A possible player's strike and economic woes loomed over Major League Baseball again this year. Whether baseball would or should be played in the Olympics in the future also came into question. But the 2002 season will be remembered most for the performance of a team that had never appeared in the World Series before: the Anaheim Angels.
Baseball's World Series in 2002 will go down as one of the best - both for the play on the field and the atmosphere in the stands. Two teams that earned wildcard playoff berths for having the best records among the second-placed teams: the San Francisco Giants of the National League and the American League's Anaheim Angels, gave fans a seven-game series to remember.
The Angels had never made the Fall Classic in their 42-year history while San Francisco was appearing in the World Series for the first time since losing to the Oakland A's in 1989.
The pivotal moment came in game six, with San Francisco leading the best-of-seven-games series, three games to two and up 5-0 in the seventh inning. All the Giants had to do was protect the lead and the Series would be theirs.
But the Angels were playing at home, the home of fans banging "Thunder Stix" and their secret weapon, Abbie the rally monkey, who first appeared in June of 2000 in a game against the Giants.
Anaheim's Scott Spiezio hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning to make the score 5-3. Darin Erstad added a solo shot in the eighth inning. Then a two-run double by Series Most Valuable Player Troy Glaus gave Anaheim the 6-5 win and the chance to play for its first World Series title ever.
In Game Seven, Anaheim's John Lackey became only the second rookie pitcher ever to win a seventh game of the World Series when Anaheim beat San Francisco 4-1 and took the series four Games to three. Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said he realized the World Series win was a long time coming for Anaheim, but his team had all the elements it needed to take the title.
"So I can not comment on what everyone talks about curses or demons or taking 40 years to get to the playoffs," he said. "I have only experienced the last three [years] and they have been incredible. And for us to get to this level is very, very rewarding."
While Scioscia and the Angels were celebrating their first win, San Francisco manager Dusty Baker said coming so close only to lose tore the heart out of his team.
"Your stomach is empty and your head and your brain feel full right now. So it is a very difficult time," he said.
While Baker and the Giants lost the Series, star San Francisco outfielder Barry Bonds got rid of some personal struggles. Bonds had the reputation of not performing well in the post-season, but in the World Series, he scored eight runs, had eight hits and a .471 batting average. This came after a regular season that he broke the league record for walks and on-base percentage.
As dramatic as the World Series was, it was also a great relief to fans who thought it might be canceled for the second time in eight years. A labor dispute between players and owners threatened to end the season in September. Players were concerned about a new revenue sharing plan that the owners were demanding. In the final hours, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and the Players' Union reached agreement, averting a strike.
"This is a historic agreement because it represents for the first time in baseball history we have reached a collective bargaining agreement without the loss of a single game," Selig announced.
Player's representative Tom Glavine said that both sides got some of what they wanted from the deal and avoided canceling a World Series for the third time ever.
"I think it goes without saying that we are all excited and happy that we got this done with and we do not have to go through the uncertainties of another work stoppage and what it does to the game and how it affects the fans of the game," he said.
While fans were pleased that a strike was averted, there was no love for Commissioner Selig's decision to end the annual baseball All-Star game in the 11th inning because both squads had used all their pitchers. The National and American League teams tied 7-7, only the second time in the game's history that the All-Stars ended the game in a tie.
St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, known as "The Wizard," was the only man elected to the Hall of Fame this year. Smith was a 13-time Gold Glove Award winner and during his career set major league shortstop records for assists, double plays and total chances.
He said upon his election to the Hall of Fame that he considered it the culmination of a 20-year journey.
"I never played this game to make it to the Hall of Fame. I played it because I loved it and because it was - it was the thing that I was put here to do," he said.
Baseball lost some of its greats this year, including the last man to hit .400 in a single season, Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who died of a heart attack at age 83 in July. Williams had said he did not want to be remembered as anything but a baseball player.
"And I would be happy, just as happy as I could be, if somebody said he was as good as [Babe] Ruth, or [Lou] Gehrig, or [Nellie] Fox, or [Joe] Dimaggio, or [Hank] Aaron, or [Willie] Mays or [Stan] Musial. I'll accept that and be perfectly happy," he said.
Sadly, after Williams' death an ugly family feud erupted over his remains. Two of his children said Williams wanted to be cryogenically frozen while a third child said he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered over the Florida Keys. As of this writing, Williams remains frozen in a container in Arizona.
Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck of the St. Louis Cardinals also died of complications following lung cancer surgery in June. Buck had been calling St. Louis games since 1954 and was regarded as one of the best behind the microphone.
Another Cardinals Hall of Famer, Enos Slaughter, died of complications from following stomach surgery. The 86-year-old Slaughter had a .300 lifetime batting average and played in five World Series. St. Louis also lost an active player, three-time All-Star pitcher Darryl Kile, who died in June because of coronary heart disease. The 33-year-old had won 133 games in his career.
Former Kansas City Royals All-Star catcher Darrell Porter also died of a violent reaction to drug use in August. Hoyt Wilhelm, the first relief pitcher to be elected to the Hall of Fame, died at age 79 in August of heart failure.
The health of the game was also questioned this year. It was not unusual to see thousands of empty seats at ballparks, as fans - many disgusted with the labor dispute - stayed away from the game. With ticket prices rising to meet player salaries, the average baseball player earns more than $2 million a year, it remains to be seen if the so-called National Pastime can keep its audience.
Part of VOA's Year End series