The decade of 2000-2010 was a roller coaster for baseball. With some great trends that you may not have noticed and some terrible scandals no one could avoid.
In those ten years no team won back to back World Series and only two teams won more than one (the Yankees in 2000 and 2009 and Red Sox in 2004 and 2007). The decade saw "newer teams" like the Diamondbacks, Angels and Marlins win the World Series and the Rockies, Astros, Rangers and Rays reached the World Series for the first time. Some of the most memorable playoff moments in the history of the game took place: Rick Ankiel melted down on the mound in the 2000 NLDS, Luis Gonzalez's extra inning game winning hit in game 7 of the 2001 World Series ended one of the best World Series of all time, the miracle Angels used the power of a bizarre mascot and rallied from a 3 games to 2 deficit to stun the Giants, Aaron Boone stuck a dagger in the heart of the Red Sox in 2003 and the Red Sox got revenge the next year, the White Sox won their first World Series since 1917 (which quietly was a longer drought than the Red Sox had ended the year before), the Cardinals and Tigers squared off in a classic rematch of a World Series that stretches back to 1934, the Phillies and Rays played a World Series game that took 3 days and ended the Phillies 28 year drought, the Phillies and Yankees introduced replay to the World Series, Roy Halladay pitched the first postseason perfect game since 1956 and the Giants ended their own playoff drought winning their first World Series since moving to San Francisco.
The decade started with the first "Subway Series" since 1956 as the Yankees beat the Mets, continuing their domination of the history of the game. The story of the decade quickly became ending long struggles to reach the top and the breaking of curses. The Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals and Giants all ended droughts of 20 years or more (two of them stretching back to the 1910's).
The decade was also a decade of comebacks. The 2003 Tigers won only 43 games (that means out of 162 games they lost 119), one of the worst records in history. Just three years later they were in the World Series. The 2003 Red Sox blew a late 7th Game lead in the ALCS and fell behind 3 games to 0 in the 2004 ALCS then stormed back to win it all. Three years later, the 2007 Red Sox did the same. Those 2007 Red Sox faced a Rockies team that won 14 of their last 15 games to force a one game playoff with the Padres and then fought their way into the World Series. In the process, they knocked off the up and coming Phillies, who themselves had rallied from seven games back on September 12 to topple the Mets.
The decade saw the revival of some long dormant rivalries as the Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants, Phillies-Mets and Tigers-White Sox rivalries boiled over. It also saw the birth of new rivalries that got heated as Cardinals-Astros, Angels-Athletics, Yankees-Rays and Red Sox-Rays battled each other throughout the decade.
Despite all the fun, exciting great stories in the decade, the focus of the sports world was on the steroids scandal that grew larger and larger through the decade. As two of the most respected players in the history of the game, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, stepped away from the game in 2001, the league was struggling to hide the dirty gigantic secret. At the start of the decade the league was dominated by players like Giambi, Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro, Clemens, Pettite and Ramirez. By the end of the decade each of them would be suspected, implicated or outright caught using steroids. The game fought to move on and rid the game of steroids and repair the damaged reputation while Bonds was toppling the most revered record of all time. It could have been one of the best moments of all time but it became an embarrassment. As Bonds prepared to pass Hank Aaron the talk was not about Bonds taking his position among Ruth, Aaron and Mays, it was about whether or not the commissioner would even be on hand to witness it and whether it would be recognized as a true record.
Although the names of Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, Jeter, ARod and Griffey will be the names that are remembered thirty, forty, fifty years from now (or more), every decade has tremendously talented, successful players who make wonderful contributions to the success of their teams, organizations and the league as a whole. Unfortunately many of the players who fall into this category will be forgotten, overlooked and generally ignored. Here are 12 players* from the decade that you may not remember but you definitely should:
Career Teams: Cleveland Indians (2002-2009) Boston Red Sox (2009-2010) and Detroit Tigers (2011-Present)
All Star Appearances: 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010
MVP Voting: 2004 (21st), 2005 (18th) , 2007 (7th), 2009 (21st) and 2011 (16th).
The position of Catcher is known for being a defensive stronghold and the most important position on the field. The catcher is involved in every pitch of every at bat. In between pitches he's flipping through his mental catalog of what pitch this guy can hit, where he hits it to, who's on base and what type of pitch does he like to run on. The mental focus on defense usually leads to lack of focus at the plate and lower averages. The 2000's seemed to confirm this theory with AL Catchers like Posada and Varitek. Good hitters but not threatening to win a batting title. Victor Martinez (and Joe Mauer in Minnesota) broke this mold. Between 2005 and 2011 Martinez hit .300 in all but one season, including .330 in 2011. Martinez's best year was 2007. Hitting .301, 40 doubles and 25 home runs the Indians took a 3 games to 1 lead over the Red Sox. Martinez hit .455 in the three Indians wins but only .188 in the four losses as the Red Sox stormed back and went on to their second World Series win in 4 years. Martinez moved on to Boston in 2009 but struggled to help the Sox. In 2011 he helped Detroit reach the ALCS. He missed all of 2012 due to injury. His bat in the Tigers lineup may have made a difference in the World Series. He is expected back for 2013 and should be a great help to the Tigers as a DH.
All Star Appearances: 2002 and 2005
MVP Voting: 2003 (12th) and 2005 (15th)
The first base position during the decade of 2000-2010 was full of amazing talent. Giambi, Palmeiro, Teixeira, Thome, Howard, McGwire, Fielder, Konerko. It seemed that every team at some point in the decade had a hall of fame or MVP caliber first baseman. Sexson was brought up by the Indians in 1998 to help fill in for an injured Jim Thome and immediately got noticed by pounding the ball. His high strikeouts caused him to be a slight liability but he had several years of near 100 walks to offset the K's. From 2001 to 2004 he was a borderline superstar but it was difficult to gain attention during an era when there were first base all stars everywhere and he was playing on a poor Milwaukee team. After 2004 he became a free agent. The Seattle Mariners had money to burn and hired Mike Hargrove to manage the team then signed Sexson and Adrian Beltre to fit in with established stars like Bret Boone and Ichiro. Despite the high payroll Seattle failed miserably and all blame fell on Sexson and Beltre. The most amazing thing about looking at the Seattle roster of these years are the young players who would later be stars: Felix Hernandez, Raul Ibanez, Shin Soo Choo, Greg Dobbs, George Sherrill, J.J. Putz and Rafael Soriano. It's less disappointing that the high priced free agents didn't perform and more disappointing that nearly all the young talent was gone within 5 years.
Career Teams: Baltimore Orioles (2001-Present)
All Star Appearances: 2005 and 2007
MVP Voting: 2005 (18th)
The first decade of the new century was an embarrassing disaster for the Baltimore Orioles. The decade started with the retiring of the face of the organization when Ripken stepped away. It went down hill from there. For the first few years they could at least thank the baseball gods that Tampa Bay would finish behind them and they would chase Toronto for third. After 2007 it was clear that they were the worst team in the league (proof enough is the 30-3 loss to Texas near the end of 2007). For one brief half season in 2005 they were competitive and battled for first place. Then as Rafael Palmeiro became a punchline in 2005 the decade hit a horrible downward spiral. The Mitchell report that came out on steroid use listed numerous O's as steroid users including Palmeiro, Tejada, Jay Gibbons, Chris Richards, Jason Grimsley and Brian Roberts himself. Through all this turmoil Brian Roberts was the spark plug of the team. Roberts is not known for power but is routinely near the top of the league in steals (leading the AL with 50 in 2007) and is a great defensive second baseman. Injuries slowed Roberts in the last few years and sadly when the O's finally made the playoffs in 2012 second base was a rotating position. Roberts played only 17 games in 2012 as the organization he represented his entire career, through the dark years, had their best year since 1997.
All Star Appearances: 2000, 2002 and 2003
MVP Voting: 2002 (23rd)
The term "baseball graveyard" is a term that has floated around for over a century. It refers to an organization that is in such bad shape that, regardless of how talented you are, your services are pointless. The Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are currently referred to as a "baseball graveyard". During the decade of 2000-2010 no team represented the league's graveyard better than the Montreal Expos. After the player strike of 1994 the Expos fortunes took a nose dive. Like any team, even with a terrible organization, there are bright spots. Jose Vidro shone brighter than many players on better teams. In looking at the three All Star appearances it would be easy to say that he only made it because every team has to be represented but Vidro's numbers are impressive and he even started the All Star game for the National League in Milwaukee in 2003. Not known as a power hitter Vidro did have some nice power years, hitting 24 HR in 2000 and 19 in 2003 and he hit above .300 six times. When the Expos moved to Washington in 2005 Vidro moved with them but was slowed by injuries. He was traded to Seattle in 2007 and hit .314 for the Mariners. His injuries continued to slow him and midway through 2008 he was released by the Mariners. While most middle infielders are either great hitters or great fielders Vidro was both. He never made more than 11 errors in one year.
All Star Appearances: 2005 and 2006
MVP Voting: 2002 (11th) and 2005 (21st)
Great teams often have "motor guys" or "slump busters", players who seem to be wind up toys with high energy that never stop moving. Usually these are not superstars but are guys who somehow find a way to spark the team when everyone else is slumping. The 1988 Dodgers had Mickey Hatcher, the 1993 Phillies had Dave Hollins and two World Series teams had David Eckstein. In 2001 he came in 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting (4th was no shame as he fell in behind Ichiro, who also won the 2001 MVP, C.C. Sabathia and Alfonso Soriano). The Angels had spent 8 years building a team high in potential but even higher in underachieving. With star players like Tim Salmon, Garrett Anderson, Darren Erstad, Troy Percival and Kevin Appier, Eckstein was an after thought. When the Angels finally made the playoffs in 2002 no one expected much, especially facing the five time defending AL Champs, the Yankees in the first round. Eckstein did well in the first round hitting .278 as the Angels stunned New York. He improved in the ALCS against the Twins hitting .287 and finally .310 in the World Series as the Angels surprised everyone, including the Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent led Giants. Eckstein scored 6 runs in that series. The postseason often makes household names out of small time players, though they normally disappear quickly, remembered only by students of the game. Eckstein was fortunate to get the opportunity again. After leaving the Angels he landed in St.Louis in 2005 and made a huge impact. The Cardinals reached the playoffs and beat the Padres in the first round with Eckstein hitting .385 in the series including 3 runs, 4 RBI and 1 HR. The Cardinals lost in seven games to Houston in the NLCS and Eckstein hit only .200, though he scored 5 runs. The Cardinals came back in 2006 and Eckstein led the way as they won the World Series. Hitting .364, 3 doubles, 3 runs and 4 RBI Eckstein was named the MVP of the World Series. He bounced from team to team after leaving the Cardinals but always made a major impact and improved the morale of the team. Although they couldn't quite hold on, Eckstein made a strong contribution to the San Diego run at the playoffs in 2010. He may not be a hall of fame player but it is not possible to tell the story of the World Series in the decade without his name.
All Star Appearances: 2003 and 2004
MVP Voting: 2004 (18th)
Fans who only started following the league in the last 5 years may find it hard to believe but the Texas Rangers were a struggling franchise for a very long time. The reputation of the organization in the 1980's was a team that did well in the first half of the season but melted when the summer heated up. That reputation softened a little bit when the team made the playoffs in 1996, 1998 and 1999, though their record was 1-9 in those three playoff series. The Rangers struggled to reclaim their identity through the early 2000's finishing no higher than third from 2000 to 2006. As the decade moved on the Rangers had a powerful lineup with Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Michael Young and Mark Teixeira but they could never really improve in the standings. The forgotten man in the powerful lineup was Hank Blalock. Like nearly everyone else on this list, Blalock will never be confused for a Hall of Famer but he certainly represented the organization well as everyone of the above listed pieces of the powerful lineup, except Michael Young, moved on to other teams. Despite playing with some future Hall of Famers, Blalock became a big name in the game of baseball. In 2003 he made his first All Star Game. Going into the bottom of the 8th of that game the NL led by 2 runs. The NL brought in Eric Gagne, that year's contribution to the "greatest closer ever" conversation. The AL cut the lead to 1 . With 2 outs and a 2-0 count Gagne tried to sneak a back door slider past Blalock. Hank waited on it and crushed it for the game winning home run. Hank made the All Star game again in 2004 and participated in the Home Run Derby. His numbers began to slip in 2005. Similar to the recent treatment of Josh Hamilton, the Rangers fans love affair with Hank started to fade. Although he said nothing about it, he may have started experiencing the first symptoms of a nerve syndrome that caused him a lot of pain. He had several trips to the DL and the Texas press had rumors sending him to nearly every team. A move from third base to first base did not have the effect that was hoped. He was released after the 2009 season and signed with the Rays. In the 2010 playoffs the Rays lost to the Rangers in the playoffs but Blalock was not in either dugout. He had been released in July after playing only 26 games with Tampa Bay. Despite major contributions to the Rangers in the lean years Blalock never got to play in a playoff game.
All Star Appearances: None
MVP Voting: None
Dave Roberts never made an All Star team and never received an MVP vote but tell a Dodger or Red Sox fan that Dave Roberts was an insignificant player in the history of the majors and you will be looking for a fight. Similar to David Eckstein further up on this list Dave Roberts was a "motor player". As a very good Dodgers team chugged toward the playoffs in 2004, Roberts, at the top of the lineup, was driving the train. At the trade deadline Dodgers fans were shocked when fan favorites Roberts, Paul Lo Duca and Guillermo Mota were shipped away. Roberts was sent to the Red Sox where he played in a few games and made a slight impact but with a packed outfield Roberts got little playing time. In the league championship series Roberts became a late inning pinch runner as the Red Sox limped their way to being swept in embarrassing fashion by the Yankees. That is until Roberts got the motor running. Down a run in the bottom of the ninth and 3 outs away from the end of the year Roberts stole second. It was a close play but Roberts seemed to always light a spark when needed. As he stood on second base clapping his hands and yelling "Let's Go" at the Sox dugout, Bill Mueller stepped in and stroked a single to right field. Roberts came around to score, tying the game. As he crossed the plate his energy seemed to ignite the Red Sox. They not only won that game they won the next three, including 2 in New York, and four more against the Cardinals to win their first World Series since 1918.
All Star Appearances: 2002, 2003 and 2005
MVP Voting: 2001 (21st), 2002 (4th), 2003 (14th)
In 1995 the Angels made the playoffs (technically) for the first time since 1986. Well, it was a one game playoff against the Mariners to see who would win the division. They lost...badly. Although they collapsed down the stretch, the Angels future looked bright with players like J.T. Snow, Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and Anderson. Anderson finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Marty Cordova of the Twins. As the 1990's ended the Angels failed to live up to their potential and as they made poor free agent signings, changed ownership and traded away Edmonds and Snow, it appeared they may be heading into a rebuilding phase. 2002 changed the history of the Angels organization and the story of baseball history as the Angels won an improbable World Series over the Giants. Few contributed more to the Angels win than Anderson. For many years Anderson was the face of the Angels. Although the Anaheim and LA press ridiculed his fielding on an almost daily basis at times, Anderson was the team leader and the compass of the Angels. Troy Glaus was the MVP of that 2002 series but in the deciding 7th game Anderson went 1-4 with a double and drove in 3 of the 4 Angels run.
All Star Appearances: None
MVP Voting: 2002 (14th) and 2005 (7th)
When the Phillies drafted Burrell they may as well have marketed him as Saint Patrick. He was routinely referred to as the savior of the franchise. He did not have the best speed and was not a perfect fielder (he wasn't the worst either) but he could hit. The Phillies are currently viewed as a dynasty in the NL East but until 2007 they were viewed as the team that always got close to making the playoffs but couldn't quite get in. That was until 2007 when they stormed back in late September to overtake the imploding Mets. The Phillies got every one's attention in 2008 when they won the World Series for only the second time in their 100+ year history and Burrell was a big part of that team. One of the great images of that postseason was Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell, the two stars on the team who had played together through all he tough years and come up short, celebrating together at the pitcher's mound in Los Angeles as the Phillies advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1993. He struggled in the 2008 World Series and had only 1 hit (.087) but it was a big one. With Game 5 tied after a bizarre two day rain delay Burrell stepped up to start the 7th. He drove a 1-1 pitch to the weird angles in LF-CF of Citizens Bank Ballpark and stood on second with a double. He was removed for pinch runner Eric Bruntlett, who scored the winning run on Pedro Feliz's single back up the middle. Burrell's career seemed over after a poor 2009 with the Rays and a slow start to 2010. In May of 2010 he was released by the Rays and signed by San Francisco. The Giants appeared to just be collecting discarded, aging, spare parts from other teams but Burrell hit 18 HR for the Giants and drove in 51. The Giants of 2010 surprised everyone, including Burrell's phormer phriends in Philadelphia, and won the World Series. Burrell came back in 2011 but he just couldn't hit the way he used to and had a .230 average and only 7 HR in 92 games. Burrell was a free agent after the 2011 season but hung up his spikes for good. He will be remembered forever by two of the classic teams as a player who brought them long awaited World Series wins.
All Star Appearances: 2006, 2007 and 2008
MVP Voting: 2007 (17th) and 2008 (17th)
Cy Young Voting: 2006 (winner), 2007 (2nd) and 2008 (2nd)
His career was short and his numbers were not hall of fame character but it is mind boggling that Webb is not mentioned more as one of those "could have been" players. He came into the league in 2003 as the Diamondbacks began to sell off the pieces of their World Series team. He won 10 games and lost 9 as a rookie but was third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Dontrelle Willis and Scott Podsednik. The sophomore curse struck in 2004 as he struggled with control. He walked more than he struck out and he lost more than he won with a bad Arizona team. In 2006 Webb won the Cy Young award leading the league with 16 wins and 3 shutouts. He came in a distant second in the 2007 voting to Jake Peavey of the Padres and in 2008 he should have won the Cy Young leading the league with 22 wins but lost out to Tim Lincecum. Arizona made the playoffs in 2007 and Webb won one game as the Diamondbacks beat the Cubs in the first round but lost his second playoff game against the Rockies as Colorado completed one of the great comebacks in league history to reach the World Series. Webb appeared to be one of the future dominant pitchers in the game but on opening day 2009 he experienced shoulder pain and left the game after only 4 1/3 innings pitched. Webb went on the DL and several shoulder surgery's later he was released by the Diamondbacks. He tried a comeback with Texas but after one poor minor league appearance he was released.
All Star Appearances: 1989, 1992, 1993, 1995, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007.
MVP Voting: 2002 (8th), 2003 (18th), 2004 (21st)
Cy Young Voting: 1996 (Winner), 1998 (4th), 2002 (3rd), 2006 (7th), 2007 (6th)
Everyone knows John Smoltz. He retired after the 2009 season with 213 wins and in 2014 when his name is on the Hall of Fame ballot it would be embarrassing if he is not voted into the Hall of Fame on the first try. So why is he on a list of forgotten players? Everyone knows Smoltz was part of the great Braves teams from 1991-2005 but few people remember that for a few years he was actually the closer of the team. He didn't want the role but he was great at it. Smoltz returned after missing the 2000 season and worked out of the bullpen saving 10 games. Bobby Cox saw the potential and moved him into the new role for the 2001 season. In the three years he worked as the full time closer he saved 55, 44 and 45 games. After those few seasons he went back to being one of the best starters in baseball for a few more years.
All Star Appearances: 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2003
MVP Voting: 1992 (12th), 1995 (3rd), 1997 (14th), 2000 (6th), 2001 (16th).
There are a lot of people who don't like the Designated Hitter, myself included, and would like to see it gone from the game. Yet, anytime I start to say something against the DH two names come to mind: Edgar Martinez (you'll have to wait until next week for the second name. I'm sure you're all as excited as I am.) There has never been a Hall of Fame Designated Hitter because the voters feel that the player does not contribute enough to the overall game. If any DH deserves to make the Hall of Fame it is Martinez. Martinez was a two time batting title winner in 1992 (.343) and 1995 (.356). While Ken Griffey, Jay Buhner, Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro got the attention Martinez quietly went about his work getting hit after hit. If his .312 career average and 2247 career hits aren't enough to prove what a great player he was this may put it into perspective. In All Star competition a DH is not used if the game is being played in a National League park. Of the seven All Star appearances for Martinez three of them were in games that his position was not even used.
* Author's note: I tried to choose one player from each position. Traditionally the game is defined as having only 9 positions but in the current era it would be hard to define a relief pitcher and starting pitcher as the same position and the traditional 9 positions excludes the Designated Hitter. Because Jose Vidro and Brian Roberts both perfectly exemplified the player discussed in this article it was impossible to choose between them so they are both represented. You may see this happen again as this series of articles progresses. These are my choices for the forgotten players of the 2000-2010 decade. It probably differs from your choices. Email me yours or leave a comment.