Northwoods Claims First League Title


By Jonah Keri

BrassWorld League Reporter



After eking out wins in two straight seven-game series, the Northwoods Moose swept the Silver Sluggers 4 games to 0 to capture their first BrassWorld World Series.


Northwoods General Manager and 2005 Billy Beane Award winner Corey Weisser said when the league started in 2003, his intent was to draft high-ceiling young players, bide his time, and make a run at a league title down the road. When his young talent jelled into a potential contender, though, Weisser said he stopped short of trading his top prospects for rent-a-vets who’d push his team over the top. Quite the opposite.


“My direction was to obtain as much young talent as I could,” Weisser said in a recent interview. “I then used my big chips to get more younger guys. With (Lance) Berkman, I acquired (B.J.) Upton and (Ervin) Santana. With (Pat) Burrell and others, I was able

to get (Travis) Hafner. With Milton Bradley, I was able to get a 1st round draft pick, which turned into Chad Cordero. With Matt Morris, I was able to get a 1st round draft pick, which turned into Jason Bay. Basically, I traded established players for talent and then kept my cornerstone players and traded the others for established players.”


Northwoods ace Ben Sheets played a big role in the team’s success throughout the season. The right-handed won the Christy Mathewson Award as the top starting pitching in the National League. He continued his dominance in the playoffs, posting a 4-2 record and a 2.34 ERA in the post-season, capped by a 146-pitch performance in Game 3 of the World Series. The stratospheric pitch count had Sheets’ agent, Bott Scoras, on the phone to Moosewood offices, threatening Weisser with a severe bratwurst beating.


Weisser cited the acquisitions of Hafner and Johnny Damon, as we all relievers Armando Benitez and Eddie Guardado, for pushing his team over the top in 2005. A somewhat conservative team, the Moose rarely bunted or ran hit-and-run plays during the season. Instead the team relied on solid up-the-middle defense in 1-rated Orlando Hudson and Adam Everett and a lively running game.


The Moose project as contenders again in 2006, with a loaded offense led by Hafner, Bay and Miguel Cabrera. Weisser said he’s still searching for an ace starter to replace Sheets, who either broke down due to a mechanical flaw or the Moose’s cruel and unusual treatment of him, depending on who you believe. With a still-strong bullpen anchored by Guardado, Billy Wagner and Francisco Rodriguez, Weisser says a big-time starter could propel him into the post-season once more. Expect discussions involving Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and other starters on the block.


The Sluggers came up short in the World Series after a banner season that included 98 wins and a runaway title in the Cobb Division. GM Lenny Luchtefeld said his potent offense, led by David Ortiz and J.D. Drew, figured to lead the team. Luchtefeld said his pitching and especially his defense prevented him from taking that final step.


“The defense and pitching were the weakest parts of my team,” Luchtefeld said. “I had to

play a 4 at SS and 2nd and a 5 at 1st most of the year. They were good offensive cards at those positions but not enough to overcome their defensive liabilities. The pitching was above average but not enough to be a Championship team. I didn't have that ace in the starting staff that could carry me through games 1, 4 and 7. You never can tell what will happen in a short series and I was lucky enough to beat Stefan (Portland) but the luck ran out against Corey (Northwoods).”


Luchtefeld said he expects 2006 to be a rebuilding year, after Silver traded its high-priced stars to add young talent and free up payroll. Silver hopes to “set things up for a return in 3 to 4 years, assuming that I have good drafts and spend my money wisely in free agency.”


The playoffs proved disappointing for other teams as well. The Portland Grays stormed to a 122-40 record in the regular season, a mark that would rank as the best in Major League Baseball history. But Portland fell short after succumbing to Silver in seven games in the League Championship Series. League newcomer Pete Blake will look to avenge that loss in 2006, with Portland now renamed as the Hoboken Bums.


The loaded Ruth division also featured the potent Plum Island Greenheads, which won 111 games in the regular season. But Henry Vance’s Plum Island club fell to Tom Fish’s San Bernardino Stampede 4 games to 3, an improbably Game 7 masterpiece by Jimmy Gobble clinching the series. The 83-win Stampede’s Cinderella story ended with a 4-2 series loss to Silver in the ALDS. Meanwhile Jim Bodnar’s 97-win Williamsburg beat division rival Wayne Foulke and his Gotham City Gargoyles 4 games to 1 in the Wild Card round. Portland’s loaded roster was too much for Bodnar’s troops, though, as the Burgesses fell in a 4-game sweep.


In the National League, Torrington and Annadale both claimed first-round victories. Bronson Arroyo went 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA for the Trumpeteers to advance to the NLDS. Robert Smith’s Anteaters prevailed in a thrilling Game 7 finale, a pinch-hit, 10th inning single by Jolbert Cabrera hoisting the team to a second-round match-up with Northwoods. Torrington then upended heavily favored Lafontaine Park 4 games to 2. Vladimir Guerrero led a productive Torrington offense in the upset over Dan Valois’ team. Ben Sheets’ 11-strikeout complete game gave the Moose a seven-game series win and the trip to the finals against Silver that ended with a World Series title. Jonah Keri will look to guide the former Torrington squad as the Montreal McGaffigans next season.


With several powerhouse teams rebuilding, a busy free-agent season, and new owners joining the fray, expect some moving and shaking in the standings and in the 2006 playoffs.


NEXT TIME: Summary of free-agency signings