2002 MLB season in review

20 06 2015

As was often the case in the years I’ve covered on this blog, Major League Baseball’s offseason news dealt with a lot more than just player movement and new ballparks.  Only 4 years after expanding into Arizona and Tampa, MLB was seriously discussing contraction.  On November 6th, the owners voted 28-2 to buy out 2 franchises.  The two teams that voted against the proposal, the Expos and the Twins, were targeted to contract.  The Players’ Union filed an immediate grievance, though the collective bargaining agreement expired the next day and they had lost leverage from their end.

The more powerful opposition was from lawmakers and related businesses.  Congressional members from Minnesota and Michigan introduced a bill to end baseball’s federal antitrust exemption, and Bud Selig found himself testifying in front of Congress in early December.  The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, owner/operator of the Minneapolis Metrodome, sued for an injunction requiring the Twins to fulfill their lease.  On November 16th, a Minnesota judge granted the injunction, and on February 4th the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to consider MLB’s appeal of that injunction.  This ended contraction talks for 2002, but baseball owners hoped to revisit the deal at the end of the 2002 season.  Contraction never occurred, as the league and players’ signed a new labor agreement in August that stipulated no contraction for the next 5 years.

Save the Expos

In related moves, ownership of three teams switched hands in the 2002 offseason.  Jeffrey Loria sold his interest in the Montreal Expos to the league so he could purchase the Florida Marlins from John Henry.  Henry then teamed with former Padres owner Tom Werner to form the Fenway Sports Group, who purchased the Red Sox.  I could draw some creative diagrams, but the musical chairs left the Yawkey family trust (former Sox owners) $700 million richer and the 29 owners of MLB collective shareholders of the Expos.  This had two long-term impacts – the first one was a positive; the Werner group was the only bidder willing to keep Fenway park around, and we still have the crown jewel today.  The second was debatable.  MLB’s purchase of the Expos ensured the end of baseball in Montreal.

There weren’t any new ballparks in 2002, but the Reds did finish their tenure in Cinergy Field (fka Riverfront Stadium).  More on that in my Reds post.

There were a lot fewer notable offseason moves before the 2002 season than there really had been in the previous 3 or 4 years.  Naturally, the Yankees made the biggest splash – they signed Jason Giambi for the 5th largest contract in history (the 4 ahead of the Giambino were from 2001).  They also signed David Wells back after 3 years away from the Bronx.  Moises Alou inked the deal with the Cubs that would lead to his eventual involvement in the Bartman situation, and David Justice finished up his career in Oakland with a signing that became an important part of the Moneyball book and movie.  Hideo Nomo went back to his old team – he signed with the Dodgers and had two very good seasons left in his career.

2002 Topps new uniforms s2

A couple other notable signings didn’t work out so well.  Kenny Lofton signed with the White Sox, but was traded to San Francisco by the end of the year.  Juan Gonzalez signed a very lucrative short-term deal back with his old club in Texas, but 2001 proved to be his last productive year.  Carl Everett also signed with the Rangers, but his best years were behind him as well.  Jose Canseco signed with the Expos in Spring Training, but he was released and (temporarily) retired from baseball in May.

The defending champion Diamondbacks started the season off as they ended it.  Randy Johnson hurled a 2-hitter on Opening Day, and Curt Schilling followed with the first 7 innings of a 9-0 shutout.   5 days later, Schilling pitched another gem with a 1-hitter and 17 strikeouts against the Brewers.   Johnson and Schilling continued their reign as the best two pitchers in baseball – they finished 1-2 in the Cy Young voting for the 2nd straight year.  They are still the only teammates to accomplish this even once.  The Diamondbacks rode their 2 horses to 98 wins and their second straight division title.

Behind the incomparable Barry Bonds, the Giants finished only 2 games behind them and took the wild card.  His assault on the record books had been the biggest story in 2001 – and he was just as good in 2002.  Out of the gates, it looked like he would challenge his single season home run total again – he matched a feat only Eddie Mathews had accomplished when he hit 2 homers in the first 2 games of the year, and he homered two days later to become the first player with 5 in the season’s first 4 games (Adrian Gonzalez recently broke this by getting 5 homers in his team’s first 3 games).  But pitchers avoided Bonds like the plague, and he never challenged his previous home run totals.  He did, however, win another unanimous MVP award and managed to set a number of single-season records that he couldn’t attain the year before.  Most notably – his .582 OBP broke a 61-year old record set by Ted Williams.  His 198 walks broke his own record from the year before.  He also won his only batting title, finishing at a remarkable .370.

2002 Topps Barry Bonds

The Braves won their 11th straight NL Central title with best record in the NL.  As always, the Braves’ success started with pitching.  John Smoltz had converted to the team’s closer the year before, and he flirted with the single season saves record.  He settled for the National League record of 55 saves and finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting.  Greg Maddux (16-6, 2.62) and Tom Glavine (18-11, 2.96) posted their typical seasons, while Kevin Millwood also won 18 games.  They had one of the best outfields in baseball, with Chipper Jones, Gary Sheffield and Andruw Jones all hitting over 25 homers.

The Cardinals rivaled the Braves for the best NL outfield Albert Pujols avoided the sophomore slump; he moved to left field and finished 2nd behind Bonds for the MVP voting with a .314/34/127 stat line.  Jim Edmonds won the Gold Glove in center while socking 28 homers, and JD Drew added 18 long balls.  St. Louis took the NL Central, winning 97 games to round out the NL playoff picture.  Tino Martinez came over from the AL Champion Yankees to replace Mark McGwire at first for the Cardinals – he hit 21 homers.

The midway point of the season brought an uncomfortable moment to Bud Selig’s tenure as MLB Commissioner.  Selig.  The game was held at Miller Park, but after 11 innings was tied at 7-7.  Both teams had run out of pitchers, and Selig declared the game a tie.  It highlighted the waning popularity in the midsummer classic, which would undergo some changes the next year.

In the American League, the Yankees bounced back from their World Series disappointment to post the best record in baseball.  They won 103 games behind their big Free Agent acquisition – Giambi replaced Tino at first base and hit 41 homers and knocked in 122 runs while slugging .598.  He finished 5th in the MVP voting, 2 spots behind his teammate, Alfonso Soriano.  Soriano nearly had the 4th 40-40 season in history; he led the league with 41 stolen bases and hit 39 homers.  He also lead the league with 209 hits and 128 runs score.  The Yankees lineup was, as always, further augmented by mainstays Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams.  David Wells came back to the Bronx to lead the team with 19 wins, while Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez all rounded out the deepest starting rotation in the game.

Moneyball bookOutside of the Bronx, you didn’t need a high payroll to win in the American League.  The A’s and the Twins were the other 2 division winners, despite being in the bottom 4 in MLB payroll.  That Oakland season was the focus of the movie Moneyball; Oakland matched the Yankees with 103 wins.  Billy Beane had to replace 3 of their best players, losing Jason Giambi to the Yankees, Johnny Damon to the Red Sox and closer Jason Isringhausen to the Cardinals.  He replaced them through a now-famous strategy to find value for the right price.  They had 2 remarkable streaks, winning 16 of 17 games over a stretch in June and then winning an AL record 20 games from mid-August into September.  They ended with the 2 key Award Winners – Barry Zito won 23 games to take the Cy Young, and shortstop Miguel Tejada won the MVP with a solid (but not really MVP-worthy) season.

The Twins also stepped forward with an affordable cast of characters.  After bursting onto the scene the year before, Torii Hunter (.289/29/94) had another stellar offensive season to add to his growing Gold Glove collection.  Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie, A.J. Pierzynski and a young David Ortiz all contributed to a very solid lineup that took advantage of the weaker AL Central.

The Angels rounded out the Wild Card, led primarily by a well-balanced line-up.  Darin Erstad (177 hits), Adam Kennedy (.312 Avg), Scott Spiezio (.371 OBP) and David Eckstein (107 runs) proved to be great table setters, while veteran Tim Salmon (.503 SLG), Troy Glaus (30 HR) and Garrett Anderson (123 RBI) brought them home.

A few guys had notable seasons on non-playoff teams.  Alex Rodriguez got beat out by Tejada for the MVP despite having 57 homers and 142 RBI, both tops in the league.  That was due to the Rangers’ last place finish, but the Red Sox won 93 games and continued their rise behind Manny Ramirez, who won the AL batting title, and Pedro Martinez, who won 20 games and gave Zito a run for the Cy Young award.  Jim Thome hit 52 homers in his last year in Cleveland.

In the Senior Circuit, Lance Berkman (.292/42/128) and Vlad Guerrero (39 HR, 40 SB) and Shawn Green (.336/42/114) finished 3rd, 4th and 5th in the MVP race.  Eric Gagne had a phenomenal season closing games for the Dodgers – his 52 saves were overshadowed by Smoltz.  But Gagne started one of the most amazing streaks in recent memory.  On August 26th, he blew a save against the Diamondbacks.  He rebounded the next night to save his 45th game of the season.  This started a record 84-game save streak; he wouldn’t blow a save again until 2004.

Last thing – I’ll wrap up with a few milestones.  Like 2001, the first few bullets will read like a Barry Bonds biography:

  • As mentioned above, thanks to his record 198 walks, Bonds broke the on-base percentage record set by Ted Williams in 1941.
  • Bonds was walked intentionally 68 times, which was 50% more than the previous record held by Willie McCovey.  It’s worth pointing out that intentional walks weren’t tracked until 1955, and Babe Ruth likely had more than 68 intentional passes in the early 20’s.
  • Bonds just missed the 4th season of slugging over 800 – he slugged .799.  His OPS of 1.381 edged his own record from the year before, and his OPS+ from 2002 is the highest of his (or anyone else’s) career.  It’s arguable – but 2002 was probably the most productive season on a per-AB basis in history.
  • After hitting his 500th homer in early 2001, Bonds hit his 600th homer and broke all of those records noted above.  Moving from 500 to 600 in 479 days is the least, by far, of any of the 600-home run club.  Ruth did it in just over 2 seasons (740 days), while Aaron did it less than 3 years apart (1,017 days).  A-Rod is next – he hit 600 on the 3-year anniversary of his 500th homer.  Thome (1,429) and Griffey, Jr. (1,451) took just under 4 years, while Mays (1,470) and Sosa (1,538) took just over 4 seasons.
  • During the season, Bonds passed Harmon Killebrew, Mark McGwire and Frank Robinson on the all-time homer list.
  • Jim Thome joined A-Rod with a 50-homer season (52).  That followed a 49 homer 2001 season, so he joined the short list of players who hit 100 homers over a 2-year stretch.
  • Rodriguez was following up a 52-homer season from 2001, so he joined Thome in that club as well, joining the likes of Griffey, McGwire, Sosa and Ruth as players to put together back-to-back 50 homer seasons.
  • Al Leiter beat the Diamondbacks on April 30th to become the first pitcher with wins over all 30 MLB franchises.
  • Both Alfonso Soriano (39/41) and Vlad Guerrero (39/40) fell 1 home run short of joining A-Rod, Bonds and Canseco in the 40-40 club.
  • The Big Unit struck out 300 batters for the 5th straight season, extending his own record.  It was the 6th time in his career, which tied Nolan Ryan for the all-time record.
  • Shawn Green had a magical day on May 23rd.  He became the 14th player to hit 4 homers in a game, and he also doubled and singled in a 16-3 victory. His 19 total bases are still the gold standard in a single game.
  • Mike Cameron also homered 4 times in one game, on May 2nd.

This was probably the easiest season to pick the best player and pitcher in the game.  Of course, Barry Bonds was tops by a large margin as the best player.  His 2002 season isn’t as notable as 2001, but it was just as good.

Randy Johnson won his 4th straight Cy Young award in 2002, and was still the best pitcher in baseball.  Pedro Martinez was a clear second.

Read my next post for the postseason recap…

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