MLB 2017 Part II: How Do You Like Those Apples?

More than a few hope it's a trend, but the Houston Astros became the second consecutive World Series winner to end a championship drought and the third of the first four major league expansion teams to win a Series. And, the first to do it in spite of a 2014 Sports Illustrated cover story predicting it. Like the Cubs a year before them, they looked like they had fun playing baseball while they were at it. A pair of trends devoutly to be wished, meaning that for 2018 it would wonderful if the Cleveland Indians break their own such drought and have a blast while doing it.

The Indians showed 2017 fans they knew how to have a blast — that 22-game winning streak was fun for the Tribe and for the country, even if it took just enough out of the Indians to send them home from the postseason early. Austin Jackson didn't channel his inner Tommy Henrich and failed to try running out a dropped third strike, helping the Yankee cause. And even the Yankees became likable this season, thanks to their gregarious Baby Bombers crew who weren't supposed to reach the postseason just yet, but pushed the Astros to a seventh American League Championship Series game.

Oops. They fired manager Joe Girardi and hired Aaron Boone, yet another in the trend of truly rookie managers. They also ended up the winners in the offseason Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes, prompting a revival of the old Evil Empire talk. And their former franchise face, now a co-owner of the Marlins, looked like baseball's biggest clod in how he began the Marlins' remaking/remodeling in the post-Jeffrey Loria era. Meanwhile, Sanchez's 59 home runs and Aaron Judge's rookie record 52 highlighted a new Year of the Home Run, including, but not limited to 2.52 bombs per game on the season, 25 in the World Series, three in one American League division series game (Jose Altuve, Game 1), three in a National League Championship Series game (Enrique Hernandez, the clinching Game 5), 22 in one Home Run Derby round (Justin Bour), and two on Opening Day by Madison Bumgarner, pitcher.

The Washington Nationals executed manager Dusty Baker after their ignominious National League division series exit, an exit in which they performed a splendidly disheartening impression of how the 1962 Mets would have looked in postseason play. They also have to decide whether to nail down franchise player Bryce Harper to a new contract extension or let him become the co-superstar of next winter's free agency market. The Red Sox got caught with their wrists in the Apple jar — stealing signs via Apple Watch. Then, they got pushed out of the postseason in round one. Then, they executed manager John Farrell in favor of ... Astros bench coach Alex Cora. If you can't beat 'em, hire him.

David Price was fool enough to diss Hall of Famer-turned-Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley when Eckersley observed a rehabbing Red Sox pitcher looked horrible in a rehab start. Farrell refused to hold his player to account while the rest of the organization bent over to apologize to Eckersley. The Mets' early season injury epidemic continued apace; manager Terry Collins resigned before he might have been fired. The Mets succeeded him with Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway and gave general manager Sandy Alderson a contract extension. Things may yet continue to be interesting in Queens, and not always in the best way.

The Angels won the Shohei Otani sweepstakes and Otani charmed southern California with his outgoing personality more than his apparent willingness to come on the bargain plan rather than wait another year or two to rake the bigger pelf. The two-way Japanese star will be a pitcher first and a designated hitter selectively, so the Angels seemed to think. The Dodgers and the Braves made an offseason trade aimed at positioning both for the delicious 2018 free agency market to be more than changing players; Adrian Gonzalez was designated for assignment and released by the Braves. One of the prime cuts on that market, Manny Machado, was dangled as trade bait by the Orioles who couldn't seem to make up their minds whether to keep him one more year, wait until next year's trade deadlines, or move him now. Manager Buck Showalter won't have to wonder where Zach Britton is for a good while — he's down with an Achilles tendon tear.

A Diamondbacks prospect, Pavin Smith, gave his parents an extra very merry Christmas — he paid off his parents' mortgage. Two Dodgers, Kyle Farmer and Alex Wood, shared "Second Chance" tattoos to honor their college teammate, Chance Veazey — paralyzed in a 2009 accident that ended his baseball career hopes. A fan who caught a Joey Votto home run kept a promise to the family of a six-year-old Votto fan dying of cancer, giving the ball to the boy's parents after his death.

Rich Hill took a no-hitter into the 10th inning and lost in August. Hall of Famer Joe Morgan urged Hall voters to reject candidates suspected of using actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, forgetting there are already Hall of Famers who used them long before the Steroid Era. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, teammates on the Tigers' 1984 World Series winner, were elected to Cooperstown by the Modern Era Committee, ensuring further debates about whether Morris (who doesn't really belong) and Trammell (who really does) should have been there. Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright was involved in a domestic violence incident involving — wait for it — a mere shouting match with his wife; Wright wasn't even close to prosecuted but baseball government pressed its "investigation" anyway.

Wade Davis signed for three years and $52 million to close for the Rockies, assuming their pitching staff leaves him with games to close in the first place. The Cardinals traded Stephen Piscotty to the Athletics the better to let Piscotty play closer to the home of his Lou Gehrig's Disease-stricken mother, Gretchen. Ordered to stand in the on-deck circle properly, Adrian Beltre moved the Rangers-logo circle pad toward him — amusing everyone in the ballpark except the plate umpire who ejected him. Three days later, Beltre smacked his 3,000th career hit — a double, off the Orioles' Wade Miley. His first major league hit was a double, too — off the Angels' Chuck Finley. (Trivia: Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson's first and 3,000th major league hits were doubles, too.)

The Elysian Fields welcomed a few too many home in 2017, as always she does. Jim Bunning was a Hall of Fame pitcher, a Father's Day perfect game pitcher (1964), and a U.S. Senator who observed that none of Washington's foulers, bleepers, and blunderers had anything on Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle facing him at the plate for trouble. Bunning also was one of the original four-man committee who engaged Marvin Miller to become the executive director of the Players' Association. (The others: pitchers Robin Roberts and Bob Friend, and infielder-turned-outfielder Harvey Kuenn.) Ned Garver was the St. Louis Browns pitcher who finished in a three-way tie for first place 1951 Most Valuable Player Award votes with Yogi Berra and Allie Reynolds of the Yankees. (Berra won the award by the down vote total.) Garver is also the last man to be a 20-game winner for a team losing a hundred games on a season.

Yordano Ventura was a talented but temperamental Royals pitcher who'd only just begun to learn personal control in hand with pitching control. Bill Hands was a tough (and very appropriately named) Cubs starter during their 1969 bid for the National League East. Not to mention the answer to a puckish trivia question: Why was it bad for him to record fourteen straight strikeouts? Because he did it as a batter. Greg Jelks had a 1-for-11 cup of coffee with the 1982 Phillies, then played professionally in Italy and Australia before becoming an independent league manager. Andy Marte never lived up to his minor league promise after his rapid ascent through the Braves system was blocked by Hall of Famer-in-waiting Chipper Jones at third base; he died in a car crash on the same January day his one-time teammate Ventura died in a separate crash.

Bob Bruce was Houston's first 15-game winner (1964), and pitched an immaculate inning (nine pitches, three strikeouts) the day after Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax did it in April 1964. Dallas Green was a journeyman relief pitcher on the ill-fated 1964 Phillies, eventually managed the Phillies to their first World Series triumph, and had his last years saddened by the death of his granddaughter in the attack that almost killed Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Roy Sievers was a Washington matinee idol for his prodigious home runs in the 1950s. Ruben Amaro, Sr. was a good field/little hit shortstop and the father of former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr.

Bob Cerv became a three-time Yankee on the 1950s shuttle between the Bronx and Kansas City and from the Los Angeles Angels (who'd picked him in the expansion draft that created them), rooming with Roger Maris the year of Maris's 61 home runs. Sam Mele was a journeyman outfielder who eventually managed the Twins to their first pennant in Minnesota in 1965. Bob Kuzava was the left-hander Casey Stengel brought in against the percentages to save the World Series-winning games in 1951 and 1952.

Anthony Young bucked up with grace under pressure during a horrifying 27-decision losing streak with the 1992-93 Mets (Dallas Green was his manager) and after announcing publicly he was fighting an inoperable brain tumour. Gene Conley was a useful pitcher and basketball player who also once hopped off the Red Sox team bus stuck in traffic, with teammate Pumpsie Green, intending to make for Israel during a spell of depression. Green returned to the Red Sox post haste; Conley made it as far as the airport before returning. Lee May was a solid, power hitting first baseman whose trade to the Astros for 1972 meant he would miss being part of the Big Red Machine but not the Orioles' 1979 pennant winner.

Darren Daulton was an anchor of the 1993 Philthy Phillies, a.k.a. Macho Row, who struggled with post-baseball life and ultimately fought a four year battle with glioblastoma and lost with grace. Gene Michael went from good field/no-hit middle infielder to the general manager who rebuilt the Yankees to greatness in the 1990s. Don Baylor parlayed a solid playing career (including a World Series ring with the 1987 Twins) into becoming the Rockies' first manager and the National League's Manager of the Year for taking them to the wild card game in 1995. Jim Rivera was an outfielder on the 1959 Go-Go White Sox's pennant winner. Bobby Doerr was the oldest living Hall of Famer and the last surviving member of the Red Sox quartet of friends David Halberstam chronicled in the elegiac The Teammates, a story of the journey Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Dom DiMaggio hoped to make to visit Ted Williams one final time before that Hall of Famer's death.

Tracy Stallard pitched on the wrong side of two historical feats — he surrendered Maris's Number 61 at the end of 1961 (and it was the only hit Maris ever got in seven plate appearances against him); and, he was the starter and loser on the other side of Bunning's 1964 perfecto. But he didn't mind talking to fans about them in later years so long as they didn't ask "Why?" Frank Lary was known as the Yankee Killer for his consistent success against the Bronx Bombers until shoulder and elbow miseries compromised what looked like a solid career otherwise for the Tigers right-hander. And Roy Halladay — only the second man to pitch a no-hitter in postseason play, and whose shredded shoulder forced his retirement in 2013, died in the crash of his beloved A5 monoplane in the Gulf of Mexico. Reminding us that very few are those who die doing something they love.

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