[MLB] Riding the Pine…

This week we are taking at a look at the year that was 2004 in the world of Baseball. Records, Trades, New Teams, Old Players and ICHIRO!!

10. The Detroit Tigers build on a terrible year – After being the worst team in baseball, the Detroit Tigers decided to take action. First, they stole Carlos Guillen from the Seattle Mariners. Guillen, before his season ended, was having an MVP-caliber season. Next, they signed free agents Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Ugueth Urbina. Pudge gave the Tigers the offense they were lacking while turning the young pitching staff into Major League players. Urbina stabalized the weak bullpen. Finally, young players matured. The pitchers, mainly Jeremy Bonderman and Mike Maroth, started to pitch like they were supposed to, and Brandon Inge became the super-utility man (playing catcher, third, and the outfield). They turned a 43-119 season in 2003 (dead last in the Majors) into a 72-90 season in 2004 (good for 4th in the division).

9. The Montreal Expos move to Washington D.C. – The Expos (by the way, what is an Expo?), owned by Major League Baseball, get a permanent home for 2005. It is announced, much to the dismay of Peter Angelos (owner of the nearby Orioles), that the Expos will move to Washington D.C. and be renamed the Nationals. There were some small hitches in the plan; mainly stadium financing and a certain owner. D.C. didn’t want to have a full publicly funded field; they originally told MLB they would. This issue has been resolved. MLB also had to set up a plan for Angelos. He felt a team moving to D.C. would damage the Orioles revenues, since many of the teams fans are in the D.C. area. Baseball has decide to give Angelos a sum of money not to object. Next for the National, find an owner.

8. Ken Griffey Jr. hits Home Run 500 – Ken Griffey Jr, the Prodigal Son of Baseball. By mid ninties, everyone thought Junior would be the player to break Hank Aaron’s home run record. But after demanding a trade to his hometown Reds, Griffey’s body begins to breakdown. Soon, he is missing more games than he plays. Every year it would be the year he would rebound. Griffey started this past season on a tear. Everyone thought he was back when he hit 500 in St. Louis. Shortly after, Griffey’s season would end to injury again.
(An interesting note on this: The person who caught the ball did the right thing and gave it to Griffey. The young man received a signed ball, bat, and game used jersey. Later he was also flown down to Houston to watch the All Star Game and all the festivities with Griffey.)

7. Randy Johnson pitches a perfect game, then demands a trade – Johnson, at age 41, proves that he, like some fine wines, gets better with age. After completely embarrassing the Braves, Johnson’s frustration is shown by trade deadline time when he demands a trade. With no one being able to meet Arizona’s high demand, Johnson finishes the season with the last place D’backs. Trade rumors start again after the season, which leads to a 3 way deal where he will end up with the Yankees. This deal crashes quicker than the Minnesota Vikings trying to get into the playoffs. In the end, Johnson gets traded to the Yankees at the very end of the year. Just a warning to the Yankees and Johnson; See what happened to Ken Griffey Jr when he demanded a trade.

6. Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor are elected to the Hall of Fame – Normally, I wouldn’t include HOF inductions in a top 10 list (let alone this high), but these two may have open the door for closers and designated hitters. While they have both done other things (Eck started for a few season and Molitor played in the field), they will help the many of the current players at least be thought about. Who knows, maybe next year we will see Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage, or Lee Smith (career Save leader) be elected into the hall. Down the line it will help the Trevor Hoffmans and Edgar Martinezes of the world, too. (For more on the Hall of Fame, see Aaron’s Hall of Fame 100 part 2)

5. ICHIRO!! Suzuki sets the Major League Record for hits in a season – ICHIRO!! breaks the timeless record of George Sisler: most hits in a season. ICHIRO!! set this record in a weak maner (to some) by hitting a butt load of singles (37 of his 262 hits were for extra bases). This is the one high point for Mariner’s fans in a really tough season. Everyone would rather know how many hit ICHIRO!! got instead of if the Mariners won.

4. A-Rod gets traded to the Yankees – This blockbuster deal that was supposed to happen for the Red Sox, until the deal got nixed by the Player’s Association because they didn’t want Rodriguez to alter his contract. Instead the deal died until the “Evil Empire” stepped in. They offered top hitting second baseman Alfonso Soriono and prospect Joaquin Arias. This deal guaranteed the Yankees the World Series, or so they thought.

3. Barry Bonds hits Home Run 700 – Bonds accomplished something that only 2 other people have done: Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. The question when from “Can he break the record?” to “When will he break the Record?” Bonds also lead the NL in Average, walks, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. This feat would spawn another “It’s my ball” court case; the judge ruled the ball was to be auctioned and the money split between the 2 men. Looking back now, you have to wonder about Bonds and…

2. Steriods run rampant in baseball – After the previous off-seasons of steroid talk, accusations started to fly after the 2004 season. Pharmecutical company Balco has been indicted on charges of handing out steroids to athletes of many sports. Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, and many other stars were called to testify before the grand jury before the baseball season started. Almost once the season was over, names started to leak. Jason Giambi’s testimony was the first to be outed. A day later, so was Barry Bonds’ testimony. As word spread, so did the questions. When did he use them? Is he going to keep his record? The public is still waiting for these answers, along with a word from Giambi and Bonds.

1. Boston ends the curse and wins the World Series – Not only did they win, but in what a fashion. Being down to the Yankees 3-0 and losing game 4, the Sox did something that no team has done before: win the next four. After demoralizing Yankee nation, the Sox were into their first Series since 1986. Facing the Cardinals (who had just gone 7 games with the Astros), the Red Hot Sox kept rolling. The bats were on and the pitching was lights out. Curt Schilling showed everyone there is no such thing as pain tolerance. The Cardinals went down in 4 games (I still have nightmares about that). As a result, the curse is over and many people in Boston can die happy.

A few notes about the season to come:
– Carlos Beltran is expected to sign by the end of next week. The Astros have to sign him by the 8th or say goodbye. The current frontrunner is the Mets, who met with him this past week at his home. The Yankees have suddenly realized that they will have a payroll over $200 million (plus the luxury tax hit they will take) and are not expected to persue him any further. The Cubs are still interested, but out of the running. The Tigers have officially withdrawn from the bidding.
– The Cubs are expected to turn to Magglio Ordonez or Jeromy Burnitz if/when Beltran falls through.
– The Reds Austin Kearns his drawing interest from the Braves and the Tigers. Expect one of Cincinnati’s outfielders to be moved (not Dunn though).
– Byung Hyun Kim is being dangled in fron of many teams. The one-time closer is drawing interest from the Mets and the Rockies, but the offers are not what Boston wants; they are going to pick up a substancial part of the contract when he is dealt.

Be sure to check out the other areas of the site:

Musics Top Ten of 2004
Movies Top Ten of 2004
Tom looks back with 2004: A Sport’s Odyssey.
Todd rants at the BCS, the Yankees, and the NFL.
Patrick has some feelings about the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem.

Next Week: What to look forward to in 2005.

Eugene Tierney

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