Any end-of-the-year list has to begin with apologies, but especially so with SB Nation. This is a huge place, so please consider this "best of" list a necessarily incomplete one due to the nature of this beast. We could have done two, but then you would have been reading this "best of 2012 list" sometime in early 2013, and we're already close enough to champagne time here.
The pieces featured here were limited to five by topic, and had to be something other than a short entry--longish, not necessarily longform, but definitely something more substantive than your usual blog post. They come from SBNation.com, from SB Nation Studios, and from our vast network of sports blogs, and are presented in alphabetical order by subject area because we have no favorites.*
*SECRET: Our favorite is the story about horseshoes, but don't tell any of the other pieces that, okay? Okay.
Grant Brisbee, 50 Awesome Things About Matt Cain's Perfect Game:
45. The Posey/Cain embrace at the end of the game. There are 29 different Poseyless and Cainless teams in baseball. I feel like there should be a Sally Struthers commercial for them.
Cy Schourek, It's Hotels, Whiskey, and Sad-Luck Dames:
It was easy to fall in love with Freel, not in the least because it was clear he fell in love with us. I wrote before about the craft, guile, and minimalism of Homer Bailey, and Freel was the opposite. His hits were all gutted out, his walks were all staving off (he had one intentional walk in his whole career, his first year in red), he hit a home run off of Randy Johnson and dove into walls, spectators, and teammates. He was a maximalist, an entertainer, and a ballplayer we only think off as "old-school" because he reminds us of when greenies and cocaine were the drugs of choice, not steroids and HGH.
Tyler Bleszinski, Spending Some Unexpected Time On Lockdown:
I quietly tell my wife, "This is no scavenger hunt, something is going on." Suddenly another VS employee comes from the front of the store and tells us all to head out to the back. A scramble of people form a large throng pushing towards the back exit as an alarm is going off. Someone is saying something about a shooting happening at Macy's.
Again, though, this was a special sort of play. When that ball reached its highest point, it was really high and Kozma was at the end of his long run; it was a normal run, in terms of his effort -- otherwise he wouldn't have had time to camp -- but the umpire was in the uncommon position of having to track both an exceptionally high fly ball and a fielder making an exceptionally long run. Go ahead, you try that ... and from a position to which you're unaccustomed, since for six months every year there isn't a left-field umpire.
Alex Belth, "The Two Rogers:"
I asked Kahn if he still had the letter. He said he did not. "I don’t forgive this kind of behavior," Kahn said. "So I would like, before I go, to have Angell have his balls nailed to a cross."
Paul Wadlington, "When You Write A Piece Like This..."
It's no longer about Mack Brown. It's about Texas Football. I don't mean Texas Football Inc. Or the goddamn hype machine and the idiot marketers. I mean our football team winning games on the field. And despite the best efforts of Bellmont and a URL address to imply otherwise, It's not Mack Brown Texas Football. It's Texas Football. He didn't build this. He's a caretaker. He's not the program. He serves it. He can't any longer.
Mark Moore, "This Day in ODB History: Sharing William"
I know what you're thinking: this is the saddest thing you've ever read in your life. I didn't mean for it to be. When I think back on it now after a year, I don't see it as a sad story at all. I don't see the painful moments, the worry, or the dreams I had for him that will go unfulfilled. Those things are still there, obviously, and more difficult to deal with sometimes than others, but they're not what I see in my mind's eye. We have new dreams now, new goals that mean far more than those other things did. Every day that we have William in our lives is a blessing. Every moment that we get to spend with him is one we were not guaranteed.
Coaches have the power to, literally, punish their players with hunger, and I'm supposed to care that the Boone Pickens All-Stars didn't get the shot at the title they "deserved"? Schools like Rutgers, which pays its head football coach over $2 million, opposed giving its players a stipend of roughly $60 per week. They continue to fight against the return of four-year scholarships, which makes it prohibitively risky for players to organize and mobilize to protect their own interests.
Those are civil rights issues. What's a playoff going to do to fix them?
If football's not more critical than the safety of children -- and it's not -- then it's also not critical enough to be used as a punishment tool when children are damaged on a powerful man's watch. Saturday is not that goddamn important.
7. Notre Dame ...But really, there are only two ways Notre Dame's 2012 season can go, and either might be entertaining: a) With a strong defense and an enlivened offense, the Irish win a series of dramatic games versus strong opponents (Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma, USC) and put together their best season since 2006 or so. Or b) they once again kill themselves with silly mistakes and finish 5-7. Whether it is a daredevil act or a train wreck, it will be fascinating.
Batman has also demonstrated a very effective knowledge in shime-waza. In his very first recorded fight, in Detective Comic #29, he puts a "headlock" on a thug that renders him incapacitated. At the time the term "headlock" was synonymous with choke holds used in professional wrestling, so it's easy to understand how it could have been misidentified. As we can see, the one applied by Batman greatly resembles a standing choke as demonstrated in Earl Liederman's 1923 manual "The Science of Wrestling and the Art of Jiu Jitsu".
Mike Riordan,"Why We Should Want To See Olympic Wrestlers In MMA"
Those of this position would yell angrily (because MMA arguments are usually angry and hostile and typically have Drowning Pool or some such band in the background) that MMA is no longer some experimental fighting laboratory and that the sport has moved past merely discovering the victor in a cage fight between the world's best judoka and an Olympic Greco-Roman gold medalist. The world now has these people called mixed martial artists, and that the central project of mixed martial arts now is determining who is the world's greatest mixed martial artist.
When Sergio Martinez had his middleweight championship belt removed in 2011 in what amounted to a boxing coup d'état, it went somewhat criminally ignored in the boxing press just how transparent and blatant this was. Both the WBC and HBO had some hand in it, as well as Top Rank -- I'm not really saying they did something illegal, because boxing belts aren't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, I'm just saying it was totally unsportsmanlike and ridiculous. I've said many times over that boxing is in many ways not really a sport anymore. This is one example of that.
Ben Fowlkes,"The Hurt Business."
How could you reach the top and stay there if it didn’t mean absolutely everything to you, the way it almost certainly would to the people you’d be locked in a cage with on Saturday night? And yet, if it did mean everything to you, what kind of life was that? How could you know for sure whether all those sacrifices -- the time away from your family, the time spent hurt and tired and sore and cranky -- were really worth it?
Paul Flannery, "Kevin Garnett Can't Stop, Won't Stop"
Few of them are for the Celtics these days, but as long as they have Garnett they have a chance. You can surround him with shit and he'll turn it into the meanest souffle. His legacy is deep, convoluted and complicated. It certainly can't be summed up in the course of a thousand words or in 140 characters of Twitter snark.
Tom Ziller, "Sports, Elections, and the Perversion of Math."
Maybe that's why folks like Nate Silver in the sports world -- including Nate Silver, a Baseball Prospectus alum, himself -- aren't openly reviled. Numbers are constant in sports. In politics, numbers really only matter when the votes are getting counted.
Bomani Jones, "The Tragedy of Allen Iverson"
Does he have any fight left in him? We will find out soon. He may be finished as a basketball player, but he can't be finished as a man, if he ever was one. He's done too much, been too far and proven himself to be too strong. Right?
23. Zach Randolph and Bonzi Wells would visit the White House at least once.
22. Every cabinet member would get WWF-style championship belts.
21. The President of the United States would spend roughly 80 percent of his days in cut-off sweatpants and Air Force Ones.
20. Sheed once yelled "shovel this man off the floor" after Vince Carter went down with an injury. It has nothing to do with his Presidential credentials, but still.
It's been a long time since I served -- long enough, perhaps, for some perspective. I was on active duty from 2000 until 2004: one tour in Iraq and a small medal. I left the service voluntarily, knowing that I could never match the surreal experience of leading a tank platoon in the invasion of a sovereign country. (If you want an approximate football equivalent, I was the captain of a special teams unit on an NFL playoff team one year.) I called it quits before my profession and relative lack of skill got me maimed or killed. Perhaps its's cowardly, but recognizing that you're ill-suited for a career that wantonly kills its disciples is the first step to living longer.
Andrew Sharp, "It's Okay To Hate Tim Tebow"
We hate Tim Tebow because we talk about him, and he talks about himself, like he's somehow overcome a hurricane of obstacles to make it this far. The only skepticism he ever faced came when people actually watched him throw a football.
Chris B. Brown, "The Future Is Already Here"
All quarterbacks – and all NFL players, really – are constantly at risk of gruesome injury. Pocket passers like Carson Palmer, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have missed entire seasons because of injuries sustained while standing in the pocket, and quarterbacks are constantly hit while or just after releasing the ball, a far more vulnerable position than being hit while sliding following a 5-yard gain behind a lead blocker. If the argument is that the scheme is too dangerous to risk injury to Robert Griffin III, then the real argument isn’t to abolish these offenses, it’s to abolish football.
Jeff Arnold, "Living Large and Staying Alive"
"When we’d get together, it used to be a joke – who was the biggest guy in the room" Sims says. "Well, it’s not funny anymore."
Joel Thorman, "Tragedy at Arrowhead, and One Unforgettable Day"
He won't talk about what he saw that day, and that's probably for the best. No one, except Scott Pioli and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, who saw what he saw, knows what he is going through. That he had that on his shoulders, and still managed to lead his team isn't something I will forget anytime soon.
Brett Shumway, "An afternoon with former Avalanche enforcer Scott Parker"
In response to Mrs. Parker's pleading to help get "Parks" (as she calls him) out of the house, a friend agreed to have Scott Parker ride along on a tow truck shift with him. Parker enjoyed himself so much that he decided to fill his days while waiting for the NHL and it's players to play nice again, behind the wheel of a tow truck.
The last two years have been tiring, draining and depressing. Endless medical appointments and hospital visits. But through all this I had BSH to help me lose reality and pass all those grueling hours. All those hours and days of bickering with Geoff or Hintzy and others were really me just passing time while I was sitting and waiting with my dad at Fox Chase, Hahnemann or Suburban hospitals. I really feel this community can truly appreciate the special relationship my father and I had with the Flyers and the sport of hockey.
Amelia L, "When play resumes"
But after only casually following the league for several years, I'm not willing to give up any more time. I don't want to miss Daniel Alfredsson's possible last season or watch Erik Karlsson as he defends his Norris Trophy. Boycotting the NHL will only hurt me.
Yaw Axis, "The Winnipeg Jets killed my father"
As the game came to its sad conclusion, and the post-game recaps and interviews started, I realized that those snores I had previously heard every minute or two had stopped. My father, at age 64, was dead.
Because in the end, it wasn't Gretzky and the Oilers or Scott Scissions or Mike Milbury or Charles Wang that killed the Islanders dynasty. It was the lazy, shiftless, suit-wearing shysters that have darkened Nassau County political offices for years that simply left the door open and watched a glorious collective history run off into the street.
Graham MacAree, "Lionel Messi's Gift"
Hello Lionel! A fine display.
I like football! Why do you have horns, mister? And why is everyone standing still?
Nevermind that, young Lionel. Here, have a treat.
Don't want treats! Want to play football.
The typical English training routine featured some light jogging and stretching, some head tennis, and maybe some drills or five-a-side games, and some work on set pieces and penalties, then a big fry up or a pie and a pint as a meal afterwards. Arsene soon realized that this was holding Arsenal back - he needed his players to be really fit and sharp to play the style he wanted to play. So instead of finding players like that, he made them.
Graham MacAree, "When Possession Isn't"
If we treat the sport as though things only happen when we measure them happening, and then deliberately choose not to measure mundane events (such as holding possession), we're going to end up with a very, very confused situation. That's what appears to be happening here.
Nathan Bartel, "17 Syllables--The Cicada"
So when I wake up at 4 a.m. some June morning, instead of clawing wildly at the transfer possibilities tossed out like so much trash by the red tops, I'll instead look to create in my life the mountain stillness Bashō describes - not silent but sonorous - and I'll look for Spurs to create the same.
Andi Thomas, "An Exclusive Interview With Gunnersaurus."
You attracted some criticism over the last few seasons for joining the teams when there's a minute's silence. Is there anything --
[Interrupts] Look, I read about that. It makes me laugh. As if a dinosaur would have no understanding of life and death, of loss and mourning. Sixty-five million years I've been knocking around this planet, missing my friends and family, and my colleagues. So yes, I bow my head for whichever human being who has died. As a mark of respect. But I also bow my head to remember the loss of my people, the hunters that I ran with and the prey that ran from us. A loss on a scale that you puny mammals could not begin to comprehend.
Spencer Hall, amateur hot dog eater.
Spencer Hall is the hot dog eating amateur. Watch as he takes part in the Crif Dog Classic, a 10 minute all you can eat hot dog competition featuring famed eater Takeru Kobayashi. Spoiler alert: Spencer doesn't beat Kobayashi.
Amy K. Nelson, "Safe at Home: The Willie Mays Aiken Story"
Amy K. Nelson tells the story of former Kansas City Royals first baseman Willie Mays Aikens. In 1980, he became the first player in MLB history to have two multi-home run games in the same World Series. Little did his teammates and fans know, but he was high on cocaine nearly every day during that series. In 1994, he was sentenced to over 20 years in prison for selling crack, due to harsh sentencing and mandatory minimum guidelines. After 14 years, Aikens was released, and his perseverance and triumph is now chronicled in the book Willie Mays Aikens: Safe At Home.
Ariel Helwani, "A day in NYC with Rampage Jackson"
Rampage Jackson visits Ariel Helwani in NYC for a lengthy walk-and-talk through Central Park, a visit to a local restaurant and much more.
Stephen Greenwood, "2012 Indy 500: Car 39"
In this short feature, SB Nation highlights the crew behind 2012 Indy 500 Car #39, driven by Bryan Clauson for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
Matt Ufford, "Welcome Home, Nets"
Brooklyn is home to many people and things. The Nets are now one of them. Take a trip through Brooklyn with Matt Ufford as he explain what the Nets move means to his city.
School's out, but you're waking up two hours earlier for the outdoor season. Practice starts in early June, at dawn, in a pool filled with tens of thousands of gallons of water fresh from a spout with only one setting: cold. On the first day, no one wants to get in. Shivering in a Speedo in the cool morning air is preferable to the icy misery and wet exhaustion that awaits you. Eventually, you take a running start and dive in and wonder why you do this.
Matt Tullis, "Feet of clay, heart of iron"
In the late 1980s, his mother Bertha was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She died at the age of 52 in 1989. A short time later, Simmons learned he had colon cancer. He was 29 years old. Surgeons removed his large colon, which means Simmons has a colostomy bag. That is why Simmons wears big, loose-fitting t-shirts. When he releases the horseshoe and his shirt is pulled tight against his abdomen, you can see the outline of the bag.
QWOP reminds me that it's a miracle that we can do any sports things at all. Let's start small: we can pick up a football for the first time in months and throw a spiral without really thinking about how we're gripping it. Like, Average Folk like you and me can do that. It feels like such a feat of engineering should be difficult.
Dan Grunfeld, "Hell's Trainer: The crazy truth about the man behind the mask"
One of the amazing things about Frank is that he leads by example, so he didn't just throw me out on the hill and tell me to start running: he did it with me. First, though, we were walking. Then jogging. Then sprinting. Then we did a mixture of all three. After 10 minutes, I felt like I was trudging in hummus, but Frank was just breezing right past me, not even breaking a sweat. (By the way, he also had his 84-pound-vest on the whole time.) As if he hadn't already made his point, he was simultaneously taunting me, saying things like, "You can run to Grandma's at any time, Sir," and "Grandma will have the food on the table as soon as you want, Sir." Just to clarify, I lived with my grandma near Stanford during my college summers
"Luckily we have BAWLS," he said. "Those sweet blue BAWLS." In gaming circles, there is no drink more ubiquitous. Extra carbonated and extra sweet, it comes in both cobalt blue bottles and 16oz. blue cans. It has roughly three times the caffeine content of Coke. After drinking them regularly for a few years, he explained, the caffeine doesn't even affect him much. "It just levels me out now."
Marc Gold's story is that of so many here. And on Monday hundreds -- if not thousands -- of those people gathered at the Newtown Youth Academy. It was an oasis, where no media were permitted and a place where games, laughter and normalcy lifted -- if only temporarily -- the shock, sadness and despair so pervasive here.