Although the NFL and NASCAR have arguably supplanted baseball as America's national pastimes, no other professional sport celebrates redemption as our friends in Major League Baseball do.
Watching Rick Ankiel, HGH controversy and all, comeback to the majors after blowing up in front of millions in the early part of this decade as a pitcher, as an slugging outfielder no less, was one of the better sports stories of 2007.
Throughout its history, Major League Baseball has had numerous great comeback stories from Tommy John returning from a career threatening injury to Roger Clemens shaft to Dan Duquette after being let go by the Red Sox (though it has become apparent, aided by a little more then moxy), and every year we watch and hope a fallen star redeems himself.
What follows are five names who can be just that heart warming story we all love and hope for...
5) Eric Gagne, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
2007 MLB STATS: 54 GP 4-2 16 svs 3.81 ERA
Though he imploded in the later half of the season when he joined the Red Sox, many forget that he enjoyed an resurgence in Texas, claiming the closers job and returning close to form that he showed earlier in his career in Los Angeles.
From 2002 to 2004, Gagne enjoyed one of the greatest stretches ever by a reliever, converting a record 84 saves in a row, while annually maintaining an ERA under or near the low 2.00s.
While his name was mentionned in the Mitchell Report, and his "apology" was badly received by the media, his signing with a young and talented up-and-coming Brewers team might help restore his reputation as one of the most fearsome closers in the game.
4) Pedro Martinez, RHP, New York Mets
2007 MLB STATS: 3-1 2.51 ERA
From Montreal, to his glory years in Boston, and his recent years in New York, Martinez has always been named or seen as the No. 1 guy in the rotation, and his 209 wins validated those perceptions.
However, he only has amassed 12 wins in the past two seasons, and no one sees him as No. 1 material anymore.
The acquisition of Johan Santana this winter will finally remove the pressure of being the go-to guy and Martinez finally can move onto the final stage in his career where he can surely pitch as long as old warriors like Glavine and Maddux, and he will no longer be pressured to pitch nine innings every five days and concentrate on being a dominating No. 2 in the rotation.
3) Andruw Jones, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2007 MLB STATS: .222 BA 26 HR 94 RBI 138 SO
This proved to be the easiest of the selections, as Jones obviously struggled in the last year of his contract, as many have before him. The pressure of trying to produce as he had in 2005 and 2006 where he hit 92 home runs, with constant trade rumors surrounding him, did not help him recover from a horrible first few months.
He will not have as much protection as he did in the lineup as he did in Atlanta, but he should rise to the occasion and prove that he is still one of the best all-around players in the game.
2) Kerry Wood, RHP, Chicago Cubs
2007 MLB STATS: 1-1 3.33 ERA in 24.1 IP
A perennial favorite in preseason comeback player of the year picks, this just might be the year he finally returns to form.
Minus the pressure that came with him being a rookie sensation, and the fact that he will surely start and most probably finish the year in the bullpen, a fresh armed Wood might pull off a John Smoltz and claim the closers spot from an aging Ryan Demptser.
Having a 100 mph fastball coming at opponents for that final inning might give the Cubs that extra shove they need to make a push in the playoffs.
1) Scott Rolen, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
2007 MLB STATS: .265 BA 8 HR 58 RBI
In 2002, Scott Rolen was obtained by the Cardinals in what many believed was the transaction that would push them over the top and into serious contention for the World Series.
In the 2006 Series against the Tigers, he more than pulled through batting .421 in helping St. Louis claim the championship. However, brewing beneath that success, Tony LaRussa and his talented third basemen never really got along, which came to a hlt this past season, as Rolen struggled and was called out on numerous occasions by his manager.
Coming to the Blue Jays, a young team that has the talent to compete for a wild card this year, the competitve juices will start flowing and the fact that he will be hitting in a lineup that includes Wells, Thomas and Rios, could help vault Rolen back up to MVP consideration.
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