Throughout our hopefully short time without real live games, we’ll be taking a weekly look back at a specific year in baseball history. What happened, why it mattered, what we’ll remember most. Send us the years you’d most like us to talk about at [email protected].
NLDS: Phillies over Reds in 3; Giants over Braves in 4
ALDS: Yankees over Twins in 4; Rangers over Rays in 5
LCS: Giants over Phillies in 6; Rangers over Yankees in 6
World Series winner: Giants over Rangers in 5
MVP Awards: AL: Josh Hamilton, Rangers; NL: Joey Votto, Reds
Cy Young Awards: AL: Félix Hernández, Mariners; NL: Roy Halladay, Phillies
Rookies of the Year Awards: AL: Neftalí Feliz, Rangers; NL: Buster Posey, Giants
All-MLB Team (chosen by me, in 2020):
1B: Joey Votto, Reds
2B: Robinson Canó, Yankees
SS: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
3B: Adrián Beltré, Red Sox
OF: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
OF: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
OF: Carlos González, Rockies
C: Joe Mauer, Twins
DH: David Ortiz, Red Sox
SP: Roy Halladay, Phillies
SP: Félix Hernández, Mariners
SP: Ubaldo Jiménez, Rockies
SP: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
RP: Brian Wilson, Giants
RP: Heath Bell, Padres
It is difficult, as we sit here and wait for baseball to return, not to look back at 2019 and see it as a harbinger for what we would have seen in '20. That is the nature of predictions, after all, to look at the most recent prior evidence and draw conclusions from it, particularly when you are, say, starting a new decade. What lies before is unknown. The best we can do is project forward from what we most recently saw.
But the 2010 baseball season is a terrific reminder that the past is not always prologue. We do not know what '20 will bring, or would have brought. But '10 was full of things no one in '09 could have seen coming.
• In 2009, the Giants won 88 games but were largely considered the product of two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, the man who showed up right when Barry Bonds was leaving and took over as the most beloved player of one of baseball’s most devoted fanbases. The franchise itself hadn’t won a World Series since moving to San Francisco in 1958, and it was hard to imagine them winning one without Bonds, one of the greatest players of all time. (The Washington Post picked them to finish last in the NL West and said they were lacking “just about everywhere.”) But in '10, not only did San Francisco win a title, it did so with Lincecum having a down year and was led by random dudes who weren’t even on the team in '09, like Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and two rookies named Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. What's more: They trailed by as many as 6 1/2 games in August and had to defeat the Padres (who spent 148 days in first place) on the final day of the season to clinch the NL West. The Giants in '09 were all about what they had missed out on. But they were about to own the first half of the next decade.
• Two of the surest bets in free agency were Jason Bay and Chone Figgins, both of whom had been fantastic in 2009, finishing in the top 10 in the MVP Award voting. The Mets and Mariners signed each of them, respectively, for massive long-term contracts. Bay put up 5.2 Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball-Reference) in '09, Figgins 7.7. Bay would put up 2.3 the rest of his career and Figgins was actually a below-replacement player, at minus-0.9. One of the biggest bargains that offseason? A 30-something third baseman who had just finished what was considered a huge bust of a contract with Seattle named Adrián Beltré, who could only get a one-year deal with Boston -- and was about to put together a decade that should end up getting him in the Hall of Fame.
• The Angels had just won 97 games, a year after winning 100, and lost in the American League Championship Series in six games to the Yankees. (Thanks largely to Figgins.) They seemed to have everything: A dedicated fanbase, an owner with deep pockets, loads of young talent. Despite over the next decade adding Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke and, oh yeah, Mike freaking Trout, their 2009 ALCS Game 5 win over the Yankees remains their most recent postseason victory. Everything was pointing the Angels’ way entering '10. And they wouldn’t win a single postseason game moving forward for a full decade.
• The Yankees had just won the World Series and looked primed to win several more in the coming years. They famously didn’t reach the Fall Classic for the entire next decade.
Every new decade brings with it changes none of us possibly could have imagined moving forward. As we begin a new decade, it was worth remembering just how many things, when we last began a new decade, we were wrong about. We were wrong about nearly everything.
Here are 10 other fun factoids from the 2010 baseball season:
- This was the infamous no-hitter season. There were seven no-no's thrown in 2010, if you’re counting Roy Halladay’s NLDS no-hitter against the Reds (in his first postseason start), and two of them were perfect games: Oakland’s Dallas Braden on May 9 and Halladay’s 20 days later. That was the most since 1991. The strangest no-hitter had to have been the eight-walk no-no by Arizona’s Edwin Jackson, which took a whopping 149 pitches to finish; the most thrown in a game by a starting pitcher in five years (and a mark no pitcher has topped since). The two perfect games in '10 marked the first season ever there had been multiple perfect games. There would end up being three in '12 -- and none since. But of all these no-hitters, it’s a perfect game that didn’t happen that will end up being the one we remember.
- That would be Detroit’s Armando Galarraga. He was about to throw the third perfect game in a month, on June 2, when he got a ground ball that, by all accounts, was about to finish it off. Except umpire Jim Joyce famously got the call wrong, leading to a truly moving display of grace from both Joyce (who was devastated he’d missed the call) and Galarraga (who mostly wanted to make Joyce feel better). The two men handled the situation so well, and moved so many people, that they ended up writing a book together. And, frankly, we ended up one step closer to the world of replay we have today.
- One of those no-hitters was thrown by Colorado’s Ubaldo Jiménez. That might sound shocking today -- Jiménez would be a nightmare for the next decade, and just hearing his name gives Orioles fans a headache -- but we really shouldn’t forget just how incredible Jiménez was in 2010. He was 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA in 221 2/3 innings, while pitching his home games in Colorado. That’s the second-best pitching season for a pitcher that played home games at Coors Field in history, according to bWAR (behind Kyle Freeland’s '18 season). Jiménez actually received MVP votes in '10, and was a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award.
- This was a year of incredibly exciting debuts. Two in particular stood out. First was Jason Heyward, a local Georgia kid who was being compared to Willie Mays before he played his first game and got to meet and hang out with Hank Aaron as he came onto the field at Turner Field. And then this is what he did in his first at-bat:
Stephen Strasburg was even more hyped in 2010, thought of as perhaps the greatest prospect in Nationals/Expos history (at least until Bryce Harper arrived). Strasburg also became the first rookie to strike out 40 or more batters in his first four starts. But there’s nothing more fun than a you-are-old baseball arrival: Starlin Castro debuted in '10, becoming the first player ever to be born in the '90s and reach the Majors.
- Another debut in 2010? Aroldis Chapman, signed by the Reds to be a starter (but only briefly), he would do something no player had ever done: reach 105 mph on the radar gun.
- But the most beloved player of 2010 wasn’t anybody new. It was an old guy. Philadelphia’s Jamie Moyer, then 47, became the oldest player in baseball history to throw a complete game shutout, when he shut down the Braves, 7-0, on May 8. Moyer gave up just two hits, striking out five and walking no one. After, Moyer said, “Cool. Just doing my job.” His season wound up being cut short on July 20, but he came back from surgery to pitch 10 games for Colorado in '12, at age 49.
- This is just a sad one: The Pirates broke a North American professional sports record for most consecutive losing seasons in 2010, with their 18th straight year under .500. They’d end up reaching 20 straight years before breaking through and reaching the NL Division Series in 2013.
- One team with historical struggles that broke through in 2010: The Rangers, who reached their first World Series by beating the hated (and defending champion) Yankees in the ALCS. Josh Hamilton continued his incredible comeback by winning the AL MVP Award, and Nelson Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero (who would play in his lone World Series that year) teamed with him for a fantastic offense. The team got an AL Rookie of the Year Award-winning season from Neftalí Feliz, a career-best season from C.J. Wilson and a late-season addition of Cliff Lee to at least reach the Series. But they ran into a team looking for a breakthrough of their own.
- The Giants would win three of the next five Fall Classics, and as satisfying as those were, there really is no high like the first one. Everything was new and wonderful for the Giants in 2010, from rookies Posey and Bumgarner to the influx of bats and the general aura of good feeling. If you get a chance, view best-selling author Dave Eggers’ illustrations from that World Series. It’s a reminder of just how much good feeling that team generated in the Bay Area -- and how much that title meant.
- Two managerial legends finished their careers in 2010. Lou Piniella left the Cubs in August to deal with his ailing mother, the latest veteran manager to try to orchestrate the great Cubs revival and fall just short. (He ended up just being a few years too early.) And in Atlanta, Bobby Cox retired at season’s end after 25 years with the club (and four years with Toronto in the middle). The Braves claimed the NL Wild Card with 91 wins and lost in the NLDS to the Giants. Cox's final ejection was Sept. 17 -- it was his 158th, a record that will surely never be broken.
Send me the year you’d love to have me write about at [email protected].