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What We'll Remember From 2022: MLB

One year ago, we didn’t know when, or if, baseball would be played in 2022. About a month earlier, moments after the collective bargaining agreement expired without a new one in place, the 30 Major League Baseball owners locked out the players and kicked off the first work stoppage in 27 years. We had no idea how long it would last, but we knew it would be ugly.

As we rang in the new year, MLB still had not made a new proposal on core economics to the players, despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s assertion that the league instituted the lockout “out of a desire to drive the process forward to an agreement now.” When that proposal came, 43 days after the lockout began, the players were insulted by the offer.

The two sides traded jabs back and forth in the press, with MLB threatening to declare that negotiations were at an impasse. We watched an entire Olympics. Still no agreement. A week of spring training games were canceled. Then another week. Still no baseball. Grainy photos of lead negotiators Dan Halem and Bruce Meyer replaced grainy photos of pitchers and catchers. Manfred set an arbitrary deadline for an agreement to put pressure on the players. If there was no deal by March 1, he said, he’d have no choice but to cancel regular season games. Of course, as SI’s Emma Baccellieri wrote at the time, Manfred did have a choice, and he would be the one making the decision to cancel games.

Great art, they say, springs from tumultuous times. Amid this labor war, as a marathon bargaining session bumped against Manfred’s deadline, USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale crafted a masterpiece. “It is now midnight and no one is moving as the two sides moving ever so closer,” Nightingale tweeted at 12 a.m. on March 1. I’ve heard Nightengale’s magnum opus was the inspiration for Taylor Swift’s “Midnights.”

Naturally, the deadline passed without a deal. Manfred held a press conference and canceled the first two series of the season. Then, the following Monday, Manfred backtracked and said if a deal was reached by the end of Tuesday they could make up the games he had taken off the schedule. They missed that deadline, too, so on Wednesday, Manfred banged two more series. Finally, the day after that, on March 10, the two sides came to an agreement to play a full 162-game season.

We were rewarded for all our waiting. The 99-day lockout gave way to the Year of 99, as Aaron Judge bashed his way into the record books with one of the best hitting campaigns of all time. Yet, this most thrilling year in baseball was defined by more than just the big guy’s big bet on himself.

This was the year of playoff droughts ending and Steve Cohen’s spending. There were milestones and rare feats, comebacks and winning streaks. Dusty Baker got his ring, and Alex Bregman fixed his swing. We waved hello to Julio and said adiós to Albert.

Remarkably, considering the labor strife that marked the first two months, this was also the year in which the minor leaguers formed a union, a monumental step toward combating the horrendous working and living conditions that these players faced for decades.

This was the first season with the universal DH and the last with defensive shifts. Thanks to an expanded postseason, two additional teams made the playoffs; one of them advanced to the World Series. Once again, the Angels were not one of them, even as Shohei Ohtani surpassed the greatness of his MVP-winning campaign the year before. Mike Trout cranked 40 home runs—second most in the American League—despite playing in only 119 games. The wasting of two generational talents continues in Anaheim, for one more year anyway. If you thought this year’s free agency was chaotic, just wait until next offseason, when Ohtani hits the open market as the best available hitter and pitcher.

Speaking of generational talents, the Nationals decided in 2022 that Juan Soto, the Second Coming of Ted Williams, was more valuable to them playing for another team. Washington traded him to the Padres in what Tom Verducci called “the biggest trade deadline blockbuster in history.” In that same column, Verducci also wrote, “If you are a true baseball fan, which means you believe possibility is a hope and not a mathematical theorem, you should be thankful for San Diego.”

As this year in baseball comes to an end, we should be thankful for more than just San Diego. We had little to celebrate at this time last year, so let’s make up for lost time with a selection of the best SI baseball stories from 2022. —Matt Martell

Solidarity and Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of the Players’ League
By Emma Baccellieri

How did baseball get here?

If this question seems relevant amid the ongoing lockout—echoing off the walls of a frozen game—a reasonable answer might be in the friction baked into MLB’s last collective bargaining agreement, in 2016. Another reasonable answer might suggest that the groundwork was laid in the agreement before that, in 2011, or two agreements before that, with the modern implementation of the competitive balance tax, in 2002. But if you’re going back two decades … well, you might as well go back all the way. Go closer to the origins of the historically fraught relationship between baseball players and owners. Go past the work stoppages of the last generation, past the fight for the first union in major professional sports and past, oh, another half-century and then some.

Welcome to the late 19th century. Baseball’s first major labor war is about to reach a breaking point.

Baseball Avoids Disaster Just in Time for a Fresh Start 
By Tom Verducci

The world of a baseball player is defined by wins and losses. The new collective-bargaining agreement was defined in positive terms for Major League players. With the end of a lockout that pushed baseball one toenail away from falling into the abyss, the players gained the greatest increases they ever obtained in minimum salaries and the Competitive Balance Tax while also getting an unprecedented bonus pool for young players—without losing a paycheck.

Will Jacob deGrom Get the Last Laugh? 
By Stephanie Apstein

When he’s not bullying opposing hitters, he’s known to set his sights on his own clubhouse. As he nears a return from injury, the key question is whether he can push around his own body.

The Padres Are the Ideal Team for Baseball Fans
By Tom Verducci

They are a team you want to watch. They are a team that operates the way you think you would if you had the money to own a team the way Padres owner Peter Seidler does. The Padres are that buddy you want to travel with for a weekend in Vegas.

How the New Mets Are (Mostly) Overcoming Decades of Dysfunction
By Stephanie Apstein

The Mets have not always demanded excellence. Sometimes they almost seem to court the opposite. Few fans have suffered as many excruciating, confounding blows as the ones in Flushing. But during Cohen’s introductory press conference, he said he wanted to create a culture of “professionalism and integrity.” Alderson says they are achieving that goal using “resources and rigor.” And indeed they are one of the best teams in the National League and are poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Most surprising of all, they have been . . . a normal baseball team. There have been no ridiculous stories sucking the oxygen out of the room for weeks at a time. Can this possibly continue? Are attitude, personnel and money—and one competent season—enough to erase decades of dysfunction? And what happens when the Mets stop being the Mets?

Everything in Aaron Judge’s Career Led Him to This Historic Season 
By Tom Verducci

The simplistic narrative is that Judge “bet on himself” by turning down a $213.5 million extension. He does not see it that way. After years of work and study, the Yankees’ slugger is a hitting master coming into his own at the right time.

Inside the Drive: The Minor Leaguers Who Sprung a Union on MLB
By Emma Baccellieri

Players were already fuming over their treatment. Enter a motley crew of career minor leaguers with a plan.

Julio Rodríguez Is Here to Save the Mariners
By Greg Bishop

The man of magical moments isn’t the next Ken Griffey Jr. He wants to write his own story—beginning with ending Seattle’s playoff drought.

Albert Pujols’s 700th Home Run Is the Apex of His Defiant Final Season
By Tom Verducci

Gravity rules. Such is the commonality of falls from grace that the sight of Albert Pujols smiling broadly—his new game face these days—while circling the bases upon hitting career home run number 700 at Dodger Stadium was the happy picture of defiance. Pujols defied time and age, not to mention the normal downward arc of his career, with one of the most spectacular exits the baseball gods ever have permitted.

Inside Aaron Judge’s Pursuit of Home Run History 
By Stephanie Apstein

His teammates understood the significance of the moment. They coiled as Texas righty Jesús Tinoco hung a slider. They exploded onto the field as Aaron Judge walloped it to left field. They gathered at home plate to wait for him, offering hugs and handshakes and high fives when he jogged past them. The Rangers fans went nuts, too, cheering Judge as if he were one of their own. They knew what a tremendous season he has had. They knew how gracefully he had handled the attention. They probably did not know that shortly before the game, Judge had texted his personal hitting coach: He believed he had identified a problem with his swing.

Jeff Luhnow’s Next Act: Soccer
By Stephanie Apstein

Nearly all involved in the Astros’ cheating scandal have apologized and been welcomed back by MLB. But not Jeff Luhnow. Now running lower-level soccer teams in Spain and Mexico, the former GM says he doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone.

Destiny Denied: Phillies’ Cinderella Run Falls Short of the Finish Line
By Emma Baccellieri

The Astros popped champagne. The Phillies forlornly popped open some beers, down the hall yet a world away, a clubhouse’s worth of sad Coors Light and Bud Heavy. After a month punctuated by the kind of alcohol consumption that requires safety goggles and protective coverings, the roster suddenly had to get reacquainted with drinks meant for consolation rather than celebration.

The Astros Are World Series Champions—No Asterisk Needed
By Tom Verducci

The Astros are the baseball version of a Dusty Baker Spotify playlist. They are eclectic. They do so many things well. The offense is resourceful. The defense is superb. The pitching staff is the best at striking batters out in the history of the Fall Classic. ​​Dusty Baker and the Astros got exactly what they wanted: a championship, gained as thoroughly and convincingly as championships get.

Inside Carlos Correa’s Chaotic Flip From the Giants to the Mets
By Tom Verducci

Having arrived the previous day, Carlos Correa woke up in San Francisco on Tuesday and dressed to impress for his 11 a.m. Pacific introductory news conference as the new shortstop of the Giants. The news conference never happened. By late in the evening, Correa was the third baseman for the Mets. What happened in between will go down as the biggest undoing of a contract agreement in baseball and the moment Mets owner Steve Cohen officially became the most influential owner in the sport—He is playing by his own financial rules.

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