But the game's most cherished record fell in a virtually deserted forest, and 714 and 755 were replaced by a number less magic than enigmatic.
Summer Breeze (Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn on a Cooperstown pedestal) made way for a Hazy Shade of Winter (George Mitchell on a Manhattan lectern).
Some took off on tears (the Rockies, 21-1 into the Fall Classic), others merely shed them (the Mets, a 7 1/2-game National League East lead gone in 15 days).
Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez broke unbreakable records, to different receptions. Bonds and his 762 homers were asked to leave the stage, by the Giants. Rodriguez and his $275 million contract were given the key to New York City (with agent Scott Boras on the other side of the door).
Between the Yankees' Boss dreaming of a baseball title and Jonathan Papelbon's Boss eating a title baseball, it was another year of hits and rim-shots.
So, you see, baseball's soundtrack hasn't really changed since the mid-'60s, when the Birds and the Byrds were both flying high and the notes wafted through rolled-down windows of first edition Mustangs:
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn) ...
This was the season to Rocktober and Roll (the Dice-K).
A time to be born, a time to die
We said hello to the rising stars of Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies), Ryan Braun (Brewers), Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox), Delmon Young (Rays, now with the Twins).
We said far too many farewells, to Vern Ruhle (Jan. 20), Bing Devine (Jan. 27), Max Lanier (Jan. 28), Art Fowler (Jan. 29), Steve Barber (Feb. 4), Lew Burdette (Feb. 6), Hank Bauer (Feb. 9), Clem Labine (March 2), Gene Oliver (March 3), John Vuckovich (March 8), Bowie Kuhn (March 15), Ed Bailey (March 23), Josh Hancock (April 29), Rod Beck (June 23), Shag Crawford (July 11), Bill Robinson (July 29), Phil Rizzuto (Aug. 14), Joe Nuxhall (Nov. 15), Joe Kennedy (Nov. 23), Tommy Byrne (Dec. 20).
A time to plant, a time to reap
The Marlins, the Athletics and the Twins sowed the seeds of their futures. And the harvest came for the Indians, the Phillies, the D-backs and the long-time loser Brewers.
A time to kill, a time to heal
Kris Benson, Matt Clement, Arthur Rhodes, Mark Prior, Chris Carpenter had time to kill -- all missed the entire season with injuries. And Troy Percival, Ryan Klesko, Eric Gagne, Casey Kotchman, Sammy Sosa, Rick Ankiel recovered emphatically from long absences.
A time to dance, a time to mourn
On April 3, the Cardinals partied in Busch Stadium as they received their rings for having won St. Louis' 10th World Series. A month later, they were in Tupelo, Miss., burying 29-year-old teammate Josh Hancock.
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late
The Mitchell Report lifted the curtain on the game's occasionally seedy clubhouse subculture, but it was also catharsis and catalyst and, within days, MLB and the Players Association pledged to cooperate toward a cleansing.
As former Seattle manager Mike Hargrove said on his way out the door, "No matter how hard we try to screw this game up, it's still a great game."
So let the music play on ...
Yesterday, When I Was Young
(Roy Clark, 1965
On May 4, 48-year-old Julio Franco homers off 43-year-old Randy Johnson -- at 91 years, the oldest gopher combination in history. (Franco misses "breaking" that record a month later, when he flies out against 44-year-old Roger Clemens.)
Probables for June 27 include a record seven 40-plus pitchers. Kenny Rogers (42) has his start rained out, but Jamie Moyer (44), Greg Maddux (41), Glavine (41), Woody Williams (40), John Smoltz (40) and Clemens all make it up and (more importantly) back down the hill.
Moyer and Johnson stage the second-oldest pitching duel in history, when the needle for their May 30 meeting reads 88 years and 90 days (oldest: Don Sutton vs. Phil Niekro on June 8, 1987 hit 90-135.)
When Numbers Get Serious
(Paul Simon, 1983
In a June 24 Interleague game, Boston's Josh Beckett (10-1) and San Diego's Jake Peavy (9-1) hook up in only the third historical duel in which both starters have nine-plus wins and no more than one loss. Beckett prevails, 4-2, in PETCO Park.
On July 25, the Rockies' Aaron Cook requires a total of 74 pitches for a complete-game seven-hitter over the Padres. On Sept. 3, showing why it's called Labor Day, Carlos Zambrano needs 96 pitches to get 13 outs against the Dodgers.
Wes Littleton pitches three innings to earn a save in Texas' 30-3 win over the Orioles, ending the eternal debate over whether the save is a legitimate statistic because all those in favor throw up their arms in disgust and go home.
Are You Okay?
(Was, Not Was, 1990
Philadelphia center fielder Aaron Rowand misses a game in late July with a left-shoulder injury suffered while playing tag with neighborhood kids.
Running out of the dugout to take the field for an early-April game, Minnesota outfielder Rondell White hurts his right calf and does not resurface until late July.
St. Louis left fielder Chris Duncan awakes with a start, remembering that the Cardinals have a weekday early-afternoon game. Rushing out the door and down the staircase of his apartment complex, he tries to save time by leaping three steps at once -- and suffers a 12-stitch gash when the top of his head bangs into the ceiling.
Pirates right-hander Ian Snell misses a start after burning his right index finger while cooking grilled chicken salad.
Before the season even begins, Cubs righty Kerry Wood bruises his right side falling out of a hot tub at home.
Others also miss significant playing time with "thoracic outlet syndrome" (Hank Blalock), "left clavicle contusion" (Jason LaRue) and "intestinal turmoil" (Manny Ramirez).
(Suzanne Vega, 1990
"If we're up for the rest of the season, we'll have a pretty good year." -- Jimmy Rollins, who months earlier had already called out his own as "the team to beat," after the Phillies' record drops to 1-6 on April 9. They go 21-up-.500 the rest of the season.
"Every team that wins the pennant this year will probably have a six-to-10-game losing streak, probably more than once." -- Houston manager Phil Garner, who lost his job as well as that call (Only the Angels and Cubs met his mark, barely, with six straight losses each.)
"I really believe this is a playoff team. Every day there's more and more guys in here that are starting to believe that." -- Arizona outfielder Eric Byrnes, on July 26, when the D-backs stood 56-48.
A "mathematician" writing for the Baseball Prospectus crunches the numbers before the season and forecasts that Sosa will hit .219, with five homers and 18 RBIs. He must have read the wrong tea leaves, since Sosa hit .252, with 21 homers and 92 RBIs.
The Name Game
(Shirley Ellis, 1964
Upon being dealt by the A's to Cincinnati in April, right-hander Marcus McBeth tells his reflection in the mirror: "Stand not upon the order of your going, but go at once." (Macbeth; Act 3, Scene 4)
Baltimore right-hander Rocky Cherry was named "Rookie pitcher most likely to wind up as a Ben & Jerry flavor."
Proving that they might be taking this Red Sox Nation thing a little too seriously, the Boston Red Sox announced having entered into a "strategic alliance" with Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines.
: Between them, MLB's two pitching Victors (Santos and Zambrano) were that only once, combining to go 1-9 with an ERA of 6.98.
After issuing 20 walks in fewer than 25 innings while splitting the season between Milwaukee and Tampa Bay, right-hander Grant Balfour considers changing his name to Grant Strikethree.
Speak To Me
(Pink Floyd, 1973
"I got the first two guys out, then all of a sudden it was 4 o'clock batting practice." -- Indians closer Joe Borowski, after being jumped by the Yankees for six runs in the bottom of the ninth for an 8-6 defeat on April 19
"I had no idea. You're great sources of useless information." -- Carlos Delgado, to reporters who had just told him that his third homer into McCovey Cove made him the splashdown leader among AT&T Park visitors
"I think we were well up over 200 mph when we hit the ground. It was a little bit more of an abrupt stop. There was stuff in the front of the plane that started out in the back of the plane." -- Dodgers manager Grady Little, on a hard landing
"How many times a day do you have to go out there and check for traffic? Coming out of the dugout, you have to look left and look right? I mean, it's not like you're crossing the highway or jaywalking or anything." -- J.D. Drew, on Boston teammate Coco Crisp being run over by the ATV-riding Mariner Moose as he emerged from the Safeco Field dugout
"Did I win the Silver Glove at least?" -- Colorado shortstop Tulowitzki, upon hearing that Philadelphia's Rollins had won the NL Gold Glove at the position.
(Culture Club, 1984
On April 15, Grady Sizemore's first-inning leadoff double is Cleveland's lone hit in a 2-1 victory over Detroit. The Indians are the first team to win with only a game-opening hit since April 23, 1952, when Bobby Young's leadoff triple is the St. Louis Browns' only hit in a 1-0 win over ... the Indians.
In his May 25 column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Randy Galloway calls the 17-29 Rangers "sickening." Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka has to leave that night's start against the Rangers after five innings due to what is officially described as nausea.
Three times within one week -- June 22, 25, 28 -- Tulowitzki hits a go-ahead home run in the top of ninth or later, and Rockies closer Brian Fuentes loses the game in the bottom of the inning. Says Colorado manager Clint Hurdle, "Just when you think you've seen about everything, you haven't seen everything."
Mets shortstop Jose Reyes and Rollins enter their teams' Sept. 16 game with streaks of defensive perfection. Rollins reaches base in the second on an error by Reyes, his first in 44 games. Four innings later, Rollins muffs a grounder for his first error in 55 games.
Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner, with 861 saves in 970 chances between them up to that point, both blow one on the same day for the first time in their careers, on Aug. 10.
Some Kind of Miracle
(Kelly Clarkson, 2003
Participating in the first draft for the Israel Baseball League, former Major League GM Dan Duquette, representing the Modi'in Miracle, selects 71-year-old Sandy Koufax.
On Patriot's Day, the ceremonial first-pitch prior to the Angels-Red Sox game in Fenway Park is delivered by Paul Revere III -- a seventh-generation descendant of the 1775 original.
Toronto's Frank Thomas becomes the 21st player to reach 500 homers with an afternoon jack against Minnesota on June 28. A few hours later, Biggio is the 27th to log hit No. 3,000, against Colorado.
From May 28 -- a day he began with an average of .133 -- through Aug. 19, the Angels' Chone Figgins batted .402.
The Twelfth of Never
(Johnny Mathis, 1957
: On May 31, the Blue Jays beat the White Sox, 2-0, on solo home runs by Aaron Hill and Thomas -- the first recorded time a team has ever won without putting a runner on
For the first time since 1959 -- when MLB membership stood at 16 teams -- no club won or lost more than 96 games.
For about a month -- between Sosa's 600th homer and Kenny Lofton's trade to Cleveland -- the Rangers are the first team in history to include players with 600 homers and 600 stolen bases.
What in the World
(David Bowie, 1977
On Jackie Robinson Day, hundreds of Major Leaguers wear No. 42 in tribute but the only one still wearing that number year-round, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, serves up a two-out, 0-and-2, three-run walk-off homer to Oakland's Marco Scutaro.
On Aug. 4, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa decides to start batting his pitchers eighth in the order, as the Cards flounder with a 50-55 record. With pitchers in the eight-hole, they go 28-29 the rest of the way.
Tampa Bay right-hander Edwin Jackson takes an 0-8 record into his June 18 start in Arizona and, one out from qualifying for the victory, has to leave with a cramp in his right index finger. The Rays win, 10-2, but Jackson remains winless.
The Chicago Cubs' promotional slate at Wrigley Field includes Michael Barrett Jersey Day on June 25 and Michael Barrett Bobblehead Day on June 30. On June 19, Michael Barrett is traded to San Diego.
Baseball's mythical bobblehead jinx is slain a couple of months later, when, on his giveaway day, Thome hits a walk-off shot against the Angels for career homer No. 500.
What Becomes a Legend Most
(Lou Reed, 1984
In tribute to new Hall of Famer Ripken, who could only roll his eyes when ...
Edwin Bellorin, in his Major League debut for the Rockies after nine years in the Minors, strained his left hamstring running out a ball on his first at-bat and went on the disabled list.
Oakland manager Bob Geren noted in mid-July that with Travis Buck returning to his outfield, "We'll give some guys a day off here and there. Shannon [Stewart] has been out there almost every day."
Players resting with minor midseason injuries routinely proclaimed, "I think I could have played if I had to."