We all decided we wanted Dan to be competitve, so I made printouts of just about every player he might consider to ensure he wouldn't be at a disadvantage because of never getting on the computer. '96 also brought about the first official Executive Council summit. We mandated by a majority vote such topics as CF eligibility and stolen base restrictions. I was upset at the time why Mondesi, an OF 3-39 with power, speed (a D-33 stealing, 19 speed) and a .300+ average who'd played a month in CF for the Dodgers, wasn't included in the CF list. He would've been the best CF in the SL, and I had decided early in the off-season that he was the guy I wanted.
With 7 teams for the first time, we decided to increase the playoffs to 4 teams, allowing division winners and runners-up to continue into the post-season. The stuff of SL legends came when we drew for divisions. Chris and I drew the three team division along with Greg's APBA-novice friend John Bryant. Our elation spilled out and we began celebrating with a playoff dance and embrace.
I followed Johnson by aggressively going after the personnel I wanted. Mussina, Palmeiro, Valentin, Mondesi, Gwynn and Lofton were guys I coveted pre-draft. On draft day, I was surprised to find all of these guys available when I wanted them. Two years later looking at them, I might have been better served to have had less constrictive players.
The very constrictive lineup was:
1. Thomas DH
2. Gwynn LF
3. Palmeiro 1B
4. Valentin SS
5. Mondesi RF
6. Lofton CF
7. Baerga 2B
8. Gaetti 3B
9. Parent C
If Thomas got on base, Mr. GIDP Gwynn would hit and run. If Gwynn was on, Palmeiro also hit into double plays (and I thought he had two fives) so I'd straight steal with Gwynn. Palmeiro wasn't alone on first that much, but if he was Valentin would usually hit and run (when Palmeiro ran out of steals mid-season, I switched these two in the order). If Valentin was alone on first (again, didn't happen that much), he'd straight steal. If Mondesi was on first, he'd straight steal second. Occasionally, he'd go for third if their was one out. If Lofton got on first, Baerga would hit and run. If Baerga moved him to second and their was one out, I'd occasionally steal third with Lofton. If Baerga was on first, I'd straight steal second (Gaetti also hit into double plays and might have had two fives). Gaetti and Parent rarely got on first, so I didn't have to worry about Thomas hitting into the many DP's he would have.
That was the scheme. Speed, which in APBA defintions allows for greater flexibility, was a contributing factor to a robotic season. I could have constructed a micromanager and won as many games. I just didn't want to hit into double plays, and I wanted to use my speed as much as I could by putting the ball in play, yet not turning my 5's into hit and run singles where they could have been home runs. Whether or not the APBA algorithm actually works as I believe it does is up for debate -- maybe it's another case of a little knowledge going a little way.
I had a decent bench, with slugging catcher Todd Hundley splitting time with Parent, J-4 extraordinaire Dwayne Hosey spelling Lofton, a young Chipper Jones providing 3B-OF flexibility, Mike Lansing pinch-running and defensive subbing at 2B, Rondell White as a 3rd CF, Tom Pagnozzi as a defensive 3rd Catcher, and Rafael Belliard (replaced mid-season drop Tony Fernandez) playing defense.
The staff was:
Johnson 18 Z
Mussina 15 Z big peripheral numbers
Hershiser 13 Z
Valdes 13 Z
Gubicza ?11? Z?
Steve Reed 18 Z
John Franco 16 (senor periferal)
Aguilera 17 (don't think Z)
Bottalico 15 (W?)
Honeycutt 14 Z (hr-L) lefty
John is a very confident guy. Despite a not-so-talented roster and no APBA knowledge, his Keggers were holding strong in the division race. At about the midway point, we were preparing for a series and he confidently announced he'd kick the nearly unbeatable Randy Johnson's ass when they met. When it came time for him to put the lineup in, he had a special lineup set up in League Manager, the "Randy Johnson Assault Lineup." It was laughable, with the ancient Mickey Tettleton leading off. Johnson and the O's won that game, limiting the assault lineup to a mere 2 hits while fanning 18 Keggers. John got the last laugh, though, because when they met again later in the pennant race, the assault lineup was en fuego as they handed Johnson one of the four losses he took for the O's.
Another fond remembrance was playing Dan by phone and having Palmeiro knock 3 2-run home runs to end a big losing streak, probably the same skid Tommy sent me on during his 4th of July weekend visit.
Again, I really have faint memories of the season. We played half the games, Tommy went out of town. Tommy came back, we finished our games with him. Dan didn't finish his games in a timely manner. The two students we had in the league went back to school. A few months later, Dan finally finished. We played the playoffs. So many stops and starts made this the worst logistic year -- though we had taken steps to correct that with the flexible schedule.
While we were waiting for the playoffs to start, Chris and I played a mock World Series. He jumped out to 3-0 lead, but Dwayne Hosey in the cleanup spot led me to victory in game 4, and after I edged those crazy Vedders in games 5 and 6, Hosey again took the O's on his shoulders to lead me to victory in game 7, completing a heroic, albeit meaningless, comeback. My comeback went from meaningless to heart-wrenching when, after besting Ken 3-2 in the wild-card round, I lost leads in games 5, 6, and 7 to Chris's Vedders in the actual SL World Series. Johnson, who was the league's unanimous Cy Young winner, went 0-2 in the series. As it is with so many of my teams, it wasn't the starters, but rather my pen's inability to hold leads in the big game that cost me. Meanwhile, Chris's pen went some ungodly amount of innings without yielding a run in the playoffs.
defensive weakness in the middle infield, but I still managed to finish just one hundreth of a point behind the Zima and the Keggers for the defensive crown.
pitching prowess showed as I won the ERA crown. Without the Big Unit, I would've been middle of the pack. 2nd fewest walks allowed.
All those team stats translated into the O's having the largest margin of runs scored to runs allowed. Still, I was only a few games over .500, BARELY edging Chris and rookie John!
I came away from the final series with Chris with the feeling that I had offended (perhaps "Mocked") the APBA gods by having that big comeback in the Mock World Series. Yet again, I had the team I wanted, but couldn't deliver. Back to the drawing board was my only resolve.