After the U.N. repeatedly failed in its efforts to uncover weapons of mass destruction or identify links between Saddam Hussein and international terrorists, the United States and a group of coalition forces joined together for a pre-emptive strike aimed at disarming Iraq. On March 19 th , the U.S. launched what would become known as Operation "Shock and Awe" as a "decapitation attack" aimed at the Iraqi President and other top members of the country's leadership. More than forty satellite-guided Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from U.S. warships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf with support from multiple squadrons of F-117 stealth fighters, carrying 2,000-pound bombs. Although the initial attack failed to eliminate Saddam, it only took twenty-one days for coalition forces to eliminate the Republican Guard and take the capital city of Baghdad. For the first time in history, people from around the world were able to watch the war effort live via embedded war journalists and strategically placed web cams.
Tragedy struck the NASA Space Program after the space shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry fifteen minutes before its scheduled landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Those killed on the ill-fated flight were commander Rick D. Husband; pilot William C. McCool; payload commander Michael P. Anderson; mission specialists David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark; as well as Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. An investigation into the explosion later revealed that a piece of foam designed to protect the vehicle from heat had dislodged during take-off, striking the left wing. Columbia, the oldest of NASA's shuttle fleet, had first launched in 1981 and was completing its twenty-eighth mission. Ironically, the accident occurred less than a week after the anniversaries of two other deadly space program disasters: the seventeenth anniversary of the explosion of the shuttle Challenger (January 28) and the thirty-sixth anniversary of a launch pad fire that killed three Apollo astronauts (January 27).
New York Yankees ace Roger Clemens joined one of the most exclusive clubs in sports after becoming the twenty-first pitcher in Major League history to win three-hundred games. After announcing his intentions to retire at the end of the 2003 season, Clemens went on to complete his quest for three-hundred by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-2, in front of a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium. In doing so "The Rocket" became the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1990 to reach three-hundred wins, tying Hall-of-Famers Early Wynn and Lefty Grove for nineteenth place on the all-time victory list. Later he joined another "pitching fraternity" after striking out the four-thousandth batter of his career. Only Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Steve Carlton (4,136) had more strikeouts than Clemens (to date), who had ten on the night. Ironically, Carlton had also won his three-hundredth against the Cardinals in 1983.
The ongoing rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees came to a head during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series after both dugouts emptied twice due to what some felt was "overly-aggressive" pitching. The ensuing argument was first instigated after Boston ace Pedro Martinez struck Yankees' designated hitter Karim Garcia in the back and was fueled by Manny Ramirez who took offense to a high pitch thrown by Roger Clemens. As both dugouts cleared, New York's bench coach Don Zimmer charged at Martinez who promptly reacted by throwing the sevent-two year-old to the ground. After several minutes of suspended play, both teams went back to business until a second brawl erupted in the Yankees bullpen between Jeff Nelson, Garcia and a member of Fenway Park's grounds crew. Following the 4-3 Yankees victory, Major League Baseball issued fines to Martinez, Ramirez, Garcia and Zimmer while the Boston Police issued additional charges on Garcia and Nelson for their involvement in the bullpen altercation.
The entire baseball world was shocked after one of its most beloved athletes Sammy Sosa was ejected in the first inning of a Chicago Cubs versus Tampa Bay Devil Rays game after umpires found cork in his shattered bat. Sosa, who had recently joined the five-hundred home run club and gained national prominence in 1998 during his home-run battle with Mark McGwire, apologized to fans, his teammates and the Commissioner of Baseball. Stating that the corked bat had been strictly used for batting practice and mistakenly taken to the plate, Sosa received a seven-game suspension following an appeal. Sosa's other bats, which had been confiscated by security personnel and turned over to Major League Baseball, showed no signs of tampering. Still, many doubted the integrity of Sammy's previous accomplishments and it would be some time before he would be back in the fan's favor.
Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne set a new Major League record after converting fifty-five saves to top Boston's Tom Gordon, who had previously converted fifty-four in a row from April 19, 1998, to June 5, 1999. Practically "un-hittable" throughout the season, Gagne had increased the velocity on his fastball from ninety-two miles-per-hour to ninety-seven and complemented it with a hard eighty-seven mile-per-hour changeup that dropped much like a split-finger pitch. His forty-first consecutive win gave him the longest saves streak to start a season in Major League history and he also became the first relief pitcher in history to tally one-hundred more strikeouts (137) than hits allowed (37).
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler collapsed at the team's spring training complex in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on February 16 th and died the next day. Following an autopsy, it was determined that the twenty-three year-old had suffered a "heart attack-like event" after taking a dietary supplement containing ephedra. His widow later filed a $600 million lawsuit against the manufacturers while bringing national attention to the dangers of using potentially harmful weight loss aids. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale, called the product Xenadrine RFA-1 a "poisonous cocktail" unsafe for human consumption.
Major League Baseball's marketing division attempted to restore the fan's faith in the All-Star Game and make amends for the 2002 debacle that had ended in a 7-7 tie after both leagues ran out of available pitchers. To add more meaning to the fledgling exhibition, the 2003 Midsummer Classic slogan read "This Time It Counts" and for the first time in professional baseball history, home-field advantage in the World Series would be granted to the winner. The enticing proposal initially appeared to be more than just a marketing ploy as the last team to overcome the "home-field curse" was the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had beaten the odds (and the Baltimore Orioles) while away in 1979. However, despite winning 7-6, the American League later proved that home-field advantage was overrated after the Florida Marlins toppled the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.
After years of less-than-stellar ratings, record audiences finally tuned in to the Major League Baseball postseason, making it the most-watched playoffs ever on cable. Fans also flocked to the ballparks setting a new attendance mark with over 1,858,979 tickets sold. Many attributed this renewed interest to the playoff's storybook backdrop that featured two of baseball's most beloved underdogs, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. Both teams had surprised the experts by making the post season and each continued to shock their opponents by battling back in their respective leagues time and time again. After surviving the Divisional round, generations of long-suffering fans from both ball clubs reveled in the possibility that the curse of both "The Bambino" and "The Goat" was finally coming to an end. The baseball god's apparently had other plans and both teams fell just five heartbreaking outs short of making it to the Series.
"It's probably the biggest moment of my professional career (winning 9-6 in Game 7 versus Chicago)I can't even explain it. It probably hasn't even sunk in yet, but I do know that it's a wonderful feeling. People asked me was I going to come back for next year, and I told them if I get in the World Series and manage the All-Star team, I'll definitely be back." - Florida Marlins Manager Jack McKeon
Hitting Statistics League Leaderboard
Pitching Statistics League Leaderboard
2003 National League
|East||Team [Click for roster]||Wins||Losses||WP||GB||Payroll|
|New York Mets||66||95||.410||34½||$117,176,620|
|Central||Team [Click for roster]||Wins||Losses||WP||GB||Payroll|
|St. Louis Cardinals||85||77||.525||3||$83,496,666|
|West||Team [Click for roster]||Wins||Losses||WP||GB||Payroll|
|San Francisco Giants||100||61||.621||--||$82,852,167|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||85||77||.525||15½||$105,872,620|
|San Diego Padres||64||98||.395||36½||$47,928,000|
|National League Team Standings|
Hitting Statistics League Leaderboard
Pitching Statistics League Leaderboard
Did you know that the only two National League franchises with a payroll less than the World Champion Florida Marlins were the Milwaukee Brewers & San Diego Padres? Did you know that there were only three in the American League and they were the Cleveland Indians ($48,584,834), Kansas City Royals ($40,518,000) and Tampa Bay Devil Rays ($19,630,000)?
On April 8, 2003, Eric Gagne recorded his first save in the 2003 regular season. On September 24, 2003, Gagne recorded his fifty-fifth consecutive ( click here to view his game logs ) and final regular season season setting a new National League (and Major League) record.
Two of the more rare clubs were entered when Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs joined the 500 Home Runs Club on April 4, 2003 and Rafael Furcal of the Atlanta Braves joined the Unassisted Triple Play Club on August 10, 2003.