Posted: Friday December 30, 2005 1:38PM; Updated: Monday January 9, 2006 3:39PM
Ozzie Guillen led the Sox to a Fall Classic sweep.
As 2005 draws to a close, it's time to take a fast look back on the year and recall some of the more memorable moments baseball had to offer. Here are 10 notable ones that come to mind:
Steroids and Senators
Following the publication of Jose Canseco's celebrated expose, Juiced, baseball faced a humiliating scene in front of a congressional panel and, subsequently, the whole country, last spring. No one escaped the embarrassment -- who will soon forget the sad case of Mark McGwire's moment in the spotlight? Rafael Palmeiro was defiant in D.C., but later in the summer, after surpassing the 3,000 hit mark, he tested positive and was disgraced more than anyone. With the specter of Barry Bonds hanging uncomfortably over the game, Bud Selig and the Players Association opened up the collective bargaining agreement not once but twice in reforming the league's drug policy, a turn of events that was welcomed by many observers, Marvin Miller notwithstanding.
Say it Ain't So
It's a fitting irony of sorts that a team that has been plagued by an 85-year old scandal should enjoy its moment in the sun should at the same time another controversy confronts the integrity of the game. Just one year after the Red Sox toppled their demons, the White Sox -- the team without an endearing "curse" --won it all, and did it in convincing fashion. Led by their outspoken skipper, Ozzie Guillen, the Sox jumped out to a terrific start only to see their soufflé deflate in the waning days of summer, with everyone ready, if not eager, to pronounce them dead. But Ozzie's bunch rallied and ended the season valiantly before running the table in the post-season. With great Chicago names like Podsednik, Konerko, Pierzynski, Jenks and Crede, and simply terrific starting pitching, the White Sox were deserving champions.
One of my favorite stories in the World Series this past year was that of the four ex-Yankee starters. Clemens and Pettitte vs. the Cubans, El Duque and Jose Contreras. Amazingly, Clemens had one of his best seasons ever, and was denied his eighth Cy Young mainly due to a considerable lack of run support. Yet as good as Clemens was, his pal Andy Pettitte quietly had one of his best seasons ever. Dayn Perry of Baseball Prospectus believes that Pettitte was the best pitcher in the league last season, stressing the importance of righty-lefty splits when considering ballpark effects. Enron Field plays as an extreme hitter's park for right-handed hitters and a slightly pitcher's park for left-handed hitters. Pettitte excelled in a hostile environment for southpaws. If the Rocket was jobbed, how was Andy affected?
For the White Sox, El Duque captured the stage in October once again, with a characteristically improbable and daring relief appearance at Fenway Park in Game 3 of the ALDS. Meanwhile, after two-and-a-half disappointing years in the Majors, countryman Jose Contreras broke out in a rather royal way during the second half of the season. With a good fastball and a devastating forkball, Contreras wound up being the ace of the White Sox staff.
Baseball finally returned to the nation's capital on the field too, considerably raising the spirits of the D.C. locals. The Nationals' ownership situation remains a joke, and their stadium is an out-dated relic, but under Frank Robinson, they were competitive in the first half of the season and got the country to notice. Bob Costas has called Robinson the most underrated player of his generation. Although he's a legend in baseball circles, he's never been an icon on the level of Pete Rose or Reggie Jackson. Robinson was the first black manager in MLB and at 70, he still manages to be feisty when necessary. His battle with Mike Scioscia was the classic confrontation of the summer.
Youth Springs Eternal
Ten years after facing each other in the World Series, the Braves and the Indians were propelled by young legs this year. The Indians have been a work-in-progress since GM Mark Shapiro dismantled the aging (and increasingly expensive) Indians team of the 1990s. After a good showing in 2004, the Tribe's talented core of players like Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Cliff Lee, and Coco Crisp made a rousing run late in the summer (and were thought by many to be the most balanced and dangerous team in the league by the middle of September), only to be turned back by the White Sox.
The Braves continue to amaze. They've managed to trim their payroll and get younger while remaining on top of the National League East. Atlanta has not lost the NL East since 1990, and this year they were sparked by the hard-hitting phenom Jeff Francoeur (who made the cover of SI), as well as Wilson Betemit and Ryan Langerhans. At this point, it just seems silly to pick against them, doesn't it?