The '98 season was a season of redemption for the franchise. While they struggled to the close of the regular season lucky to be the Wild Card, the Skillet completed a victorious run through the playoffs to avenge the postseason failure of the '96 Yuma Zima. The season was a struggle for the franchise, as they failed to win a division title and best regular season record for the first time. Nims takes total responsibility for the early season struggles: "I think I ran the team into the ground. I didn't have the team stealing I normally like, but I ran like I used to. We lost a lot of baserunners. Mondesi was a particular sore spot, as he was forced to run the team out of innings." Once Nims adhered to the Earl Weaver school of offensive thought, the team played better. But it still struggled to make the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, the team played without pressure and managed to pull off two series upsets to capture the franchise's fourth Spit Cup.
Chris ran up a league record 100 wins but faltered in the playoffs. Just when he was poised to tie Greg by earning his 3rd* Spit Cup, a six game upset at the hands of the Skillet sent the Cheeky Monkeys home early. Perhaps the pressure of being the top team was too much for the Monkeys. Regardless, Chris has been the franchise that has made the most strides from the beginning, and I'm sure he'll be in the hunt again this year.
Keith once again put together perhaps the best roster in the league, won a division title, and made the Series. But he also lost the Series for a record third time in four appearances, capturing his lone Cup in '95b. The only time he didn't make the playoffs he tied for the best regular season record and lost a one-game playoff. Can he finally break through and win his second Cup this year? Keith Jr. may have some effect on that.
Steve broke out with his first SL success, winning his division and pushing Keith against the wall before bowing out in 7 games. "Choke" perhaps, as the playoff rookie crumbled against the manager with the most playoff games in SL history? He overcame the drafting and managerial blunders of his first season to field a fine team, although he may need to invest in some heart medicine if he continues to compete for the Spit Cup. Can Uncle Joe help him win his first Cup?
Ken's once-proud franchise hit rock bottom last year, as he finished below .500 for the first time, lost the division race to Steve, and didn't even bother naming his team. Some league insiders questioned his desire to compete any longer, particularly after his much-questioned trade of Ken Griffey late in the year. The Commissioner did host the Winter Meetings and seems pumped for the season, but questions linger.
Bob ushered in his rookie season by pissing everyone off by taking forever to make the no-brainer number one draft pick, Roger Clemens. He puzzled some owners by selecting Piazza and ChuckJ with the 3rd and 5th picks, and took the Big Curse with the 4th pick. Nonetheless, Bob had a strong showing, fighting Greg and Ken for the Wild Card spot all summer before finishing with a .475 win ptg., a league record for a rookie (disregarding the initial SL season). His drafting style was solid if unspectacular, his managing style was solid if unspectacular, and it almost took him to the playoffs. Word on the street is a fired up Taterka for SL '99, so watch out.
Joe had the end of first round swing, and took Biggio and Nomar, insuring a team of mediocrity. A team without a superstar is a team destined as an also ran, but Joe fielded his best team to date with a .463 win ptg. Nomar did finish in the top ten in RBI, but a great fielding team cannot make up for a team near the bottom of the pack in both runs and ERA. Certain league insiders believe this is the year Joe busts out, we'll see.
Doug returns to the league after taking over Dan's sinking ship and righting it the best he could, which was a fine job of managerial work, earning himself a franchise bid for '99. His style could best be described as Rigglemanesque, although his drafting has never been tested. The league is pretty much won or lost on draft day, so we'll see how the first time GM does.
Mark Fidrych, Len Bias, Todd Marinovich, John Bryant. All young talents, whose sky-high promise never panned out. John came out gang-busters in his rookie season, pushing Chris to the brink of Wild Card elimination before Chris later won the series. Since then, his franchise was all downhill. More than anything he seemed to have lost interest in anything other than a 10am beer, and his lack of desire is what doomed his franchise. With the end of his education this spring, John is most likely gone from the SL forever. Viya con dios, Kobe.
The lone newcomer to SL '99 is Graham Haas, who also has a replace-Casper stint on his SL resume, and his strong baseball background makes him a fine candidate for immediate respectability in the league. Is a playoff spot in reach? In a weak division, anything can happen.
So SL '99 is beginning, rebirth, we're all zero and zero. We all are rosterless, with Spit Cup dreams. My team this year is the Barstow Dreamers, from the Widespread Panic song Barstools and Dreamers. And the lyrics are fitting for a goal of the journey to take a drink from the Spit Cup:
The barstool's built for dreamers
Will fit fine, and find
All those in the world whose dreams have died
But tonight they're only taking thirsty people
Who've been pulling on their drinks
From a glass that lies a bar length wide
And in the drink there swim the swimmers
And those who swims have dried