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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #1: The Chicago Cubs Break the Curse and Win it All

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

That headline notwithstanding, we don’t believe in curses around here. We don’t think black cats released near the on-deck circle or billy goats denied entrance into a ballpark have an effect on baseball games or the men, born decades after the fact, who play them. It’s a lot of fun to talk about such things but if you’re the sort who takes such things seriously, by all means, seek help.

That being said, 108 years between World Series titles is quite a thing. A thing that, over time, would’ve generated enough agita on its own. It was only fitting then, that breaking that title drought — or, if you must, breaking that curse — didn’t come easy.

The Cleveland Indians built a 3-1 World Series lead and not many teams have blown 3-1 leads. But it never felt like they had a handle on it the way other teams with a 3-1 series lead usually have. The Indians only had three starters due to injuries and they had to ride them hard. The 3-1 lead was based mostly on cold Cubs bats and those bats weren’t likely to stay cold forever. Anything can happen in a short series, but the Cubs made it go longer, gutting out at bats and picking up wins in Games 5 and 6. The longer two teams play the more likely it is that the better team will win, and the Cubs were the better team.

Game 7 meant facing Corey Kluber, who had been dominant in the playoffs to date. Unfortunately for the Indians, however, Kluber was gassed, allowing four runs in four innings. But even then it wasn’t easy. The Indians rallied for two runs in the bottom of the fifth and three in the bottom of the eighth, thanks to a gassed Aroldis Chapman, to force extra innings.

You know what happened then, of course. Rain. Kyle Schwarber leading off with a single to right field. Ben Zobrist slapping a double down the left field line, plating the guy who pinch-ran for Schwarber. Miguel Montero ripping a single to left field to make it 8-6. That score would hold and the Cubs would be World Series champions.

They may win more. Their core — Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Jason Heyward are all young. Willson Contreras is but a baby. The starters are older, but still fantastic. The front office is unparalleled in the game and team revenues will be near the top of all clubs for the foreseeable future. Dynasties are hard to come by in modern professional sports, but the Cubs stand as good a chance as anyone to become one.

But that’s not what makes this the biggest baseball story of 2016. It’s bigger than that. It, admittedly, involves curses. It involves a club’s identity. The one in which the Cubs were such perpetual losers that they became a punchline in movies, TV shows and literature. A punchline so potent that merely portraying them as winners constituted the entire joke. They were shorthand for “sad sack” and tolerable only because their losing was, at times anyway, lovable.

That’s all over now, though. The Cubs are winners. They flipped the script in 2016 and broke the curses. And they will never be seen in the same way again.

Bruce Maxwell is the first MLB player to take a knee during the National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.

Alex Wilson broke his leg on a 103-MPH comebacker

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This one is brutal. Tigers’ right-handed reliever Alex Wilson was diagnosed with a broken leg after taking a blistering 103.8-MPH line drive off of his right leg during Saturday’s game against the Twins. According to the Detroit News’ Chris McCosky, it’s a non-displaced fibular fracture, but will still warrant an extended recovery period and signal the end of Wilson’s season.

Wilson replaced Drew VerHagen to start the eighth inning and worked a full count against Joe Mauer. Mauer roped an 93.3-MPH fastball back up the middle, where it struck the pitcher on his right calf. While Mauer took first base, Wilson got to his feet and tried to toss a warm-up pitch, but was in too much pain to continue and had to be helped off the field.

Even in a season that isn’t going anywhere in particular, this isn’t how you want it to end. The Tigers have yet to announce a recovery timetable for the 30-year-old reliever, but he won’t return to the mound until 2018. He exited Saturday’s outing with a 4.35 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 6.3 SO/9 over 60 innings.

The Tigers currently trail the Twins 10-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning.