|No fish story: McKeon best move of '03|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff
The best moves of 2003 ...
1. Marlins hire Jack McKeon
McKeon had been named Manager of the Year for the Reds in 1999 but became ex-manager of the Reds after 2000. Before he came on board, the Marlins were 16-22; after he took over, they became the best team in baseball, going 75-49 the rest of the way, clinching a wild-card playoff spot, and beating the Yankees in the World Series.
As Rob Neyer pointed out in an August column, McKeon has a gift for improving teams, and his fifth time making a team better was the charm.
1A. McKeon, second-guessed like crazy, started Josh Beckett on three days' rest in Game 6 of the World Series, and Beckett beat the Yankees 2-0 to clinch the title.
2. Mo Cheeks gives the year's best assist
It was one of the classiest gestures sports has seen in a long time. "For 20 years, Marvin Gaye's version of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' has been, for my money, the most compelling rendition ever," wrote Michael Wilbon in the Washington Post. "But now, I've got a new favorite, the duet of Gilbert & Cheeks, impromptu, off-key, slapped together as it was. I get goose bumps every time I see the clip of Cheeks hugging Gilbert, telling her everything is going to be okay."
3. Bengals hire Marvin Lewis
A few days after he being hired, Lewis spoke, with Brown in the room: "I have the ability to direct the program, OK? Any decisions being made are because of my direction. I have the ability to shape everything we do."
It turned out to be true, and what a turnaround for the Bengals, the perennial laughingstocks who were 2-14 in 2002. They're now 7-6, right in the middle of the playoff race.
3A. Lewis decided to stick with veteran Jon Kitna at QB after a 1-3 start, resisting the temptation to start first pick Carson Palmer. It's paid off, as Kitna is having an All-Pro year.
4. Lakers sign Gary Payton and Karl Malone
But by acquiring veteran All-Stars Gary Payton and Karl Malone, convincing the two greats to take a reduced paycheck for the chance to winning a ring, the Lakers altered the experiment. Even though much attention is focused on Kobe's trial and Kobe-Shaq, Lakers fans know they're being treated to what is probably the NBA's best starting five of all time. With or without Kobe, it won't surprise anyone if Payton and Malone help bring one or two more titles to Tinseltown before they hang it up.
5. Red Sox sign David Ortiz
"We think, all the scouts think, he has a very high ceiling," Epstein told the Boston Globe after signing Ortiz last winter. "You're looking at a player with the potential to be a middle-of-the-lineup bat in the big leagues."
Epstein got Ortiz for just $1.25 million -- chump change. And Ortiz? He played 128 games and hit .288 with 31 HR and 101 RBI. He drew 58 walks, finishing with an .369 OBP. He led the hitter-heavy Red Sox in slugging percentage (.592), and had the fifth-highest OPS in the AL.
Ortiz became a cult hero in Boston, often came through in the clutch, and finished fifth in the MVP voting. Though he had a poor postseason, no doubt the Red Sox wouldn't have made it as far as they did without Ortiz.
6. Panthers pick up Stephen Davis
Without Davis, the Panthers wouldn't be leading the NFC South with an 8-5 record. In just 12 games, he's rushed for 1,339 yards -- 100+ yards seven times (150+ four times), and has already broken the franchise single-game rushing record (178 yards vs. the Saints in an OT win) and single-season rushing record.
When the Panthers gave him the ball against his former employers a few weeks ago, he got the sweetest revenge, scoring the winning TD with just 69 seconds left. Head coach John Fox knew Davis would be the centerpiece of the Panthers' running offense, and he turned out to be much more. "No matter how you look at it, Stephen Davis is a flat-out superstar," Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme told USA Today. "But he doesn't want to be one. He doesn't require that attention; he doesn't need it … I'd say that's the healthiest thing about this football team, that our star doesn't act like a star."
7. Tom Watson donates prize money to charity
After the round, Edwards was surrounded by the press. "Emotionally, I'm drained," he said. "This was something special because you never know if it's going to be my last one."
Watson ended the year by winning the 2003 Charles Schwab Cup, given to the best player on the Champions Tour. The Cup came with $1 million in prize money, which Watson gave entirely to charity. Watson also set up the Bruce Edwards Trust to help pay directly for his caddie's treatment.
8. Jerry Jones hires Bill Parcells
9. MLS signs Freddy Adu
Adu will reportedly be the highest-paid player in MLS, and for good reason -- he's sure to raise the league's visibility, draw lots of curious fans to pitches across the land, and give the world's best soccer leagues notice that the U.S. is taking the beautiful game seriously.
Even if Adu eventually leaves MLS for Europe, the league will benefit; it owns his rights, and would get tens of millions in return. And Adu? He's also got a good deal: he gets to live at home in Potomac, Md., while playing pro soccer against very good -- but not overwhelming -- talent.
10. Andy Roddick hires Brad Gilbert
Gilbert accepted and made an immediate difference. Roddick won 19 straight matches on the way to winning his first major title, the U.S. Open. Since hiring Gilbert, he's also won four other titles, going 47-8 in the process. And he ended the year ranked No. 1 in the world. Not a bad turnaround for the 21-year-old.
After winning the Open, Roddick said Gilbert's influence "was huge. We have a great camaraderie. We just click. He knows what to say to me, when to say it. He makes things simple for me, which helps a lot."
Also receiving votes:
Thanks to ESPN studio production and ESPN Radio for their nominations.