Friday, December 18, 2009

The Twenty Best Seasons of the Past Ten Years

It's funny how us humans view time. Since it is 2009 and we are twelve days from the calendar turning to 2010, many writers across the land are creating lists covering the past decade. You'll see the Top 100 Plays, the Top 100 Athletes, the Top 100 Movies, etc, etc. We seem to be a decadal people who think in terms of tens. You won't see a list of the Top 100 Plays in 2013, for example. But you will again in 2019. Strange. But, as a writer, you go with the flow. So, in honor of the weird human race that goes for such lists at the end of each decade, here are Major League Baseball's twenty best individual seasons for the decade of 2000-2009.


1. Barry Bonds - 2001: Obviously, Bonds is going to be on this list at least five times. It's still a sad fact that Bonds entered the decade with eight straight seasons with an OPS over 1.000 and still felt he needed to do what he did. If he had just stayed the course of his already magnificent career, he wouldn't be the pariah he is now. Between 2000 and 2004, Bonds put together five of the greatest seasons in the history of baseball. Color them how you will. Deflate them how you want. But the numbers speak for themselves. The real tragedy of the entire run? That National League managers were allowed to walk Bonds intentionally 284 times in those five seasons. That act of cowardice is almost as big a blight on the game of baseball as what Bonds allegedly did to get the numbers he put together. Of the five season run, 2001 was the record breaking home run year. His OPS and OPS+ were higher other years, but 2001 was the year he was allowed to do the most damage, and damage he did.

2. Barry Bonds - 2004: He led the league in batting at .362. His OBP was over .600 (Egads!) and his slugging percentage was over .800. The numbers are unbelievable.

3. Barry Bonds - 2002: Led the league in batting at .370. His 268 OPS+ was the highest of his career.

4. Barry Bonds - 2003: Limited to only 130 games with injuries, Bonds still finished with an OPS+ of 231.

5. Albert Pujols - 2008: We interrupt this Barry Bonds run to give you the other great player of the decade. Pujols was unbelievable the entire time, but 2008 was the best when he finished with a 190 OPS+ as he went an incredible: .357/.462/.653. It might be the best untainted season since Ted Williams.

6. Barry Bonds - 2000: The first year of the great run started with 49 homers. Was it his last clean year or his first dirty one?

7. Albert Pujols - 2009: As good a year as Bonds in 2000.

8. Albert Pujols - 2003: Pujols had 212 hits (before he started getting walked a lot), hit over .350.

9. Travis Hafner - 2006: Many today forget what an offensive force Hafner was in the middle of the decade. He is an afterthought now, but in 2006, his numbers were huge: .308/.439/.659 all adding up to a 181 OPS+. Remarkable season.

10. Alex Rodriguez - 2007: A-Rod was sick for the Yankees that year. He hit 54 homers, drove in 156 while scoring 143. He hit .314 and had an unbelievable .645 slugging percentage.


1. Pedro Martinez - 2000: Looking back at Pedro's best season, it seems impossible that he lost six games. The numbers are eye-popping. His strikeout to walk ratio was 8.88/1. His WHIP was .737. He walked 32 batters in 29 starts. In an offensive era, it might be the best pitching performance ever.

2. Roger Clemens - 2005: Pitching in Houston, Clemens had a season that is totally incongruous with his Win/Loss record. He finished at 13-8 but led the majors in ERA and ERA+. How good was Clemens that year? He gave up only 151 hits in 211 innings and gave up only 11 homers the entire season.

3. Pedro Martinez - 2003: He was much better than his 14-4 record. He led the league in ERA, strikeouts per nine innings, WHIP and Hits per Nine Innings. His most unbelievable stat that season? He gave up only seven homers the entire season.

4. Zack Greinke - 2009: If ever a pitcher deserved a Cy Young, it was Greinke in 2009. He led the league in ERA, WHIP and Home Runs per Nine Innings. It was a phenomenal season.

5. Pedro Martinez - 2002: Yeah, it's hard to argue with a record of 20-4. He led the league in WHIP, Strikeouts, Hits per Nine innings and Strikeout to Walk Ratio. He also had the league's best ERA that season. Naturally.

6. Randy Johnson - 2002: Johnson was amazing in 2002. his 24-5 record is only the starting point. He pitched more innings, struck out more batters and faced more batters than anyone else in the decade that season. His run from 1999 to 2002 rivals only Pedro as one of the greatest pitching runs in history.

7. Randy Johnson - 2001: The Diamondbacks owe a large part of their World Championship on Johnson's shoulders. Only Nolan Ryan struck out more batters than Johnson's 374 that season. He also led the league that season in ERA and WHIP.

8. Johan Santana - 2004: In his only twenty win season, Santana led the league in ERA, Strikeouts and WHIP.

9. Chris Carpenter - 2009: After not pitching for two years due to injury, Carpenter came back and put together an incredible season. He went 17-4 and gave up only seven homers all season. He also led the league in ERA and ERA+. He should have won the Cy Young award.

10. Randy Johnson - 2000: Johnson struck out 347 batters while compiling a 19-7 record. He pitched eight complete games and led the league in ERA+.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grabbing a Tiger By the Tale

The other day, the Fan's beautiful and sweet daughter told her daddy, "I'm sorry about Tiger. I know he's your favorite." After she was given a hug for her concern, she was told that it was the Fan's own fault. Our American penchant for setting up heroes is our downfall. People are people. They are unfailingly and unflinchingly imperfect. And yet, if you are like this writer, you buy the Nike Sumo driver and the Nike irons and a Tiger lob wedge and a Nike bag and shoes (the same ones Tiger wears) because you buy into the hero worship that goes along with our obsession with sports and movies and politics.

And really, the Fan should know better. It's not like there isn't a lot of history that has come before this little fiasco. Growing up, some of the most exciting sport events in history were the exploits of O. J. Simpson. The Fan idolized the guy and watched every game and bit of footage available. The man was the most beautiful and dynamic runner ever witnessed in the game of football. Then one day, the television was turned on and the police were in this odd, slow-motion chase with this white Ford Bronco. And we all found out that O. J. Simpson was the best running back in history, but not the best person.

The Fan spent nearly twenty years idolizing Roger Clemens and watching him grunt and grind his way into being the most dominant pitcher of his era. Pedro was better for a few years, but over the long haul, it was Rocket Roger. But he ultimately fell too with the PEDs and infidelity and the lies and everything else.

And those were not isolated incidents. Early hero, Mickey Mantle was very flawed as was John F. Kennedy and Wade Boggs and Joe Namath and Joe Pepitone and Rock Hudson and Rickey Nelson and a host of others.

Our problem is that we go beyond appreciating these people for their particular talents. We go beyond appreciating Tiger as the best golfer we've ever seen. We set them up as paragons of what we would like to be ourselves. That's the gist of it, isn't it? Wouldn't we have all wanted to be Tiger? Or Jeter? Or Simpson? Or Mantle? Or Marilyn Monroe? Or anyone else we have built up beyond their own humanity?

Instead, we buy into the pictures we are painted by a similarly rose-colored media and see an image that appeals to our senses of self-dreaming. The trouble is, nobody can live up to that except a few saints each generation that seem to overcome their troubled humanity. Mother Theresa comes to mind. But other than those few saints, we go beyond what we appreciate about the subject's skill level and we take it up to a hero worship.

And then our heroes turn out to be flawed, chipped and well...human. The media that spent so much effort making these people our darlings, suddenly turns into this snarling, self-righteous mass of buzzards swirling to take the very skin off of our fallen idols. And we read it all up in horror and yet fascination and our hearts sink on one level, but on another level glory in the fact that these people that we thought were so much better than us were really not.

And so we end up being wrong on both ends. First, our need to idolize a symbol of what we want to be sets us up for the disappointment. And then when the inevitable disappointment comes, we get all indignant about what has happened. Look, obviously what Tiger has done is wrong on many levels of our society. You don't get married, have kids and act like you are all gooey-family oriented and then run around with every woman you can afford. But how many of us, if we had that kind of opportunity and money and the lack of restraints would do the same thing?

But there is another funny thing that happens. Say you're Michael Jackson and you reach idol status and your nose falls off and you get caught (allegedly) playing with little boys. Then you fall from your pedestal and are reviled and ridiculed...until you die. Then, once you die, the Elvis, Michael Jackson, Mickey Mantle hero machine starts back up and the humans become idols again, this time dead ones. All Tiger has to do to beat this thing is to die, right? Let's hope and pray that he doesn't, but isn't the Fan right on this?

It's not like we need to by cynical. We just need to be practical. We can and should appreciate the skills our favorite players play with. We should admire the looks of our models along with the skills of our actors. But we need to keep in mind that they are mortals just like the rest of us. We don't need to be skeptical and think the worst of everyone. We just need to reign in our hero-building engines and simply be awed by what we see and watch without transferring that awesome ability to the person him/herself.

And when the media gets a hold of a story like this and glories in the feast of the ashes of our fallen hero's life, turn the other way. Turn it off. It serves no purpose but to make us all a little bit smaller, a little more petty and at worst, a people of hypocrites. After all, deep down, we knew they were human. Admit it.