1. Lizard Skins
Something very curious has been popping up in MLB dugouts over the past year and a half. The trend started back in July/August of 2013, but it has truly exploded in popularity this past year. That trend is MLB hitters wrapping their bats with Lizard Skins—a bat wrap that at first blush seems out of place on wooden bats. Bryce Harper, David Wright, Mike Napoli, and David Ortiz were among the first adopters of the bat grips. Ortiz even had a bat wrapped with Lizard Skins placed in the Hall of Fame after last season's World Series.
Lizard Skins have an interesting history, which is fitting given their symbolic fit in the baseball world today. The grips were originally designed as road bike handlebar grips, as described in the company's about section:
"Lizard Skins has been in business for the past 20 years manufacturing and distributing bicycle accessories around world. In January of 2012, Lizard Skins officially launched a new product into the baseball industry. DSP (DuraSoft Polymer) bat wrap was created based off of the highly successful DSP handlebar tape for road bikes. Utilizing our knowledge and experience in developing grips, Lizard Skins designed and created this new innovative bat wrap."
As offense around baseball has been down for several seasons now, hitters are grasping at any straws they can find in order to perform better in the batter's box. It's fitting that a product originally used for bike handlebars would be embraced by professional hitters looking for an edge.
Expect more players to begin using Lizard Skins as 2015 begins. It's becoming more of a story across baseball as fans notice their favorite players applying these tacky grip aids to their bats. Louisville Slugger is even offering Lizard Grips on their pro models through their website, a key sign that the trend has caught fire.
It's a tough time to be an MLB hitter. Pitchers are more dominant than they've been in decades, and teams have been ruthless in moving veterans who can't hold their own in the lineup anymore. MLB players will gravitate to anything that can help them assuage the difficulty that comes with facing major-league pitchers, and Lizard Skins might just be their silver bullet. —Jeff Long
2. The Bud Selig Hologram
A few days from now, the only MLB commissioner I’ve ever known will step down. Worry not though; you can soon see the man, the legend, in 3-D virtual form at the “Selig Experience” at Miller Park. Boy, if you thought Milwaukee tourism was fun before…
As Selig prepares to ride into the $6 million sunset, his legacy remains omnipresent. He wanted parity. This year, the Royals, Athletics, and Pirates made the postseason, while the Yankees and Red Sox did not. This month, the Padres and White Sox transformed from afterthoughts to contenders. Remember back when Selig became acting commissioner, when four teams total made the playoffs? Now seemingly every team has a shot every year. The times they have a-changed.
Selig also oversaw the steroid era, which has by now turned into a Hall of Fame fiasco. In January, Dan Le Batard was stripped of his vote after allowing Deadspin to determine his ballot. He’s not the only writer to rebel against the shambled, leaderless voting process, as we recently learned of other voters who have chosen to abstain. Congressional hearings are a thing of the past, but the fallout from the steroid era is far from over.
Le Batard and the Royals may be 2014 stories, but their prologues were written by the Commish long ago. The Bud Selig Hologram reminds us of this, that even in his absence Selig is crucially relevant. Or didn’t you follow the A-Rod appeal? —Andrew Hopen
3. Mike Jirschele's Stop Sign
Kansas City had become a loud place over the course of 2014 as the Royals galloped past wild card contenders in the second half to finally end their playoff drought. Their magic carpet ride ended slowly against the Giants as Madison Bumgarner methodically dashed their championship hopes. The pall of silence that fell over Kauffman Stadium as Bumgarner began warming in the bullpen during Game Seven was palatable, as a population realized what the bogey man was going to do to their favorite team.
The Alex Gordon's sinking liner that was horrendously misplayed offered the Royal faithful some hope but third-base coach Mike Jirschele threw up the stop sign, holding Alex Gordon to a triple. One Salvador Perez foul pop later, and Bumgarner passed into legend while the Royals became another notch for the lefty's postseason resume.
The stop sign became instantly controversial, and it will remain a sore topic for Royals fans for quite some time. For that reason, the stop sign is my choice for items that tell the story of 2014. —Mauricio Rubio
4. A Joker
Not like the Matt Sussman/Matthew Kory kind. I'm talking the kind in a deck of cards. Because those cards are wild. And wild cards did really well in Major League Baseball this season. Get it? That's the joke.
Whatever. We'll leave that stuff to the funny people. But as I didn't go so far as to predict but feel I set up well in the farewell to Bud Selig, this season was a perfect goodbye to the commissioner. This system that was set up under his stewardship saw both wild cards dismiss their leagues' favored no. 1 seeds in short series and led to a World Series featuring lesser teams—albeit a reasonably compelling one. —Zachary Levine
5. Brady Aiken's Unsigned Contract
Or his UCL, really, but that sounds a little macabre, so let's go with the unsigned contract. In this one disastrous misnegotiation, we have artifacts representing so many of the dominant stories of the season: The Tommy John epidemic (because the Astros were reportedly so unprecedentedly worried about the long-term health of Aiken's elbow); the new draft bonus rules (because the negotiations hinged so heavily on the game theory elements of the bonus rules, and because Aiken's non-agreement affected not just him but the rest of the Astros' draft haul); the get-really-bad-to-get-really-good strategy; and the modern fan's obsession with draft picks and prospects, because we knew all the dirt as it was happening. It was the dominant story of the year, the one event from the 2014 baseball season that somebody will write a book about (and that you'll read). —Sam Miller
6. This Anthony DiComo Tweet
You can't predict baseball. Not one of the 36 BP staffers who participated had the Giants winning the World Series when we unveiled our preseason predictions in March. None of us had the Royals, either. We had a pitcher who did not reach the majors—Archie Bradley—taking home the NL Rookie of the Year trophy and Bryce Harper as the senior circuit's MVP. You can't predict baseball.
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) September 25, 2014
OH MY GOD THEY JUST BALKED!!!!!!!!!!!
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) September 25, 2014
Somehow, a beat writer's tweet from the press box telepathically caused Dillon Gee to flinch, giving us one of the season's most humorous moments. The Mets—of all teams—came within a few days of making a positive form of history, only to lose the chance moments after someone finally noticed that they were on the brink.
Then again, Mets gonna Met—so maybe we should've seen it coming in precisely that fashion. Just like we should've seen the Giants' championship coming, because it was an even year. —Daniel Rathman
7. Matt Harvey's Middle Finger
While Matt Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery as part of the 2013 elbow-ligament-replacement class, his upraised middle finger toward the surgery (and subsequent photo and Twitter account deletion in April of this year) could symbolize the entire baseball community’s exhaustion with hearing “TJS” by the end of 2014.
Young pitchers went under the knife at an astonishing rate in 2014, from superstar Jose Fernandez to possible breakout candidate Martin Perez to prospects to relievers to you, yes, you had Tommy John surgery summer, it’ll be a year before you even try to pitch again, sorry! According to Jon Roegele’s list, 92 professional baseball players (minors and majors) had Tommy John surgery in 2014–83 pitchers, four catchers, three infielders, and two outfielders – compared to 62 the previous year.
This explosion—and the fact that several high-profile arms had to undergo the procedure (or were at least threatened with it)—brought even more attention to one of baseball’s newest enduring questions: What exactly is making these young arms fall apart so quickly? (And, in the case of 12 of those 92 ligaments, repeatedly?) Of course, the obvious answer is that the human body wasn’t meant to throw an object at a violently high rate of speed, and the less obvious answers would take up far more room than is allotted to me here.
As 2014 was defined by the knife, so a good part of 2015 is likely to be dominated by the gradual returns of these players, Matt Harvey—middle finger and all—included. —Kate Morrison