As the hours wind down on yet another year, it’s customary to take stock of the sights, sounds and emotions that were experienced over the last 365 days.  Not to mention, a recap like this is a cheap and dirty way to rack up some page views before the bosses reassess your blog’s budget for the coming season.

Oh, get over it, it’s not like there’s any noteworthy baseball news to write about anyway.  An interesting baseball story is harder to come by than a fair and balanced opinion on Hall of Fame voting right now.

While the 2010 season will most likely be remembered as the Year Of The Pitcher, there were several individual stories throughout the season that made us laugh, cringe, smile, throw stuff at the television and scrape our jaws off the floor.  Such is the nature of baseball, and here are a few examples of why we love that game so much.

June 3, 2010 – Ken Griffey Jr. Retires

After returning to the Mariners in 2009 and putting up the worst numbers of his career, 2010’s supposed victory lap became better known for Ken Griffey Jr. falling asleep in the clubhouse during games and engaging in petty arguments with manager Don Wakamatsu.

Despite the disappointing end to his career, Griffey will always be remembered for not only being fifth on the all-time home run list, winning 10 Gold Gloves and somehow accumulating 73 WAR before the age of 30, but also for being a universally beloved figure in baseball.  I’ve never heard of another visiting player able to draw cheers from opposing fans like Griffey, and I don’t anticipate hearing it again anytime soon.

On a personal note, Griffey was the only baseball player who I ever went to games to specifically see play.  It didn’t matter what the pitching matchup was or where the two respective teams were ranked in the standings, if Griffey was playing, and I had the opportunity to see him, I’d be there.

June 3, 2010 – Armando Galarraga’s Almost Perfect Game

Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga found himself one out away from the third perfect game of the season and only the 21st in baseball history.  The Cleveland Indians Jason Donald hits a slow roller between fist and second.  Miguel Cabrera gets to it, fires it to Galarraga who is covering first, and  . . . umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly calls Donald safe at first base.  It was a nightmare for both Galarraga and Joyce, who upon seeing a video replay of his botched call, immediately sought out Galarraga to admit his mistake and apologize.

As I wrote at the time, “Joyce’s error was costly, but both the players in this memorable drama responded to the mistake with more class than crème brulee served in one of Bud Selig’s own ramekins.”

While Joyce’s repentance was quick and earnest, Galarraga’s reaction was Christ-like in its graciousness.  Not only did he later accept the umpire’s apology, but even in the heat of the moment, the only reaction he emitted was a you-got-to-be-kidding-me smile.

June 18, 2010 – Stephen Strasburg Debuts

From a season in which both Jayson Heyward and Aroldis Chapman embarked on their Major League careers, it took something incredibly special to be considered the debut of the year.  Enter Stephen Strasburg.

It’s fitting that Strasburg’s rise through the ranks of the Washington National’s farm system and his first Major League game inspired the Merry Strasmas meme because I doubt an origin has been more celebrated since Jesus Christ himself first took the mound for the Bethlehem Mangers all those years ago.

And with good reason.  In his first game Strasburg put in a Saviour like performance, going seven innings while striking out fourteen batters and allowing no walks.  It’s unfortunate that an elbow injury that will sideline him throughout 2011 took some luster off of his first big league season, but Heyward and Chapman, plus a new class of rookies, should more than hold our attention while he recuperates.

July 13, 2010 – George Steinbrenner Dies

I was taught not to speak ill of the dead.  Here is a video of Steinbrenner’s cameo on Seinfeld.

August 4, 2010 – Alex Rodriguez Hits 600th Home Run

Alex Rodriguez is not dead, so please just let me get this out of my system, and then we can carry on talking about his milestones.  I hate Alex Rodriguez.  I hate his smug, arrogant face.  I hate his walk across your mound, then plead ignorance actions.  I hate his Bush League psych out yells at defenders settling under an infield fly.  I hate his attempts to knock the ball out of a pitcher’s glove.  I hate his ridiculous contracts.  I hate his natural talent for the game of baseball.  I hate Alex Rodriguez.

An undeniably brilliant baseball player, Rodriguez, at only 35 years of age, has a very real chance of surpassing Barry Bonds all-time career home run record which stands at 762.  He currently sits at 613 home runs after bcoming only the seventh player in baseball history to hit his 600th home run, and the youngest player to ever reach that milestone.

September 23, 2010 – Jose Bautista Hits 50th Home Run

Baseball fans love statistics, and a big part of that is using stats to predict particular outcomes.  For instance, coming into last season, Jose Bautista had put up terrible numbers against right handed pitching.  Therefore it made little sense for him to play against right handed pitching.  When it was announced that he would become an everyday player for the 2010 Blue Jays, several of the team’s fans, including this one, were outraged.

Then, something unexpected happened.  Not only did Bautista begin the season hitting right handed pitching, he was mashing it.  And he continued to mash no matter who was throwing at him.  Bautista become the first player since Prince Fielder in 2007 to hit 50 home runs, the 14th player in the history of the game to have 50 HRs and 100 walks in one season and only the fourth player to hit 50 home runs, 35 doubles, collect 100 walks, score 100 runs and knock in 120 runners in a single season.

But the sweetest milestone has to be that 50th home run that he hit off of the Cy Young Award winning Felix Hernandez to give Toronto a 1-0 victory.

September 24, 2010 – Aroldis Chapman Throws Fastest Pitch Ever Recorded

I mentioned Aroldis Chapman earlier as a player who made his debut under the shadow of Stephen Strasburg.  There was no shadow in late September when Chapman threw a ball faster than any other human in the history of the world.  Of all the impressive records that one can accumulate throughout a career, Chapman, in his rookie season, nonchalantly lit up the radar with the hardest fastball ever.  Amazing.

October 6, 2010 – Roy Halladay Throws Playoff No Hitter

It should speak to the magnitude of this event that two perfect games, one of which was also completed by Roy Halladay, and three no hitters were also thrown in 2010, but Doc’s no hitter in his first ever playoff game stands out as the one most worthy of recognition.

At the time, it didn’t seem right to use terms like amazing or special to describe his performance against the Cincinnati Reds because we’ve all used those words before to describe other, lesser events that we’ve witnessed.

Roy Halladay dominated a lineup like no pitcher has dominated ever before.  The fact that it was in his very first playoff game makes it that much more incredible.

I’ve done a few above average things in my life, but like most, I’ve never accomplished anything remarkable on a larger scale, in front of millions.  Roy Halladay has done it twice . . . this season.

There is no doubt in my mind that Halladay is the athlete that I will end up telling my children about.  He is the baseball player that I’ll reflect back on when I’m in my sixties.  He is that special phenomenon that has earned the right for others to feel nostalgic about.

Several years ago I remember reading a profile on Halladay that talked about his mental fortitude. It mentioned one of his training techniques that involved a puzzle consisting of  the numbers 1 -100 randomly listed in a ten by ten box.  Halladay would count up, finding each number, one after the other, in a ridiculously short amount of time.

The exercise is strictly about focus and when Halladay can put a baseball game within those terms he will win seven days a week and twice on Sunday, as the saying goes.  That is exactly what he did against the Reds.  He forced the game to be played on his own terms by throwing first pitch strikes and creating situations that depended on nothing more than his own focus.

October 11, 2010 – Bobby Cox’s Last Game

In a year in which several of the game’s most recognized managers (Cito Gaston, Lou Pinella, Joe Torre,) walked away from the clubhouse for the final time, it was Bobby Cox’s exit that was most memorable.  Having lost to the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, Cox came out of the dugout and was honoured not just by the hometown crowd or his legion of players, but by the Giants players as well.  It was an amazing display of respect that immediately spoke to how all of baseball felt about Cox.

What’s so special about Bobby Cox?

  • Named Manager of the Year four times (1985, 1991, 2004, 2005);
  • The fourth most wins of any manager in baseball history with a record of 2,195 wins and 1,698 losses;
  • Led the Braves to a division title every season from 1991 to 2005;
  • Was ejected a record 158 times, plus three post season ejections, to hold the record for the most ejections by a baseball manager;
  • The only person in baseball to be ejected two times in World Series games; and
  • Somehow, Cox was never thought of as a particularly fiery personality.  His ejections were more strategic, as a means of avoiding having one of his players thrown out instead.

November 1, 2010 – The San Francisco Giants Win The World Series

I don’t know if anyone will ever be able to convince me that the San Francisco Giants had any business being in the playoffs, let alone winning the World Series, but despite their somewhat glaring lack of talent, it would be difficult to find a more likeable championship team that wasn’t your own favourite.

If the Giants were already your favourite team, well, I’m sure it was all worth the wait.  The sentiment of having your favourite team win a World Series is probably best summed up by the popular Giants blog McCovey Chronicles:

Every roster move and every transaction was an attempt to lead to this. Every barstool argument about the merits of Mike Aldrete or Eugenio Velez, every guttural cheer in the close wins, and every expletive in the close losses was created with the implicit understanding that the San Francisco Giants could possibly, maybe, if everything broke their way, could conceive of having a chance to potentially one day win the World Series. Maybe. The Giants would win, and they’d hold the trophy up high as idiots ran around and sprayed each other with champagne.

That’s why we spent so much time trying to figure out if it was a good idea to trade Kirt Manwaring for Rick Wilkins, or hoping that Milt May really was the heir to Willie McCovey’s throne: the stupid, unrealistic promise that the San Francisco Giants could win the World Series.

Words fail.

So, so many things had to go right for this. Nine teams had to pass on Tim Lincecum. Twenty-nine had to pass on Aubrey Huff. Edgar Renteria had to play through a torn bicep and a strained old. Some players had to stay healthy, and other players had to get hurt to make room for the players who would lead the Giants to a World Series title.

The Giants won the World Series. The San Francisco Giants. No foolin’. It’s on Wikipedia and everything.

And that’s why we cheer on our team and suffer through years of misery and disappointment.  For this one fleeting moment: