Major League Baseball, 2014 in review:
• Clayton Kershaw was king of baseball in 2014 — National League most valuable player, Cy Young Award winner, pitched a no-hitter*, hit a score-tying triple, fielded a ground ball behind his back, took an extra base on Bryce Harper, the ultimate model of accountability and professionalism in the clubhouse and the community. His October would not have been so disastrous if the Dodgers had a bullpen last season. (*The no-hitter would have been a perfect game had Miguel Rojas replaced Hanley Ramirez at shortstop in the seventh inning.)
• Mike Trout, the consensus best all-around player in baseball, was the unanimous winner of the American League MVP award and the first player since Mickey Mantle to win after consecutive second-place finishes. He is 23. Goodness. But he might not have been the Angels' most valuable player. That title could go to the gloriously bearded Matt Shoemaker, who emerged from obscurity to save an injury-depleted rotation, finishing 14-3 with a 2.89 earned-run average in 20 starts.
• The story appeared charming but brief: the Kansas City Royals returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1985, then lost in the wild-card playoff game. They trailed by four runs in the eighth inning of the wild-card game, by one run in the ninth and one in the 12th, but they rallied to win that game and their next seven games, sweeping the Angels and Baltimore Orioles en route to the World Series and showing off an exciting mix of speed, defense and a lockdown bullpen.
• The San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the third time in five years, the first NL club to do so since World War II, as Madison Bumgarner lifted his teammates on his shoulders and carried them to a parade. Bumgarner won Game 1, threw a shutout in Game 5, then five scoreless innings of relief to close Game 7. He pitched 21 innings, more than the combined total of the Giants' other starters. He also lent his name to the new "Mad Bum" underwear.
• There were the Giants, and then there was Jose Altuve, the 5-foot-6 second baseman for the Houston Astros. Altuve led the AL in singles and stolen bases, and he ranked second in doubles. He had 225 hits; no one else had more than 200. And, when the Astros told him to sit out the season finale to protect his AL batting title — a rare bit of good news for a rocky franchise — he rebelled and talked his way into the lineup. He got two hits to finish at .341.
Derek Jeter had a grand farewell tour, retiring in sixth place on the all-time hits list, behind Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker. Paul Konerko retired, too, after a pretty fine career. And so did Bud Selig, the commissioner for the last 22 years. Selig's retirement takes effect in January. For all the good he did, and baseball is in a much better place than when he took office, it is amazing how his valedictories invariably omit that he clumsily tried to kill two MLB teams.
The Boston Red Sox imported half a dozen second-tier free agents before the 2013 season, got ripped for it, then won the World Series. Good for them, but the Red Sox brought the champions back nearly intact. That seldom works. The clock hit midnight last season, and the Red Sox finished last for the second time in three years. The makeover started last summer (John Lackey, Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes and Andrew Miller out; Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly in) and continued this off-season (Cespedes out; Wade Miley, Justin Masterson and Rick Porcello in).
• The defensive shift went mainstream, with exaggerated alignments that invited pull hitters to bunt for a hit. The sluggers in the pull crowd, the likes of David Ortiz and Josh Hamilton, still tried to hit through the shift, or over it. Perhaps the weirdest moment of 2014 came when the Oakland Athletics' Jed Lowrie bunted against the Astros' shift, and the Astros threw at him in response. He bunted with a 7-0 lead, which might otherwise have been considered overkill if the Astros' shift had not essentially dared him to do it.
• As the steroid era and the amphetamine era recede into memory, pitchers dominated at a rate unseen in decades. In 2002, the last year before random steroid testing began, Alex Rodriguez led the majors with 57 home runs, and 28 players hit at least 30. In 2014, Nelson Cruz led the majors with 40, and 11 players hit at least 30. The overall major league batting average last season: .251, the lowest since 1972, the year before the introduction of the designated hitter.
• In January, when a company trumpeted MLB approval for its padded caps to protect pitchers from line drives, it neglected to mention that no pitcher had agreed to wear one. In June, Alex Torres of the San Diego Padres did, a cap so awkwardly oversized that pitchers did not rush to follow. MLB hopes that other companies continue research and development on protective caps so the free market can determine a preference for style and safety in one.