THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
In the interest of putting a bow on the 2016 Major League Baseball season and ushering in the Hot Stove, I thought it would be fun to look back and examine what I believe to be the top ten headlines from 2016 regular season.
Please note that these headlines do not include the postseason. We've already talked about that so much that overlooking it for now is a welcome escape!
10. New Duds In The Desert
The Arizona Diamondbacks unveiled a total of eight new uniforms for the 2016 campaign. They simply were not satisfied with the massive changes they've implemented so many times in their 20 year history that a the equivalent of a shopping spree was necessary to make them feel better. Unfortunately, they walked into the department store in line with reality and walked out with look of Derek Zoolander...and even that's being kind.
It wasn't enough to revamp their font. Their pants looked like they were paying homage to Curt Schilling's bloody sock. Their road gray uniforms looked like they were from the future. They abandoned one of the most clever logos in baseball since the old Milwaukee Brewers "MB" baseball glove. (If you don't know what I'm referencing, go find their old logo. It's a lowercase "d" and b" back to back to form a snake. It's genius.)
They actually had a schedule to dictate which of their 8 uniforms would be worn when, especially since the number of permutations was quite large when you consider the fact that two of their five alternate tops could be worn either home or away, not to mention some of their hats were also interchangeable. Thankfully, it ended up working in the end: they crashed and burned as one of the worst teams in baseball and got their manager and general manager fired.
9. How To Hit The Deck
Chase Utley's slide into Ruben Tejada during the 2015 playoffs mandated a new "bona fide slide" rule to help ensure the safety of players. The days of the ridiculous slide to break up a double play were gone, but the trade off was that the "neighborhood" play was now subject to review.
Overall, this was a change baseball had to make. Lower levels of competitive baseball had already adapted to this, leaving only MLB in the dust. The ironic part is that the baseball rule book already has a rule about the legality of a slide to try to break up a double play: it ain't legal! But like a few of the rules in baseball, everybody looked the other way.
The funny part was that the one team that seemed to not change fast enough was everybody's favorite enemy, the Toronto Blue Jays (more on them in a second). Within the first series of the year in Tampa, they lost a game because Jose Bautista failed to slide properly into second base.
8. The Fight
I don't even have to tell you which fight. You already know which one.
If you don't, I'll humor you. The Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays got into a fracas in their last meeting of the calendar year (which was in May, ironically) when Matt Bush drilled Jose Bautista with a pitch, seemingly as retaliation for the bat flip he had during the 2015 postseason. Bautista then went so hard into second base on the ensuing double play (where have I read this before?) that the fight between him and Rougned Odor commenced almost immediately. This fight spawned one of the best stills in baseball photography when Odor landed one of the strongest punches thrown in baseball to Bautista's face.
I'm not going to sit here and endorse fighting, and I have gone on record as denouncing both teams for their behavior. However, I will say that punch was epic.
7. The Slowest Trot Ever
Gary Cohen would probably ask me to rank this at the top of the list since he called it one of the best moments in baseball history during his call. But unfortunately, Bartolo Colon's first career home run only ranks at number seven.
As old and fat as Colon is, this proves that anyone can hit a home run with just the right contact. Colon hooked it down the left field line, then sauntered around the bases, leaving everyone in shock of what they just saw. In fact, his trot was so slow that it gave the members of the Mets enough time to clear the dugout to give him the old fashioned silent treatment upon his return.
Actually, that trot may still be going on right now...
6. 3B to 3K
Is there anything we shouldn't laud Ichiro Suzuki for? Maybe the fact that his hair is turning gray? Well, he probably doesn't care, namely because he got his 3,000th hit this year, becoming the second player to accomplish the feat with a triple.
Ichiro reached the milestone while the Marlins were in Colorado. But the fans there were smart enough to know what was going on. A man who could have gone to high school with Bartolo Colon (if they grew up in the same country) reached a plateau that only the greats have reached. And this is after accumulating a few hits in Japan, too.
5. The South Side Soap Opera
The Chicago White Sox became a running punch line this year. "Why did the chicken cross the road? The Chicago White Sox." It works. Trust me.
It started in spring training with Adam LaRoche announcing his retirement from baseball because the team was not going to allow his son Drake to be around anymore. It escalated when Chris Sale took scissors to the throwback uniforms the team was planning on wearing during one of his starts. It ended with the departure of manager Robin Ventura.
Every team has ups and downs during the course of a season. But this? Can you make this stuff up?
4. Liquidation In The Bronx: Everything Must Go
For the first time in over two decades, the New York Yankees decided they were sellers at the trade deadline. But what was hilarious was that doing so actually put them right back in contention!
New York traded off Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova and received a bounty of prospects (and Adam Warren) that caused most front office personnel throughout baseball to have to pick their jaws up off the floor. They also jettisoned Alex Rodriguez (albeit it awkwardly) and decided to bring up some of their kids. The impact of Gary Sanchez (as well as Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge) actually put the Yanks in the race until Dellin Betances blew a save and a game on a Thursday in September in Boston.
Many have asked the proverbial question then, "If the Yankees had kept one of either Chapman, Miller, or Beltran, would they have made the playoffs?"
Out of all the players they dumped, Chapman now has a World Series ring. (So does Adam Warren.)
3. Is This A New Dynasty?
Forget the fact that the Cubs won the World Series. In fact, forget it because they should not have won the World Series. Despite the fact that Joe Maddon gets to earn his living in the craziest of ways and sometimes putting his team in a position to fail, the Cubs had the best record in baseball, breaking the 100-win barrier and riding into the sunset.
Las Vegas had the Cubs as the favorite to win the whole thing anyway prior to the season starting. But the emergence of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant proved to be enough to carry these lovable losers to the promised land. Kyle Hendricks may have even earned himself the NL Cy Young based on how well he did. That's right, Kyle Hendricks did better than Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.
Everyone else just sucked, apparently.
2. Tragedy in Miami
There's no joking when it comes to the loss of Jose Fernandez just one week before the season was over. Further, there really are no words to properly portray the emotion and experiences of those who suffered through this and continue to grieve. One of the most talented pitchers in the game lost his life in a boating accident, and it affected everyone in baseball and beyond.
He left behind a pregnant girlfriend, which may have been a potential cause of the stress that made him take a ride on the boat in the first place. Although we will never know who was piloting the boat at the time of the crash, we now unfortunately know that there was both alcohol and cocaine in Fernandez's system at the time of his death.
1. A Very Pleasant Good Evening To You, Wherever You May Be
The legend of Vin Scully finally retired this year. It's a shame that it wasn't until this year that he became the face of baseball, but that's what he was...for a long time.
I might argue that Vin Scully has been the face of baseball for only a few years, namely because it seems like Derek Jeter held that title for 20 years. And before Jeter, although Scully had been around for decades prior, he was an assumed presence. Nobody thought about life without Vin Scully until they knew it was a real possibility. And as time went on in the beginning of the 21st century, that reality crept closer and closer.
There wasn't a person in baseball who didn't love Vin Scully. Every player...every broadcaster...even every umpire adored him. He was humble and humorous, friendly and comforting, informative and artistic. He was a brilliant master that will never be duplicated. And he went out the right way at home: with the Dodgers winning the division.
The best part about Vin? The fact that if he were to read this, he would rather I discuss the retirement of other broadcasters in the game, such as Dick Enberg and Bill Brown. They were all legends.
Other Notable Retirements: David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, David Ross.
And a final nod to three retiring umpires: Tim Welke, Bob Davidson, and John Hirschbeck. Thanks for all you brought to the game.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.