When I first sat down to write this column, I was planning on discussing the complete deflation every single Chicago baseball fan is joining me in feeling this week.
After all, we just spent the last six months of our lives watching both of our teams cruise along in first place, all the while letting the idea of a “Crosstown Series” guiltily creep into the back of our minds. There was more thrilling trash talk in the air than ever before this year, and the postseason possibilities were endless. October was shaping up to be better than Christmas, Hanukkah and Flag Day combined.
Unfortunately, it turned out more like most of my Valentine’s Days.
After hours of therapeutic moping and making confidence-building jokes about Scott Kazmir’s inability to grow facial hair, I began to think about the big picture of this season, and as strange as it sounds, my mood actually improved.
Looking back on it, this past season was exactly what baseball needed. I’ve always been a fan of the game, but never in my entire life have I become as completely enveloped in a season as I did in 2008. With the conclusion of the steroid age has come the resurgence of small ball and the “feel-good” story.
Here are the top 12 reasons why 2008 will be a baseball season I will never forget.
12. The Pittsburg Pirates – Rebuilding since 1993
The Pirates are notorious for making some pretty rough front-office moves. A very short list of examples includes the infamous Aramis Ramirez trade and drafting Clint Johnston – don’t rack your brain, you’ve never heard of him – instead of CC Sabathia, Brad Lidge or Mark Prior. So I guess it’s not surprising the Buck-Os would give up Xavier Nady and Jason Bay, the bulk of their offensive production, for a list of prospects. We’ll see who’s laughing in 2017 when the Pirates go 150-12.
11. The Mets’ Bullpen – We.O.U. one playoff berth
How is it possible that a team with David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana’s 2.53 ERA doesn’t make the playoffs? When your bullpen blows 29 saves, it’s pretty effortless. The thing that makes it even worse for the Mets is they missed grabbing the NL Wild Card by a single game this year.
10. Playoff commercials that for some reason feature Randy Jackson
How many Octobers are there? Only one, dawg.
9. The Sophomore Superstars
In only their second seasons, Dustin Pedroia and Tim Lincecum have been two of this year’s most exciting players. Pedroia batted .326 and led the league in hits, doubles and multi-hit games, while Lincecum led the bigs in strikeouts, boasted a 2.62 ERA and somehow collected 18 wins pitching for the Giants. Imagine how terrifying these kids are going to be when they hit puberty.
CHIPPER JONES HIT .364 THIS YEAR! Little known fact: Jones is the only player in history to win the NL Batting Crown and file for social security in the same year.
7. Barry Bonds – 0 HR, .000 BA, 5 counts of perjury
The embarrassment brought on by the steroid scandal left many fans with bad feelings about the upcoming season, but without players such as Bonds and Roger Clemens, it seemed as if this season was almost absent from controversy. This November, vote Senator George J. Mitchell for President of the United States.
6. Josh Hamilton: The Anti-Barry Bonds
The tale of Josh Hamilton couldn’t have broken at a better time than this year. Overcoming injury, drug addiction and playing for the Cincinnati Reds, all on his way to becoming a born-again Christian, was a story that made Bonds and Clemens look worse than Emperor Palpatine.
5. The second-half Dodgers
Sore subject, I know, but come on. These guys pick up Manny Ramirez and suddenly become one of the most fun teams in baseball. Not to mention the flagrant poetic justice of Joe Torre coaching in October while the Yankees sit at home. Speaking of which…
4. In loving memory: The Yankees playoff streak (1994-2008)
The Yankees missed the postseason for the first time since 1993 this year. There is no way to convince me this isn’t one of the best things to happen to baseball since about 1993. Unfortunately, the Yanks will probably make up for it next season by signing CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez and the Pope.
3. CC Sabathia could beat up anyone’s dad
True, not the best final outing of the year for the big fella, but let’s think about what he did after the mid-season trade to Milwaukee. CC went 9-0 in his first 11 starts for the Brewers with six complete games and a 1.43 ERA in one of the most dominant pitching stretches of all time. And let’s not forget, he also was the league leader in innings pitched and stayed healthy all year while maintaining the weight of a Ford Taurus.
2. Who the heck is Cliff Lee?
Before this season, Cliff Lee was best known as the guy who beaned Sammy Sosa in the head after he hit his 600th homerun. After spending a good part of last year on the disabled list and playing AAA ball, Lee was one of the American League’s most dominant pitchers in 2008. He racked up 22 wins and a 2.54 ERA (second only to Santana’s 2.53), and should without a doubt be this year’s AL Cy Young winner.
1. Rays the roof
Again, I know this isn’t the topic many of you want to talk about right now, but it’s inevitable. The 2008 Tampa Bay Rays are every sports movie ever made rolled into one. Going from last place in 2007 to first place this year, the Rays won the toughest division in baseball by dethroning the world champion Red Sox and the high-priced Yankees on their way to becoming one of the most exciting underdog teams baseball has ever seen. To put things in perspective, the Yankees team payroll is around $209 million. The Rays is $43 million.
D.J. Piehowski is a junior journalism major from Genoa. He is the Scout sports reporter.
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