2016 was an amazing year for baseball. A year with new champions and new stars coming to light. All in all, countless great moments from April all the way to November.
Trevor Story cooled off considerably. Though, still hit .272 with 27 HR and 72 RBI in 96 games during his rookie season. “Cooled-off considerably” is said due to the fact that hit seven home runs in the first six games of his career—an MLB record—topping Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt and Rockies great Larry Walker.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays and Rangers rivalry hit (no pun intended) a new breaking point after the incredible Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS in Toronto. On May 15, Toronto’s José Bautista crashed into second base on a grounder. Rougned Odor was covering and did not take the slide lightly, getting physical and ultimately landing a punch. The brawl involved both teams on and off the field, but the lasting image will be that punch. You know the one. Even Bautista took to Twitter to acknowledge the shot.
2016 also saw milestones achieved by some of the game’s greatest. In May, “Mad Max” Scherzer racked up 20 strikeouts in one game, tying the record set by Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson. In August, Ichiro Suzuki notched his 3000th hit, all but ensuring his place in Cooperstown. The highs didn’t stop there, though.
David Ortiz had his going away party, one that lasted the entire season. Contrary to what many thought Ortiz was no longer capable of, he went out and had one of the best seasons of his career, slashing .315/.401/.620/1.021 with 38 HR and 127 RBI. He earned a well-deserved trip to the All-Star Game, a fantastic send off for a guaranteed Hall of Famer and an all-time great.
The Indians made it to the World Series for the first time since 1997. And, even had a fantastic chance to win it for the first time since 1948. Then came destiny. The Chicago Cubs would not take ‘No’ for an answer, finally winning a championship for the first time since 1908. And, ending the longest championship drought in American sports history. Capped off by an instant-classic Game 7, Chicago’s 2016 season was personified by the picture of a smiling Kris Bryant fielding what would be the final out of the World Series.
If that wasn’t enough to make you remember 2016, the heart-breaking game Miami played following the tragic death of José Fernández will stick with me for a very long time.
All around the league, players, coaches, executive staff and fans mourned the passing of one of the best pitchers in baseball—an animated personality and a person with a kid-like love for the game. The day following his boating accident, the Marlins played the Mets. The entire team wore Fernández’s jersey in his honor. And in the first at-bat of the game, Dee Gordon took a ball from the right side of the plate—in honor of the side Fernández used to bat on—then he switched back to left side where he normally bats.
He took another ball. Then, he took the next pitch out of the park. Moreover, his first and only home run of the entire season. Gordon rounded the bases crying, pointing to the sky after he reached home plate. It was a surreal moment, one reaching beyond baseball and reminding us of how unpredictable life can be. The Marlins went on to win 7-3, and the team honored Fernández by leaving their hats on the mound after the final out.
With all the magic of 2016—some uplifting, some heart-wrenching—with the 2017 season on the horizon, is there any possibility that this upcoming season can be as memorable?
Honestly, probably not. We arguably just witnessed one of the best seasons in MLB history. In terms of team and player performance as well as competition for division titles and wild card spots. But also in terms of great baseball moments.
Last season, the shortlist for AL/NL MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year were extensive. Ultimately, having a clear-cut favorite was impossible. Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and José Altuve were all favorites to win MVP—more so Trout and Betts. But, the cases for both were concrete and hard to argue. Trout ultimately won the vote against Betts, 356-311.
In the NL, although it was Kris Bryant’s award to lose, there were multiple outstanding players along the way. Ones such as Daniel Murphy, rookie Corey Seager and Bryant’s teammate, Anthony Rizzo.
As for the Cy Young, this was completely up in the air. Boston’s Rick Porcello claimed the prize but didn’t even receive the most first-place votes. Justin Verlander did, followed by former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and surprisingly enough, Orioles’ closer Zach Britton—who was lights out.
All of them were worthy candidates, as were the finalists over in the National League. It was between a past winner, the aforementioned Scherzer, Cubs ace (and one of last year’s three) Jon Lester, and his teammate—ERA-leader Kyle Hendricks.
Then came the playoffs, and competition remained extremely stiff. Both Central divisions were taken without much of a fight; just ask the Cubs. And, the Rangers were the first team to clinch their division in the American League.
But aside from that, the rest of the league was up for grabs. The NL West was hotly contested between the Dodgers and Giants. The same can also be said for the NL East with the Mets and Nationals for most of the season. And if not for a colossal collapse by the Giants and Mets near the end of the season, those races could have gone all the way down to the wire.
The AL East was as close as they come, having one of the most tightly-contested playoff races in MLB history. The Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays—even the Yankees toward the end of the year—were all in the hunt for a division title. The Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays all actually made the playoffs but the Sox were the team to come out on top. Close races, not to mention a high quality of play, is something every fan enjoys.
Lastly, the countless memories listed above made this season one to remember. The Kershaw-Bumgarner matchups. The Lucroy trade that never was. Vin Scully’s last game. And, Bartolo Colón’s home run heard ’round the world were just a handful of memories that made 2016 special.
If the Cubs and Indians happen to make it back to the World Series again, it just won’t be as magical as the first time. There won’t be another season like 2016, but if 2017 comes anything close, we’re in for another great year of baseball.