13 Moments from 2012 That Remind Us That Baseball Is Wonderful: Part One

With 2012 at the very edge of its existence, and 2013 pushing its way in, it’s time to step back and reward ourselves by looking back at the 13 best moments from the 2012 baseball season. 

Sometimes it’s good to be kind to ourselves. Part II comes tomorrow. 

13. Billy Hamilton Is Actually Mercury, the God Of Speed

Billy Hamilton

(Photo by Josh May

As baseball has slowly shifted its focus from power hitters to those that can both run and play defense (the AL MVP vote excluded), Billy Hamilton has created plenty of attention by just the use of his legs. And while it’s a shame that the Reds didn’t call up Hamilton in September to use him solely as a Flash-like secret weapon, in a way, that protected Hamilton’s legend. 

By never letting any of the unwashed, Major League-only masses get a glimpse of him,  keeping up with Hamilton was like going back in time, waiting for the occasional article or video clip to pop up. I mean, sure, you could check the daily MiLB box scores and buy a MiLB.tv subscription, but most people were happy to just get updates like on June 25th when, after stealing 15 bases in five games, JJ Cooper noted that Hamilton was stealing an absurd 1.2 bags per game (he finished the season at the slightly less absurd total of 1.17).

Or when Hamilton hit an inside the park home run in 13.8 seconds. I don’t even get from my bed to the bathroom in 13.8 seconds. 

In the end, Hamilton would steal 155 bases between two levels, setting a new pro record for steals in a season, while also posting an .830 OPS that leaves some hope that he’ll have enough power to keep pitchers from throwing an endless string of fastballs while the corners play on the grass on every pitch. 

12. Jamie Moyer Rises from the Dead

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When Jamie Moyer blew out his arm in 2010 at the age of 47, most assumed he was done. His career was over. Because no matter how much desire Moyer had, no one had a clue how an arm like that would respond to rehab, much less how many teams would have a use for a pitcher with a 79.7 mph fastball at the time of his injury. 

Instead, Moyer battled back, signing with the Colorado Rockies on January 18th and broke camp with the team as a 49 year-old hurler. Moyer, looking like the cross between an aged gold prospector and a character actor in a Coen Brothers film, started his first game on April 7, gutting out (the appropriate term for a pitcher whose fastball averaged 74.2 mph!) five innings and giving up four runs, three earned, against the Astros. Moyer lost again in his next time out, giving up four more runs, only two earned, in 5.2 innings against the eventual World Champion Giants. It was the most people thought he could do. 

Instead, Moyer reached into his bag of tricks in his next two starts, getting the win in 7 innings of two run, zero earned, ball against the Padres and picking up the loss despite giving up only one run to the Pirates. All of a sudden, Jamie Moyer, 74 mph fastball and all, had a 2.28 ERA through four starts, small sample size be damned. 

Sadly, the wheels came off for Moyer soon thereafter, getting only one more win and quality start in his next six starts, giving up 28 earned runs in 30 innings with a high even by Coors Field standard of 9 home runs allowed. Perhaps even more absurd though, Moyer struck out 27 batters in this time span. 

The Rockies would soon release Moyer, who would join the Orioles and Blue Jays farm systems, making five starts between the Norfolk and Las Vegas outlets before drawing his respective releases.

However, just like Rickey Henderson, until Jamie Moyer officially retires, there will be some team out there, somewhere in the vast cosmos, that may just be desperate enough for a time traveling, 70 mph hurling, stirrup socking wearing wonder who has given up more home runs than any pitcher in baseball history and who would rank 21st as a hitter. 

Oh yeah, and Moyer’s ERA with the Rockies still topped Jeremy Guthrie and Christian Friedrich’s performance with the club. So, you know, maybe they should have kept him around.  

11. Brandon McCarthy’s Twitter Account

Sadly, it seems that I wouldn’t be friends with most professional athletes. Which is fine because while they were out practicing sports and kissing, I was reading about baseball and fine-tuning my dance moves for the high school production of Anything Goes. There wouldn’t be a whole lot for us to talk about. 

Thanks to Twitter though, we now can extend the olive branch and feel the tiniest bit of human connection to our favorite multi-million dollar athletic idols, harkening back to a simpler time when ballplayers would play stickball and America was stuck in the great depression. (Not everything in the past is an improvement.) 

So while most of Twitter is filled with Nick Swisher-types asking “What’s going on, tweeps?” and Logan Morrison-kinds admonishing women for daring to breastfeed their children in public, it’s refreshing to find a sabermetric-embracing, groundballing pitcher with a legitimate sense of humor and a love of baseball that’s just like ours! (Cue US Weekly page flipping).

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But in September, McCarthy caught a line drive off of his skull. It is the most frightening moment possible in baseball and McCarthy was lucky to walk away alive and relatively unharmed. He was rushed to the hospital where he had brain surgery to “evacuate an epidural hemorrhage and stabilize the skull fracture." It was a harrowing moment and one that reminded us that baseball is still dangerous. 

Of course, six days later, as he was getting ready to exit the hospital, McCarthy was back on Twitter: 

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While it’s probably a bad idea to vote for a President based on your desire to drink a beer with him, it’s not such a bad thing when it choosing your favorite baseball players. 

10. The Astros Make a Mess of Things

Most of the items on this list are exemplary things: men pushing themselves to the limits for the betterment of mankind kind of things. Other times though, it’s okay to laugh. In the 11th inning of their August 6th game against the Nationals, the Astros turned in the Three Stooges version of Who’s On First, when Kurt Suzuki laid down a bunt with Roger Bernadina on first in the top of the 11th. 

The ball pops into the air, causing a very minor collision, or “bump” between the pitcher, Wilton Lopez, and first baseman, Steven Pearce, when Matt Downs come racing in, trying to both avoid and stop the throw: 

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(photo proof via Brisbee Nation

Instead, the throw sails wide into the right field foul territory. But, there’s still a chance to turn everything around. With Roger Bernadina rounding third, Brian Bogusevic guns the ball home, but oh no, the baseball flies over the head of the catcher and the Nationals take the lead. Even better, the Astros would then strand Suzuki on third and lose the game 5-4 making this play the direct cause of the Astros loss. 

The Astros may have been the worst team in baseball in 2012, but they deserve a primetime Emmy for this one. And that’s worth something. 

9. Vin Scully Gets His Bobblehead

For years, Vin Scully resisted the Dodgers overtures to create a bobblehead, but with Dodger Stadium celebrating its 50th year and the early season possibility of Vin Scully’s retirement, he finally gave in and let the Dodgers create the perfect plastic likeness of all that is good. While I already love a good bobblehead, a Vin Scully bobblehead is less of a souvenir and more of a religious icon. 

On August 30th, with the Dodgers taking on the Diamondbacks, this bobblehead would be the culmination in a series of figurines that had already honored players like Fernando Valenzuela and Sandy Koufax, you know, people who actually played for the team. Instead, it was Scully, the voice of the Dodgers for 63 seasons and the emotional tether for multiple generations of baseball fans, that was the highlight of the year.

After walking out to throw out the first pitch, Scully then handed the ball off to 15 of his grandchildren, using the long line of the House of Scully to get the ball to home plate. The crowd roared as if Matt Kemp was up at bat. 

Even better, the day had been rainy and overcast, an oddity for Los Angeles in August, but when Vin Scully stepped to the field, and held his miniature plastic mold, the sun came out and a brilliant rainbow shone through: 

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(image by Whitney Holtzman)

I was lucky enough to attend the game with friends and while I remember the rainbows, and the sheer joy of the stands, I remember nothing of the game without the aid of a box score. I guess that’s the power of Scully. 

8. Josh Hamilton Hits Four Home Runs

A full season ruins lots of things and in 2012 it was Josh Hamilton’s MVP campaign. Coming into May 8th, Josh Hamilton was hitting .376/.435/.703 with 10 HR. And then, against the Orioles, Hamilton had one of the greatest games in baseball history: 

5-for-5, 4 HR, 1 2B, 8 RBI, 4 R.

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In the game, Hamilton set the record for total bases with 18, topping even the number of pitches he saw (13), not shocking given his penchant for swinging. 

The game would also propel Hamilton to a furious week in which he hit four more home runs over the next four games, and pulled his average up over .400.

Sadly, Hamilton slumped later in the season, perhaps because of a moral failings and/or giving up chewing tobacco, and Hamilton and the Rangers missed out on the postseason. However, we’ll forever have the Hambone, and for that, I’m thankful. 

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(via Productive Outs

7. The Universe Overdoses on No-Hitters

It was only a handful of years ago that we were wondering if the no-hitter, if not dead, was in danger of disappearing into the ether. Whether because of performance enhancing drugs and the lack thereof, different bats, strange luck, or alien interference, no-hitters are way up. And if you’re the type of person who thinks that makes them less exciting, well then sir, I say good day to you. 

There were six no-hitters in 2012, seven if you count the six pitcher, Kevin Millwood-led affair in Seattle. And I do because, come on, Kevin Millwood! The no-hitter is something so special, so wonderful, being the perfect confluence of luck, circumstance, and fate that is present in every play, every pitch, that it’s sometimes even nicer when it comes from the unexpected. 

And that’s just what happened when Phil Humber started it off for everyone with a gosh danged perfect game against the Seattle Mariners on April 21st. Humber, largely viewed as a bust before a resurgent campaign in 2011, struck out nine while becoming only the 19th pitcher to every achieve perfection. 

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(Photo via @WhiteSox

Sadly, Humber would quickly stumble, giving up nine runs in his next start and lose his rotation spot by mid-summer. 

In only two weeks time, Jered Weaver went up against the luckless Twins and twirled himself a no-hitter. It was just the latest and greatest in a long string of strong performances (2.73 ERA since 2010) and, as the game happened on the West Coast, went seemingly unnoticed. Something that seems to fit the underpaid and underrated (if a three time top 5 Cy Young finisher can be considered underrated) Weaver. 

Funnily enough, in the final sentence of my original piece on Weaver’s no-hitter, I remarked that the Mets had yet to have one of their own. Sure enough, 30 days later, the Metropolitans would get one when Johan Santana would take the mound against the Cardinals (oddly enough, Humber was one of the key pieces the Twins acquired from the Mets. Do you see how all of these things are connected?)

Sure, Carlos Beltran did hit a ball in the sixth inning that looked awfully fair, but clearly Johan Santana’s no-hitter had long ago been decided by larger forces at work. And no mere down-the-line bloop was going to disrupt that. With the cosmic fix in, and Johan Santana’s surgically repaired arm hanging by a thread, Santana finished it out. He’d need 134 pitches and would walk five, but the Mets, finally, finally had their no-no. 

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Only one week later, the Seattle Mariners would get back into the no-hitter game when one-time Brave (and Phillie, Indian, Ranger, Oriole, and Rockie) Kevin Millwood started against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Millwood, earning a whopping $1 million for his services, would last six innings before giving way to five more pitchers that would finish off the Dodgers. Once looking at the Dodger lineup, it makes a little more sense as Andre Ethier was the only legitimate hitter to start in the game (though, of course, the ghost of Bobby Abreu drew one of the three walks). 

It may not have been the best no-hitter, or the most exciting no-hitter, but it was the no-hitter that featured the most contributors. 

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Instead, arguably the most impressive of the no-hitters would come next, a mere five days later, when Matt Cain threw a perfect game against the Houston Astros. Any perfect game is awe astounding, but considering that the 3’7” Jose Altuve was in the game, it’s even more shocking that Cain never walked him. But just look at Cain’s laser-guided command systems as evidenced by his evisceration of pizzas, and it makes sense: 

Cain, the curly-haired perpetual #2 in Giants fans hearts, despite ERAs between 2.79 and 3.14 and innings totals of 217 and 223 the last four years, blew through the Astros lineup, striking out 14 in his nine innings of work. Of course, there were strange portents along the way like the man out of time who foolishly let cameras catch his appearance while riding in on his jet pack: 

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I told you the fix was in. 

Again though, the Universe was not finished when  a mid-day, mid-week game came along to screw up everyone’s work productivity. With Larry Bernandez toiling in obscurity in a pocket universe, Felix Hernandez faced off against the Tampa Bay Rays on August 15th, perhaps even topping Matt Cain’s performance in ease of look, a highly technical number. Going between 95 mph fastballs and 86 mph sliders, King Felix never needed more than 16 pitches in an inning to throw the third perfect game in the season against the Rays. With the King Felix court backing him, Hernandez looked effortless as people quickly pulled up MLB.tv’s mini-screen to hide from their bosses while tuning in. 

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(Photo by @MarkWrightKING5)

And still, we would have one more, just to remind us how hard it is to hit a baseball. The long-haired Homer Bailey, perhaps finally resigned to his back of the rotation status, faced the plummeting Pirates and perhaps fittingly, bookended their season with the seventh no-hitter of 2012. It was the Pirates 81st loss of 2012, ensuring another losing season, and it was Homer’s last victory in his best season as a Major Leaguer yet. 

Seven no-hitters, three perfect games. All of them beautiful. 

———————

And with those precious thoughts stuck firmly in your mind, come back tomorrow for the rest of the list. 

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