With 2012 drawing to a close, it’s time to catalog the baseball year that was. We have no shortage of possibilities: Year of the Pitcher (Again). Year of the Underdog Giants (Again). Year of the Stephen Strasburg Innings Cliff. But 2012 doesn’t fit beneath a tidy caption. It saw historic achievement, inspiring triumph, piteous failure. (Thanks for that, Marlins and Red Sox.) There was something for everyone. E pluribus hardball. Here are the newsmakers who kept the story moving. — Jon Paul Morosi
Note: This list isn’t only for people who made good news. The new-look Miami Marlins hired Guillen in part because he would help the franchise connect with South Florida’s Latin American fan base. Guillen alienated them instead, telling Time magazine that he loved Fidel Castro. The controversy broke almost immediately after the season began, and Guillen was suspended for a week. The injury-plagued team never regained momentum and finished in last place. Guillen was fired after only one season and replaced by Mike Redmond.
Chipper Jones and Omar Vizquel
Opponents in the 1995 World Series, the iconic infielders hung around another 17 seasons before retiring. Jones enjoyed well-deserved fanfare throughout the year, including parting gifts during his goodwill tour of National League cities — a nod to the modern rarity of a one-team career of such distinction. Jones enjoyed a memorable All-Star appearance and (brief) trip to the playoffs as part of his sendoff. Vizquel had a more nondescript final season as a reserve in Toronto, unnecessarily complicating his exit by calling out manager John Farrell in public late in the year. Jones appears to be a lock for Cooperstown. Vizquel belongs because of his glove.
Bud Selig and Michael Weiner
MLB commissioner Selig and players’ union chief Weiner deserve mention here … for the absence of news on collective bargaining. Consider what has happened in the other North American pro sports leagues over the past 18 months: NFL lockout in the summer of 2011 … NBA lockout in the fall of 2011 … NHL lockout ongoing … and labor peace in baseball dating to April 1995. Baseball’s newest CBA was renegotiated amicably roughly 13 months ago and runs through 2016. Amen.
He’s always in the headlines, isn’t he? The year began with Hamilton relapsing with a night of drinking, which hit the pause button on contract talks for the should-have-been 2011 World Series hero. He was the hottest hitter in baseball at times during the year — remember the four-homer night in Baltimore? — before cooling down the stretch as his Rangers collapsed. He was booed at home in the AL wild card game, a foreshadowing of his departure. In the end, questions about his drug past cost him some money as a free agent — but not too much. He joined the rival Angels for a cool $125 million.
Philip Humber, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez
No-hitters have become shockingly routine over the past few seasons — a byproduct of power pitchers, advanced scouting reports, and drug testing — but perfect games retain a singular place in our baseball consciousness. We witnessed them a record three times in 2012. While the first was completely unforeseen — Humber threw his gem April 21 and went on to have a 6.44 ERA — the next two came from likelier candidates to do the near impossible. Cain’s may be the most memorable of the group, thanks to Gregor Blanco’s epic catch on the warning track.
Mark Walter and Magic Johnson
For Dodgers fans who lived the nightmare of Frank McCourt’s final years as owner of one of the world’s proudest sports franchises, it sounded too good to be true: Dodgers owner Magic Johnson? But the sale agreement on the eve of the regular season has become a prosperous reality under Walter’s group, with a payroll suddenly in excess of $200 million and realistic World Series expectations. The brand is back, and so is the old question: Are they good enough to topple the Giants?
Mike Rizzo and Stephen Strasburg
The debate went on in Washington for weeks, and it didn’t end in a vote. Rizzo served as the executive, legislative and judicial branches all rolled into one. Did the GM make the right call by declaring Strasburg done for the season after 159-1/3 innings? If Strasburg leads the Nats to multiple world titles in the coming years, then the answer is yes. Otherwise, it appears the Nationals cost themselves a prime opportunity to win it all in 2012.
Melky Cabrera and Marco Scutaro
Teammates for barely more than two weeks, Cabrera and Scutaro epitomized the 2012 Giants. Amid all the names rumored and dealt at the July trade deadline, the journeyman infielder Scutaro had the biggest impact. He supplied savvy and grit for the Giants, particularly after Cabrera’s steroid suspension (and bizarre explanation) threatened to create a distraction while removing a potential batting champ from the lineup. The end result? The Giants won their second world title in three years — without Cabrera’s help.
Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout
Cabrera won the AL MVP award in November, but the debate for which he and Trout became avatars — Old School vs. New School — will go on for years. Most of all, Cabrera (who won the first Triple Crown since 1967) and Trout (who put together one of the best rookie seasons ever) deserve credit for the brilliant way in which they played and genuine praise they offered each other.
In a memoir released in March, Dickey wrote about being sexually abused as a boy and contemplating suicide as an adult. Then he had the season of his life, going 20-6 and becoming the first knuckleballer to win the Cy Young Award. Thus, Dickey became the rarest of sports figures — an eminently human star, unafraid to speak the truth about difficult subjects so that he might help others. Through honesty and eloquence, he is more relatable to fans everywhere.