Official Publication of the
Hot Stove League
Eastern Nebraska Division
2001 Season Edition No. 29 October 15, 2001
How do I love Phil Nevin? Let me count the ways. I love him 55½ glorious different ways, to be exact. His three home-run performance on the penultimate day of the season provided the Senators with just a little more than their final margin of victory (51 points) over the runner-up Reds. Put another way: If Nevin doesn’t play that game, or doesn’t torch Jason Middlebrooks’ bucket of clothes (see article in last week’s Baseball Weekly) to “ignite” his hitting outburst, the Senators finish in 2nd. Oh, sweet Phil, you are now forever in my will.
The 2001 Hot Stove League season will go down as an epic campaign which was open for grabs by three different teams, the Senators, Reds, and Wahoos, right up until the last weekend of the season. Fortunately for America’s team, the Baseball Gods Blessed America and plunked a nickel into Phil Nevin, sat Randy Johnson and Tony Armas, Jr., down on the bench for the final day of the season, and lulled the Reds’ entire starting lineup into disarray and nonperformance. Michael Jackson’s Thriller would be an appropriate theme song for the 2001 HSL finish.
But enough hyperbole, for now. The final standings for the season are as follows:
FINAL 2001 STANDINGS
WEEK 26 POINT TOTALS
AROUND THE HORN
In winning a third HSL title in 17 years of fierce Hot Stove League competition, and their second in the nine years of the Live Ball Era, the Senators have joined the ranks of the Tigers, Skipjacks, and Wahoos in putting their name on the vaunted Cup for a third time, and the Skipjacks in winning two of those three crowns during the Live Ball Era. Some might say that this places the Senators’ franchise in a position to lay claim to being The Greatest HSL Team of All-Time, but we’ll let the history books be the judges of that. Certainly, after I parlay next season’s first overall draft pick into the 2002 title, the issue will no longer be open for debate.
The Senators used the anti-U-belly logarithm of Pitching is Everything, Hitting Means Nothing to capture the 2001 title, with the Senators moundsmen notching a total of 3718.5 points to easily outdistance the Reds’ second-best pitching total of 3399. By focusing on pitching on Draft Day (are you listening, Bob?), the Senators were able to compensate for an admittedly lackluster hitting squad, which totaled only 5542.0 points, only 7th highest in the league. Not that there’s a lesson to be learned there or anything.
The Reds were able to leverage a red-hot second half of the season (see inset below), and a sneaky-good pitching staff to make it one helluva race and to finish a close second, Tricko’s second consecutive runner-up performance and third overall. With Barry Zito coming of age and Al Leiter returning to form in the second half, the Commies were able to spring from out of nowhere at about Week 20 or so to actually lead the league for several weeks and give the Skipper and Possum plenty of heartburn during the final weeks of the campaign. If nothing else, Tricko has made it clear that he has his priorities back in order and will be a force to be reckoned with during upcoming seasons.
And what can you say about the Wahoos? The enigmatic manager of the defending champion Wahoos was almost able to overcome devastating injuries to his first (Pedro) and second (Garciaparra) round draft choices by sheer determination, luck (Bret Boone) and a career season from Barry Bonds. In fact, not to rub his nose in it when the guy is down or anything, but if not for the disastrous trade of Vazquez, Bonds and Giambi for R.J. (can you say PANIC?) and the followup gaffe of unloading Boone for jackdung, Mouse would probably be hosting another phantom party for Possum.
But hey, Possum’s fierce determination and his prolific e-commerce helped to make this one of the most memorable seasons on record. And speaking of Possum’s e-mail eccentricities, more than one or two of us are concerned that this year’s brutal campaign coupled with the tech crash and the woes of Level 3 may have caused a substantial amount of Possum’s gray matter to slough off. The State’s Exhibit A, Possum’s congratulatory e-mail reprinted below without his permission, is sure to surface in future commitment proceedings.
Kudos to Itchie on his last-minute push to beat the faltering Tribe for Itchie’s first-ever 4th place finish, which again this year will pay exactly nothing. However, by finishing in 4th, which was possible only because of Possum’s trade largesse, Itchie now has the chance to draft one of the Big Four in next March’s draft, and who wouldn’t like to be able to start a season out with either R.J., Pedro, A-Rod or Todd Helton? One more thing. Itchie’s obtaining of Bonds, Giambi and Vazquez for the Big Unit may go down as the most uneven trade in history since Neville Chamberlain turned over Austria to Hitler for a peace pledge signed in invisible ink and a crate of sauerkraut. Now we know why my back-slapping, flesh-pressing neighbor to the west is so indispensable to FDR. Donald Rumsfield should be sending him over to Kabul(1) with a box of credit card plastic to talk the Talaban out of Mr. bin Laden and his cronies. I’m serious.
U-Bob has to be tickled pink. In precise accordance with his plan, he went out and proved that his Tribe team could draft a godawful pitching staff and still finish higher than the Lower Division. Of course, that’s all you can do with a crummy pitching staff, you certainly can’t win this thing, but if you merely want to finish ahead of six or seven other teams, you can do it with a formula of great hitters and rotten pitchers. Actually, I’m not giving U-Bob near enough credit. He really wanted to draft a good pitching squad this year on Draft Day, but he just couldn’t pull the trigger once Pedro, R.J., Kevin Brown and Mussina were gone.
(1) Give Itchie a turban and some sandals and no one's the wiser.
Congratulations are actually in order for Underbelly for piloting this team to its highest finish since 1996, especially drafting out of the eleven-hole. By drafting ball-busting hitting, by making a couple of timely trades for pitchers during the latter part of the season, and by adroitly managing his fourteen (14) middle relievers, U-Bob was nearly able to find a formula to compete for a money spot. Won’t it be interesting next year, when he is drafting in the five-hole, to see if the Man Who Hates All Pitchers will pull the lever on a Kevin Brown or a Mike Mussina or a Curt Schilling in the first round. In my mind, this is about as likely as Bob deciding to swim the English Channel, but one never knows.
Poor Big Guy. He goes out and picks a mediocre Tiger team on Draft Day, which then suddenly starts overachieving well beyond its capabilities, leaving him to visions of glory, only to have his team of slugs revert to form and drop like a sack of cement during the final weeks of the season. The other spin that has to be considered is that the Tigers’ G force descent at the end was Big Guy’s penance for doing his damnedest to trade Possum into a title by scratching where he itched with Ichiro and U-squared. Not that it worked for Possum, but it could have, and that’s enough reason for Big Guy to be punished. Remember those unwritten rules!!
The Blues have much to be proud about. We said here in an earlier edition of FTB that the Blues would finish in the proverbial dead-ass last position, and by golly, Stretch proved me wrong. He didn’t prove me wrong that the Blues are basically a weak sister team, but only that his team could overachieve for most of the year and then find four patsies to finish ahead of. That said, Stretch must be applauded for taking a potential cellar team and then adeptly piloting them to a subpar but not altogether embarrassing 8th-place position. Good show, Elongated One.
The Pirates have to be secretly elated over finishing in 9th place this year, given the fact that SloPay was drafting out of the 12-hole and given this team’s ignominious history of cellar-dwelling finishes. SloPay boldly drafted Juan Gonzalez when nobody else wanted to touch him, and if not for another of Gonzo’s disappointing finishes, he might have been in line for MVP recognition. As it was, Gonzo battled fiercely with Bret Boone for the AL RBI crown, giving it up only at the end when he had a succession of bad-hair and bad-uniform days.
The Pirates again helped prove the Pitchers Rule hypothesis for friend Bob, showing us all that having the second-best hitting team (5814 points) means nothing if you don’t have a competitive pitching staff. Faced with this reality, SloPay was recently seen kicking himself in the ankles repeatedly, and promising God, Patty and the entire Bontrager claim that next year he is going with pitchers in Rounds 1 through 4. Sure.
Because of the Redbirds’ worst-ever 10th place finish, one might assume that Tirebiter ingested too many exhaust fumes and took too many Goodyear radials to the skull during last offseason. Either that, or his subfunctional Iowa intelligence quotient is finally starting to catch up with him. Either that, or the 17 Budweisers that he swilled during last year’s draft was a more menacing problem than he anticipated. You heard it here first: With a little bit of restraint in Draft Day imbibing and a smidge more preparation, next year Tirebiter will return to his bygone days of Upper Division glory.
If there’s a guy who works this thing harder than Mouse does in terms of Draft Day preparations and smothering the free agent wire, I’ll have to see it. Even when Mouse’s Bombers were hopelessly in the 11th position during the second half of the season, with almost no chance of moving up or down, the guy tuned in every Sunday night and played spoiler for the rest of us by continually picking up free agents, and by making more promotions and demotions than the CEO of a plummeting dot-com company. Even though all of this busyness and frenetic activity netted Mouse only an 11th place finish, I say a case can be made for Mouse as Manager of the Year. And trading Jeter, Magglio and Rivera to me during our Milwaukee trip has nothing to do with my proposal. Charlie Hustle has nothing on this guy. Bravo, Brother Mouse.
And that brings us to the Cellar-Dweller, with whose proud HSL team and nickname I cannot even associate. Just as surely as the Cubs* 1993 season had an asterisk next to it, the Chiefs 2001 season is deserving of an exculpatory footnote. We all know that if his world hadn’t been turned upside down, there’s no way on this planet that a B.T.-guided team would ever finish a season lower than 11th place. Out of utmost respect and admiration for the affable, gregarious and thoroughly competitive B.T., our perpetual Record of Final Finishes will forevermore contain the abbreviation of “TYO,” which stands for Took Year Off.
Next year, however, it will be different. For one thing, he probably won’t be drafting Griffey and Big Mac in the first two rounds. For another, it will be up to the rest of us to make sure that B.T. returns fully to the game that he so dearly loves. Good luck in 2002, our friend.
SECOND HALF POINT TOTALS
Before the Skipjacks and Tribe get too excited about this, and start thinking to themselves how they might have finished in 2nd and 3rd places if only their players had performed up to expectations early, bear in mind that the second half totals also reflect the incurrence of penalty points by the Wahoos and others. Imagine the second half that the Reds would have had without penalty points!
Interesting to note that at the end of thirteen weeks of the season, the Tribe was mired in 10th place, just prior to beginning its volcanic second-half performance to rise to the Upper Division.
A few of the congratulatory e-mails which were graciously transmitted by several gracious losers are worth reprinting here:
Actually, let me be the second one to fire off a congratulatory note to E. Congratulations. Incredible season. Unfortunately, one that will have an asterisk beside it in my mind for all time.
For me, 2001 will be remembered as the season during which the world, as we know it, changed irrevocably. Rather than venture north from midtown Manhattan to the Bronx to watch the White Sox and the Yankees on Tuesday evening, September 11th, I sat in my hotel room, watching replays of the destruction that I had witnessed firsthand, and wondered why some people would have such hatred in their hearts that they would wantonly murder thousands of innocent people in a heartbeat.
We share a common love of baseball, each of us for different reasons. We enjoy the sheer beauty of the game played well, understand its intricacies and charms, revel in the competition of the game played out over time---pitch by pitch, at bat by at bat, inning by inning, game by game, series by series, and over the course of a whole season.
Some of us are fortunate to still be around the game. I spent an hour Saturday afternoon at the Strike Zone, throwing BP to Max and Taylor, who both love to hit. I cannot think of any other way I’d rather spend time – lost in the moment of the game, reveling in the challenge of throwing strikes, and enjoying watching kids develop a skill that is inherently one of the most difficult to master in sports – hitting a baseball.
The game allows us to escape to a place that each of us can fashion to our own design, in terms of teams and players we identify with, positions we can still play well in our own mind, stadiums that both bring back old memories and create new ones. Baseball is a sort of calendar of our lives, as we can mark the years by what happened in the various seasons as they go on through time. I remember where I was when Buckner misplayed Mookie Wilson’s ground ball.
What is so sad about this season is that it is marred by such tragedy and such utter barbarism. The closest HSL pennant race ever, the best single offensive season in the history of the game, the retirement of two of the game’s best players EVER (I would submit that Tony Gwynn is one of the three or four best pure hitters, ever, and Cal Ripken is probably the best all around shortstop, ever), the best single season by a team, ever (the current Mariners would annihilate the 1906 Cubs, or whoever they tied for the wins record), all have been tarnished in my mind, because the events of September 11 are so awful, and the implications for life going forward so stark.
Baseball is about dealing with challenges. The best hitters fail 70% of the time. Our society is a baseball society – we deal with challenges well. It is just sad in my mind, though, that the amazing baseball events of this year will be overshadowed by the events of 9/11. I am reminded of a scene in Apocalypse Now, where Robert Duvall’s character (he plays a commanding officer of an Air Cavalry outfit) is sitting on the beach, philosophizing about the war, and differences between the good guys and the bad guys. Duvall pointed out to his charges that “Charley don’t surf!” Unfortunately, terrorists don’t play ball. Because if they did, the WTC would still be standing.
Congrats to all on a great year, especially E. Well done! WHW TB
Congrats to Ernie. I knew he would win it. I predicted it. Lucky prick. No surprise here. Good race. Hell of a battle. Bastard. What a thriller. Just glad to be in it. Made him earn it. Cheater. Loads of fun. Can’t wait till next year. I shoulda won. No excuses. Get him next time. Congrats again. Asshole.
Congrats on the championship, another 1,000 points and I would have had you. But who cares about this year, it’s over.
IT’S MY PARTY …
Friday, November 23, 2001, will be the annual fete to honor this year’s HSL champeen at the Thielen residence, starting time to be announced. If he has it, I will come. Of course, there’s always the chance that there will be a last-minute misunderstanding and that my wife will make other plans with some undisclosed family members that will require me to miss this year’s function honoring me and attend, and.... No, wait a minute, there’s no chance that that could happen to anyone else except for You-Know-Who. In any event, please come and pay homage, honor and tribute to me. There may be complimentary wearing apparel. (This year we are thinking about full brigadier general uniform tops with epaulettes on each sleeve, stripes, medals and patches covering 80% of the material, and a button you can push which will result in the playing of God Bless the Senators sung by Lee Greenwood, and/or Three Times a Champion by Lionel Ritchie. You’ll want to get yours.)
We’ll stay in touch.