MLB: 10 signature moments
Congressional hearings into steroids in baseball provided gripping theater
An extra-innings tie in an All-Star Game -- it doesn't get more bizarre than that
Unforgettable: Luis Gonzalez's Series-winning single; Mike Piazza's post-9/11 HR
1. The Liars Club. The setting: Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. The game's biggest stars, the head of the MLPA, baseball execs and more TV crews than had covered the impeachment of Bill Clinton converged here on March 17, 2005, for a hearing on steroids in baseball. There was Mark McGwire choking up, Rafael Palmeiro wagging his finger, Sammy Sosa suddenly forgetting how to speak English. There was the clown with the permatan, Jose Canseco, the only honest guy in the room. It was, as a congressman put it, "theater of the absurd." It was preposterous -- and utterly gripping to watch.
2. The steal of the century. Everything changed with a wink. The Red Sox were dead in the water -- down three games to none in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, down a run in the ninth facing the greatest finisher in the history of the game. Terry Francona looked over at his runner at first base, Dave Roberts, and winked. The wink said: You know what to do. Roberts stole second, and everything changed: Bill Mueller singled Roberts home, the Red Sox stole Game 4 against Mariano Rivera, won an epic Game 5, then rode Curt Schilling (and his bloody sock) and Derek Lowe to overcome the Evil Empire and reverse baseball's most famous curse.
3. The Bartman game. Three thousand fans packed Waveland Avenue, ready to party. From his seat in the Wrigley mezzanine box, Cubs president Andy MacPhail went through in his head what he'd say to the cameras as he held the NL championship trophy. The Cubs were headed to their first World Series since 1945. And then, a 26-year-old bespectacled consulting firm associate named Steve Bartman reached over for a pop-up in the eighth inning of Game 6 against the Marlins, and the 2003 NLCS turned into a horror show for Cubs fans. The wounds in the Windy City are still fresh; the city's accursed franchise hasn't won a playoff game since.
4. The chase ends (at last). Love him or hate him, you watched every moment, as the circus went from Milwaukee to San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego and back to San Francisco. Home run No. 756 came at 8:51 p.m. PDT on Aug. 7, 2007, in AT&T Park, a blast to right-center field against the Nationals' Mike Bacsik. This much we knew: It meant something. But what, exactly? There was a standing ovation. There were boos. Barry Bonds was the new home run king. And everyone, finally, could move on.
5. An MVP comes clean. It all began with a confession. "It's no secret what's going on in baseball," Ken Caminiti told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci in a story that ran in the June 3, 2002, issue of the magazine. "At least half the guys are using steroids." Six years after he was named the NL MVP, Caminiti came forward with the first public admission of steroid use by a prominent player, an admission that led to more questions than answers. How many others were there? Did it even matter? Should we even care? The dirty secret was out, and baseball would never be the same.
6. A miracle in the desert. Here was the most thrilling finish to the most thrilling World Series of the decade: Luis Gonzalez choking up on the bat for the first time all season and taking a cutter from the maestro, Rivera, and slapping it to center field, over a leaping Derek Jeter. As Chase Field roared, Jay Bell floated home with the winning run in Game 7 in 2001. The Yankees' dynasty was over; it would be an eternity -- eight years! -- before the Bronx Bombers would be kings again.
7. The tie. Was there a more bizarre, more ridiculous moment during the decade? In the bottom of the 11th of the 2002 All-Star Game, with the game tied at 7-7, with both teams out of pitchers, Benito Santiago came to the plate and struck out. The game was called. The Miller Park fans booed and tossed half-empty beer bottles and hot-dog wrappers onto the field. They chanted "Refund!" and "Let them play!" The fiasco led Bud Selig to expand rosters and make the game count for home-field advantage at the World Series. But on this spectacularly embarrassing night for baseball, all the Commish could do was throw up his hands.
8. The beginning of the Moneyball age. You were a Moneyball guy. You weren't a Moneyball guy. Michael Lewis' paean to Billy Beane and the Oakland A's --- a story of a business exploiting market inefficiencies -- divided the baseball world when it was first published in the spring of 2003. The book changed how front offices and fans saw the game. Beane became a celebrity, on-base percentage and OPS became a part of the game's mainstream vernacular and, at last, there was a name for all the baseball analysts born of the information age, the statheads who for years had been quietly changing the game. They were Moneyball guys.
9. A-Rod becomes Mr. 252. The game's best player became synonymous with a number: 252. It was the most lucrative contract in sports history. It was more than twice as much money as any baseball team had every guaranteed a player. It symbolized the game's prosperity in a golden age. It symbolized the game's excess, the widening gulf between the overpaid player and the fan. And it would define Alex Rodriguez. No matter what the Lone Ranger did, no matter how great he was, Mr. 252 would never be able live up to the 10-year, $252 million contract he signed with Texas on Dec. 13, 2000.
10. Emotional night in the Big Apple. Ten days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, New York came together again for a ballgame. With his Mets down 2-1 in the eighth inning against division rival Atlanta, Mike Piazza -- whose Gramercy Park apartment was only a few blocks from the World Trade Center site -- stepped up to the plate at Shea Stadium and slammed a two-run home run over the center-field fence. The crowd stayed on its feet until Piazza emerged from the dugout, waved to the fans and blew a kiss. For a moment, everything felt right again.