Recounting the Highs and Lows of 2021 in Baseball

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On the heels of his 2020 MVP season, Freddie Freeman won a World Series ring with the Braves.Dan Schlossberg, Here's The Pitch

By Dan Schlossberg

As a microcosm of the nation, baseball had more than its share of highs and lows in 2021. Although the Covid-19 pandemic was still a factor and the expiring Basic Agreement loomed large as an unwanted holiday present, the majors managed to squeeze in a full season of 162 games, followed by an exhilarating postseason. There were plenty of surprises along the way.

Highs

  • Atlanta Braves win first world title in 26 years, defeating Brewers, Dodgers, and Astros handily in postseason play — never taking a series the maximum length
  • Shohei Ohtani wins unanimous election as American League MVP after hitting 46 home runs, stealing 26 bases, collecting 100 runs batted in, and posting a 9-2 record and 3.18 ERA in 23 games pitched for the Los Angeles Angels
  • After a wait that seemed eternal, Gil Hodges and Buck O’Neil finally reach the Hall of Fame, along with the much-deserving Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, and Minnie Minoso
  • Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera hits 500th home run
  • Future NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario needs only five pitches to hit for the cycle
  • Fellow Atlanta trade acquisition Jorge Soler starts World Series with leadoff homer, caps it with three-run homer to break scoreless tie in Game 6, and wins MVP honors for World Series
  • Chris Taylor delivers three-homer game for Dodgers vs. Braves to prolong NLCS
  • Former Dodger Joc Pederson, wearing necklace of pearls, pinch-hits two homers for Braves in NL Championship Series
  • Lefty-swinging Freddie Freeman wins deciding game of NL Division Series for Atlanta vs. Milwaukee with late home run vs. lethal lefty closer Josh Hader
  • Atlanta lefty Max Fried is first pitcher since Bret Saberhagen in 1985 to pitch six walk-free scoreless innings in a World Series clincher
  • With a pinch-hit in the World Series (Game 5), Houston’s Zack Greinke becomes the first pitcher to do that since 1924
  • Bryce Harper wins second regular-season MVP of career
  • Salvatore Perez — really — leads majors with 121 runs batted in
  • White Sox edge Yankees, 9-8, in first Field of Dreams game, in Dyersville, Iowa
  • Indians blank Angels, 3-0, in Little League Classic at Willamsport, PA
  • Robbie Ray, signed as a free agent by Toronto, leads AL in strikeouts, innings, and ERA en route to American League Cy Young Award
  • Pitchers throw record nine no-hitters plus two more “unofficial” ones in games limited to seven innings because they are part of doubleheaders
  • Miami pitcher Pablo Lopez fans first nine batters — an MLB mark — on July 11 vs. Braves
  • Aaron Nola of Phillies ties Tom Seaver’s record with 10 straight strikeouts vs Mets June 25 and Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes duplicates the feat August 11
  • Jacob deGrom sets a record for most strikeouts in first four starts of a season
  • Gerrit Cole sets a record for most strikeouts without a walk
  • At 41, Nelson Cruz becomes the oldest man with a 30-homer season
  • Toronto’s Marcus Semien finishes with the most homers ever hit in a season by a second baseman [45]
  • Abraham Toro homers in each game of a three-game series: the first for Houston July 26, then one each for Seattle on July 27 and 28 after a mid-series trade between teams that permitted this unusual major-league record
  • Arizona Diamondbacks become first team to hit four homers in a inning on Opening Day
  • Braves are the first team to hit seven home runs and two grand-slams in a game, May 21 vs. Pirates
  • St. Louis Cardinals become first team with five Gold Glove winners
  • Dodgers’ 106 wins are most by any team in MLB history that did not finish first
  • Though they last only one game in the playoffs, Cardinals win 17 straight in September, improving their 11-year September mark to an MLB-best 196 wins

Lows

  • In a misguided effort to speed up game time, Commissioner Rob Manfred mandates automatic runner placed on second to start every half-inning of games that go into extras [variously called “Manfred Man,” zombie runner, or ghost runner, it is expected to be a one-year wonder]
  • Manfred ruins five years of preparations by stripping Atlanta of All-Star Game to protest newly-signed Georgia voting law
  • Manfred’s decision to move the Midsummer Classic to Denver deprives Braves of planned tribute to iconic home run king Hank Aaron, who died in January
  • Thanks to Manfred rule reducing double-header games to seven innings, Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner gets a complete game and shutout without allowing a hit but does not get credit for the first no-hitter of his career (vs. Braves April 25)
  • Cleveland’s Zach Plesac is losing pitcher in three no-hitters
  • Indians, caving to pressure, change 106-year-old nickname to Guardians
  • After MLB umpires begin checking pitchers for Spider Tack on June 15, stats of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole take major nosedive
  • Ronald Acuña, Jr. tears ACL July 10, misses remainder of season
  • Cardinals fire Mike Shildt, finalist for NL Manager of the Year, before winner is announced
  • Houston’s Yuli Gurriel wins AL batting title with worst mark since Rod Carew’s .318 in 1972
  • After signing huge contracts as free agents, Marcell Ozuna (Braves) and Trevor Bauer (Dodgers) miss most of season while MLB investigates allegations of domestic violence and sexual misconduct, respectively
  • Under .500 through 110 games, Braves win fewest games of any playoff team but get hot in time to win World Series
  • Atlanta loses promising pitcher Huascar Ynoa for three months after the pitcher punches the dugout bench in frustration — and fractures his pitching hand — while being pulled from his first poor start
  • Arizona Diamondbacks lose 24 straight road games, a major-league record
  • Teams shift so often against left-handed hitters that barring radical shifts is considered for 2022
  • First baseman Anthony Rizzo, relieving for Cubs in one-sided game, fans reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman
  • Unable to negotiate terms of a new Basic Agreement, owners lock out players, suspending all transactions and cancelling Winter Meetings, on Dec. 2.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and others. Contact the author of 40 baseball books via e.mail: ballauthor@gmail.com.

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