10 stories this decade that shocked us

December 6th, 2019

On Jan. 1, 2010, the world looked dramatically different than it looks now, just like it looked dramatically different than it did a decade before. We all think we can predict the future based on current circumstances, but the world changes faster than we can imagine. All predictions ultimately look insane.

But imagine if you could go back to the person you were on Jan. 1, 2010, and tell them of all the crazy things that would happen in the next decade. In today’s installment of our Data Decade series, we take a look at the most shocking occurrences over the last decade. These are the facts that we know now to be unassailably true but would have sounded completely absurd to the person we were on Jan. 1, 2010. Wanna blow the mind of that decade-younger you? Try these factoids.

1. The Cubs will win the World Series.

The one thing that every generation has always been able to share is their fundamental understanding that this was never, ever going to happen

Except it did. Really. Honest.

2. A team will hold its best pitcher out of the postseason because they think it will help them down the line, and they will be right!

Imagine, if you can, a team deciding, just before their team begins its playoff run (their first playoff run in their new city, no less), that they will not use their best pitcher. Is their best pitcher hurt? Did he do something to offend them? Nope: They’re just sitting him because both they and his agent believe his and their long-term future will turn out better if they keep a hard innings cap on him, which means sitting him down despite the team desperately needing him. (As we would learn when they were upset in the 2012 NLDS in five games.) Can you imagine that, Jan. 1, 2010, you?

OK, but here’s the rub: Seven years later, that team will be back in the playoffs, except this time, that player is a seasoned veteran who might be at the end of his contract and thus available to be pushed as hard as he needs to be to win a World Series. He’ll turn out to be a dominant pitcher in the playoffs and be named World Series MVP ... thus justifying the whole gambit in the first place.

If we could only take the stories about the 2019 Nationals World Series title and show them to everyone who had their hottest takes about being held out of the 2012 playoffs. Either way: Jan. 1, 2010, you is so, so confused by all of this.

3. We were about to witness the debut of arguably the best player in history.

Here’s a look at the top prospects heading into the 2010 season. Jan. 1, 2010, you is wondering which one of those guys is going to be this theoretical future superstar. Jason Heyward? Desmond Jennings? Kyle Drabek? Nope: , a name you probably had never even heard of a decade ago, was about to emerge as one of the best players of all time, winning AL Rookie of the Year and barely missing out on MVP just two years later. He’s since won three MVPs and finished in the top five in voting every year since, producing the highest WAR this decade despite not playing in the first two seasons of it. Is that next all-time great out there now? In 2022, will the best player in baseball be someone heretofore unknown? That’s why this is all so fun, isn’t it?

4. The Royals will win two straight pennants and a World Series.

Was there a more moribund baseball franchise in 2010 than the Royals? They’d just lost 97 games (they’d lose 95 in 2010), and they had a winning record exactly once since 1995. There was some hope coming out of their farm system, but Royals fans had heard all that before, and besides, those prospects seemed to be coming along rather slowly, all told. And yet, in 2013, they won 86 games, and in 2014, it all clicked, with a Wild Card comeback win that led to their first World Series appearance since 1985 and a Game 7 that almost featured the most amazing finish in World Series history. And if that wasn’t enough, they’d come back and win the whole thing the very next year, leading to a parade they’ll talk about in Kansas City for centuries.

They were back to losing 100-plus games by the end of the decade, but they’ll always have 2015. (For that matter ... try telling Jan. 1, 2010, you that the Giants would win three of the next five World Series.)

5. Albert Pujols will leave St. Louis and his new contract will become the biggest albatross in the sport.

Many of the Cardinals’ personnel and management moves in the late aughts were made primarily so they could afford to keep when his contract expired after the 2011 season. He was supposed to be the new Stan the Man, El Hombre, a Cardinal for life. But after the Cardinals’ flabbergasting World Series victory in 2011, Pujols shocked the world by signing a 10-year deal with the Angels, making him the highest-paid player in the sport. After a couple of decent seasons (though still below his Cardinals peak years), his game fell off a cliff, which, fortunately for him and the Angels (at least at first), was a rather tall cliff.

But by 2017, he was a negative WAR player who was making more than $25 million a year and was widely considered to have the worst contract in all of baseball. (Which still has two more years on it.) The biggest cheers he received his entire time with the Angels so far have probably been … when he returned to St. Louis last year.

6. Adrián Beltré will end up with 3,000 hits and be a no-doubt Hall of Famer.

After the 2009 season, looked ... well, he looked like a bust. The Mariners were happy to see his expensive five-year tenure with the team finally be over -- he’d only played 111 games in 2009 and hit only .265 -- and he was a thirtysomething veteran who looked to be on his last legs in the Majors. At that point he had played in 12 seasons and amassed exactly 1,700 hits.

The Red Sox tossed him a one-year deal, and he went out and hit .321 with 28 homers and led the league in doubles, finishing ninth in MVP voting. The Rangers signed him to a big contract and watched as he became a perennial All-Star, one who would go in to rack up 1,466 base hits over nine seasons after departing Seattle.

He ended up with 3,166 hits, 477 homers, five Gold Gloves and a slam-dunk Hall of Fame candidacy. In his 20s, Beltré received MVP votes only once. In his 30s, he’d make four All-Star teams and finish in the top 15 of MVP voting seven consecutive years. Life begins at 30!

7. The Astros will be the sport's juggernaut by the end of the decade.

The 2010 Astros were virtually unrecognizable from their heyday in the aughts, with only Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence still hanging around from that time. (And they were about to leave.) They were a fading dynasty that never was, with only a 2005 World Series sweep at the hands of the White Sox to mark their grand decade. Over the next five years, they’d go through an entirely different managerial regime, leave the National League and lose more than 106 games three times. But by the end of the decade, they wouldn’t only have a World Series victory and be the team’s most emulated franchise, they’d also be in many circles its most loathed, thanks to a sign-stealing scandal that may or may not diminish their accomplishments, depending on one’s own personal perspective. Oh, and another thing Jan. 1, 2010, you might not believe: They’d be led by a 5-foot-6 superstar who was even named AL MVP in 2017.

8. The Yankees won’t make a single World Series.

The Yankees felt like they had returned to their deserved glory in 2009, winning their first World Series in nine years, thanks largely to a massive free-agent spending spree that offseason that brought in CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett. There was every reason to think they’d be back in 2010, and they did win 95 games, only to fall in the ALCS to the Rangers. They lost to the Tigers in the postseason in 2011 and 2012, and then, amazingly, they missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons after that, the first time that had happened since 1992-93.

A new blood of Yankee would emerge in the back few years of the decade, but even with the Judge’s Chambers out in right field, they never made it out of the ALCS, marking the first decade without a Yankees World Series appearance since the 1910s. Many Yankees fans will tell you the difference is that those were two decades where George Steinbrenner wasn’t alive.

9. Harold Baines will make the Hall of Fame.

The big outrage of the 2009 BBWAA Hall of Fame voting was whether Jim Rice, in his final year on the ballot, deserved to make it in. (He did, barely, with 76.4 percent of the vote, going in with Rickey Henderson, whose selection conjured decidedly less outrage.) The ballot included eight other future Hall of Famers, including Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith, Jack Morris and Tim Raines. But way down at 14th place, behind Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy, was , who earned only 5.9 percent of the vote in his third year on the ballot. He’d receive 6.1 percent the next season (down to 15th) and would drop off the ballot entirely the next year with 4.8 percent, receiving just one more vote than John Franco. So that’s it, right?

Well, enter the Today’s Game ballot in 2018, a panel of former players and managers, which elected Smith to the Hall … and, stunningly, Baines, who never finished higher than ninth in MVP voting, and did not reach any notable milestones, finishing his career with 2,866 hits and 384 homers over the course of 22 seasons.

10. R.A. Dickey, yes, R.A. Dickey, will win a Cy Young Award and alter the trajectory of two franchises.

At the beginning of the decade, , a first-round pick in 1996 who discovered in his medicals that he didn’t have a UCL, had just been released by the Twins despite a late-career switch to the knuckleball. The Mets signed him and used him as filler for their Buffalo affiliate until he started dominating in Triple-A. They called him up and watched him turn into their best pitcher and then, in 2012, a Cy Young winner at the age of 37. But his influence was just getting warmed up. After that season, the Mets traded him to the Blue Jays, who wanted an ace to lead their growing juggernaut, for a package of players that would include ... .

The trade ended up altering the futures of two franchises -- as well as their division rivals -- and for all the talk of the Blue Jays making the trade because they wanted to Win Now, the Mets made the World Series with Syndergaard, and the Jays never did with Dickey, or anyone else. (Just imagine how much stronger the Blue Jays look in the 2015 and 2016 ALCS with Thor in their rotation instead of Dickey.) By the end of the decade, Dickey would be retired, and we’d still be trying to sort all this out.

Next week: Best franchises of the decade