullpen, and Cano (.292/.327/.498, 21 HR, 102 RC) and Abreu (.280/.360/.456,
92.2 RC) returned to the starting lineup.
Edwin Encarnacion (.306/.365/.419, 67.4 RC), who was acquired in the Johan Santana trade of
2006, also returned for his sophomore season in the BDBL. And
Fausto Carmona -- who was considered to be an afterthought in the Jae
Seo trade of 2006 -- unexpectedly emerged as the ace of the staff, going
17-11 with a 3.92 ERA in 236+ innings.
Potrafka also had a bit more money to
spend on free agents, and he used that money to sign Mark Buehrle (12-10,
4.20 ERA in 216+ IP),
Orlando Cabrera (.286/.341/.370, 55.2 RC), Bobby Howry (9-1, 6 SV, 2.71
ERA in 83 IP) and Jamie Moyer (7-8, 5.32 ERA in 94+ IP) in the
auction. Prior to the auction, Potrafka added Derrek Lee (.333/.411/.472,
121.9 RC) in
exchange for Thomas, and Jason Varitek (.253/.359/.420, 74.7 RC) in exchange for Jon Lester.
Then, during the draft, Potrafka added Rodrigo Lopez (9-4, 2.60 ERA in
86+ IP) in exchange
for prospect Jarrod Parker.
Ravenswood began Opening Day as the
favorites to win a typically weak Benes Division, with only the
Manchester Irish Rebels looking like competition. The season began
as expected, with Ravenswood leading the division with a 16-12 record,
followed by the .500 Irish Rebels and two horrific teams at the bottom
of the division (Marlboro at 9-19 and Las Vegas at 6-22.)
The trend continued throughout the rest
of the season, with the Rebels slowing fading (once again) from a .500
team to a bottom-dweller. Meanwhile, Potrafka continued the trend
he began in 2007 by adding tons of mid-season talent in exchange for
next-to-nothing. At the Chapter Four deadline, he added Greg
Maddux (8-4, 4.30 ERA in 96+ IP) and Daryle Ward (.341/.400/.610 in 41
AB) in exchange for Kerry Wood and three
spare parts (Darrell Rasner, Chris Denorfia and Rick Vandenhurk.)
That same chapter, he added Matt Stairs (.302/.370/.544 in 215 AB) in exchange for three more
spare parts (Jose Bautista, Jaime Garcia and Eduardo Morlan.)
The Infidels went 49-31 over the second
half of the season, and easily captured their fourth division title in
five seasons. They finished with a record of 99-61, and faced the
Corona Confederates in the Division Series.
In the first game of that series,
Halladay was pounded for seven runs on 14 hits through six innings, and
the Infidels trailed by two runs heading into the bottom of the ninth.
But with one out, Ravenswood strung together a double and three straight
singles to tie the game at seven apiece. After Putz shut down the
Corona offense in the 10th and 11th innings, Potrafka had no choice but
to pull him out of the game and insert Bobby Howry. Howry served
up a double to the first batter he faced (Joe Mauer), and then gave up a
two-run blast to Edgar Renteria. Ravenswood failed to score in the
bottom of the 12th, and Corona walked away with the win.
The momentum of the series shifted in
Game Two, however, as Carmona pitched a four-hit shutout to even the
series. Ravenswood then took a 7-1 lead after five and a half
innings of play in Game Three. Corona scored five runs in the
bottom of the sixth to make it a one-run game, but the Infidels were
able to score two more the next inning and held on for the victory.
In Game Four, Ravenswood busted open a
2-0 game by scoring six runs in the fifth inning on a pair of two-run
blasts by Abreu and Cano (his second of the game) en route to a 10-2
laugher. The Infidels then carried a two-run lead into the eighth
inning of Game Five, but once again Corona fought back to tie the score
and force the game into extra innings. This time, Ravenswood
struck first with an RBI double by Luke Scott in the top of the 10th.
Howry then held on in the bottom of the inning to close it out, and the
Infidels were headed back to the OLCS for the third time in five years.
As as press time, Ravenswood is set to
face the Salem Cowtippers in the OLCS -- the same team Ravenswood
defeated twice in three post-season meetings over the past five years.
Ravenswood Infidels wins by season
The story of the Ravenswood Infidels
franchise can be told in two acts. In Act One, the Infidels (then
known as the Madison Fighting Mimes) spent the majority of their days
fighting a losing battle, trying to win a division against a team with a
Machiavellian owner who would stop at nothing to win. Act Two takes place in a new division, with
a new owner, where winning is made considerably easier due mainly to the
absence of that fierce competition.
The Infidels franchise has consistently
fielded a competitive team year after year. Perhaps the only difference
between their "successful" and "non-successful" seasons was
this change in
Of course, this does not mean that
Potrafka hasn't played a major role in his team's success as well. He
has consistently fielded a winning team by holding off on making any big
trades until mid-season, when the market value for free agents is
significantly less. He's used every dollar of his team's salary to
its utmost advantage, and he has also used his farm system to maximum benefit
by providing both low-cost impact players for his own team (like
Robinson Cano) and trade bait (like Tim Lincecum.)
Beyond his skill and knowledge as a GM,
of course, Potrafka has also added immensely to the league in terms of
the personality and passion he brings to the game. Potrafka's
well-documented passion for the game is the result of a perfectionist's
mindset. And the man he
replaced was equally skillful as a GM, and contributed a great amount to
the league -- both in terms of his knowledge of baseball and his personality -- in
those early, formative days.
As of this writing, only four different
franchises in the history of the BDBL have won a championship, and the
Infidels are among that lucky minority. Branch Rickey once said
that luck is the residue of design, and that saying certainly applies to
the Ravenswood Infidels franchise.