The past decade has seen impressive growth in major league baseball's popularity. It's hard to believe now that the institution was wobbling quite a bit after the mid-90s strike.
To commemorate a decade in which the Internet and ESPN brought extraordinary amounts of attention on the biggest baseball stars, I'm presenting a lineup of the 12 most famous/notorious stars of the 2000s.
These are the guys you either couldn't get enough of or got far too much of: the ones who dominated ESPN, the blogs, sports sites like this one, and summertime talk at the sports bars. With just a month left to go for regular-season baseball in the decade, here's an All-Fame team for the 2000s, with occasional notes...
Catcher: Mike Piazza
Even if he didn't have such outstanding offensive numbers, playing most of his career in the two U.S. media capitals would still put Piazza in this lineup.
First Base: Albert Pujols
After an obscure amateur career
, Pujols rose quickly to become probably the best player of the decade. Fun stat of the day: Since August 1997, Mark McGwire and Pujols have combined for 583 homers, 1568 RBIs, 1452 runs scored, 1267 walks, 2155 hits, and nine Top-Five MVP ballots.
Second Base: Jeff Kent
Shortstop: Derek Jeter
Left Field: Barry Bonds
Center Field: Johnny Damon
This choice is the hardest. There's Andruw Jones, Curtis Granderson, Torii Hunter, Ken Griffey Jr., Bernie Williams, even Josh Hamilton. But I think you have to give it to Damon, for the beard if nothing else.
Right Field: Ichiro
He gets extra credit for still being the No. 1 star in Japan a decade after crossing the Pacific.
DH: David Ortiz
Right-handed starter: Roger Clemens
Left-handed starter: Randy Johnson
The question is whether or not these two would be the starters on a similar lineup for the 1990s as well.
Closer: Mariano Rivera
(Dis)honorable mention goes to Manny Ramirez
, Gary Sheffield, Rafael Palmeiro, and Jason Giambi, among other members of the steroids squad, with McGwire and Jose Canseco serving as the squad's old-timers.
In the amateur ranks, there's also Stephen Strasburg
to represent the collegiate players and Bryce Harper from the high schoolers.