The Olympics returned to their birthplace (Athens, Greece) amidst a stream of controversies involving the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs. Despite the resulting suspensions and stripped titles, many experts believed the 2004 Games would be remembered for the improvement in drug testing which allowed honest athletes to prevail. One Greek newspaper summed up the media's bemusement at the number of cheaters discovered with a cartoon depicting a young boy, with a gold medal round his neck, being surrounded by microphones saying: "I am only a volunteer, but everyone else has tested positive."
During the summer of 2004, North America, Central America and the Caribbean experienced one of the deadliest hurricane seasons ever recorded. During the months of August and September alone, four major storms (Jeanne, Ivan, Frances, Charley) pounded the southeastern part of the globe killing well over 2,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands more homeless. As a result, a record setting number of tornadoes (173 in August, 247 in September) were also spawned as the left over tropical depressions moved inland and up the eastern coast. The total cost in damage from winds and flooding was estimated to run well into the mutli-billions and was spread from the island of Haiti to upstate New York.
2004 also marked one of the most widely anticipated presidential elections in recent history. Republican President George W. Bush, son of former President Bush, made a run for a second term after being elected in the hotly contested 2000 campaign. At that time he was mid-way through his second term as governor of Texas, a position he assumed in 1994. Prior to running for governor he spent several years in the oil business and as the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. His opponent, Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry was a decorated Vietnam War veteran who returned from the conflict to become one of the most outspoken opponents of the war. After entering politics in 1982, when he was elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, he ran for U.S. Senate on a campaign that refused contributions from political action committees. He was reelected in 1990, 1996 and 2002. (Winner TBD)
In the American League…
Baltimore Oriole Miguel Tejada won the 2004 Home Run Derby after edging the Houston Astros' Lance Berkman with five homers in the final round. The All-Star shortstop set two MLB records in the process by hitting a total of twenty-seven round-trippers for the night and fifteen in the second round. Amazingly, Tejada's final five blasts came after five outs, half of the requisite total.
Seattle sensation Ichiro Suzuki broke George Sisler's 1920 single season hitting record during an 8-3 victory over the Texas Rangers. With fans still cheering, Suzuki ran to the first-base seats and shook hands with Sisler's 81-year-old daughter and other members of the Hall of Famer's family. After Suzuki's 258th hit, he scored his 100th run of the season when the Mariners batted around in the third, taking a 6-2 lead on six hits.
The Cleveland Indians scalped the New York Yankees with a record-setting 22-0 massacre on August 31st. With the defeat, the Bombers lost their fifth consecutive game in the Bronx for the first time since May of 2003. The 22 runs allowed were the most ever given up by the Yankees in their home ballpark and the most runs allowed since 1928, when the Indians won a 24-6 decision (one of two 18-run defeats in New York history). The loss also tied the largest margin of defeat in a shutout since 1900, equaling the mark set in 1975 by the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 22-0 win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
In the National League…
San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds continued his relentless assault on the Major League record books in 2004. His season highlights included: (Sept.17) Hit his 700th career homer, off San Diego's Jake Peavy. (Sept.11) Broke his own record for walks in a season and became the first player to earn 200 free passes in one campaign. (Aug.29) Recorded his 68th career multi-homer game, passing Mark McGwire for second all-time. (Aug.13) Singled in his 1,813th run, passing Frank Robinson for 14th on the all-time RBI list. (July 10) Broke his own record for intentional walks in a season with the first of three in the game. (July 8) Passed Eddie Murray (5,397) for eighth place on the all-time total bases list. (July 4) Received two walks from the A's to tie and break Rickey Henderson's all-time walks record. (June 13) Hit his 500th homer as a Giant. (June 12) Homered off the 400th different pitcher of his career, Baltimore's Rodrigo Lopez. (May 28) Hit his 10th career walk-off homer, a two-run shot off Colorado's Tim Harikkala. (April 29) Hit his 668th career homer, giving him and his late father Bobby a combined 1,000 homers. (April 17) Scored his 2,063rd run, putting him alone in seventh place all-time, with a solo homer off Los Angeles' Darren Dreifort. (April 13) Hit his 661st career homer, off Milwaukee's Ben Ford, to assume sole possession of third place on the all-time list. (April 12) Hit his 660th career homer, off Milwaukee's Matt Kinney, to tie godfather Willie Mays for third on the all-time list.
After enjoying a brief, seventy-eight day retirement, Roger Clemens returned to pitch with friend and former teammate Andy Pettitte on their hometown Houston Astros. For more than a year, "The Rocket" had insisted that 2003 would be his final season, but all bets were off after the Yankees lost the World Series and Pettitte left New York. Remarkably, the 41 year-old, six-time Cy Young winner, returned better than ever becoming a NL Cy Young candidate en route to the National League Championship Series.
Randy Johnson, of the Arizona Diamondbacks, turned back on the clock on his amazing career after pitching a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves on May 18th. In doing so, the 40 year-old became the first ace to toss a no-hitter since David Cone of the New York Yankees accomplished the feat in 1999. He also became the oldest pitcher in baseball history to do so, followed by Cy Young who had reached perfection at the age of 37 in 1904. Johnson's masterpiece came in a 2-0 win at Turner Field that took only two hours and thirteen minutes to complete. Afraid to "jinx" the outcome, neither the scoreboard nor public address system noted the history in the making and only displayed "The Big Unit's" picture and stats after the final pitch had been made.
Around the league…
America's "National Pastime" returned to the capital for the first time in thirty-three years after Major League Baseball approved the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington DC. Ironically, the announcement came one day before the anniversary of the original Washington Senators' final game (before moving to Texas) in 1971. The relocation of the Expos was subject to certain contingencies, including a vote by team owners in November and passage of legislation by the Washington's City Council to build a ballpark on the Anacostia River waterfront.
One day after the death of former baseball star Ken Caminiti (an admitted steroid user) U.S. lawmakers passed legislation allowing tighter government regulation of steroid precursors. In doing so, the Anabolic Steroid Control Act added androstenedione, norandrosterone and similar testosterone-production enhancing substances to a list of anabolic steroids regarded as controlled substances. Caminiti, who had played in the major leagues for fifteen years, died of an apparent heart attack at age 41. He had admitted to using steroids during his Most Valuable Player season in 1996, when he hit .326 with 40 homers and 130 runs batted in for the San Diego Padres.
After the U.N. repeatedly failed in its efforts to uncover weapons of mass destruction or identify links between Saddam Hussein and international terrorists, the United States and a group of coalition forces joined together for a pre-emptive strike aimed at disarming Iraq. On March 19th, the U.S. launched what would become known as Operation "Shock and Awe" as a "decapitation attack" aimed at the Iraqi President and other top members of the country's leadership. More than 40 satellite-guided Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from U.S. warships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf with support from multiple squadrons of F-117 stealth fighters, carrying 2,000-pound bombs. Although the initial attack failed to eliminate Saddam, it only took 21 days for coalition forces to eliminate the Republican Guard and take the capital city of Baghdad. For the first time in history, people from around the world were able to watch the war effort live via embedded war journalists and strategically placed web cams.
Tragedy struck the NASA Space Program after the space shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry 15 minutes before its scheduled landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Those killed on the ill-fated flight were commander Rick D. Husband; pilot William C. McCool; payload commander Michael P. Anderson; mission specialists David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark; as well as Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. An investigation into the explosion later revealed that a piece of foam designed to protect the vehicle from heat had dislodged during take-off, striking the left wing. Columbia, the oldest of NASA's shuttle fleet, had first launched in 1981 and was completing its 28th mission. Ironically, the accident occurred less than a week after the anniversaries of two other deadly space program disasters: the 17th anniversary of the explosion of the shuttle Challenger (January 28) and the 36th anniversary of a launch pad fire that killed three Apollo astronauts (January 27).
In the American League…
New York Yankees ace Roger Clemens joined one of the most exclusive clubs in sports after becoming the 21st pitcher in Major League history to win 300 games. After announcing his intentions to retire at the end of the 2003 season, Clemens went on to complete his quest for 300 by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-2, in front of a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium. In doing so "The Rocket" became the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1990 to reach 300 wins, tying Hall-of-Famers Early Wynn and Lefty Grove for 19th place on the all-time victory list. Later he joined another "pitching fraternity" after striking out the 4,000th batter of his career. Only Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Steve Carlton (4,136) had more strikeouts than Clemens (to date), who had 10 on the night. Ironically, Carlton had also won his 300th against the Cardinals in 1983.
The ongoing rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees came to a head during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series after both dugouts emptied twice due to what some felt was "overly-aggressive" pitching. The ensuing argument was first instigated after Boston ace Pedro Martinez struck Yankees DH Karim Garcia in the back and was fueled by Manny Ramirez who took offense to a high pitch thrown by Roger Clemens. As both dugouts cleared, New York's bench coach Don Zimmer charged at Martinez who promptly reacted by throwing the 72-year-old to the ground. After several minutes of suspended play, both teams went back to business until a second brawl erupted in the Yankees bullpen between Jeff Nelson, Garcia and a member of Fenway Park's grounds crew. Following the 4-3 Yankees victory, Major League Baseball issued fines to Martinez, Ramirez, Garcia and Zimmer while the Boston Police issued additional charges on Garcia and Nelson for their involvement in the bullpen altercation.
In the National League…
The entire baseball world was shocked after one of its most beloved athletes Sammy Sosa was ejected in the first inning of a Chicago Cubs verses Tampa Bay Devil Rays game after umpires found cork in his shattered bat. Sosa, who had also joined the 500-homer club and gained national prominence in 1998 during his home-run battle with Mark McGwire, apologized to fans, his teammates and the commissioner of baseball. Stating that the corked bat had been strictly used for batting practice and mistakenly taken to the plate, Sosa received a 7-game suspension following an appeal. Sosa's other bats, which had been confiscated by security personnel and turned over to major league baseball, showed no signs of tampering. Still, many doubted the integrity of Sammy's previous accomplishments and it would be some time before he would be back in the fan's favor.
Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne set a new major league record after converting 55 saves to top Boston's Tom Gordon, who had previously converted 54 in a row from April 19, 1998, to June 5, 1999. Practically "un-hittable" throughout the season, Gagne had increased the velocity on his fastball from 92 MPH to 97 and complemented it with a hard 87-MPH changeup that dropped much like a split-finger pitch. His 41st consecutive win gave him the longest saves streak to start a season in major league history and he also became the first relief pitcher in history to tally 100 more strikeouts (137) than hits allowed (37).
Around the league…
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler collapsed at the team's spring training complex in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 16 and died the next day. Following an autopsy, it was determined that the 23-year-old had suffered a "heart attack-like event" after taking a dietary supplement containing ephedra. His widow later filed a $600 million lawsuit against the manufacturers while bringing national attention to the dangers of using potentially harmful weight loss aids. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale, called the product Xenadrine RFA-1 a "poisonous cocktail" unsafe for human consumption.
Major League Baseball's marketing division attempted to restore the fan's faith in the All-Star Game and make amends for the 2002 debacle that had ended in a 7-7 tie after both leagues ran out of available pitchers. To add more meaning to the fledgling exhibition, the 2003 Midsummer Classic slogan read "This Time It Counts" and for the first time in professional baseball history, home-field advantage in the World Series would be granted to the winner. The enticing proposal initially appeared to be more than just a marketing ploy as the last team to overcome the "home-field curse" was the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had beaten the odds (and the Baltimore Orioles) while away in 1979. However, despite winning 7-6, the American League later proved that home-field advantage was overrated after the Florida Marlins toppled the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.
After years of less-than-stellar ratings, record audiences finally tuned in to the Major League Baseball postseason, making it the most-watched playoffs ever on cable. Fans also flocked to the ballparks setting a new attendance mark with over 1,858,979 tickets sold. Many attributed this renewed interest to the playoff's storybook backdrop that featured two of baseball's most beloved underdogs, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. Both teams had surprised the experts by making the post season and each continued to shock their opponents by battling back in their respective leagues time and time again. After surviving the Divisional round, generations of long-suffering fans from both ball clubs reveled in the possibility that the curse of both "The Bambino" and "The Goat" was finally coming to an end. The baseball god's apparently had other plans and both teams fell just five heartbreaking outs short of making it to the Series.
Big business took the witness stand in 2002, as Enron, WorldCom and Xerox were all exposed in major accounting scandals. The total cost of corporate fraud in the United States was estimated at more than 5 trillion dollars, coming in plunging stocks, loss of investments and tax revenue.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed with U.S. President George W. Bush in Moscow a nuclear disarmament treaty and a strategic partnership agreement. Under the treaty, the two countries pledged to slash their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.
On Sept. 11, tributes around the nation showcased American emotion and patriotic pride on the 1-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. Major League Baseball held special opening ceremonies in every ballpark operating that day.
In the American League…
The Anaheim Angels dethroned the perennial AL Champion New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins to face the San Francisco Giants in their first Fall Classic since entering the league 42 years earlier. The victory was sweetened by overcoming a 5-0 seventh-inning deficit in Game 6, fittingly the greatest elimination-game comeback in Classic history. The Angels went on to win the contest 4 games to 3.
From August 13th to September 4th, MVP Miguel Tejada and the Oakland A's set an American League record or 20 straight wins.
Seattle's Mike Cameron hit four homers in Comiskey Park on May 2nd, becoming the first Major Leaguer in nine years (Mark Whiten, 1993) to manage the feat. He was outdone 21 days later in Milwaukee as the Los Angeles Dodgers' Shawn Green totaled a 6-for-6, 19-total base spectacle and finished the week with nine home runs of his own.
In the National League…
Barry Bonds continued to chase Babe Ruth as the most dominant player in MLB history. The San Francisco Giants outfielder tallied his 600th home run off the Pittsburgh Pirates' Kip Wells on Aug. 9th and won his first batting title (.370) before falling to the Anaheim Angels in Game 7 of the World Series.
The Arizona Diamondbacks continued to dominate on the mound as Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling went 47-12 and ranked 1-2 in the Majors with a combined total of 650 strikeouts. The 1-2 combination also boasted 13 complete games, more than any other big-league team.
No one demonstrated more resolve than the Cardinals, who experienced the untimely deaths of longtime announcer Jack Buck, and pitcher Darryl Kile. The team, though mourning, went on to dominate the National League Central dedicating the season in the memory of their departed comrades.
Around the league…
Major League owners and players, inevitably heading toward a ninth play stoppage over labor issues, reached accord virtually minutes before the first feared cancellation. It was the first time a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was struck without the loss of a single inning.
For only the second time in the History of the Midsummer Classic, the 2002 All-Star Game was called at a 7-7 tie after 11 innings due to both teams running out of available pitchers.
The West was the best as six of the nine West Division teams won 92-plus games (more teams than the other four divisions combined) and West players dominated the individual awards including the Cy Young, MVP and eight of the nine American League Gold Gloves.
Baseball bid farewell to some of the greatest ever to lace up a pair of cleats including Ted Williams, Jim Spencer, Al Cowens, Minnie Rojas, Joe Black, Wes Westrum, Darrell Porter, Enos Slaughter, John Roseboro, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Darryl Kile.
For the second time in the nation's history, a president's son followed in his father's footsteps as George W. Bush (Jr.) was sworn in as the country's 43rd leader.
On September 11 the world changed forever as two hijacked airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center's twin towers and a third airplane hit the Pentagon in Washington DC. A fourth plane was brought down before reaching its intended target by a heroic group of passengers in a field in western Pennsylvania. In the end, over 3300 innocent people were killed and the United States along with a collalition of over 60 countries declared war on terrorism.
The New York Yankees weren't the only baseball team from the Bronx that played well in 2001, only to come up short in the end. The Little League team from the South Bronx stole the show at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, but was later disqualified after it was discovered that star pitcher Danny Almonte was actually a 15 year-old ringer.
In the American League…
Baltimore Orioles icon "Iron Man" Cal Ripken re-enacted the final scene from "The Natural" with a dramatic home run blast in the third inning off of Chan Ho Park during his final All-Star Game appearance.
Despite losing 3 of their greatest players (Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez) the resilient Seattle Mariners set the record for most wins in a season for an American League club, bettering the mark of 114 set by the already legendary 1998 Yankees. Japanese sensation Ichiro Suzuki sweetened the deal by winning Rookie of the Year as well as MVP.
The New York Yankees' Mike Mussina came within one batter of perfection, but Carl Everett's two-out, ninth-inning single spoiled the Moose's bid for a perfect game. In the end, the right-handed veteran finished with a one-hitter as the Yankees swept the Boston Red Sox at Fenway.
In the National League…
A new era of baseball in Pittsburgh began with the opening of PNC Park resembling the classic stadiums of old. The park served as the fifth home for the Buccos replacing Three Rivers Stadium, which had replaced the sacred grounds at Forbes Field. Unfortunately, Pirate legend Willie Stargell died the evening before its opening day casting a dark shadow over the debut festivities.
Barry Bonds of the Giants broke St. Louis Cardinals' slugger Mark McGwire's single-season home run record. Before an ecstatic throng at San Francisco's Pac Bell Park, the Hall-of-Fame-bound outfielder took Chan Ho Park deep for No. 71. He would later go on to reset the record at 73.
In one of the most exciting editions of the World Series, the adolescent Arizona Diamondbacks beat the 3x defending champion New York Yankees after Luis Gonzalez lined a Series-winning single off closer Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 7.
Around the league…
Major League Baseball rose to the occasion as part of the post 9/11 healing process. After taking center stage with patriotic tributes throughout the remainder of the regular season, the national pastime returned to the Big Apple to host the World Series. With the city's emotions running high and the American flag pulled from the wreckage of the World Trade Center flying overhead, President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch symbolizing the unwavering strength of America.
The 1-2 pitching combination of Arizona Diamondbacks Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson resulted in the first World Series Co-MVPs.
The 2001 season ended bittersweet as fans said goodbye to two future hall-of-famers in Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres and Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles.
The Baseball Hall of Fame congratulated its newest inductees including Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield, Hilton Smith and Bill Mazeroski (who opened the door for defensive players).
"Y2K" spawned a paranoid phenomenon due to the impending threat of the world's computers crashing. Despite millions of dollars and countless man-hours spent in preparation, the impending cyber-disaster amounted to nothing.
The U.S. presidential race between Republican candidate George W. Bush and Democratic hopeful Al Gore ended amid controversy. The world watched as the most powerful nation on earth used the courts to sort out what was the most evenly divided recent presidential election of the United States.
After years of delays, the International Space Station was finally operating in orbit thanks to a combined effort of technological resources from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Russia, 11 nations of the European Space Agency and Brazil.
In the American League…
Shortstop sensation Nomar Garciaparra earned his second consecutive batting title and Pedro Martinez earned his third Cy Young award in four years, but it wasn't enough to get the Red Sox to the playoffs for a third consecutive season. Despite their best efforts, "The Curse of the Bambino" continued to reign as the Sox finished 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East.
The Detroit Tigers topped the Minnesota Twins, 12-11 on October 1st, as Shane Halter became the 4th major leaguer in history to play all nine positions in a game. Both teams combined to use 15 pitchers, tying the ML mark and setting an American League record.
The Cleveland Indians became the leagues fifth, triple play victim at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles during a September 1st outing. With runners at first and second and no outs, shortstop Melvin Mora intentionally dropped Sandy Alomar's pop fly, then threw to Jerry Hairston who tagged the runner at second as well as the runner coming from first. A confused Alomar retreated to the dugout believing the infield fly rule is in effect and was called out for leaving the basepath.
In the National League…
Major league baseball ordered Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker to undergo psychological testing following racial remarks he had made during an off-season interview with Sports Illustrated. He was later suspended for 14 days and allowed to attend Spring Training after paying an undisclosed fine and attending sensitivity training.
The Chicago Cubs christened the 2000 season by defeating the New York Mets, 5-3 in the Tokyo Dome in Japan marking the first major league game ever played on Asian soil.
Following the death of Montreal Canadian Maurice Richard, the Expos announced that they would wear "The Rocket's" number nine for the remainder of the season as a tribute to the late hockey icon. It was the first time that a major league baseball team was believed to have honored an athlete from another sport.
Around the league…
American League president Gene Budig resigned and was appointed as a senior adviser to baseball commissioner Bud Selig. The American and National leagues were officially disbanded as separate legal entities with all rights and functions consolidated in the commissioner's office.
Following a May 16th incident in which sixteen Los Angeles Dodger players and three coaches entered the stands during a fight with fans at Wrigley Field, 19 suspensions are handed out resulting in the loss of 60 games for the players and 24 for the coaches.
Andrew Klein, a boy who was struck in the head and suffered permanent brain damage while attending batting practice before a Florida Marlins game in 1997, was finally awarded $1.05 million by a state court jury. The decision set the stage for limiting children's access to players on the field and required stricter safety guidelines for kid's pre-game ballpark programs.
Four American League teams finished with a better winning percentage than the New York Yankees. However, the Bronx Bombers were really not concerned with the final standings and progressed through the post-season with ease defeating their cross-town rival Mets 4 games to 1 in the 14th rendition of the "Subway Series".
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