In less than a week, major league baseball’s regular season begins. Here’s a glimpse at story lines that could dominate the year.
Out with the old, in with the new
Having announced his plans to retire at the end of the season, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera will embark on his farewell tour. Since making his major league debut 18 years ago, the 43-eyar-old reliever has accumulated dozens of league pitching records and helped his team to five World Series titles. Adored by Yankee fans and respected by even the team’s archrivals, Rivera will receive ovations at ballparks across the country. While he has already cemented his Hall of Fame credentials, many fans wonder how successful the old-timer can be in his final season in pinstripes.
As Rivera prepares to leave the game, two young stars, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, will embark on their sophomore seasons with high expectations. Trout had the greatest rookie season in major league history, while Harper had the greatest season ever by a teenager. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci noted that their seasons “may be the baseball equivalent of what 1964 was to rock ’n’ roll in America, when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones made their first U.S. tour.” Now everyone waits to see what the encore will look like.
During the offseason, the Houston Astros relocated to the American League West, ending a 50-year span in the National League. The Astros have embraced the change with a new logo and new uniforms that borrow heavily from the team’s early years, but Houston has a lot of work to do after its dismal 55-107 record in 2012, a franchise worst. Playing in one of baseball’s toughest divisions certainly will not help.
Another potential change for the 2013 season is the expanded use of instant replay. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig noted that umpires might start using video to confirm diving catches in the outfield and fair or foul balls hit down the lines. Instant replay is a controversial topic in baseball. Proponents argue that technology allows umpires to always make the correct call on close plays, while opponents say that instant replay damages the tradition or “human element” of the sport. “Baseball is a game of pace,” Selig said. “We’ve got to be very sensitive and careful in the way we proceed.”
Cheaters never win?
Reports surfaced earlier this month that Major League Baseball will crack down on current players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. According to ESPN’s T.J. Quinn, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun have been targeted. Both have been linked to a South Florida clinic run by Dr. Anthony Bosch, who is accused of selling drugs to players. Rodriguez has already confessed to using PEDs earlier in his career, and Braun failed a drug test in 2012, although his suspension was overturned on a technicality.
MLB also announced that it would become the first professional sports organization in North America to administer random blood tests for human growth hormone. Three players failed urine tests because of elevated testosterone levels in 2012. “We will continue to do everything we can to maintain a leadership stature in anti-doping efforts in the years ahead,” Commissioner Selig said.
In 2012, the big leagues saw a record $7.5 billion in revenue and could see as much as $8.5 billion by 2014. Between healthy ticket sales and monstrous TV broadcast deals, money is flowing freely in the major leagues, and revenue sharing has ensured that even small-market clubs have financial backing and the ability to compete alongside the richer ball clubs.
The 2013 season could continue this shift of power. While many rich teams could be World Series contenders—like the Los Angeles Dodgers (a record $213 million payroll) and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ($155 million payroll), many baseball powerhouses such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Philadelphia Phillies could struggle to make the playoffs. Smaller market clubs like the Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, and Oakland Athletics are likely to have winning seasons. The Washington Nationals, one of only two teams that have never played in the World Series, has young stars such as Bryce Harper and pitcher Stephen Strasburg. Could the Nats bring a World Series trophy to the nation’s capital?