You can look to the future, too
Fans can preview another exciting MLB season with easy steps
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Instead of actually writing the MLB.com Year in Preview story this year, we are going to show you how to do it. After all, TIME magazine has just named "you" as its Person of the Year because just about everyone now communicates to some kind of audience through this wonderful thing called the Internet.
And besides, we are just saying the same thing in this space at the start of every year. It has gotten to the point where a writer only has to move around some pronouns, commas and stats. After all, we know exactly what is going to happen around Major League Baseball in 2007 and so do you:
The meek shall inherit the Earth, Big Papi will hit a bunch of walk-off homers, Johan Santana will drive batters crazy, Barry Bonds will make history whether you like it or not, millions of ballpark dogs will be inhaled in a few bites, Ichiro will have 200-plus hits, Roger Clemens' decision to return or not will go down to the wire, David Wright will send hearts aflutter, Vlad Guerrero will be a great fantasy pick, the racing Sausages in Milwaukee and the Phillie Phanatic will make people laugh, the American League will beat the National League in San Francisco, half of baseball will contend deep into September, and children everywhere will play their first games of pitch-and-catch.
Trust us. We have been right every year. Major League Baseball is now in an all-time groove that makes most people happy most of the time. Just follow these easy '07 steps to preview this new year for yourself:
1. Remind everyone that anything is possible for any team during the golden era.
We have been saying that annually for as far back as we can search for these particular articles, and it's almost like we have ESPN or something. The St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers were just the latest teams to demonstrate the point, delivering their fans an unforgettable thrill ride on the way to the Redbirds' World Series victory in five.
2. Cite the latest overall Major League single-season attendance record.
There were 76 million fans at the ballparks during the 2006 season, and that continues to be the defining metric in this decade of sharing. People are naturally drawn by the game's great athletes. They are naturally drawn by the mere allure of the national pastime itself, of its timeless magic. They are drawn by more and more beautifully retro-modern ballparks. But mostly they are drawn in perennially record-breaking fashion by the reality that all 30 clubs go into a year with a legitimate chance to be the Next Great Story. Now's the time to order those season tickets here, so that you can get preferential treatment if your team is one of the eight playing into October.
3. Take the roll call of those clubs awaiting their turn for October.
Would the following teams please step forward: Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals.
Those names have been called because updated records in the Commissioner's Office indicate that they are the 11 teams that have yet to participate in a postseason during this decade. Everyone is gradually getting their turn, and it is now reliably clear that a team needs only to get into the postseason -- and then eight teams have an equal chance. The Cardinals just demonstrated that again by winning a World Series title despite only 83 regular-season victories, the fewest by a world champ.
It is the farthest and widest baseball ever has come since those postwar, two-postseason-team days of New York borough battling, when it was always Yogi and the Yanks against someone. Baseball's modern system is spraying champagne corks to all fields, with Texas and Colorado the only West clubs still waiting for a turn this decade.
Teams like Detroit have gone quickly from futility to elite. Toronto just ended Boston's stranglehold on second place in the AL East, and one only can wonder how much longer the Bronx Bombers can sustain their division-title streak. The Mets just ended Atlanta's professional sports record of 14 consecutive division titles. Minnesota was written off last midseason and won its division. If you don't consider Kansas City a contender with its Gil Meche acquisition, then you're still using 20th-century logic.
4. Say something about the Cubs and 1908.
After replacing Andy MacPhail as interim Cubs president right after the last season ended, MLB marketing legend John McDonough said: "It's time to win -- it's time to win the World Series." Clearly, Chicago's North Siders are not waiting until a big 100th-anniversary hook in 2008 to seriously go for it.
The Cubs replaced Dusty Baker as manager with Lou Piniella, who comes back to a league where he managed the 1990 Reds to the title. They spent more than $300 million, including $136 million for outfielder Alfonso Soriano, who signed an eight-year deal before Thanksgiving. It also includes a five-year, $75 million contract to keep Aramis Ramirez at third base; a combined $60 million for starting pitchers Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis; and $13 million for three years to second baseman Mark DeRosa. They traded for left-handed reliever Neal Cotts, signed pitchers Kerry Wood and Wade Miller to incentive-laden deals, and are bringing catcher Henry Blanco back.
"You can tell we're going in a different direction by the way they're signing some players," Ramirez said. "That's a lot of money they're giving to Soriano. To bring that kind of player to the organization, you can tell they want to win real bad."
5. List the different world champions since the Yankees last repeated and reiterate the phrase "anything's possible."
The Yanks started this decade with their third consecutive World Series title. They were followed in order by the Diamondbacks (first title), Angels (first), Marlins (shocking second), Red Sox (first in 86 years), White Sox (first in 88 years) and Cardinals (first since 1982, ending their longest drought).
Again, the magic is being spread around. If the Indians can just get in the field of eight this October with more help for stars like Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and C.C. Sabathia, then they have an equal shot at ending a drought dating back to 1948. If the Giants can just get there with that new "San Diego North" look, featuring manager Bruce Bochy, Dave Roberts and Ryan Klesko, then they have an equal shot at winning their first title since moving to the West Coast in 1958. Anything's possible.
6. List some of the milestones that everyone will be tracking.
Actually, that is even more important this year than in any other in recent memory. In fact, this is going to be the Year of the Milestone.
Hitting: Craig Biggio has 2,930 hits, so he should join the 3,000-hit club by the All-Star break. Bonds has 734 homers and seems like a lock to pass Hank Aaron for the all-time record during the second half (the bigger question is how fans will react, judging by their boisterous reaction to his 2006 passing of Babe Ruth for second place). And if you really want to see something spectacular, then get ready for the probable arrival of a whopping four 500 Home Run Club members: Frank Thomas (487), Jim Thome (472), Manny Ramirez (470) and Alex Rodriguez (464).
Pitching: Tom Glavine re-signed with the Mets and is just 10 victories away from the 300-win plateau. He will turn 40 just before Opening Day, but he has improved each year with the club and, if healthy, this milestone is almost certain. The question is, can another 40-something New York lefty get there? Randy Johnson would need 20 wins; he won 17 in each of the last two seasons with the Yanks. And then there's Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who hit a big milestone late last season as the all-time saves king. He has 482 and likely will invent the newest 500 Club early in the season.
7. Highlight some of the new faces and trends.
The Red Sox amazed everyone by posting a $51 million bid to the Seibu Lions for the right to sign right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka -- MVP of last year's inaugural World Baseball Classic -- for $52 million over six years. The Yankees had agreed in principle to a five-year, $20 million deal for countryman Kei Igawa, who joins a staff that includes returning 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang from Taiwan. Throw in Tampa Bay's three-year, $7.7 million deal for infielder Akinori Iwamura, as well as a variety of others around MLB, and one can see that the Pacific Rim is now a bigtime gateway.
Player movement continued virtually unabated elsewhere around the Majors, and there will be some very curious sights -- such as Eric Gagne in a Rangers uniform instead of Dodger blue. It will be an adjustment to see Oakland without Barry Zito, but it all will be kind of funky to see Mike Piazza wearing the A's colors. Same with Greg Maddux in San Diego, Jason Jennings in Houston and Big Hurt in Toronto.
Andy Pettitte's going to be back in the Bronx with No. 46. That we've seen before.
We've seen a lot of this before. That's baseball. People will get used to new faces in new places. People will get used to summer standings that appear strangely upside-down. Then they realize that it's just another year in the modern game, ending with a parade that blows your mind. Anyone can write a preview about that.