As the decade nears an end, it's time to reflect on the decade that was.
It was a decade that shook baseball to its foundations. The steroid scandal is the most devastating, traumatizing event in the history of the game.
For better or for worse, the events of the last 10 years will be best remembered as part of the "steroid era." One can only hope that era is over.
Part of getting beyond such a dark past is putting it behind us, which is what I'm going to do in this series by focusing on things that happened on the field this decade, not off of it.
First off, I'm going to look at the teams of the decade. Quite simply, I will look at the most successful and influential organizations of the last 10 years.
Most teams can have that one great season before fading away, so I think it best to judge greatness based on sustained success. That was my main criteria in making the list.
I invite constructive criticism. Without further ado, the teams of the decade.
Average Record This Decade: 89-73
Best Finish: Lost 2001 NLCS to Arizona
Important Players: Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, Andruw Jones, Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield, Brian McCann, Tim Hudson, Rafael Furcal
The "team of the '90s" (Give Bob Costas a break—who knew then what the Yankees were about to do?) kept their stretch of remarkable consistency going into the new millennium.
Greg Maddux and the Joneses led the team to the NLCS in 2001, where they were beaten 4-1 by the eventual champion Diamondbacks. That would be the farthest the Braves would get in the postseason this decade.
In 2005, the organization set a new major league record with their 14th successive division title.
As key players like Maddux and Andruw Jones departed, others stars aged, while the Phillies put together a contender of their own. Needless to say, the past decade was one of major change for Atlanta.
What has remained a constant is that the Braves still run their organization the right way.
With a core of Brian McCann, Nate McLouth, Yunel Escobar, Jair Jurrjens, and Tommy Hanson, the farm system strong as ever, and Chipper Jones still around to teach those youngsters the Atlanta way, there are good times ahead for this team.
Average Record This Decade: 86-76
Best Finish: Lost NLCS to Philadelphia in 2008 and 2009
Important Players: Shawn Green, Eric Gagne, Manny Ramirez, Jeff Kent, Brad Penny, Kevin Brown, Adrian Beltre, Russell Martin
While they didn't have a single defining year or moment, the Dodgers enjoyed a string of consistent success the last 10 seasons, finishing with a sub-.500 record just once in the decade.
Eric Gagne had a stretch of dominance that will likely never be seen by a closer again, converting 84 consecutive saves. Kevin Brown and Hideo Nomo (remember them?) both had some very good years for the club at the start of the decade.
Dodger fans had the pleasure of seeing sluggers Shawn Green and Adrian Beltre at their best before bolting for other teams.
However, the most electrifying Dodger hitter of the decade was Manny Ramirez, who created a buzz among Dodger fans not seen in years after his arrival from Boston last summer.
With Ramirez in the fold for another year, promising youngsters like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Clayton Kershaw, and Jonathan Broxton, and one Torre still at the helm, the Dodgers look to be one of the teams of the coming decade as well.
Average Record This Decade: 81-81
Best Finish: Won 2003 World Series vs. New York Yankees
Important Players: Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, Dontrelle Willis, Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Pierre
Some people are not going to like this pick. After all, the Marlins have had winning seasons only five of the last 10 seasons and have made the playoffs once in that span.
However, this organization cannot be held to the same standards as some other organizations because the Marlins don't have the financial resources of most teams in the game. The team has not had a payroll higher than $60M in the last 10 years.
With that in consideration, it is amazing how often this team has either competed or played spoiler in the last 10 years.
The 2003 team that shocked the world by winning the World Series (with a $45M payroll) was one for the ages.
Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell, and Ivan Rodriguez were just a few of the names from that feisty young team that took down the Yankees. Unfortunately, all those players are long gone now.
They did recently extend their new cornerstone Hanley Ramirez to a long-term contract.
One can only hope the new stadium in 2012 helps generate a steady revenue stream and the Marlins can finally compete in free agency and keep some players long-term. Even if they don't, they still might find a way to win.
Average Record This Decade: 86-76
Best Finish: Lost 2002 ALCS to Los Angeles
Important Players: Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan, Eddie Guardado, Shannon Stewart, Francisco Liriano
The Yankees and Red Sox may have won two titles apiece this decade, but that didn't mean there weren't a couple small market success stories as well.
Few teams in the American League were as sure a thing as the Twins these past 10 years. No matter who was on their roster, they found a way to win.
This largely was the work of skipper Ron Gardenhire, who took over for the legendary Tom Kelly and proceeded to cement his place in Minnesota baseball lore.
Having arguably the best lefty starter of the decade not named Randy Johnson surely was a nice luxury, as Twins fans had the treat of watching Johan Santana for eight seasons.
Torii Hunter was fun to watch too, making web gems on the field and enjoying himself off of it as well.
When Santana and Hunter were disposed of after 2007, a new player quickly asserted himself as the face of the franchise: Joe Mauer.
There is not much you can say that hasn't already been said. He has won three batting titles in four seasons, and he's a catcher—think about that for a second. Mauer and teammate Justin Morneau currently make up the best offensive duo in the game.
Playing in a division that has been extremely mercurial the last 10 seasons, with every team except Kansas City enjoying some success in that time, the Twins can always be counted to make that late season push. They remain the model small-market franchise.
Average Record This Decade: 89-73
Best Finish: Lost 2006 ALCS to Detroit
Important Players: Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, Barry Zito, Mark Ellis, Frank Thomas
Oh, Yankees—why'd you have to win the World Series after that spending spree? How exactly am I supposed to extoll the virtues of "moneyball" now?
No matter what the big market clubs do, the fact remains that Billy Beane changed baseball forever. His tedious attention to detail and emphasis on sabermetrics helped the Oakland A's hang tough with the Yankees in the first half of the decade, while usually carrying a payroll a third that of the Bombers.
Under Beane's watch, the A's assembled the 1-2-3 punch of the decade: Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito. The three went 261-131 in their time with the A's.
Though Jason Giambi would leave after 2001, the team would benefit from the continued excellence of Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada. Oakland served as a rehabilitation base for sluggers like Frank Thomas and Milton Bradley as well.
Since bowing out to the Tigers in the 2006 ALCS, the team has not done much. However, Beane is still working his magic, as the A's head into the next decade with one of the deepest farm systems in the league.
If a new wave of A's greats can emerge from that system, the good times will return to Northern California.
Now if they could just move out of that God-awful stadium.
Average Record This Decade: 85-77
Best Finish: Won 2008 World Series vs. Tampa
Important Players: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Brad Lidge, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Randy Wolf
I believe it was former Phillies beat writer Jayson Stark who said that no team in baseball changed its image more this decade than the Phillies. I don't agree with that, but this team has drastically changed its identity for the better.
Since losing their 10,000th game in franchise history (the first team in pro sports to achieve the dubious honor), it's hard to think of too much that's gone wrong for the Phils since.
After years of mediocrity under Larry Bowa, the team hired Charlie Manuel in 2005. GM Pat Gillick assembled a talented and fiery collection of young players: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth.
Howard and Rollins would bring Philadelphia back-to-back MVP awards, and Hamels had one of the most dominant postseason pitching performances of all time as the Phils ended a 28-year title drought in 2008, defeating the Rays.
They returned to the Fall Classic again this season, and despite falling short to the Yankees this past season, they enter the next decade as the class of the National League.
Average Record This Decade: 90-72
Best Finish: 2002 World Series vs. San Francisco
Important Players: Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, Garrett Anderson, Francisco Rodriguez, Chone Figgins, Troy Glaus, David Eckstein, Jarrod Washburn, Bengie Molina
Heading into the new millennium, the Angels were best known for their past devastating failures and tragedies. They accomplished very little under Disney ownership.
At decade's end, they are widely acknowledged as one of the classiest, best-run organizations in the game.
This amazing turnaround can be attributed to many people, but by far no one has been as responsible for it as Mike Scioscia, the manager of the decade. The Angels recently extended his contract for 10 years; if anyone deserves that kind of job security, it's him.
In 2002, Scioscia guided the nucleus of Garret Anderson, David Eckstein, Troy Glaus, Jarrod Washburn, and John Lackey to the franchise's first World Series championship, an immortal classic seven-game series against the Giants.
Though the team has not advanced farther than the ALCS since then, they won the AL West five of the following seven seasons, Vlad Guerrero and Chone Figgins joining forces with Lackey to give Angels fans plenty to cheer about.
Even though all three are currently free agents, this team will always have a chance as long as Scioscia is at the helm.
Average Record This Decade: 91-71
Best Finish: Won 2006 World Series vs. Detroit
Important Players: Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Chris Carpenter, Jason Isringhausen, David Eckstein, Scott Rolen, Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Matt Morris
The most storied National League franchise of all time was also the most accomplished National League franchise of the last 10 years. Tony La Russa's team made it to three National League championship series and two World Series, winning one of them.
The Cardinals' story this decade wasn't so much about World Series wins or deep playoff runs as it was about the man pictured above. Hard to say anything about Albert Pujols that hasn't been said many times before. By any measure, the player of the decade.
Believe it or not, the Machine did not do it alone. The team had Jim Edmonds for the best years of his career, and David Eckstein sparked the 2006 championship team just as he did with the 2002 Angels.
When he wasn't hurt, Chris Carpenter was lights out, winning the 2005 NL Cy Young and contending for the award again this year.
With drastically fewer resources than the Yankees or Red Sox, the Cardinals were almost as successful as those two these past 10 seasons.
As they have been most of their existence, they still are a premier franchise, and their star first baseman represents everything that is good about the game.
Average Record This Decade: 92-70
Best Finish: Won 2004 World Series vs. St. Louis, 2007 World Series vs. Colorado
Important Players: David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, Johnny Damon
With all due respect to the Phillies, the franchise that changed their image for the better the most this decade was by far the Red Sox. Until the Yankees won it all this past October, I was set to declare their arch-rivals the team of the decade.
At the turn of the century, it had been more than 80 years since their last World Series win. They won two these past 10 seasons.
The 2004 title run in particular will hold a space in Red Sox lore forever, as the team rallied from an 0-3 deficit to beat the Bambino's old team, the Yankees, and then beating the Cardinals to liberate one of the most tortured fanbases in pro sports.
The team had the blessing of having both David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez in the prime of their careers. The pitching tandem of Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling was what ultimately gave the Sox an edge over the Yankees. At the pinnacle of his career, captain Jason Varitek was one of the best catchers in the game.
As members of the 2004 team aged or departed, Theo Epstein did a brilliant job in bringing in a new wave of talent, including farm products Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jacoby Ellsbury, and bringing in a new ace in Josh Beckett. These players were crucial in making the Sox champions again in 2007.
The team is at a crossroads yet again, with Ortiz and Varitek long past their primes, Jason Bay a free agent, and Beckett's future with the team uncertain.
No matter what, after what their beloved team accomplished this decade, Red Sox nation will (and should) believe.
Average Record This Decade: 97-65
Best Finish: Won 2000 World Series vs. New York, 2009 World Series vs. Philadelphia
Important Players: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Bernie Williams, Roger Clemens, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Alfonso Soriano, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi
The Yankees' standing as the team of the decade is a testament to the primacy and recency effect, which maintains that from a series of events, people tend to remember the first and last events.
No matter what happened in between, the fact of the matter is that the Bronx Bombers started and ended the decade in the same position—world champions. They did it all around the same core that made them the true team of the '90s: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera.
People outside the Yankee fanbase may hate the team as much as ever now, but believe it or not, they were actually America's team for a whole month.
What the team did in the wake of Sept. 11, coming three outs away from a fourth successive title and giving the people of New York a friendly distraction when they needed it most, should be remembered and appreciated forever.
The 2003 series loss to Florida triggered a stretch of playoff failures and poor returns on colossal investments. In this time, the fanbase nearly ran Alex Rodriguez out of town. In light of leading the Bombers to title 27 this past October, I'd guess it's safe to say A-Rod has won them over now.
Numbers can lie in baseball, but they don't here. No team made more headlines, no team employed more high-profile players, no team won more. That's the Yankee way after all.