The Best of SI MLB 2021 – Sports Illustrated Leave a comment

Today is the last of our daily newsletters for this year. For the rest of the offseason, we’ll be moving to a weekly format and be publishing every Friday. Since this is the final edition of the 2021 season, we’ll be wrapping things up with a quasi-year in review. This won’t quite be one giant ICYMI, because we hope you would’ve read at least some of these excellent stories from our writers. Instead, let’s consider this a guide to reliving the year.
One thing to note: This is the rare newsletter we will write that will not feature five tools. Really, each one of these stories showcases an 80-grade skill from our writers. We couldn’t limit our list to just five, but this—along with The Closer—will be the only two sections today.
With that said, here is: The Best of SI MLB 2021! (Sorry we don’t have a sick album cover to promote.)
Jeffery Salter/Sports Illustrated
Francisco Lindor Wants to Save Baseball One Smile at a Time by Tom Verducci
Ah, yes, remember when we were optimistic about the Mets? What an innocent time that was! Still, Tom’s story for our Baseball Preview issue marked the start of a new era for the franchise. Plus, we got a chance to feature Lindor’s smile on the magazine cover.
Remembering the Best (and Worst) of Pitchers at the Plate by Steve Rushin
This is simply one of the most entertaining stories of the year. Steve writes, as only he can: “Here's to MLB's free swingers, non-swingers and jacket-wearing runners. The end is near for pitchers at the plate. Long may they live. … If this is the obituary for pitchers as batters, there are multiple causes of death, including asphyxiation.”
Apart at the Seams: Baseball's Mental Health Reckoning by Tom Verducci
It was less than a month into the season when this story from Tom, about baseball’s mental health crisis, was published. At that point, four players had already stepped away from the game for personal reasons.
The Wonder of Albert Pujols by Tom Verducci
In early May, the Angels suddenly released Albert Pujols during the final year of the megadeal he signed after the 2011 season. At the time, it looked like the end of the road for the best hitter I’ve ever seen. Tom did a great job with this piece, on the eternal greatness of The Machine.
Tony La Russa 'Gracefully' Teaches Yermín Mercedes Baseball's Unwritten Rules by Stephanie Apstein
It feels like years ago when the Yerminator was the talk of Chicago. But he was at the center of the culture clash many of us anticipated when Tony La Russa came out of retirement to manage the White Sox.
The Year of the Pitcher (Again) by Emma Baccellieri
Emma’s excellent story examines the offensive woes of this season through the last time pitching was so dominant. “In 1968, baseball was grappling with an unfamiliar offensive environment and trying to figure out the most reasonable solutions. Sound familiar?”
Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated
MLB’s Sticky Situation: The New Steroids by Stephanie Apstein and Alex Prewitt
This investigation from Stephanie and Alex literally changed the game this season. After this was published, MLB began to crack down on rampant pitch-doctoring, and the offensive cratering that Emma wrote about in “The Year of the Pitcher (Again)” started to rebound.
Tragedy and Hope: An All-Time MLB Prospect, an All-Time MLB Scout and a Pop Fly by Tom Verducci
I was so moved by this feature story from Tom about Pablo Cruz, one of the great scouts in MLB history, who has had to live with his own role in a young superstar’s demise.
'A Game of Speech'—But Also, for Baseball Interpreters, So Much More by Robert O’Connell
As Shohei Ohtani became the sport’s biggest star, O’Connell spoke with Ippei Mizuhara and other MLB interpreters about their essential job in today’s game.
The Charmed Season: Revisiting Derek Jeter’s Origin Story by Tom Verducci
Tom’s feature on the 25th anniversary of Jeter’s rookie season kicked off our "Where Are They Now" week and coincided with the year of his Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Katie Hamilton Will Speak for Herself, Thank You by Emma Baccellieri
Instead of focusing on Josh Hamilton for "Where Are They Now" week, Emma profiled his ex-wife, Katie, who once was treated like a supporting character in one of baseball’s most difficult narratives. But that tale took an awful twist, and now, with an inspiring new podcast, she’s telling her own story.
The Last Giant: The Cultural Clout of Willie Mays by Steve Rushin
As part of our "Where Are They Now" week, Steve detailed the 90-year-old Mays’s legacy 70 years after his MLB debut.
A Taxonomy of Bad Days at Work by Emma Baccellieri
This is not a feature story or an important work of journalism by any means—and that’s why it’s great! Emma writes must-read profiles, but she’s also one of the best baseball bloggers around.
Crying Foul Over Ballpark Injuries by Matt Martell
Yeah, sorry, I’m plugging my own story here. It’s my first (and only) Daily Cover and I’m very proud of it.
He's Old-School. He Doesn't Embrace Analytics. And He's Thriving in Today's MLB. by Chris Ballard
Understandably, this profile of Brian Snitker has circulated a lot since it was first published. It’s worthy of multiple reads.
Get SI’s Atlanta Braves World Series Champions commemorative issue here.
When Mets Woes Are More Than Jokes by Emma Baccellieri
Few writers capture the comi-tragedy of the Mets better than Emma. But after Zack Scott’s arrest for drunk driving, she wrote this insightful column about how there is nothing funny about the organization’s insidious side.
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Keep Your Eye on the Balls: How MLB Squashed Its Fake-Memorabilia Problem by Emma Baccellieri
Emma’s brilliant feature on MLB authenticators is about as wonderful as it gets. It has hilarious cover art and originates from a mindless-tweet origin story!
The Ohtani Rules by Tom Verducci
The most amazing thing about the greatest season baseball has ever seen? The Angels' two-way sensation doesn't act like being a pitcher and a hitter is anything special. The second most amazing thing? Tom’s story about it.
These Mariners Ain’t Going Away by Greg Bishop
When I asked Greg if he could write about the Mariners during their surprising season, he cringed. He's embarrassed by his body of work buying into this team. So why did he do it again? Are the M's for real? Or will he become a sucker once more? I love this story, and not just because Greg wrote it even after he cringed at my request.
'The One That Stayed': Reds Star Is Finding Satisfaction in Abandoning Perfection by Stephanie Apstein
Like Joey Votto, this profile from Stephanie BANGS.​​
Bryce Harper Doesn’t Want Your Praise. But He Needs Your Doubt. by Tom Verducci
I absolutely love this story from Tom. It’s a look at the former prodigy during what could be his second MVP-winning season, fame in the Instagram Age and so, so much more.
Inside His Journey From Chicago to San Francisco by Stephanie Apstein
If anybody tells you Stephanie isn’t one of the best feature writers around, just show them this profile on Kris Bryant …
Pearls Before Swing: The Man Behind the Joctober Bling by Stephanie Apstein
… and then this story on the fashion trend of the postseason!
Dusty Baker's Time Is Now by Tom Verducci
This is about as good as anything Tom has written since I started at SI in February 2019. I cannot recommend it enough.
'Hell No. We're Doing It Tonight': How Atlanta's Season Shifted by Emma Baccellieri
Any story with the subheadline that reads, “Reminder: Dismiss 69-year-old Ron Washington as ‘old-school’ only at your own peril,” belongs on a “Best Of” list.
Why Is Synchronized, Team-Sanctioned Racism Still Allowed? by Stephanie Apstein
This is an important story for anyone who is unfamiliar with the context of the Atlanta franchise’s “overtly racist” tomahawk chop gesture.
Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated
Dues Paid in Full, the Braves Are World Champions by Tom Verducci
“This team is about the long haul. This title is a triumph of perseverance.”
Max Fried Finds Another Level to Win One for the Braves and Starters Everywhere by Emma Baccellieri
In this column after the Braves won the World Series, Emma details how Fried unleashed everything in his arsenal in ways he never had before.
Have any questions for our team? Send a note to mlb@si.com.
Get your countdown clocks ready: Free agency officially starts this Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. But, as you’ve probably heard, this winter is going to look a little different. With the collective bargaining agreement expiring Dec. 1, a lockout is widely expected, if not almost guaranteed. That means we’ll have free agency open for just the next few weeks before it might have to shut down in December—able to get started again only when the owners and players can agree on a deal.
So … does that mean we can actually expect much activity in November? Probably not. Don’t look for any major stars to sign until after there’s a new CBA. Teams won’t be interested in making any big calls until they know what the economic structure of the sport is going to look like for the foreseeable future. (And that’s not even touching potential on-field changes—like a universal DH.) But there still might be plenty of motion with small-scale deals; it makes sense that with the general, big-picture uncertainty, there could be a push to get little things locked down quickly. So keep an eye out the next few weeks for bench bats and back-of-the-rotation guys. It could be all the free agency we see for a while.
That’s all from us today. We’ll be back in your inbox next Friday. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up at SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions or comments, shoot us an email at mlb@si.com.
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