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Red Sox Nation is starting to believe in the dream of a Curse forever broken. Redbird faithful are hoping for a ALCS-style comeback by the Cards. Fans of the remaining 28 teams are enjoying the postseason and picturing their heroes in the 2005 World Series.

No matter what rooting interest you have, though, one thing ties us all together: that we could have had our own free HACKING MASS team this year. This year’s competition attracted more than 1,300 competitors, most of whom attacked their Bizarro General Manager job description with gusto. If you don’t know what HACKING MASS is, take a look at this year’s Rules; we’ll wait.

Now, let’s break down this year’s results.

All-Star Team

The 2004 HACKING MASS All-Star team differed from the 2003 model in many ways–no player repeated this year, for one–but one of the most interesting developments was the comparative lack of leather up the middle. Last year’s team featured Brad Ausmus, Rey Sanchez, Cesar Izturis, and Endy Chavez, all of whom save (arguably) Chavez make their living with glove first and bat a distant second. In contrast, this year’s model had Chad Moeller, Desi Relaford, Craig Counsell, and Scott Podsednik, who the Brewers certainly aren’t paying a lot of money to lead the outfield of this team. As a group, this isn’t the defense-first bunch you might expect to see in a competition like this one.

Predictably, most of this year’s squad was pretty unpopular. Moeller, Jason Phillips, Relaford, Eric Hinske, and Counsell combined were only picked for 23 HACKING MASS squads, and outfielders Reed Johnson and Podsednik had a similar lack of success making teams. Starting pitcher and this year’s HACKING MASS MVP Casey Fossum wasn’t picked by anyone. The exceptions were corner outfielder Juan Encarnacion, who overcame a troublesome deadline deal to continue his quest for offensive ineptitude, and pitcher Shawn Estes, who parlayed his home-field disadvantage into a very happy campaign for nearly 500 contestants. A perfect roster was worth 838 points in 2004, 99 less than last year’s total. That’s progress, people!

Name Position Popularity 2004 ESPN
Chad Moeller C 1 80
Jason Phillips 1B 4 72
Desi Relaford 2B 3 85
Eric Hinske 3B 1 71
Craig Counsell SS 14 84
Juan Encarnacion LF 165 51
Scott Podsednik CF 2 87
Reed Johnson RF 31 58
Casey Fossum P 0 126
Shawn Estes P 494 124
Total 715 838

All-Popular Team

We tracked popularity–how many teams a player was picked for–again this year, and again, the smart money wasn’t usually on the popular choice. The lone exception was Estes, who becomes the first player to make the All-Star and All-Popular teams since we started keeping track; then again, betting on a pitcher in Colorado is like shooting fish in a barrel. (Or maybe it isn’t; Estes’ teammate Joe Kennedy was the only All-Popular player to hurt his owners, with -17 points on the year.) Mister Popularity was Ausmus, last year’s All-Star catcher, who was selected by more than 62% of 2004 entrants. He didn’t disappoint his patrons, with a sterling second-place finish among catchers this year. Selecting players based on their popularity would have netted a team 418 ESPN this season–unlike last season, a solid 67 points above average.

Name Position Popularity 2004 ESPN
Brad Ausmus C 817 74
Darin Erstad 1B 656 29
Tony Womack 2B 317 39
Tony Batista 3B 323 47
Cesar Izturis SS 609 64
Carl Crawford LF 640 12
Alex Sanchez CF 632 27
Mike Tucker RF 387 19
Shawn Estes P 494 124
Joe Kennedy P 173 -17
Total 5048 418

Your Winner

Only one team can lead the rest of us to whiff-tastic nirvana–barring an unsightly tie–and this year, that team was managed by Jim Dinning, who came out on top of a close race with 608 ESPN. As with last year’s winner, Dinning can point to a single pivotal performance for this year’s drive for failure; unlike last year, that performance came for a rival team. “Once the final week of the season rolled around I was intently following the box scores every night,” he said. “I was high-fiving some friends during a game of poker after finding out that on the second-to-last day of the season, Brian Anderson pitched a complete game giving up only two runs.” This decidedly un-HACKING MASS performance came for Dinning’s chief rival and all but assured victory.

Dinning’s strategy on offense was to build around “sure-fire first-ballot HACKING MASS Hall of Famers”–no risky reaches, and no regrets (save not picking Neifi Perez over Izturis at short, which he says he’s sure to do in 2005). Pitching-wise, Dinning also took a risk-averse strategy, with Rockies pitchers filling his staff. He’s not about to apologize for the strategy, either. “Picking two Colorado pitchers may have been unethical, but it sure seems to work. Plus, everyone and their mother chose Shawn Estes for their team.”

This year’s winner has a word of advice for readers already considering the composition of their 2005 roster. “I think that the additional praise that Ausmus received for his ability to handle pitchers over the course of not one, but two playoff rounds this postseason will be more than enough to guarantee himself an everyday spot with the Astros once again, even as his skills deteriorate further. He’s my pick for 2005 MVP.” Having selected and been extremely pleased with Ausmus’ unquenchable thirst for futility the last two seasons myself, I’m in complete agreement with that advice.

Position Player Popularity 2003 ESPN 2004 ESPN
Catcher Brad Ausmus 817 105 74
First Base Darin Erstad 656 45 29
Second Base Tony Womack 317 87 39
Third Base Geoff Blum 109 57 68
Shortstop Cesar Izturis 609 120 64
Left Field Juan Encarnacion 165 27 51
Center Field Alex Sanchez 632 71 27
Right Field Bobby Higginson 370 60 31
Pitcher 1 Jason Jennings 87 67 101
Pitcher 2 Shawn Estes 494 87 124
Total 4256 726 608

Wrapping It Up

Some of you may have noticed the complete absence of position players from the HACKING MASS top ten players of 2004. We’ve gotten complaints from luminaries, including previous HACKING MASS winners, about this very issue. Rest assured, we’ll have smarter people than myself working on the issue during the off season. Expect a revised scoring model for HACKING MASS 2005. If you’ve got any more suggestions, please feel free to send them my way.

Thanks to all our participants this year, and congratulations to all our winners. Look for HACKING MASS 2005 early next year.