Japan Wins First WBC
Manager Sadaharu Oh receives the full honored toss after his team toppled Cuba to win the championship game on March 20 in the first World Baseball Classic. Although international baseball competitions had been held before, this was the first to use players from the American major leagues. The 16-team field played a total of 39 games in six cities in three countries.
Barry Bonds Passes the Babe
Giants outfielder Barry Bonds clubs his 715th home run on May 18, moving past Babe Ruth into second place on the all-time list. While Hank Aaron's 715th homer in 1974 was one of the greatest moments in baseball history, Bonds's blast was largely ignored by the American public. Allegations that he had abused steroids continued to dog Bonds, who was booed in every National League ballpark.
Ryan Howard Swats 58 Big Flys
Likable Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2005, then followed it up with an MVP season in 2006. The 6'4", 230-pound slugger rocketed 58 home runs, eclipsing Mike Schmidt's team record by nine. In MVP balloting, he barely nosed out superstar Albert Pujols. He also captured the National League Hank Aaron Award.
George Mitchell Spearheads Investigation
In March 2006, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig hired former Senate majority leader George Mitchell to head an investigation into steroid use by major-league players -- including some of its top sluggers. After decades of ignoring the problem, MLB began drug testing in 2003 and started penalizing those who failed tests the following year. By the end of 2006, Mitchell's investigation was still ongoing.
Fracisco Rodriguez Puts Out the Fires
Francisco Rodriguez began turning heads in 2002 when, at age 20, he struck out 28 batters in 18 postseason innings. In 2005, he took over the job as Angels closer and tied Bob Wickman for the league lead in saves. In 2006, he topped all American League closers with 47 saves and in the process became the youngest pitcher ever to reach the 100-save mark.
David "Big Papi" Ortiz Provides the Drama
Known as a clutch performer, Boston's David "Big Papi" Ortiz outdid himself in 2006. He had five walk-off hits, and three were home runs. That's about as many as most teams achieved all year. Ortiz's big year featured league-leading marks of 54 homers, 137 RBI, and 355 total bases. He finished a close second to Alex Rodriguez in American League MVP voting.
Frank Thomas Turns It Around
After injury-plagued seasons in 2004 and 2005, Frank Thomas seemed to be nearing the end of his career. His longtime team, the White Sox, did not even pick up the option year on his contract for 2006. However, the "Big Hurt" found new life in Oakland, where he amassed 39 homers and 114 RBI. His resurrection helped the A's capture the American League West crown.
Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes Spark Mets
Combining muscle and speed, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes played huge roles in the Mets' return to postseason play in 2006. Beltran had his finest power year, with 41 homers and 116 RBI. He finished fourth in the National League in both slugging and MVP voting. Reyes won his second consecutive stolen base title (64) and added 17 triples to his 19 homers.
Trevor Hoffman Sets Major League Save Mark
Trevor Hoffman gave up two of the Dodgers' four ninth-inning homers in L.A.'s amazing comeback game on September 18. Nevertheless, Hoffman's remarkable consistency (38 saves or more in seven of eight seasons) was a large part of San Diego's second consecutive division title. In the process, Hoffman moved past Lee Smith to become the majors' career save leader. He finished the season with 482.
Check out more headlines from the 2006 baseball season on the next page.
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