Year In Review : 2005 American League
Off the field...
2005 will be remembered as a year in which the world seemed to be peppered with natural disasters including floods, earthquakes, mudslides, wild fires and even a tsunami (late Decmber 2004). Tropical storms reached an all-time high as the National Hurricane Service ran out of letters from the English alphabet for naming them. The eleventh, christened "Hurricane Katrina," first made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane in Miami, Florida on August 25, 2005 and then again on August 29th, along the Central Gulf Coast near New Orleans, Louisiana, as a Category 4 storm. The hurricane resulted in several breaches of the levee system that protected New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain, and most of the city was subsequently flooded by the lake's waters. This and other major damage to the coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama made Katrina the most destructive and costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. In the end, Katrina was responsible for $200 billion dollars in damage, and over 1,200 deaths. In addition, more than one-million people were left displaced, creating a humanitarian crisis unlike anything experienced in modern times.
"Operation Enduring Freedom" marked its fourth anniversary, as American military and coalition forces continued their global war on terrorism. Originally launched in October of 2001 (as both a counter attack and pre-emptive strike, following the attacks on September 11th), the Allied Forces targeted far more than al Qaeda training camps and facilities and the repressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The ongoing battle against insurgents in Baghdad, the liberation of the Iraqi people, the drafting of an Iraqi Constitution, and the trial of captured dictator Saddam Hussein were just a few of the major issues in an ongoing war that sparked both controversy and debate around the world.
NASA finally returned to space, after a 2½ year absence, following the accidental explosion and loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and her seven-member crew (STS-107) over Texas in February of 2003. After a year of investigation, resulting in the institution of several new safety features and protocols, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on July 26, 2005. STS-114 included breathtaking in-orbit maneuvers, tests of new equipment and procedures, and a first-of-its-kind space-walking repair. NASA later announced that the next Shuttle mission, STS-121, was targeted for March of 2006 and would be the second test flight to the International Space Station in the "Shuttle Return to Flight" series.
In the American League...
Baltimore Oriole and Dominican superstar Miguel Tejada was awarded the "Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award" for his efforts in leading the American League to a 7-5 victory over the National League in the 76th All-Star Game in Detroit. In doing so, Tejada became the fifth Latin-American born player among the last eight MVP winners. The victory increased the American League's unbeaten streak to nine and netted its third straight home-field advantage in the World Series.
2005 was also the seventeenth (and final) big-league season of one of baseball's perennial journeyman, John Olerud. With a stellar career as a Toronto Blue Jay, New York Met, Seattle Mariner, New York Yankee, and Boston Red Sox, Olerud's resume boasted a .295 average, with 2,239 hits, 7,592 at-bats, two World Championships, three Gold Gloves, and one batting title. Retiring as a first-baseman with the Boston Red Sox, Olerud left behind a wonderful "blue-collar" legacy as both a players' player and a fan favorite. Well known for not having played a single game in the minor leagues, Olerud moved directly to the majors after an outstanding career at Washington State University where he was a pitcher. Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the third round of the 1989 Amateur Draft, he had to wear a batting helmet in the field because of a brain aneurysm in younger life.
Following in the footsteps of the "Cinderella-story" 2004 Boston Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox shocked the baseball world after winning the American League pennant en route to their first World Series since 1959. The forty-six year gap between appearances was the longest in American League history and offered a rare opportunity for some long-overdue redemption for "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and his infamous "Black Sox" - who were found guilty of throwing the Fall Classic in 1919. The Windy City's south-siders had advanced to the postseason on three other occasions, in 1983 when they lost three of four games to the Baltimore Orioles, in 1993 when the Toronto Blue Jays beat them in six, and in 2000 when the Seattle Mariners dumped them in three. Their last World Championship title had come eighty-eight years earlier when they defeated the New York Giants in 1917.
In the National League...
Bobby Abreu, of the Philadelphia Phillies, broke the record for most round-trippers after putting up twenty-four in the first round of the Century 21 Home Run Derby during the 2005 All-Star Game. The Venezuelan slugger opened the night by slugging a record twenty-four homers in the first round. He then went on to finish second in the second round (8-6) while earning a spot in the finals. Showing no signs of fatigue, he later added eleven more (another record) en route to the title. His longest homer in the final round was four-hundred fifty-eight feet. When totaled, Abreu's forty-one homers combined to travel an estimated distance of seventeen thousand five-hundred sixty-five feet!
After falling short of the postseason in their first forty-two years of existence, the Houston Astros finally weathered the storm, beating the perennial National League East division winners, the Atlanta Braves as well as the National League defending champion St. Louis Cardinals en route to the 2005 World Series. Along the way, Houston and Atlanta set a Major League postseason record with a five hour and fifty minute marathon (sixty seconds longer than a Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees playoff game from the previous season). It ended at 7-6, with a game-winning (and Series ending) home run in the eighteenth-inning, courtesy of Houston's Chris Burke. Aces from both teams combined to throw a whopping five-hundred fifty-three pitches, (Astros: three-hundred, Braves: two-hundred fifty-three) as a forty-three year-old Roger Clemens came unexpectedly "out of the bullpen" for his first relief appearance since 1984. Usually a starter, "The Rocket" was forced into a closer's role and allowed one hit in three scoreless innings to earn the win.
In a year filled with parity and mediocrity, the San Diego Padres finished the season with an 82-80 record to avoid becoming the first playoff team to ever finish the season at .500 or under. The Padres actually won more games in 2004 (eighty-seven) and recorded back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1991 and 1992. Overcoming a seemingly never-ending string of injuries and ailments, the Padres held on to win the National League West, but were later swept 3-0 by the defending National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series.
Around the League...
Fed up with the lack of initiative by Major League Baseball with regard to the latest steroid scandals, the House Government's Reform Committee took its first step toward intervention, by holding a congressional hearing focusing on the problems of doping in baseball. Following the ongoing investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative known as BALCO, the committee called several past and present players to testify regarding their own knowledge and/or experience with performance-enhancing drugs. (BALCO is a California nutritional supplements company accused of distributing human growth hormones and steroids, as well as Jose Conseco's controversial biography entitled "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big.") Former All-Time, single-season homerun champion Mark McGwire, Baltimore Orioles stars Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa and Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling appeared in front of a panel made up of state representatives. Schilling and the Chicago White Sox' Frank Thomas, who gave a statement via videoconference, were invited because of their outspoken views against steroid use. Ultimately hurting the cause more than helping it, Sosa crafted an opening statement in which he said he had never used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. McGwire refused to answer any questions directly, assuming a Fifth Amendment-like stance that ultimately tarnished his legacy in the eyes of many fans. And Palmeiro vehemently denied having used steroids. Unfortunately, "Raffy" later went on to become one of the first players to test positive and receive a multiple game suspension. In retrospect, it appeared that the most unpopular member of the panel, Canseco, was apparently the most (if not the only) honest witness.
The newly relocated Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos) ended their first season since returning to the nation's capital with an 81-81 record. Even before the 2005 Spring Training season had ended, manager Frank Robinson promised that the Nationals would be a competitive franchise, despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. With a surprise ten-game winning streak, starting in late May, the Nationals proved they were a competent team, capable of playing 500+ ball. By July 3rd, Washington became the third team in baseball to reach the fifty-win plateau and was on a pace to win one-hundred games. The Nationals remained in Wild Card contention until the New York Mets eliminated them from the race on September 25th.