The Cardinals were not exactly Smokin' hot in 2006, at least not down the stretch. They won 20 games fewer in 2006 than 2004 or 2005. But, St. Louis managed to capture its first World Series title since 1982. Albert Pujols was a little off his game as well, with career lows in games (143), hits (177) and doubles (33). But he did finish second in MVP voting.
Arizona's Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson grace the cover following Arizona's first World Series championship. In 2002, the pair of aces made 35 starts each and combined to go 47-12 with 650 strikeouts.
Maybe a better headline would have been MVP345. Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds finished 3-4-5 in MVP voting in 2004 when the Cardinals won an NL-best 105 games. In 2004, the trio each posted an OPS over 1.000 and drove in 110+ runs and scored more than 100. St. Louis repeated as NL Central champs in 2005, but won just 100 games. Pujols was as magnificent as ever in 2005, but Edmonds slumped to just 29 home runs and 89 RBIs, while Rolen was limited to 56 games by a shoulder injury.
Chipper Jones strikes a pose for one of many Athlon covers. This is our favorite of the future Hall of Famer. That season Jones led the NL with a 1.029 OPS and was sixth in MVP voting. The heart of the Braves scored 108 runs and knocked home 102.
The Iron Man, Cal Ripken, appeared on 11 Athlon covers with a sampling shown on this 2001 cover shrine for Cal. This would be the Hall of Famers final season. He finished his career with 3,184 hits, 431 home runs, 1,695 RBIs and 1,647 runs. Baltimore has yet to replace Mr. Oriole, 10 years later.
The Rays were the darlings of baseball in 2008, winning the AL pennant after languishing in or near the cellar for their entire existence. Evan was indeed almighty in 2008 and continued to be in 2009.
No doubt this is Derek Jeter's finest moment in Athlon Sports history. One of the few all-Yankee covers, Jeter strikes a GQ-like pose. On the field, it was another solid season for the future Hall of Famer, finishing 11th in MVP voting.
In the lone Mets-only cover in Athlon history, David Wright appeared to be confidant the Mets could win it all in 2007. They didn't. They fell apart in late September dropping a game behind the Phillies. But it was arguably Wright's finest season. He won the first of his Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers and was fourth in MVP voting.
In 2006, Johan Santana of the Twins won his second Cy Young award in three years. He certainly stood tall ending the season at 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 0.997 WHIP with 245 strikeouts. Two years after leaving Bobby Abreu available in the Expansion Draft, the Astros left Santana exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. The Tampa Bay Rays were shrewd in drafing him from Houston, but unshrewdly traded him to the Twins for — Jared Camp. Now you know the rest of the story.
David Ortiz and Jason Varitek were the leaders of the Red Sox in 2006. Ortiz led the team with his bat, swatting 54 home runs and driving home 137. Tek led with his knowledge and experience behind the plate. The team captain was instrumental in leading a young pitching staff that included Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon.
Ryan Howard of the Phillies, coming off an MVP season, lost 45 points off his batting average in 2007, swatted 11 fewer home runs and had 40 fewer hits. But he still finished fifth in MVP balloting. Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Jason Bay was struggling in his last full season in a Pirates uniform. He hit a career-low .247 and — until his concussion-shortened 2010 — had career lows in homers and RBIs in 2007.
Armed and dangerous, ace Roy Oswalt finished 14-7 for the Astros, who were 16 games below .500, in 2007.
The Triple Threat of Johan Santana, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau didn't carry the Twins very far in 2007. They finished 17 games behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. Santana was solid at 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA. Mauer was injured and played in just 109 games. Morneau led the team with 31 dingers and 11 ribbies.
Boston fans believed a championship was imminent entering the new century. It would take a few more years, but both Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez starred in 2000. Nomar won his second consecutive batting title (.372) and Pedro won his third Cy Young award — his second in a row — while leading the league with a 1.74 ERA, four shutouts and 284 Ks.
Ho-hum. Just another typical season in Seattle for Ichiro Suzuki: .322, 110 runs, 224 hits, Gold Glove. The Mariners did not rebound on the sound in 2006, finishing last for the third straight season.
Pudge Rodriguez was becoming the new face of the franchise in Detroit as fans became acquainted with Comerica Park. Rodriguez would provide veteran leadership for youngsters like Justin Verlander, Curtis Granderson and Omar Infante with the Tigers in 1995. But the Tigers weren't division champs, to answer the question.
Camden Yards serves as a backdrop for newly signed free agent Miguel Tejada. Just a year removed from winning AL MVP, Tejada didn't disappoint fans in Baltimore in 2004, leading the league with 150 RBIs. He also played in all 162 games for six straight years, the last three coming in Baltimore. Of course, it's nothing for a Baltimore shortstop to play everyday.
The curse is gone! Only two of these three stars remained in Boston all season, but Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez finally reversed the Curse in Boston as the Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS to defeat the Yankees four games to three. The Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series as Ramirez was named Series MVP. Oh, Nomar Garciaparra was traded to the Cubs midseason where his championship drought would continue.
Looking stylish in the 1969 throwback uniforms of the Seattle Pilots, Ichiro was somewhat of a throwback catalyst. Not afraid to swing away, Ichiro led the majors with 238 hits, batted .351 and scored 111 runs, the sixth time in seven seasons he reached the 110 mark for runs.
There are no superlatives that can accurately describe Albert Pujols' first decade in the majors. This is King Albert's first Athlon cover — the first of nine and counting. A snapshot of his decade: 1,900 hits, 1,186 runs, 1,230 RBIs, 408 home runs, a .331 average, .426 on-base percentage and .624 slugging. Oh, three MVPs and six other finishes in the top 4.
Troy Tulowitzki, one of the top rising stars in the game today, made his first appearance on an Athlon cover in 2009, which was the first of back-to-back fifth-place finishes in MVP voting for the All-Star shortstop.
Ace Roy Halladay was 16-7 with seven complete games and was fifth in Cy Young balloting. But his ERA of 3.71 was the highest of his career in a full season.
Two future stars of the Beltway —Matt Wieters and Stephen Strasburg — were featured on this cover, but only one carries the hope of an entire franchise. Strasburg did not disappoint in 2010, but reconstructive elbow surgery has shelved the young ace until 2012.
Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was a fixture on Athlon covers distributed in San Diego, beginning with our inaugural issue in 1988. This was Gwynn's 10th cover and also featured a young Troy Glaus of the Angels. Gwynn had just collected the 3,000th hit of his career the previous season.
There was a new king of K.C. Well, sort of. Actually, not at all. The second player chosen in the 2005 draft scuffled at the big league level in 2007, hitting just .247 with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs. Later struggles saw him relegated to the minors where he spent most of 2010. However, it appears he has arrived for good with a strong beginning in 2011.
Roy Halladay led the Blue Jays assent in the AL East. Toronto's ace was tops in the AL in winning percentage with a 16-5 record. The Blue Jays finished second behind the Yankees, but were 10 games out, and eight games behind the wild-card Detroit Tigers.
After multiple covers in Seattle, this is Griffey's finest in Cincinnati. But 2003 was not Griffey's finest season in his hometown. He hit just .247 in the third of four consecutive injury-plagued seasons.
Ichiro's first Athlon Sports cover. In fact, it was the first of eight in a row before Felix Hernandez broke the string in 2010. In 10 seasons in the big leagues, Ichiro has 2.244 hits, 1,047 runs, 10 Gold Gloves and 10 All-Star appearances.
Coming off a season in which Chipper Jones led the National League in OPS, the Atlanta third baseman won his only batting title in 2008 with a .364 average.
After nearly a century of futility, the Red Sox won their second championship in four years in 2007. David Ortiz graces the Boston cover, his only solo cover. That season was Big Papi's fifth stright finishing in the top 5 in MVP balloting. And did you catch the shot of Dice-K in the Lions' uni?
After all those years, Ichiro Suzuki remains Seattle's best.
With 120 runs and 105 RBIs, Nomar Garciaparra had the last of his four seasons with as many as 100 runs and RBIs. It would be his final complete season in Boston. In November of that year, Nomar married Mia Hamm and quickly became the second-most famous person in his household.
The Phillies were coming off a World Series appearance in 2009 and led the majors in wins for the first time in franchise history in 2010. It wasn't all rosy for Chase Utley though. He struggled with injuries and continued a four-year slide.
In 2002, John Smoltz became Atlanta's full-time closer and responded with 55 saves. He finished third in Cy Young voting and eighth in MVP balloting. Teammate Chipper Jones was 11th in MVP voting that season.
$252 Million. An unthinkable sum turned A-Rod into a lightning Rod when the Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez prior to the 2001 season. His three-year stay in Texas was not a disappointment statistically. He won three home run titles, an RBI title and an MVP. In 2001, he led the league with 133 runs and drove home 135.
This is the all-time leading cover in hardware. Barry Bonds and Miguel Tejada were reigning MVPs and Barry Zito was a reigning Cy Young winner. Bonds had a few more memorable seasons, but 2002 proved to be the high point for Barry Zito and is Tejada's only major award.
Derek Jeter of the Yankees began the decade the same as he ended it — as king of New York. The Yankees and Mets, led by catcher Mike Piazza, would meet for the first time in the World Series with the Yanks winning in five games.
Barry Bonds stood tall entering 2006. Eric Chavez and the A's were relegated to second class in the Bay Area — at least in the preseason. But the A's finished atop the AL West standings while the Giants languished nine games below .500, in third place, 11.5 games out of first.
Big Mac. Five years prior to his fateful testimony — or lack thereof — before Congress, fans marveled at Mark McGwire's massive forearms. Coming off seasons of 70 and 65 home runs, McGwire suffered through an injury-plagued 2000 in which he played in just 89 games. But he had the best on-base average and OPS of his career.
Rock on! While Josh Beckett and the young Florida Marlins celebrated their second Word Series title in seven years, Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees were trying to get back to the series. But the in 2004, the Marlins began rebuilding again, and the Yankees' Curse over the Sox was reversed.
Two former Rookies of the Year, Evan Longoria and Hanley Ramirez, who are quickly becoming the faces of their respective franchises, grace the cover together. Hanley made his third straight All-Star team in 2010, but posted career lows in hits, runs, doubles and slugging. Longoria (who evidently found his cap that he looked for all season) finished sixth in MVP voting.
The only time in Athlon's history that the Cubs were not included on the cover distributed in Chicago was 2006, the year after the Sox ended an 87-year championship drought. Jose Contreras and Mark Buehrle starred for the Sox as their pitching dominated the 2005 postseason. But the Sox finished six games out of first in 2006.
The Post-Steroid Era looked much different by the bay with a Giants' pitcher on the cover. Tim Lincecum won his second consecutive Cy Young award in 2009. Matt Holliday lasted less than one season in Oakland green as he was traded to St. Louis prior to the trade deadline.
Almost five years after his spit hit the man in Baltimore, the Hall of Fame second baseman was leading one of the most potent offenses in baseball. This season was Alomar's last in Cleveland, and was also the last season he made an All-Star team, won a Gold Glove and received any MVP votes. He finished fourth in MVP voting that year as it was arguably the best of his career. He hit .336 with 20 homers, 100 RBIs, scored 113 runs with 32 doubles, 12 triples and 30 stolen bases.
Dare we say PED Edition? One subject (Barry Bonds) is on trial, and the other (Jason Giambi) is testifying that he used PEDs while playing for the Oakland A's. A sad era for baseball. Glad it's behind us. Never did care for the Jackin' and Joggin' game anyway.
Slammin' Sammy Sosa (prior to his day in Congress) was the rage in Chicago in 2000. Sosa won the first of two NL home run titles with 50 clouts that season. Interestingly, Sosa won home run titles with 50 and 49 homers. The three seasons he topped 60 — no titles. Rising star Magglio Ordoñez of the White Sox fashioned a .315-32-126 season for the Sox (all second-place stats on the Sox behind masher Frank Thomas). Perhaps, the photos should have been swapped. The White Sox finished first in the AL Central, while the Cubs were dead last the in NL Central.
Prince Fielder and Joe Mauer, two established young stars, share a cover swinging big bats. The 2010 season wasn't exactly kind to Prince, who missed 100 RBIs for the first time since driving in just 81 his rookie season. But he led the NL in walks and had a .400+ OBP for the second time. Mauer was as good as ever, making his fourth All-Star team, winning his third Gold Glove and fourth Silver Slugger.
The 23-year-old Carlos Beltran was coming off a Rookie of the Year season in 1999 and was in position to be in charge in Kansas City. But something happened on the way to the photo shoot. In 2000, his average dipped 46 points, home runs dropped from 22 to seven and runs and RBIs, which both topped 100 in 1999, were cut by more than half. Injuries were somewhat to blame as he rebounded to have three more very good seasons in Kansas City.
With only 96 RBIs in 2004, Todd Helton narrowly missed a sixth straight season with 100 runs and 100 RBIs. However, it was his fifth consecutive season with a 1.000+ OPS. After 2004, back injuries eroded his power. But clearly, Helton is Mr. Rockie in Denver.
After leading the Marlins to a World Series win in 1997, and the Padres to the Series in 1998, Brown was entering his second season with Los Angeles. In 2000, the All-Star led the NL with a 2.58 ERA and 0.991 WHIP and was sixth in Cy Young voting.
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