My scouting efforts were just a little bit down from year's past because of my responsibilities with young Justin, but I played more games with the recruits than in year's past because of Chris's Spring League. It was a great tool for me to judge personnel beyond the numbers, and I assume that can be echoed by Chris as he drafted the best team after playing the most Spring League games. The moral of the story is if you don't have access to Twin's Spring League, set one up for yourself and play, play, play -- you'll surely benefit from more exposure to the players.
I was psyched for '98 because I was going to give myself the opportunity to stock up on pitching -- I think that was a major drawback to my '97 team (the '97 draft played out kinda weird where offense was overvalued early and it wasn't until the middle rounds where I was forcing myself to take pitching). I also realized that Greg's success with his ('97 champ) Mountain View pitching staff was not so much because of a dominant starting staff, but because of his use of Nen and his relief corps. Despite new relief rules in effect for '98 that discouraged overuse of relievers, I still felt a strong pen would be a huge benefit for me.
I took the name Manhattan Project from the Rush song on Power Windows. It of course refers to the building of the atomic bomb, which I figured was appropos of something in relation to the SL. I had become weary of naming my team after Rush songs, especially since Rush hasn't made a strong album in a decade, so I decided this would be my last Rush team name. That decision was supposed to inspire me on to a title.
The lineup was:
1. EMartinez DH
2. DeShields 2B
3. Ramirez RF
4. Justice LF
5. Galarraga 1B
6. Rolen 3B
7. Cameron CF
8. Weiss SS
9. Ausmus C
With a bench of:
There were some holes that caught up with me over time. The lineup was a moderately low-average lineup, I had a weak defensive outfield, and my 2 and 6-9 hitters as a group were about the worst 2 and 6-9 hitters in the league. Each individual from my bench was kinda strong, but while the unit counter-acted some of my problems, collectively they failed to balance some of the weaknesses of the starting lineup, thus making them on the whole a non-factor.
My staff was:
PJMartinez 20 Z
JThompson 14 Z
Moyer 13 Z (J-3)
With a pen of:
Quantrill 19* Z (excellent peripherals, including mucho games and IP)
Villone 14* W
With Livan Hernandez (10) as a 6th starter, and due to multiple injuries, Robinson Checo (8 Z, strong peripherals) making 2 starts as a 7th.
It did become apparent early on that I would have to play my best ball to beat Chris. His lineup was stacked (Spiers, Bonds, Lankford, Burnitz, Caminiti, Grace, Delgado, JReed and Boone/DCruz). I couldn't pitch around anyone, and I couldn't get anyone out with any kind of regularity. Chris beat on me pretty good early on, then he made that awesome trade with Ken, getting Greer, ARod and Griffey. It turned into a situation (a first in all of my SL experiences) where I was glad if I took 2 out of 5.
In '97, Steve, then an SL rookie, watched Greg and I play a series. Every game was tight, with each one decided in the late innings and no margin of victory greater than 2 runs. He commented then that he had a long way to go before he reached the point we displayed on that night. Well, if he didn't reach that point in '98, he sure came close in his games against me. He did some weird things, but so many times those weird things worked out against me. The only bad thing, which I admonished him about all season, was his handling of his third base situation one game. He did something along the lines of starting Ripken, moving him to short, putting Perez in, moving him to second then eventually lifting him, and putting Bonilla in and pulling him for a pinch-runner in the sixth or seventh, leaving him without an available thirdbaseman in the middle of a game. It would be one thing to lose a player late in a game to injury, forcing a Chad Curtis or other non-3B to move there, but these were calculated moves that Steve was making. First of all, he should have been more careful, that's a given, but second and maybe of equal or even greater importance, he should have been more apologetic than he was. He barely acknowledged that it was a mistake, and when he did, he always just tried to brush it off by saying I should have no issues because I won. Such a move goes to the integrity of the league and it should not be so easily dismissed.
I can't catalog every highlight of my '98 Project, but here are some other interesting moments that happened:
After my division win, I faced Steve in the playoffs. He did some trash-talking beforehand, claiming he was a favorite because of the pitching matchups. I countered by posting a web page where Jamie Moyer was quoted saying, "Must ... kill ... Porters." Steve gave me all I could handle, mostly because of Thome and Tino, who combined for maybe 11 homers. Paul Apostolos, when he wasn't parking all the Porsches, tried to psyche Steve out all series by sitting next to him as we played in the carparker office and yelling things like "dude that was a bad move" and "you're screwed now" and things like that. Steve did nearly have a coronary, but I think it was more a result of the 7 game series than any trash-talking.
Bruce Bochy repeatedly blundered in the playoffs by managing differently than he did in the regular season. It cost him a series sweep from the Yankees. Steve sort of did the same thing in one regard. He had Jeff Frye and Neifi Perez play second base all season long, with Tony Womack getting less than 10 at bats. In the playoffs, Frye had to sit 1 of the first 4 games and Perez couldn't play in 3 consecutive games. Steve wasn't prudent in his use of these guys and was forced to start Womack at 2nd in game 4. Womack actually got a hit in the game, but the Project won that pivotal game and evened the series. Steve took game 5 and had a lead in game 6, but my lucky charm came in to office, my friend Catherine O'Hagan of Dublin, and as soon as she did I rallied to take the lead behind a Galarraga homer. Steve and I were tied in game 7 when Catherine again popped her head in and willed another rally, culminating with another Galarraga home run and a Project game 7 victory.
As for the World Series with Greg, I don't remember enough about it. I took game 1 with a late rally against Maddux, but didn't do much offensively the rest of the series. Myers lost one game by walking Mondesi with the bases loaded. Galarraga had some big hits, but we fell in 6 games.
Moyer, my number 4 pick, was hurt way too much in the season, missing an incredible 7 starts. Randy Myers, my number 2 pick, was a non-factor in the playoffs. If I made smarter picks in these rounds, things could have been different. If I took a Ray Lankford or some other top hitter instead of Moyer, maybe my lineup wouldn't have fizzled so much in the series. Maybe if I passed up Myers for a Curt Schilling, I could have stymied Greg one game, pulled out a win and forced a Pedro J start in game 7. And as solid a pick as Pedro J proved to be during the season, he wasn't the dominator in the playoffs I needed him to be.
As I mentioned in my '98 draft notes, it was these and other draft day decisions that severly affected my ability to win a championship. For all of my APBA knowledge, the Project revealed that I have a lot to learn.