Wrigley Field tradition, Royals' run to WS title among best in 2015
By Terrence Moore
In the spirit of Thanksgiving weekend, there are so many reasons why we should praise the baseball gods. I'll mention 10 from this season -- you know, just to bunt the conversation into scoring position.
You can add to your list from here ...
Wrigley Field of the 21st century
For one, this ancient jewel hasn't gone anywhere after a century in the same spot on Chicago's North Side.
How neat is that?
Better yet, courtesy of the foresight of Cubs ownership and management, Wrigley will exist for at least another century. The franchise spent this season completing the first of two phases of a nearly $600 million project to renovate and to enhance the ballpark without ruining its charm.
Mission accomplished. In addition to a sturdier foundation, Wrigley now has videoboards, expanded bleachers, updated concession stands and more restrooms. And get this: The ivy-covered walls remain.
Willie still inspires
Earlier this week at the White House, Willie Mays looked more like the Say Hey Kid of the 1950s running forever in center field than the 84-year-old legend that he is now, with fading eyesight and creaky knees. Just like that, decades rolled from Mays' smiling face after President Barack Obama placed the Presidential Medal of Freedom around his neck.
Along with Mays, Obama gave the nation's highest civilian award to 16 other Americans, including the late Yogi Berra, who finished his Yankees career with 18 trips to the All-Star Game and 10 World Series championship rings. The others ranged from performer Barbara Streisand to William Ruckelshaus, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Obama said he particularly pleased to honor Mays, because the Hall of Fame slugger was among the first African-Americans in the Major Leagues, and Obama is African-American.
"It's because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for president," Obama said.
Speaking of Mays ...
He joined Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle to form a terrific trio of greatness for baseball from the 1950s into much of the '60s. Now Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen are flirting with doing the same in the Major Leagues over the next few years.
All three outfielders are gifted in nearly every aspect of the game, and it begins and ends with their sizzling bats.
At 23, Harper was a unanimous winner of the Baseball Writers' Association of America National League MVP Award after hitting .330 with 42 home runs and 99 RBIs. Trout is 24, and he just finished second in the BBWAA American League MVP Award voting for the third time in his brief career after grabbing top honors in 2014. At 29, McCutchen is the senior citizen of the group, but he still had enough vigor to make his fifth consecutive All-Star Game and capture a fourth straight Silver Slugger Award.
The rise of the Royals
You've got to love this story as much as the team. Yes, I'm talking about the Royals, who ranked among the laughingstocks in baseball for nearly three decades after winning the 1985 World Series. Not only did they get good in a hurry entering the 2014 season, but they became one of the most entertaining teams in baseball despite a tiny payroll.
Epic comebacks. Clutch hitters. Stifling relievers. Daring plays in the field and along the basepaths.
The Royals -- yes, I'm still talking about the Royals -- have captured the last two AL pennants, and the latter took this team all the way to a World Series championship in 2015.
Speaking of the Royals ...
They watched their fans vote in nearly unprecedented numbers during an attempt to send as many Royals as possible to the 86th All-Star Game in Cincinnati. When the first pitch arrived, Kansas City had four starters on the AL squad, and Ned Yost as the manager.
In the long run, baseball won twice.
First, with the AL squad threatening to become the Royals' whole starting lineup, fans in other cities got busy to show their team loyalty, too. For instance: While Tigers fans submitted enough ballots to get Miguel Cabrera into the mix, Astros fans did the same with Jose Altuve.
Second, Royals fans still were rewarded for their diligence. No team in either league had more starters than the Royals.
Jake Arrieta did what?
Nobody is supposed to do what the Cubs' ace actually did on the mound after the All-Star break. What he did was become Bob Gibson 2.0, and Arrieta did so by winning 12 of his 13 decisions during that stretch while striking out 113 hitters in 107 1/3 innings, allowing just 22 unintentional walks and holding opponents to a .148 batting average.
Oh, and Arrieta's ERA was 0.75.
Overall, Arrieta ended with a not-so-shabby ERA of 1.77 ERA , and he was the Major League leader in victories (22), complete games (4) and shutouts (3). He also threw a no-hitter.
More so than any other sport, baseball has these unstoppable players who appear out of nowhere during the postseason.
Take Daniel Murphy, for instance. He was solid enough for the Mets during the regular season, when he hit .281 with 14 home runs and 73 RBIs. But then, Murphy became Reggie Jackson when the playoffs came along.
Spanning from the start of the NL Division Series through the end of the NL Championship Series, Murphy slammed seven home runs in nine games. He batted .333 with five RBIs during the former and .529 with six RBIs during the latter.
Now Mr. October II is among baseball's most popular free agents.
They're all spectacular throughout baseball, but the ones in Cincinnati and St. Louis always rise to a higher level. In fact, no opener in any sport has anything on a consistent basis to match the 96-year-old tradition of the Findlay Market Parade for the Reds.
This year, the grand marshals in Cincinnati were The Nasty Boys (Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of those relievers helping the Reds win a World Series championship. Among the dignitaries was Bootsy Collins, the Cincinnati native and funk legend as a bassist, singer and bandleader. As for the Cardinals ... the Budweiser Clydesdales.
With the organ pumping, those grand horses paraded around the field at Busch Stadium in April, and all was well with the game.
Giants fans remain giant
The setting is spectacular. The crowds are loud and colorful. The team also has won three World Series championships since 2010.
No wonder AT&T Park is packed every night -- literally -- when the Giants are in town. All you need to know is that on July 11, the ballpark featured its 50 millionth fan. As a result, the Giants reached that plateau for its ballpark in the fewest number of seasons in history. They did so in 16 seasons to the Orioles' 17, which previously was the all-time record.
In case you're wondering, the Giants led the Major Leagues by playing their home games at 99.4 percent to capacity for the season.
Just that name says enough.
What says even more is, the Yankees still wear those pinstripes.
Terrence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.