2012 was a very good year for Major League Baseball.
From the tremendous rookie seasons of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper to the San Francisco Giants winning their second world championship in three years to Miguel Cabrera winning the first hitting Triple Crown since 1967, 2012 will go down into the history books as one of the better seasons in recent history.
A new wild-card round added two more teams to the playoff mix and helped the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics stay in the playoff hunt all season.
As the game continues to add a great pitching balance to big and powerful offenses, even the New York Mets saw a pitcher throw a no-hitter. Johan Santana’s masterpiece was the first for the Mets in franchise history.
As we turn the page and look forward to the 2013 season and reflect this holiday season on why we love this sport, here are 10 things as fans we should all be grateful for this offseason.
2012 was supposed to be the last season for legendary New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
After tearing ligaments in his knee after slipping on the warning track warming up before a game in Kansas City, it looked all but certain that Rivera would retire.
It is hard to believe that Rivera had been the anchor of that Yankees bullpen for 15 seasons.
Mo has told the Yankees he wants to come back for one more year and go out on his own terms.
For a guy who basically throws just one pitch—the cutter—the fact he has been so dominant for so long is astounding.
The fact we get to see him pitch one more season is also a treasure. You may not like the Yankees, but we will be hard-pressed to see a guy in a role stay so good for so long.
Oakland skipper Bob Melvin
The sudden success of the Washington Nationals was not really all that big of a surprise considering they had back-to-back seasons with the first pick in the draft.
Their scouting has turned out to be really effective, as Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are apparently the real deal, and the once-doormat Nats won the National League East this year.
Where the surprise is came in the American League.
Forecast by many to be lucky to win 70 games, Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin guided the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics into the playoffs.
With no big stars and a low payroll, the Orioles became the second wild card as the A’s clinched the American League West Division on the last day.
If you put a winner on the field, fans will watch on television and come to the park.
Rumors of the death of baseball in these cities became grossly exaggerated in 2012 and should give hope to other long-suffering teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals that better days are ahead.
Chipper will make the straight trip from third base at Atlanta’s Turner Field right to the podium at his induction into Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame.
Jones finished his 18 full seasons as the most beloved player in Atlanta Braves history. Unlike Hank Aaron and Greg Maddux, Chipper only played in Atlanta and became the face of the franchise.
In this day and age of free agency, the fact that Jones only wore one uniform only endeared him to Atlanta even more.
He thought so highly about the passionate fans in New York who live and breathe the Mets that he named a child Shea after Shea Stadium.
Like Derek Jeter, you do not have to be a fan of the team to be a fan of the player, and you will be very hard-pressed to find anyone who rooted against Chipper Jones for his entire career.
With having their all-sports cable partner much more interested in promoting themselves as supposed to the sports that they show, quickly and quietly Major League Baseball has created a powerhouse in their own self-promotion.
From the quirky and silly shows like Intentional Talk to the sabermetric-minded Clubhouse Confidential, MLB Network is helping this generation of players become much more familiar with media and fan exposure.
If the endless jabbering of Skip Bayless or Colin Cowherd doesn't thrill you, you can turn on MLB Network and learn something about not only your team, but all teams.
Yes, Kevin Millar should only be watched in small doses, but Major League Baseball has hit a home run with the production and execution of their own channel.
Tucked for years on the dreadful Candlestick Point, most of us outside San Francisco would not have considered the city a golden baseball market.
When they left the unfriendly confines of Candlestick Park to what was originally called Pacific Bell Park to start the 2000 season, the fans came out in droves to watch the Giants and eat garlic fries by the ton.
With the stunning view of McCovey Cove in right field with boats lined up along the harbor, the Giants have won three NL pennants in 13 seasons and their first two World Series since moving from New York in 1957.
More importantly, they have as passionate and knowledgeable a fanbase as you can find in the game.
In an era that seems to kick baseball to the curb for fan support, the genuine love affair between the Giants and San Francisco is great to see and should be emulated by all.
There are players you enjoy watching just because you know they love playing the game.
Ernie Banks and Kirby Puckett played their entire careers with that infectious enthusiasm, and they turned great careers into pure legendary ones because of that.
Big Papi brings that joy to Boston.
He may not be a Hall of Famer when all is said and done, and his critics can rightfully point to his trouble with steroids, but no one in New England will ever forget what he did for the region on and off the field, including his genuine affection for the city of Boston and the game of baseball.
We certainly need more David Ortiz-type of people in life, not just baseball.
There are many things that have happened over the years that we as fans can ask MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, “What in the world were you thinking?” However, MLB is the only professional sport in North America’s big four not to have a work stoppage in the 21st century.
The hard lessons learned following the 1994-95 strike taught both sides that players and owners need each other and their joint success will make everyone more money than they could ever dream of.
When they avoided the lockout in 2001, something changed in the mindset.
No one who follows the NBA really thinks that the league and players are in lockstep with each other. The NHL is basically killing itself, locking out for the second time in five years, and the NFL owners are never on the same page.
Yet, baseball will have at least a quarter century of labor peace by the next time the collective bargaining agreement comes up.
For all of Selig’s flaws, he never will get the credit he deserves for actually learning the bitter lessons from the past.
Widely denounced as the end of baseball as we know it when implemented for the 1994 season, the addition of an extra playoff spot for teams to shoot for has helped create the parity that absolutely does exist in the game today.
Since the Yankees won the 2000 World Series, only three teams have won more than one World Series since.
If fans think they have hope, they will go to the park—and if that money rolls in, most owners will try and compete for the postseason.
Teams that would have dumped salaries at the July trade deadline 20 years ago might actually hold onto their players or take the plunge and make a push now.
The end result was put out there for all to see on the last day of the 2011 season when both of the wild-card spots were decided on the very last day.
Even this year we went into the last week of the season with playoff spots on the line.
While expanding again would hurt, having a compelling September is one thing baseball has sorely needed for a long time.
Chicks may dig the long ball, but the likes of Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez never cease to amaze us all.
Now that pitching and hitting are in balance, these guys who only play once every fifth day have made millions silencing the bats of the best baseball has to offer.
2012 saw seven no-hitters and an amazing three perfect games.
Like all sports, baseball is best when we see a conflict. For too long we saw the hitters get the best of pitchers and then an endless parade of pitching changes that cut the flow of the game down to nothing.
Now, we marvel as these guys face each other and can create as much drama in a 2-1 game in July as any game in October. Which great pitcher blinks first?
They may not end up winning 300 games in their career, but watching the likes of Roy Halladay, Matt Cain or CC Sabathia go to work is just as much fun now as watching Sandy Koufax or Tom Seaver in their day.
Baseball unabashedly relishes its history. If you can understand the past, then you can appreciate the present and anticipate the future.
At nearly 85 years old, Vincent Edward Scully embodies the above better than anyone.
Going into his 64th season as the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, not only can Scully work in stories about Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, he can tell you that he was there to see it.
Scully is the best spokesperson the game of baseball has ever had.
From his days in Brooklyn when the Dodgers were called the Bums to explaining to a new generation of fans the wonders of Clayton Kershaw, Scully has taught generations of Southern California fans—and a generation of national fans through his work on NBC’s Game of the Week—about so much more than baseball.
We get at least one more year to listen to the maestro tell us about Dodgers baseball and Farmer John hot dogs—going into 2013, this is something to be truly thankful for.