December 27, 2010
As this final week brings 2010 to a close, the five main Big League Stew staffers will take a look at the stories that captured their fancy the most.
This isn't necessarily a rundown of the biggest moments, mind you — our own Jeff Passan already did that here — just a recollection of the interesting moments that made up the year.
As baseball fans, we enter every season knowing that we're definitely going to see certain stories. Eight teams will earn playoff berths and one will win the World Series. Milestone homers will be hit and a no-hitter (or six) will be thrown. Legends will be born, legends will retire and legends will die. The Pittsburgh Pirates will record another losing season.
And on and on ...
But while we can rely on those reassuring certainties each year, we also know the great thing about baseball is that a storyline or two will invade the national conversation and it won't necessarily come from the scripted path. Such was the case with the soap opera that erupted on a random Thursday night in late April when a relatively unknown pitcher from the Oakland Athletics took issue with the behavior of one of baseball's biggest stars.
When I look back on the night of April 22, I find it humorous that we initially thought that A-Rod turning the New York Yankees' first triple play since 1968 in the bottom of the sixth would serve as the game's big sub-headline. But as I wrote up that post, it was quickly becoming apparent that the shouting match between Braden and A-Rod in the top of that inning wasn't going to be left on the field and forgotten about.
Stuck in Braden's craw was the fact that A-Rod had traveled over the mound — his mound, he'd emphasize — when returning to first from third on a foul ball by Robinson Cano(notes). Such a trip violated one of baseball's "unwritten rules" and Braden said he wasn't going to take such disrespect from anybody — even if that anybody was on his way to hitting his 600th career homer later in the season.
"I don't care if I'm Cy Young or the 25th man on the roster," Braden said that night. "If I've got the ball in my hand and I'm on that mound, that's my mound ... He ran across the pitcher's mound foot on my rubber. No, not happening. We're not the door mat anymore."
Of course, A-Rod might have ended the controversy right there with a simple "sorry, won't happen again," but he'd only escalate the story further with a classically obtuse and condescending response.
"He just told me to get off his mound," Rodriguez said when asked about Braden's reaction. "I was a little surprised. I'd never quite heard that. Especially from a guy that has a handful of wins in his career ... I thought it was pretty funny actually."
What followed was a debate about the sport's unwritten rules (with our pal Jason Turbow becoming the topic's Dr. Sanjay Gupta-like expert) and a never-ending parade of related stories including Braden not backing down from his stance, the release of "Get Off My Mound!" T-shirts and, eventually, a kiss-and-make-up gift basket sent from Braden to A-Rod.
But while that natural runoff would've been enough to put Braden v. Rodriguez among 2010's most memorable stories, it was Braden's pitching of an unlikely perfect game in May — only the 19th in baseball history — that took the tale to another level.
For one, it occurred on Mother's Day and Braden tearily remembered his mother — who died from cancer when Braden was in high school — after the game.
For another, he recorded a pretty big "told you so" achievement for people like A-Rod — and, regrettably, yours truly — who initially doubted his standing in the game.
And, oh, yeah, his grandmother provided the indisputable quote of the year in the game's amazing aftermath. (Seriously, there's nothing that even comes close.)
"Stick it, A-Rod," said Peggy Lindsey.
Looking back, it's not hard to see why we were so drawn to the saga. Baseball's unwritten rules are a divisive topic and picking a side between the soft-tossing but confident lefty from "The 2-0-9" and the most divisive superstar in the sport was great fun.
Throw in Braden's underdog story and his now-famous grandma being elevated to a spot where even David Letterman noticed and it really turned out to be the story that I didn't know I wanted at first— but one that I couldn't get enough of once it was here.