Before I leave this train of thought, I remind everyone of the first time Dan had a fill-in manager. Every pitch in '95A was greeted with unmatched enthusiasm -- it is our best season to date, our summer of '41. That's why Dan Casper's unwillingness to participate with the zeal of the rest of the league was such a wet blanket. On the days Dan didn't want to play, the league found a more than suitable co-manager in Graham Haas. Graham (he of the custom-made hats) had the same attitude that the rest of us shared. That's why it's so great to have him back in '99. What he lacks in APBA knowledge, he more than makes up for it with his passion for baseball.
The second positive of Dan in the '98 SL was the league's nine-team, three-division, format. Since the beginning of the league, our Executive Committee has searched for the right combination of playability and competition. Playability was hard at first because, although we all worked together and there were only six of us, we scheduled but one day of games at a time (Chris might also add his take about the challenges of playability in the first years, remembering playing by phone during lunchbreaks, coffebreaks, and bathroom breaks at his downtown job during the week. Ask Greg sometime too about this subject, mentioning the 108° day he played Chris in the searing heat of the closed carparker office). By '95B (or was it not until '95C?), the league improved to where we were playing games without scheduling restrictions, making playability a non-factor. Though we solved our playability issues, the competition wasn't diverse in those early years (intense, yes, but not diverse). The league was four guys who were extremely calculated, and two guys playing and drafting by the seat of their blue carparker shorts. Competition became better in '96 with the addition of John (and Tommy, ha ha), but the seven-team format produced an uneven distribution in divisions, making the need for divisions generally useless, yet in turn creating a need for an expanded playoff system. '97's addition of Steve Swinea and Joe Hauser (and subtraction of Dan) greatly expanded the diversity of good competetion, as it reduced the outcry against the expanded playoff system and rebalanced the divisions. Readding Dan to '98 made division pairings that much more important, and for the first time since '95B, less than half of the league qualified for the playoffs. While the competition flourished, playability was stretched to its limits in '98. Because playability was increasingly difficult over the course of the season, I think we should try to begin the season as early as the beginning of May. The factor that precludes our beginning so early is starting (and finishing) the draft early (and quickly). Effective communication is key to the draft, which is why I suggest that we all have something close to 24/7 access to email (and the Web), the best means of effective communication that doesn't intrude with the rest of our lives. Phoning our picks can only work to a point -- we need to have something close to full access to each other to draft quickly, and to make '99 the best season yet.
Again, with the negative of Dan in the league came positives, but, as cliquish as it sounds, let's not revisit the notion of inviting Dan back anytime soon. Dan, who we all enjoy (don't misinterpret this), is the largest negative factor in terms of playability and competition in SL history. Tommy moving to Iowa mid-season '96 wasn't as bad as putting up with Dan, because Tommy returned to play 10,000 games over July 4th weekend in '96. Dan stopped showing up to play his games in '95A, '96, and again in '98. Competitively, while he improved a little over the years, he hasn't kept up with the competitive improvements every other GM/Manager has made, thus diminishing our otherwise strong balance. In '98, Bob Taterka came in and with little more than a deep interest in baseball to his credit, eclipsed Dan in every way. If rookies can outshine veterans with such ease, it's usually a sign that it's time for those veterans to retire or a sign for management to cut them.
As playability and most of the factors of competition would be reduced with Dan as a 10th, it may be in our best interests to expand once Internet play becomes more of a reality. While we champion that less than half of the league makes the playoffs, it's still a very NHL-like 44.4% of the SL in the post-season. If we had 12 teams and 4 playoff spots, consider how meaningful each regular season game would be. Let me reiterate a point I made earlier in this article and a point I have made in several other articles -- '95A was the best Summer League season to date. It was so good (and so short, too) that when we finished it, we played 2 more seasons that summer. '95A had the most intense games, with the exception of the '94 pennant chase, for several reasons, most important though was the 33.3% playoff participation. The level of competition would likely also increase over time through expansion, which would greatly benefit the league as a whole and the value we individivally take from being a part of the league. Let's stay at 9 teams in '99, but keep an eye for how we can better the SL through expansion in '00 and beyond. I suggest we go as far as select a committee to look into the possibilities expansion and other long-term issues.
On a final note, I think Greg's running of the SL site has been a beacon, our north star, during the Fall and Winter. As Greg and myself and all the rest of us know, it's always a pleasure to contribute to the history of and read accounts of the history of such a worthy subject, our Summer League.
ONLY themselves understand themselves, and the like of themselves,
As Souls only understand Souls.
from the Perfections chapter of Leaves of Grass