Major League Baseball had plenty of moments that fueled our fandom in 2023, from the new rules to the Texas Rangers’ World Series title to everything Shohei Ohtani did. Here are the top 10 moments of 2023.
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Shohei Ohtani steals the show, shatters salary records
Honestly, half the moments on this list could’ve come from Shohei Ohtani. Beyond that climactic WBC strikeout, there was his trade-deadline intrigue, his two homers and 1-hit shutout on the same day, his season-ending UCL tear and his second unanimous MVP win, all leading up to arguably the most anticipated free agency in MLB history.
The culmination of all of that made for the most shocking moment, when his outrageous, unprecedented, surprising and ultimately deserved contract with the Dodgers was revealed to the world: 10 years, $700 million. Ohtani won’t see $680 million of that money until after the contract is over, but the record-shattering number will be a baseball memory from 2023 that sticks for many. — Jack Baer
New rules lead to more basestealing than ever
In the 10th inning of a late September game against the Chicago Cubs, Ronald Acuña Jr. did what everyone was expecting and broke for second base. The throw was, as usual, too late, giving the soon-to-be unanimous NL MVP the first 40-homer, 70-steal season in MLB history (it was also the first 30-60 season ever). Acuña hoisted the bag above his head in celebration as the fans at Truist Park applauded their star.
Acuña’s achievement was a good moment for baseball and highly reflective of a trend MLB hoped to spur this season. Rule changes implemented for 2023 – including larger bases and restrictions on pick-off moves, among other things – made it easier than ever to steal bases, and Acuña led the charge as MLB runners as a whole went from 2,486 stolen bases in 2022 to 3,503 in 2023. — Baer
Ohtani strikes out Trout in WBC thriller
It was the stuff of Hollywood endings. After a pandemic-induced, five-year hiatus, the World Baseball Classic returned in March to a record throng of raucous fans celebrating dramatic moments like it was October. Spring training this was not.
After 18 teams had been eliminated and eight-plus innings between finalists Team Japan and Team USA were in the books, it came down to two of the best players on the planet, who just so happened to be Los Angeles Angels teammates. Shohei Ohtani took the mound in relief with a 3-2 lead and faced three-time MVP Mike Trout with two outs and the WBC title on the line. The pair battled to a 3-2 count before Ohtani unleashed a sensational slider to strike Trout out for a Japan victory, christening 2023 as the year of Shohei. — Jason Owens
Liam Hendriks makes return to mound after cancer treatment
The most emotional moment of the 2023 MLB season came May 29, when Chicago White Sox closer Liam Hendriks made his first appearance since being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hendriks, who was deemed cancer-free in April after undergoing chemotherapy, was greeted with a standing ovation from the fans in attendance. The fans remained standing and cheering until Hendriks’ first pitch, a 96 mph strike that hit the outside corner of the strike zone. That resulted in yet another raucous round of applause.
Unfortunately, Hendriks’ 2023 season didn’t go as planned. He pitched in just five games before undergoing Tommy John surgery. But for Hendriks, this year was about something a lot bigger than baseball, and for that one moment, his return mattered more than any outcome on the field. — Chris Cwik
Athletics fans stage counter-protest to stick it to owner John Fisher
Faced with the prospect of their beloved team leaving its hometown, Oakland Athletics fans did something drastic. With the Athletics nearing a deal to move to Las Vegas, fans staged a reverse boycott at the ballpark. More than 27,000 faithful packed the stadium on June 13, taking over the game with loud chants urging owner John Fisher to “sell the team.”
Those dedicated fans not only saw the Athletics pull off a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays that day but also proved that fan support wasn’t the issue in Oakland. If Fisher had actually invested in the team, fans would’ve shown up and spent money at the ballpark. Ultimately, the reverse boycott didn’t change Fisher’s mind, but that was never the goal. — Cwik
Miguel Cabrera completes his retirement tour
One of the most accomplished hitters of the past 20 years retired in 2023. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera announced his intention to retire prior to the 2023 MLB season and was then celebrated in each city the team visited throughout the year. Cabrera was given numerous gifts before games, including a rocking chair, a custom leather jacket and a guitar.
Cabrera walks away from the game as a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. In his 21 seasons in the majors, Cabrera made 12 All-Star teams, was a two-time MVP and won seven Silver Slugger awards, four batting titles and the 2012 triple crown, leading the majors in batting average, home runs and RBI that season. He also won a World Series with the Miami Marlins as a rookie in 2003. — Cwik
Rangers’ spending pays off with franchise’s first World Series win
In an era defined by massive rebuilds, the Texas Rangers decided to do things the old-fashioned way. Instead of completely tearing things down and going through a multiyear rebuilding effort, the team opened its wallet and paid for elite players, as Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob deGrom were all brought in to lead the team back to contention. And in 2023, they delivered on that promise. The Rangers — who also added Max Scherzer at this year’s trade deadline — rode that core all the way to the first World Series win in franchise history.
The approach allowed the Rangers to be aggressive with prospects, which paid off in a major way down the stretch, as 21-year-old Evan Carter mashed baseballs to give the Rangers yet another impressive weapon on offense. He showed up in a major way in the postseason, hitting .300/.417/.500 in 17 games. Carter — who played only 23 games in the regular season in 2023 — should be in for a much bigger role next year, which is a scary prospect for the rest of the league. Fresh off their first World Series title, the Rangers might be even better in 2024. — Cwik
Mets, Yankees and Padres flop after spending big
The Mets, Yankees and Padres started the 2023 season with high hopes and even higher payrolls. The Mets spent $343 million. The Yankees spent $278 million. The Padres spent $256 million. After spending all that money, this is what they ended up with:
Mets: 75-87 record, fourth in the NL East
Yankees: 82-80 record, fourth in the AL East
Padres: 82-80 record, third in the NL West
So what happened? All three teams dealt with injuries, but the problems went much deeper. Each roster was the subject of a late-season exposé that detailed internal dysfunction from various levels that filtered onto the field. Unfocused clubhouses, disengaged star players, insufficient leadership, a lack of midseason adjustments, no backup plans, unsupported or unwilling managers, disinterested front offices — the list goes on. Things might change in 2024, but none of these teams can turn back the clock and redo 2023. The year is gone, the opportunities are gone, and so is all that money. — Liz Roscher
Bryce Harper makes Braves pay in NLDS after “Attaboy, Harper!” goes viral
Going into Game 3 of the NLDS, the Braves and Phillies were tied 1-1, but it felt like the Braves had the upper hand. They were trying to avoid a repeat of the previous year’s NLCS (in which they lost 3-1), and it seemed they were well on their way after Game 2 ended with an Atlanta victory on an uncharacteristic Bryce Harper base-running error. Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia was feeling so confident following that win that he was heard in the clubhouse laughing and repeatedly saying, “Attaboy, Harper!”
Well, Arcia’s quote got back to Harper, and when Harper stepped on the field for the Game 3, it didn’t take Arcia long to realize his blunder. He’d given Harper bulletin board material, which is just something you shouldn’t do. Harper hit a three-run home run in the third inning and stared Arcia down as he ran the bases. Then he hit a solo shot in the fifth inning and stared Arcia down again. The Phillies won 10-2 to take a 2-1 lead in the series. After they punched their ticket to the NLCS with a Game 4 victory, sending their division rivals home in the NLDS for the second straight year, the Phillies chanted “Attaboy, Harper!” in the clubhouse as beer and champagne fell like rain. — Roscher
Adolis García gets last laugh vs. Astros en route to World Series win
Adolis García roared into the World Series like few others in the history of the game. The Texas Rangers outfielder lit the ALCS on fire with a go-ahead home run in Game 5 against the Houston Astros, which he took his sweet time admiring in front of an appreciative home crowd.
Houston’s response was to plunk him two innings later, prompting both benches to clear. The Astros went on to win Game 5, but García exacted his revenge in the form of a historic ALCS MVP effort that included five total home runs and a series-record 15 RBI in the Rangers’ seven-game victory. García tallied two of those home runs and five RBI in a Game 7 blowout while being serenaded by boos from the Houston crowd.
An oblique strain ended his World Series early, but not before García followed his ALCS heroics with a walk-off home run in Game 1 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rangers, of course, went on to their first World Series championship, a title they couldn’t have claimed without García’s heroics. — Owens
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