- For the first time since 1967, there was a Triple Crown winner. Yet, Miguel Cabrera wasn't even a clear-cut choice for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
In a season in which he also made a major position change, Cabrera joined the ultra-select fraternity - Hall of Famers all: Carl Yastrzemski, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Joe Medwick, Jimmie Foxx, Chuck Klein, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie.
Among Triple Crowns, Cabrera's wasn't extraordinary: His 44 homers were the fifth-highest total; his 139 RBIs ranked sixth; his .330 batting average was third-lowest. And yes, a batting title isn't the jewel it used to be.
But a Triple Crown season had just been a concept to any baseball fan under the age of 40 or so. Not any more. Maybe we haven't seen the last 300-game winner, either.
- The best all-round individual season wasn't Cabrera's. Nope, it belonged to a 20-year-old kid who as late as April 27 was a member of the Triple-A Salt Lake City Bees. Three months later, Mike Trout was in the All-Star Game, and when the votes were tabulated, he was a runner-up in one of the more-spirited MVP debates in recent history.
Trout scored 129 runs in 139 games - and lead the AL by 20 runs scored. He led the league with 49 steals - in only 55 tries. His OPS+ of 171 also was the AL's best. And how about a .330/.399/.564 slash line and seemingly regularly scheduled highlight-reel catches?
A season for the ages - never before done by somebody so young.
- In a season of pitching feats that included six no-hitters and two perfect games, a 38-year-old knuckleballer with 41 career victories entering the year won the National League Cy Young Award. And then was traded six weeks later.
R.A. Dickey's story could be a movie some day, and he could write the screenplay. His baseball career is extraordinary enough, let alone what life has thrown his way. The best part about him winning the award over Clayton Kershaw and the rest of a very strong field may just be that it goes way beyond the game. It's given him a bigger platform from which to be heard.
The New York Mets chose to sell high despite a body of evidence of knuckleballer standouts - Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield - effectively pitching into their early-to-mid-40s. The Mets got their catcher of the future; Dickey a chance to win and a new audience north of the border.
- Nobody's talking dynasty, but the San Francisco Giants became the first team to win two titles in a three-year span since the New York Yankees' run in the late 1990s-early 2000. And the Giants needed only nine World Series games to get their two titles - again, best since the Yankees' 12-1 run in their 1998-2000 three-peat.
Nobody's mistaking the Giants' championship rosters for those dominating Yankees' teams filled with All-Stars and a few Hall of Famers. The Giants' connective tissue is dominant pitching and Buster Posey. And that's why architect Brian Sabean and even-tempered, bullpen mastermind Bruce Bochy also have risen to the top of their respective fields.
- For the first time, a batting champion disqualified himself in the wake of a PED-related suspension. And three months later, he landed with a new team for a significant raise, anyway.
Not long after Melky Cabrera was named MVP of the All-Star Game, his 1 1/2-season move from underachieving fourth outfielder to feared offensive force was exposed. Two weeks before the end of the regular season, he pulled the plug on his candidacy with the union's backing. His .346 average turned out to be 10 points better than that of the eventual winner - Posey.
Cabrera is the Toronto Blue Jays' issue now.
- Another round of playoff expansion, another success for Commissioner Bud Selig - with a big assist to a pair of the more unlikely success stories in recent history.
The Oakland A's and their AL-lowest payroll didn't need an expanded field to get in. They smoked the heavily favored Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels down the stretch to win the AL West.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles extended the New York Yankees as much as they could before settling for a wild card, and a complete record reversal from 2011 - 69-93 to 93-69.
The Washington Nationals weren't much of a surprise, but the last time before this October that there was post-season baseball in the nation's capital, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in office.
And the 10-team, four-wild card format seems just about right, doesn't it?
- It was a good year to be Barry Larkin. The longtime shortstop, captain and face of the Reds franchise was inducted into Cooperstown along with the late Ron Santo. You couldn't help but view it as the last of the untainted ceremonies in light of what's coming; the calm before the PEDS-dominated first-ballot class of 2013.
Larkin also guided one of the big upsets of the calendar year as manager of Brazil's fledgling World Baseball Classic entry that knocked off heavily favored Panama on its own turf to advance to the WBC's 16-team field. If Larkin ever wants to be a big-league manager, his resume looks that much better.
- Of the spectacular failure that was the 2012 Miami Marlins. There isn't an owner or franchise held in lower regard around the game than Jeffrey Loria and his Marlins. And they are right back where they belong after they tempted us into thinking maybe they finally could get it right.
But everybody knows the gory details: New stadium, big payroll expansion, colossal on-field failure, the PR nightmare of Ozzie Guillen's unraveling, and then a salary purge that alienated their remaining star. Good luck, Mike Redmond.
- The game's financial balance tipped from New York-Boston to SoCal. You know that long-held idea that the Dodgers could be the Yankees of the West? Well, can you make that the Dodgers and Angels?
Since July, they've added Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Brandon League, Hyun-jin Ryu, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Greinke, and will shoot their payroll to more than $220 million in 2013. But strangely, there seems to be more pressure on the Angels to win now.
That's because Arte Moreno continued an impulse-buying spree from last off-season by taking a risky plunge on all that is Josh Hamilton. The $125 million over five years is the most money promised on a per-season basis than everybody in history, except Alex Rodriguez.
The combined Albert Pujols-Hamilton-C.J. Wilson-Jered Weaver outlay will be $527.5 million. And the trend numbers don't line up well for Pujols, 33, and Hamilton, 32, especially from 2015 and beyond.
But that's for another year. See ya, 2012.