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The name of Burt
Shulman has fallen into the black hole
of Bon Vivant League history. Yet revisionist historians, pointing
to the link connecting Shulman with the BVL, now refer to him as the
Father of the BVL. ¶ Shulman had worked
at the Village Voice as a proofreader in 1983. As commissioner
of the Yoo-Hoo
League, he invited co-workers Jesus
Diaz and Joseph
Jesselli into his Rotisserie venture.
While walking down 2nd Avenue to Shulman’s cramped East Village
apartment on a rainy Friday night in March, the two men formed the
Joe Foys (after a troubled MLB infielder, Joe Foy). That same year, the Foys would join the
Bon Vivant Stat League (BVSL), and later the Bon Vivant League
(BVL). To Mr. Shulman, now the father of two daughters in a Mets household,
the BVL salutes you for what you started -- we think. ¶
So, the question: how did the BVL begin? Two men were present on
the First Day: Jesselli and Frank
Ruscitti. Neither has written the definitive
history of the early days. This will have to do. According to Jesselli,
Ruscitti approached him at the Voice’s 842 Broadway
A BVL History
The conversation went something like this:
Ruscitti: Is there a good baseball board game out there?
Jesselli: There’s only one game [to get] -- Strat-o-matic.
Ruscitti: We should start a league!
-- Before the BVL, there was the BVSL.
The league was named after a Manhattan restaurant located on 12th
Street and Broadway. Four Rotisserie clubs formed the 1983 association:
Mighty Diamonds (owned by Jesselli), Brooklyn Bruisers (Ruscitti),
Joe Foys (Diaz) and Suicide Sleeze (Greg
Simonds’ Big Trouble club came on
board in 1984. ¶ BVSL owners were
eccentric. In developing performance
bonuses, they agreed to end their league if a MLB player
hit five home runs in a game or if a pitcher threw back-to-back no-hitters.
Owners profited if their player hit a grand slam or won the
Triple Crown. They would earn 50 cents and five bucks, respectively. ¶ Though Steve
Kemp (Sleeze) was the first BVSL player
ever drafted, many historians consider Bill
Almond (of the Yoo-Hoo League Foys) as the
BVL’s First Player. ¶ Andre Dawson
and Jim Rice led the Diamonds
to the 1983 BVSL title. Recently discovered documents (the Jesselli
Papers) show the Diamonds repeated as
champions in 1984, the final BVSL season. Of note, Julio
Franco, the last of the BVSL players, played in the BVL until 1933. ¶
The Diamonds, capitalizing on the Sleeze breakup in 1983, added Mike
Rickey Henderson to their roster. The Diamonds would dominate the BVL like no club
The Old, Old
League and BVL
-- Ruscitti, along with his brother, Tony,
his wife, Esther,
and friend, Rossi
Bright, founded the Old, Old League in the early spring
of 1983. According to legend, Esther ended many Old,
Old League orgies (i.e., gatherings) with rainouts by sprinkling
water across the game board. ¶
With the success of the Old, Old League spreading, the BVSL owners
decided on a Strat-o-matic league of their own. That summer, the
BVL was born. Owners agreed on 1903 as the start date for their
new league, in homage to the first MLB World Series. On November
28, 1983, the Joe Foys defeated the Brooklyn Bruisers, 4-2, in the
first game. Mario Soto
got the win; Jim
Palmer, the loss. ¶
The Mighty Diamonds defeated the Foys in seven games to win the
BVL World Series. The final out (a Pedro
Guerrero shallow fly) gave birth to the
still-famous cry of “It’s all over!” ¶
Of note, according to the Ruscitti
Archives, the league was originally called
or the Village Voice Puerto Rican Bon Vivant Strat-o-matic Winter
Baseball League. The name was shortened a year later. ¶
The simple version of Strat-o-matic was used during the early years.
Advanced versions of the game, plus additional rule changes (i.e.,
brawl chart, death by injury, etc.) were added as the league grew.
Rules were finally compiled into the BVL Rule Book in 1923. A long-forgotten rule never made the print addition: the loser of the World Series
would announce the winner on the WFAN radio station. ¶
In the Old, Old Days, two seasons were sometimes played with the
same card set.
The Expansion I
The BVL was divided into two divisions in 1907 with the addition of two clubs:
Saskatchewan (owned by Jay Nemkowitz) and Wisconsin (Tony Ruscitti). The Nationals
won the first All Star game, 4-2, played outside Shea Stadium. The phrase Simonds’ Watch was coined in honor of Big Trouble boss, Simonds. The term remains
in use today, alerting owners of inaccurate card readings or unbelievable stories. ¶ Nemkowitz
moved to Florida in 1915, leaving his franchise in the hands of Al Lee Wyer,
who shifted the club to Sioux City and witnessed Bo
Diaz's steal of second base. A devastating flood forced
an emergency evacuation to Cape Hatteras seven years later. Wyer
became famous by naming dice rolls with quirky names, i.e., Hendu,
Dresden Roll, Amnesia Roll, etc. ¶
In 1916, the league sent players across the ocean in support of
the First War (i.e., the Gulf War). Three players never made it back: Kirk
Harper, and Terry
Steinbach. The death of Gibson (determined
by his 3-digit Lotto number, 007) caused hysteria still unmatched
in BVL annals. After the war, rumors surfaced that the note written by
then-Commissioner Tony Ruscitti, urging support for the war, was
a hoax. Some have alleged the younger Ruscitti as the culprit. ¶
A Dennis Martinez fastball cut short the promising career of Paul O'Neill
in 1918. Rushed to Kingman Hospital
(the official hospital of the BVL), he would never play again. Support
for the 1920 Lazarus Proposal
(5 consecutive rolls of 20 on a 20-sided die) got voted down. ¶
In 1919, the league was expanded by two clubs: Indianapolis (owned by
Andy Villalba Jr.)
and Cleveland (Jon Simonds, who relinquished ownership of New
England to Andy Villalba Sr.
and Jr. two years prior). ¶ Brooklyn
Bruisers won back-to-back titles (1918-19) but when they finished last in 1921, their fans turned on them.
The Modern Era
-- It took 2777 BVL games before
(Foys v. Cleveland) pitched the league’s first
no-hitter in 1921. Five years later, Pedro
Martinez (Brooklyn v. Moisture) threw
the first perfect game. ¶ Shockwaves
were felt in 1922 when the Mighty Diamonds ended operations. Owner
who ruled the Diamonds for 16 years, formed the expansion Battery
Cannons one year later. He is still not welcomed in Mighty. ¶
In 1925, the owners allowed Wyer to continue playing his keyboard
at BVL games. A few would later complain about the length of games
and annoying riffs played at The Moat. ¶ Soon after
winning the 1925 title, Wyer denies a rumor that the Pine Tar is missing.
A year later, he reveals an inferior replica (a slightly used Brillo
pad sealed in plastic) during the owner's meeting. Wyer blamed his first ex-wife for losing the symbol of BVL
supremacy. Twelve months later, it was discovered behind his loosely tuned piano. Note: Only World Series
winners whiffed the Pine Tar at the annual owners ceremony.
¶ “Hello, my name is Adam
Goldberg,” began Goldberg’s
famous 1929 introductory
memo to the league. “I am now the new owner of
Las Vegas.” After selling his club to Goldberg, Jesselli became
the BVL’s second (or third) commissioner, replacing Alan
Levine, who had moved to Florida.
The BVL was
covered by the 4e48, the Cleveland Chatterbox,
the Brooklyn Eagle, and the yearly draft preview magazine,
lomax. The Ruscitti Archives, which opened its impressive
collection to the public in 1931, contained every score of every
game played between 1903 and 1906. ¶
Because of the WEB, BVL print coverage dwindled to nothing, leaving old men to reminisce at Pepitone's (the official bar/strip club of the BVL). Fans today now turn to BVLAction.com for the latest BVL news. ¶ After many attempts, the frugal group of owners agreed in 1927 to pay
their players -- in shekels. They also approved long-term contracts
and free agency.
Four years later, the Jewish Babe Ruth, Shawn
Green, became the first 60-shekel player.
¶ The World Series participants were determined on the last day of The Great Race of 1931.
Indianapolis and the unhittable Eric
Gagne upset New York in a classic seven-game
set. ¶ The first crop of free
agents was introduced in 1932. Indianapolis outbid the Joe Foys
for slugging catcher Javy Lopez
with an outstounding 5-year package worth
315 shekels. Thus, the phrase “Javy Money” was born. ¶ Admitting he ran his club into
the ground, Wyer hired slickster Greg
Duva as Sioux City GM. Little did Wyer
know, Duva was his Trojan Horse. Nine months later, Duva gained control
via a hostile takeover.
The Expansion II
Era -- The league expanded
to 10 clubs and 500 players in 1933, welcoming Peter
Stratigakis (Lower East Side Con-men)
and Robert Emrich (who bought the Joe Foys from Jesus Diaz) into the fold. Diaz started anew with the expansion of Brick Church; Duva is approved as the New Orleans
boss. ¶ Scott Rolen of Indianapolis hit the most famous home run to date: a walk-off, 2-run shot in the bottom of the 11th to beat New York and starter-made-reliever Livan Hernandez, 3-1, in Game 7 of the 1933 finale. ¶ In 1934, an accounting error prevented Brick Church from signing Andy Pettitte, who ended up in New York with a record 5-year deal worth 350 shekels. ¶ The fiery Duva was suspended for a year over a draft dispute; Commissioner Jesselli resigned as a result (one unidentified owner celebrated that decision with drinks for all). The drama was quickly forgotten as 1934 became the year of (1) Bip Roperts and the Amazing "According to Who?" LES Con-men, who battled the mighty New Yorkers (53-17) up until the final weekend; (2) Indianapolis, who won its division by 22 games; and (3) Johan Santana (Indianapolis) and Roger Clemens (New York), both pitchers 13-1. Their staff put up these amazing totals: New York: 13 shutouts; Indianapolis: 26 complete games. A Dan Haren (Homestead) fastball to the temple cut short Brooklyn 3B Hank Blalock's career. ¶ Brooklyn became the first club to accomplish a worst-to-champion turnaround, upsetting New York in seven games for the 1935 crown. Brick Church handed out the biggest beating of the year, a 23-0 slaughter of Tampico. Brooklyn rookie Josh Johnson threw a perfect game v. Homestead. New York catcher Joe Mauer homered consecutively in four official at-bats.
Era -- Egos came to a boiling point in July 1936, referred by many as Shark Week. After the smoke cleared, Mr. Duva was removed as New Orleans owner. A day later, Tampico owner Mr. Lavin resigned over f2f issues. Owners would later agree to contract for three 3-club divisions. Good-bye, New Orleans. On the field, Tampico and its new owner, Andy Villalba Jr., swept LES in the World Series. Tampico is the second club to accomplish the worst-to-first finish. The War of 115 was fought between Tampico and the NE Hawks. The six-game set produces 182 hits, 32 home runs -- and 115 runs. Seventeen-day-old Jeremy Goldberg watched New York's victory against BC. ¶ The first playoff game in 19 years was a thriller: LES dethroned Indianapolis 1-0 on the road to clinch the 1937 Central crown. Pinch-hitter Jack Cust hit the solo HR in the 5th. For the first time since 1906, the Yogi series returned. Banksville won the series 3-2 over LES. Down 2-1 in games, Tim Lincecum threw a 4-hit, 17-strikeout masterpiece in Game 4 to overcome LES, their pregame video (produced by Andy Wong) and Bib Roberts' prayer to the God of Home Runs. The World Series followed the Yogi on the inaugural Camp Day. After 10 hours and 15 minutes of action, dominant New York defeated Banksville for the 1937 crown. During the regular season, BC defeated Indianapolis, 1-0, in 19 innings. Brandon Phillips hit the walk-off homer. Making a spot start, BC Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter v. NE Titans. ¶ The Curse of Mighty was finally released. After 16 years, Robert Fermann celebrated his first title since leaving Mighty. His Dogs defeated LES in six games for the 1938 crown. In the Yogi series, LES backup catcher Kurt Suzuki hit the I Hope He Gets Injured roll and LES has to use a plus-5 Catcher home run as LES held off NY. During the regular season, BC rookie Tommy Hanson no-hit Indianapolis. Against LES, Homestead Julio Lugo and Carlos Beltran make the first two Grey outs via STRIKEOUT+INJURY rolls. ¶ The final game in 1939 was a classic Game 7 between Banksville and Homestead, won by the Dogs, 1-0 in 10 innings; the Greys had one hit. In the regular season, the April 25th match between Brick Church and Indianapolis concluded a 24-inning game that took three days to complete. The Cubes won 2-1 and compiled 29 of the 56 strikeouts.
The Theodore Strum Era -- Owners renamed the Championship Trophy after Mr. Theodore Strum, who died from a heart attack when Babe Ruth hit a home run for the New York Yankees. Indianapolis won 1940's Game of the Year (6-5 over LES) to clinch the Central crown. Miguel Cabrera clubbed a 2-out, go-ahead 2-run homer off rookie Graig Kimbrel in the 9th; Michael Young, the potential tying run to keep LES alive, was out at home: 1-16 safe; 20 is rolled. Brandon Beachy threw the third perfect game and whiffed 15 as Homestead beat Indianapolis. Cubes Clayton Kershaw no-no'd New York, 3-0. ¶ Toronto blanked New England in four straight games. Of course, Bo Emrich became the youngest to roll a Strat dinger, 2 years old. Banksville won 12 straight during the 1941 season and their last five to host the World Series. In the most lopsided G7 ever, Homestead defeated them 9-0. ¶ Dylan Simonds became the youngest owner in history, 16, and vowed to avenge his father's tormentor (Mr. Fermann) the moment he became New England's owner. Simonds the Elder took over the Brooklyn Bruisers fromMr. Ruscitti after they agreed never to move from Brooklyn. Indianapolis begins 1942 with a 11-0 start, going 15-1 before they lose a second game. Toronto's woeful streak reached 13 over two seasons. Clayton Kershaw blanked New England, 8-0, whiffed 13, went 4-4 with a homer and was a triple shy of a cycle. New York blanked Brooklyn 1-0 in back-to-back games; the first went 17 innings (PH David Ortiz HR; Jose Fernandez 14.7IP, 14K); and the second 14 (Matt Harvey CG, 4H, 1W, 16K). Unfortunately, the BVL revealed an ugly side when New York defeated Indianapolis in seven games. The Cubes owner Andrew Villalba Jr., showed poor sportsmanship in defeat. ¶ The 1943 season was delayed (to July 3) and cut short (to 48 games). The U.S. Post Office detained six packages at the DLO (Dead Letter Office). A bump in each envelope resulted when 50 cards were rubberbanded; the envelopes became suspicious. A second set of cards was ordered. Brooklyn held a 3-1 lead in the Yogi series before Indianapolis staged an improbable comeback. They went on and swept Banksville in the World Series. Banksville boss was a no-show. ¶ Indianapolis improved their 14-1 start a year later with a stunning 18-0 start in 1944. Unrecognized as a record, the Cubes win streak reached 24 straight (they had won their previous six postseason games). Sadly, the Cubes were cooled off by New York during their perfect 8-0 postseason finish.
The Age of Trump -- Brick Church jumped to a 3-0 lead against Indianapolis in the 1945 World Series. But the Cubes rallied to tie the series and stood 3 outs away from accomplishing the impossible, holding a 9th-inning 2-0 lead. The third out never came. Foys scored 3 runs, highlighted by Andrelton Simmons game-winning, two-out hit. ¶ The Canadian heartland suffered cardiac arrest when Toronto signed Adam Jones to a rich free-agent deal and the career of Corey Kluber ended tragically. Yet, the never-say-die Monarchs tied LES for the American flag. In their one-game playoff, Jones gave Canada a cardiac arrest of a better kind with a walk-off Grand Slam for an 11-7 win. Andrew Villalba Sr. reached his first World Series in 22 years after the Indianapolis players went on strike and forfeited the Yogi series. Indy ownership had refused to pay $25 for the new cards. The New York Knights, who completed the Mouse Trap Massacre (sweeping the final six games v. Indianapolis to win the National), showed Toronto no mercy and swept the 1946 World Series. Earlier in the season, Chris Sale threw the first-ever no-hitter on Opening Day, and Lance Lynn won the historic first game for the expansion New York City Scrappers against Brick Church, 2-0. Eddie Rosario drove in the first run. Brick Church complained about the poor lighting on the field and the on-going construction of the “upper” upper deck during the game. ¶ The Mr. Charles Experiment proved historic as Banksville starters ended up with no complete games and one victory. In a season dominated by pitching, Brick Church and their KKKK Klub (four starters struck out the equivalent of 300 MLB batters) stood out. The Foys won their second title in 1947, a Game 7 thriller against LES, but not before the Con-men shocked Homestead to win a Game 7 of their own. One out of a Homestead World Series, the world heard Bip's Yell after Shohei Ohtani crushed a 9th-inning solo home run to tie the game and break the hearts of the Greys. "I'm just shuffling the chairs on the deck of the Titanic," said Greys boss Robert Emrich prior to the game that went 13 innings.
The Avenge Me Era -- Remember October 20 for the longest BVL game was played on that day, with 29 innings. Brooklyn beat Brick Church, 5-4. Tony Wolters delivered the game-winning hit in a game delayed by a dog walk (Django). Yoan Moncada topped all batters by hitting .393. In possibly the greatest storyline ever written, the New England Hawks defeated Banksville for the 1948 crown, a 1-0 Game 7 thriller to complete Dylan Simonds’ Avenge Thy Father dream. Jacob deGrom threw a 3-hit masterpiece; Tim Locastro scored the only run in the 7th inning by stealing third base and trotting home after catcher Omar Narvaez's throw sailed into left field. ¶ Demolish the Kennel and build Troutgorod and win a championship. Easy. And that is what Banksville did in 1949, defeating Brooklyn to capture the World Series. Yep, Robert Fermann beat Jon Simonds again in the World Series! And Mike Trout got his ring in four tries. For Simonds, it was his first WS trip in 22 years. In the Yogi, he took satisfaction by sweeping Jesus Diaz and Brick Church in their first-ever playoff clash. It only took 38 years for that to happen. Banksville socked a record 103 homers. Other notables: Bruisers’ Shane Bieber struck out 130 batters, including 20 Dogs in nine innings and 21 overall. Foys’ Max Fried went undefeated, 9-0; Hansel Robles of Toronto earned an historic save despite a card ERA of 10.26. Rookie Dinelson Lamet threw a no-no against NYC two days after the LES career of Adam Wainwright came to an end. ¶
“Never question a Lou Merloni decision” became a truism as Brooklyn finishes with the best record in 1950. Merloni pushed his magical powers to their limit. In one improbable game, the Bruiser manager called upon Manny Machado and Salvador Perez in the 9th inning. Both players were unexpectedly benched. Machado drew a walk and Perez smashed a walk-off 3-R HR. The NYC Scrappers and LES Con-men played games for keeps. LES battled back and forced a playoff game with a dramatic 2-1 victory over the Scrappers on the final day. In the playoff game at Seward Park for the American flag, the Scrappers captured their first flag, winning 3-2 in 15. In the 9th, Scrapper PH Dylan Carlson’s 2-out, 2-run HR in the 9th forced extra innings. In the 15th, Tyler O'Neill, the first player selected in the draft, socked a solo homer to break the 2-2 tie. Other notable performances: Triston McKenzie and three relievers combined for New England’s 2-0, no-no victory v. LES. Shoehei Ohtani, of LES, won the Triple Crown for pitchers: wins (8), ERA (2.04), and strikeouts (105). Thanks to hitters like Jackie Bradley Jr. (.133, 22-165) and Willy Adames (.161, 28-174), the league batted .229. The New York Knights, under rookie manager Wes Helms, won the Yogi series in seven games v. NYC. The Knights then beat the Bruisers in six games in the inaugural All-Jewish BVL World Series. Aaron Judge, in his farewell game for the Knights, smashes a solo HR in the 9th for the deciding run. Brooklyn had prolonged the series courtesy of PH Mike Zunino’s go-ahead 3-R HR in the 8th in G5, which led the Knights owner, Mr. Goldberg, to choke on his victory cigar. ¶ That’s it for now. In the words of a long-forgotten WFAN announcer,
STAY WITH US!
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