When I think back on the past twenty
seasons, I can't help but remember several decisions that completely
changed the fate of the franchise involved and the league itself.
Decisions such as...
The Randy Johnson
It is no easy feat to lose 114 games in
a league's very first season, when every team in the league starts with
the same blank slate. Yet, that is exactly what Billy Romaniello's New Milford
Blazers managed to do in 1999. Romaniello held the twelfth overall pick
in our inaugural draft, and used that pick to select 35-year-old hurler
Randy Johnson. No one knew it at the time, but Johnson was hardly a
risky pick despite his age. In fact, he was just entering his prime
By the all-star break, New Milford's
season was already over. They owned a record of just 18-60 (.231) and
trailed their division leaders by a whopping 31 games. Meanwhile, Paul
Marazita's Stamford Zoots trailed the Antioch Angels in the
Butler Division by just four games. Marazita smelled the chum in the
water and circled his old friend from high school.
Before that happened, however, the
untold story of the 1999 Randy Johnson trade is that Billy first offered
Johnson to me. Had I accepted, the Salem Cowtippers would have likely
become our first-ever BDBL champions. However, I had just made a deal to
acquire Ray Lankford and Todd Stottlemyre. That deal was deemed so
lopsided, and caused such an uproar, that I was forced to reverse the
deal shortly thereafter. The deal Billy offered was even more lopsided,
so I told him to hang onto Johnson in order to avoid another league-wide
The offer made by Marazita wasn't much
better than the one I could have accepted. It must have been enough to
entice Romaniello, however. He quickly accepted Marazita's offer of two cheap and young players
under the age of 25: Jose Rosado and Daryl Ward. Rosado was in his third MLB season. At the time of the trade, he owned a 2.91 ERA in 77+
innings. The future looked bright for the young lefty, and yet he would
only pitch one more season in his MLB career. Ward was on his way to a
1999 MLB season that would conclude with a .273/.311/.473 batting line.
Despite his power potential, he would have a rather mediocre MLB career.
Of course, in classic Marazita
tradition, he didn't let that lopsided trade stand as it was. He also
convinced his old friend to throw in the two most valuable draft picks
of the 2000 draft -- both of which he converted later that summer into
additional building blocks for his 1999 team.
Johnson went a rather pedestrian 11-7
with a 4.41 ERA for Stamford in the second half, but miraculously his
team went 51-27, tied for the best record in the league, and eleven
games better than Antioch. Johnson's true value was then realized in the
postseason. He won the OLDS MVP against the Salem Cowtippers, going 2-0
in his two starts, with a 2.84 ERA. He had an awful (0-2, 4.85 ERA) OL
Championship Series against the Litchfield Lightning, but the Zoots
managed to advance to the World Series, regardless. He was hammered for
seven runs in four innings in Game Two of the World Series, but bounced
back at the best time possible in Game Seven, tossing seven shutout
innings en route to the first-ever BDBL championship.
If the story had ended there, perhaps
it would not qualify as one of the biggest game-changers in league
history. Of course, the story didn't end there. Johnson was signed to a
two-year contract at the end of the 1999 season, and proceeded to win
the OL Cy Young award in both seasons. He went 23-9 with a 2.60 ERA (and
433 strikeouts) in 2000, and 24-6 with a 4.39 ERA (348 K's) in 2001. The
Zoots won their second championship in 2000, and for good measure, added
a third-straight trophy in 2001. Johnson posted a 2.25 ERA in the 2000
World Series, and won the OLCS MVP (again, against Salem) in 2001.
That one trade could very well have led
to three straight BDBL championships. Thanks for that legacy, Billy
The 2001 Farm Draft
We aren't likely to ever see another
farm draft class like we saw in 2001. Among the many impact players
selected in that draft were Roy Oswalt, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki,
Mark Prior, Hank Blalock, Justin Morneau, Adam Wainwright, Chase Utley,
and John Lackey. Three picks made in that draft changed the course of
New Milford and South Carolina owned
the #1 and #2 overall picks in that draft. These were the days when
trading draft picks was still legal, and I managed to trade for both picks. I had my heart set on the Japanese sensation Ichiro
would be making his MLB debut later that year. In fact, I was so
convinced of that pick that I created a Photoshopped graphic depicting
myself helping Ichiro into his Cowtippers jersey at our press
Then...for reasons I can no longer
fathom...I changed my mind. In the days (hours?) leading up to that
draft, I made the fateful decision to draft, as the #1 overall pick,
someone named Adam Johnson. Tasked with choosing from among the greatest
pool of farm talent the league has ever seen, I selected...Adam F'ing
It's difficult to imagine that decision
could be made even worse, but it was. Not only did I select Johnson as my #1
pick, but I traded the #2 overall pick to Marlboro. Granted, I got Jeff
Bagwell and Sammy Sosa in that deal, so it wasn't a total loss. But
Marlboro then used that pick to select Ichiro. I then used Marlboro's
pick (12th overall) to select...someone named Brad Cresse.
The Cowtippers averaged 100 wins over
the next eight seasons, and appeared in three World Series, so it's not
as if that decision hurt the franchise all that badly. Still, if I had
selected Ichiro...or Oswalt...or Pujuols...or any of the other six
impact players I listed above, is it possible Salem could have won a
trophy at some point? We'll never know.
The next game-changing decision came
with the third pick of the draft. The Allentown Ridgebacks traded for
that pick (via Jim Doyle's Manchester Irish Rebels), and used it to
select Roy Oswalt. Oswalt would win 78 games for the Ridgebacks over the
next five years, including two twenty-win seasons. More importantly, he
went a perfect 5-0 in the playoffs the season after he was drafted, and
led Allentown to their first of many BDBL championships. He appeared in
the playoffs in four seasons for Allentown, and went a combined 11-2
with a 2.52 ERA. It's probably safe to say that without Oswalt, the
Ridgebacks may not have won two of their five trophies.
Another huge, game-changing, decision
in that draft came with the eighteenth pick. Dropping all the way to
#18, following the likes of Andy VanHekken, Mike MacDougal, Donnie
Bridges, Clint Wiebl, Christian Parra, Brad Baker, and the legendary Toe
Nash, the Kentucky Fox (now the St. Louis Apostles) selected future BDBL Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Of course, Pujols became an instant
star that very same year, and continued to rake for the Apostles
franchise for each of the next ten seasons. He averaged 40 home runs and
147 runs created through that decade. The Apostles appeared in four postseasons during
that run, which is probably no coincidence.
Would you trade your team's top
prospect for a BDBL championship? What if you knew that prospect would
become the greatest ballplayer of a generation? What
if you could regain control of that prospect three years later and win
yet another championship?
Of course, any one of us would make
such a deal with the Devil. It's easier said than done, however. In
fact, it's only been done once. Heading into the 2011 season, Gene
Patterson's Atlanta Fire Ants seemed poised to win it all. They had won
back-to-back division titles in 2009 and 2010 -- after seven last-place
finishes in the previous eight seasons. Patterson was hungry for a
division title, and his pal Tom DiStefano was happy to provide him with
whatever he needed to get there.
On November 27, 2010 -- two days after
Thanksgiving Day -- DiStefano announced a blockbuster eight-player trade
with the Fire Ants. Heading to Atlanta were Justin Morneau, Jayson Werth,
Ian Kinsler, and Shelly Duncan. In exchange, Allentown received Jair
Jurrjens, Lance Berkman, Coco Crisp, and a prospect by the name of Mike
Morneau (.340/.459/.656), Werth
(.277/.370/.455), Kinsler (.293/.373/.397), and Duncan (.270/.317/.520)
combined for 282.7 runs created that season -- one third of the team's
total. The Fire Ants easily won their division with the best record in
the Eck League. Werth captured the MVP award in the Division Series.
Morneau took home the same prize in the League Championship Series.
Then, once again, Werth won the MVP in the World Series, hitting
.480/.552/.600 for the series. Atlanta beat the Los Altos Undertakers in
six games and took home their first shiny trophy.
Two years later, Trout made his BDBL
debut at age 21 and hit .333/.408/.581 with 32 home runs and 153.1 runs
created, winning both the MVP and Babe Ruth awards for the EL. The
winter, DiStefano and Patterson decided to combine powers. Patterson
abandoned his Fire Ants and moved to Wyoming, taking over managerial
duties for DiStefano's franchise, keeping the franchise name of the
Patterson steered that team, including
his former prospect Trout, to a 102-58 record in the regular season.
Trout hit a paltry .292/.407/.546 during the regular season, with 86
extra-base hits, 141 runs scored, and 138.2 runs created. Wyoming
advanced to the World Series for the sixth time in franchise history and
faced off against the Flagstaff Outlaws. The teams split the first two
games. Wyoming then broke it wide open, winning the next three in a row.
Trout won the MVP award in the Division Series, and hit .368/.586/.421
in the League Championship Series. He hit just .263/.391/.368 in the
World Series, but the fact remains that he was an integral part of both
the 2011 Atlanta Fire Ants and the 2014 Ridgebacks championships. One
trade resulted in two trophies for the same owner -- for two different
The Sale Trade
It's difficult to remember a time when
Jeff Paulson wasn't dominating the BDBL, and yet it was only four years
ago that Paulson's Undertakers won just 82 games. Granted, 82 wins would
be cause for celebration for Jim Doyle, who failed to win that many
games in any of his first seventeen seasons. For Paulson, however, it
was only the sixth time in franchise history that he won fewer than 90
The 2014 Los Altos Undertakers began
their rebuilding process before that season even began. Paulson shipped
away over a dozen players that winter while adding key pieces to his
franchise's future such as Chris Archer, Anthony Rizzo, Corey Seager,
and Joc Pederson.
By the time the season ended, the 2015
Undertakers were already looking like the favorites to win the
championship. Their pitching, in particular, looked capable of setting
new league records. Archer joined former farm products Gerritt Cole,
Colin McHugh, and Kyle Gibson in what looked to be the best starting
rotation in the league.
But on Thanksgiving Day, 2014, Paulson
found yet another reason to be thankful. In exchange for four young players
(Mike Zunino, Jameson Taillon, Albert Almora, and Henderson Alvarez),
the Mississippi Meatballs sent Cy Young-caliber ace Chris Sale to the
Undertakers. Instantly, the Undertakers were upgraded from league
favorite to unstoppable inevitability.
Sale went 18-2 with a microscopic 1.63
ERA during the regular season, winning the OL Cy Young award by a
nearly-unanimous vote. What made Sale even more valuable was the fact
that he still had two more years under contract. To say he made the most
of those two years would be a gross understatement.
He went 24-5 with a 3.23 ERA (and 320
strikeouts) in 2016. He then added another Cy Young award to his resume
in 2017, going 23-6 with a 2.84 ERA. The Undertakers won the BDBL
championship in each of the three years Sale was a member of their
starting rotation. Coincidence? Probably not.
At some point during the 2005 season,
New Milford Blazers owner Billy Romaniello began collaborating with his
sidekick, Anthony Peburn. It's difficult to say which co-owner made
which decisions, but it's safe to say Peburn was more than likely the
mastermind behind New Milford's decision to blow up their franchise in
the middle of that 2005 season.
The Blazers had lost over 600 games in
the six previous seasons, so Romaniello could have used all the help he
could get. New Milford had entered that 2005 season with high expectations. Both
myself and the league predicted the Blazers would finish in second place
in a competitive Butler Division. New Milford began that season in first
place, but soon fell into second place after a Chapter Two slump. That
slump continued into Chapter Three.
New Milford's GM duo reacted to that
slump by trading their top prospect and several highly-coveted players
with future value in an effort to nudge their team back into first
place. By the end of July, that effort proved fruitless. So, at that
point, they decided to reverse course and began trading away every star player on their roster that wasn't
nailed to the floor. It was a game-changing decision that reverberates
to this day. In fact, we have that decision to thank for our
universally-despised VORP cap.
Not only did that decision lead to a
new rule that forever limits the number (and quality) of players that
can be traded in a single season, but that same decision led to another
championship trophy landing in Tom DiStefano's lap -- once again, at my
The following season, New Milford
finally broke their slump and finished above .500 for the first time in
franchise history. Not only did they win 90 games, but they also made
their first appearance in the playoffs as the OL's wildcard team.
Although they immediately fell back into another slump, losing 113 games
in 2007 and 84 in 2008, it was a decision made in the summer of that
2006 season that turned out to be game-changing for the Blazers
franchise and the
league as a whole.
With their first pick of the midseason
free agent farm draft, New Milford's braintrust selected someone named
Kenny Ray. That wasn't the game-changing decision. No, that decision
came in round two. In this day and age, it seems inconceivable that a high
school senior who was just selected with the seventh overall pick of the MLB draft would fall to the second round
of our farm draft, and yet that is exactly what
happened. And that is how the New Milford Blazers ended up with Clayton
Peburn being Peburn, he spent a great
deal of time hyping his new prospect, even going so far as to compare him to Sandy Koufax.
After a while, his constant bragging and salesmanship became so
annoying, I used a feature on our message board that would replace the
word "Kershaw" with "Asswipe" whenever anyone would mention his name.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Asswipe/Kershaw made his BDBL debut only three years later in 2009. New Milford
captured their first division title that season. They then won seven
more over the next eight seasons, each with Kershaw at the top of their
rotation. He averaged -- averaged -- 23 wins per season in those
seven division-winning seasons, including a 28-win season in 2013 and a
ridiculous 32-win season in 2014. He won the OL Cy Young award three
years in a row from 2012 to 2014. That one game-changing decision in
2006 greatly contributed to seven straight division titles.
The Bonds Trade
After winning the OL wild card in each
of the league's first three seasons, Phil Geisel's Litchfield Lightning
fell on hard times after the loss of several big-impact free agents. In
the winter leading up to the 2002 season, Geisel decided to sell his
greatest trading chit: free-agent-to-be Barry Bonds.
In 2001 (the season that was used for
our 2002 BDBL season), Bonds made history by hitting an incredible 73
home runs. His OPS+ was a mind-numbing 259. He hit .328/.515/.863, and
walked 177 times. The league had seen many great offensive performances
to that point, but never anything like what Barry Bonds had to offer in
2002. It seems impossible to place a trade value on a player who can
carry an entire offense by himself, and yet that was Geisel's self-imposed task that winter.
Historical records have been lost to
the ages, and my memory isn't as sharp as it used to be, so it's
impossible to know what other offers Geisel received for Bonds that
winter. Suffice it to say, the offer he eventually took was less than
- Sean Casey: 27 years old, $5
million salary, signed through 2005.
- Bartolo Colon: 29 years old, $8
million salary, signed through 2005.
- Jerome Williams: 21 years old,
farm prospect, ranked #19 on Baseball America's top-100.
Casey posted a respectable .821 OPS for
the Lightning in 2002, but then fell into the toilet in 2003
(.262/.343/.339). Colon posted a 7-17 record and 5.05 ERA in 2002, but
rebounded (17-14, 2.72) in 2003. Both Casey and Williams were later
traded to Stamford in the infamous Jim Edmonds trade.
Not only did Litchfield get little in
return for their once-in-a-lifetime trade bait, but they somehow managed
to ADD $3 million to their salary cap! Meanwhile, Bonds hit
.337/.519/.785 for the Ridgebacks, with 66 home runs, won the EL MVP and
Babe Ruth awards, and carried Allentown to their first BDBL
Bonds became a free agent that winter,
and was signed to a then-record $16.5 million salary in our very first
auction by the Cleveland Rocks. Rocks GM Mike Stein then turned around
and traded Bonds...back to the Ridgebacks. He led them to another EL
title and captured his third of five consecutive MVP awards.
The St. Louis Apostles finished
dead-last in our 2010 BDBL Farm Report. Their only ranked prospect was
Wilmer Flores, who ranked 90th in baseball. Up until then, GM Bobby
Sylvester's farm-building strategy seemed to focus on
high-risk/high-reward "lottery tickets" from Latin America, college, and
That strategy appeared to change in the
first two months of the 2011 season, when Bobby made nine trades before
Chapter One had ended. Those trades made a huge impact on his team's
ranking in the 2011 Farm Report. In fact, the Apostles rose from last
place all the way to first.
Eight years later, the top prospects
from that team (Mike Minor, Kyle Gibson, Wilin Rosario, Miguel Sano,
Devin Mesoraco, etc.) have yet to make a significant impact. However,
Sylvester's focus on his farm club, and his constant churning of
prospects through trade, became a game-changer for the Apostles
St. Louis' big league club won more
than 90 games four times in five seasons from 2008-2012. They then fell
into a funk over the next four seasons and finished below .500 in three
of those years. While the big club suffered, however, the farm
flourished. St. Louis owned the #1-ranked farm club in 2014, 2015, and
2016. By the 2017 season, some of those former farmhands began to make
big league contributions.
Nomar Mazara (75 RC), Trevor Story
(64.4), and Anthony Rendon (95.7) contributed offensively. Carlos Rodon
(12-8, 4.48 ERA) contributed on the hill. Other former farmhands like
Anderson Espinoza, David Dahl, Nick Williams, Carlos Martinez, Luke
Weaver, and Sean Manaea were sacrificed in trade to acquire
immediate-impact players like Jean Segura (101.7), Jedd Gyorko (39.2),
Yasmani Grandal (55.8), and Rich Hill (11-3, 2.20 ERA).
The Apostles easily won their division
in 2017 by 27 games and finished with 103 wins. They won "only" 90 games
the following year, but walked away with the BDBL championship trophy at
the end of that season. In 2019, they are the odds-on favorites (through
league polling) to win the Eck League title. By flipping the script on
their farm-building strategy way back in 2016, the Apostles appear to
have set themselves up for success for the next decade.