November 24, 2009
As the decade winds down to its final days, Big League Stew is reflecting on the biggest baseball moments of the 2000s. First up are our top steroid-free controversies from 2000-09 (because a list of controversies that allows for steroids would be terribly redundant and not very interesting). In compiling these choices, we not only weighed the story's tabloid and "talker" qualities, but also its ongoing impact on the sport of baseball. Read on.
1. The 2002 All-Star Game Tie — July 9, 2002
What to do, what to do? On a warm July night in the Midwest, all commissioner Bud Selig could do was throw up his hands. All-Star skippers Bob Brenly and Joe Torre had managed their respective teams into a corner and one of the more entertaining All-Star Games of recent memory — remember Torii Hunter's(notes) over-the-wall robbery of Barry Bonds(notes)? — was tied 7-7 after 11 innings.
What to do, what to do? Both star-studded clubs were practically out of players, specifically pitchers, and boos were raining down at Miller Park, the Commish's de facto home stadium. The booing broke and chants of "let them play" began, recalling a "Bad News Bears" movie or an old episode of "The Wonder Years." Major League Baseball looked like Little League.
What to do, what to do? On that night, nothing. The score ended in a tie, the second in 70 seasons of All-Star Game history. There was talk of expanding the rosters, or tweaking the rules, or sitting down with future managers, to ensure that it never would happen again.
What to do, what to do? Commissioner Selig had a different solution germinating in his brain. In an effort to improve TV ratings and to ensure that the tie of 2002 never happened again, Selig decided to make the All-Star Game count for home-field advantage in the World Series. To this day, that silly provision remains one of the sport's hottest flashpoints and makes an impact on the game's biggest stage every season.
2. Cubs Fans Run Interference During World Series Bid — Oct. 14, 2003
With the biggest losers in baseball just five outs away from a berth in the 2003 World Series, something remarkable — yet perfectly believable — happened at Wrigley Field when Moises Alou(notes) tried to catch a fly ball near the left field wall in Game 6. Several true believers reached for the fly and one fan in particular — you might know his name — bobbled it, ensuring Alou could not make a play on what might have been the second out of the eighth inning.
The Cubs outfielder arguably wouldn't have caught the ball, but no matter. The iconic play became Bill Buckner for a new segment of fans, provided Alex Gonzalez, Mark Prior(notes) and Dusty Baker with a nice smoke screen and completely changed the life of one Cubs fan who redefined being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
3. Grady Little Leaves Pedro Martinez In Too Long — Oct. 16, 2003
Like the Red Sox needed another reason to think they were cursed, Boston manager Grady Little rode his ace a little too hard against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Pedro Martinez(notes) couldn't hold down his Daddy and gave up two tying runs, which then set up Aaron Boone(notes) for a series-clinching home run in the 11th. The whole episode wrote a great prologue for 2004, when the Red Sox finally got past the Yankees and won the World Series.
With owners crying poor, Bud Selig brings up the idea of contracting two unnamed teams and everyone quickly figures out he's talking about the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos. Neither team, however, is eliminated when an array of legal difficulties slow the owners' dastardly plan. The financially floundering Expos eventually move to Washington, D.C. (only to discover another brand of irrelevance), while the Twins win five division titles in the decade and break ground on a new ballpark that will open in the spring of 2010.
5. World Baseball Classic Wreaks Havoc With Spring Training — 2006 and 2009
Depending on which hemisphere you're from, the World Baseball Classic is either a lot of fun and does a lot to promote the great game of baseball ... or it's a colossal waste of time that interferes with the regular season's preparation and puts ballplayers at greater risk of injury during the regular season. The 2006 and 2009 tournaments provided a lot of fun baseball moments, but the jury is still out on whether the experiment is ultimately worth it.
The game's biggest change since adding the designated hitter can't prevent a series of mind-blowingly bad calls in the 2009 playoffs. Following in the NFL's footsteps, baseball introduces video replay in 2008 to help umpires make the right call on close home runs. Though many bemoan the lost human element, others call for expanded use, especially after the men in blue make some shocking calls that replay could have fixed.
7. Sammy Sosa's Bat Explodes In Cork Shower — June 3, 2003
With an even bigger scandal simmering under the surface for the entire sport, Sammy Sosa(notes) takes a swing against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Wrigley Field and instantly loses credibility after cork is found among the remains of his exploded bat. His career already in decline, Sosa soon went from a smiling inheritor of Ernie Banks' legacy to an egotistical outcast.
8. Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza Feud in World Series — Oct. 22, 2000
On the bloated stage that was the 2000 Subway World Series, Mike Piazza(notes) breaks his bat against Roger Clemens(notes) in Game 2 and Clemens fires the barrel back at Piazza — as if the Mets catcher had any control over where the shard was going. Benches cleared. Screaming occurred. People recalled an incident earlier in the summer when Rocket beaned Piazza. The Yankees went on to win the game and the series, but Clemens' outrageous temper is noted and the stage is set for a decade's worth of future New York tabloid controversies.
9. A.J. Pierzynski Steals First Base in 2005 ALCS — Oct. 12, 2005
With the Angels in good position to take the first two games of the 2005 ALCS, A.J. Pierzynski(notes) appears to strike out on a low pitch against Kelvim Escobar(notes). Pierzynski acts like the pitch hits the dirt and hustles to first after catcher Josh Paul(notes) flips the ball back to the mound rather than tagging the runner or throwing him out. Confusion reigns for a bit, but Pierzynski — the guy everyone loves to hate — gets his way, especially when it leads to a White Sox rally and a series-changing victory. Umpire Doug Eddings becomes persona non grata in Anaheim.
10. Ken Griffey Brings Back No. 42 — April 15, 2007
It started with a phone call to the commissioner in 2007. Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) wanted to honor Jackie Robinson by wearing his number 42 — which had been retired in 1997. Other players joined in and the tribute sparked a debate: Should the number stay retired? Who should get to wear it? By 2009, everyone was wearing 42 on their backs on Robinson's day.
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Best of the Rest Bats start breaking at a record pace; Ted Williams' frozen head gets some play; A-Rod steals show at '07 World Series without even playing by opting out of $252 million contract; A-Rod slaps away the ball during Yankees 2004 ALCS meltdown; Joe Torre divorces Yankees with some malice; Kenny Rogers(notes) hunts down every TV camera in his way, possibly in search of pine tar; John Rocker gets suspended for being an extreme jerk; MLB averts work stoppage for once; Red Sox bid $51.1 million just to negotiate with Dice-K; Barry Zito(notes) gets $126 million contract, the highest for a pitcher at the time; MLB coaches get batting helmets after minor league coach Mike Coolbaugh killed by line drive; Curt Schilling's(notes) famous bloody sock; Matt Holliday(notes) touches the plate — or does he?; Seats at new Yankee Stadium priced for the obscenely wealthy; Ozzie Guillen calls Jay Marriotti an offensive name