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The Globe's top 10 national stories for 2004

By Jim McCabe, Globe Staff, 12/25/04

1. STEROIDS SCANDAL
(AP Photo)
Where once we would praise athletic achievements, now we offer skepticism. Perhaps we shouldn't be so negative, but how can we not be in the wake of so many scandals? Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield are three prominent baseball names who have been implicated in an ongoing investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO). Cyclist Tyler Hamilton of Marblehead could lose an Olympic gold medal, Marion Jones could be stripped of five medals she won at the 2000 Summer Games, and a long fight between baseball owners and the Players Association seems inevitable over the issue of steroids.

2. NHL SEASON GOES AWAY QUIETLY
(Globe Graphic)
For most of 2003-04, NHL observers warned us that things could be messy in 2004-05. They did not lie, because when owners and players couldn't agree upon a new collective bargaining agreement, a lockout was put into effect Sept. 16. Games through Jan. 25 have already been canceled and the prospects are not good. ''We are as strong on not having a salary cap as [the owners] are on wanting one,'' said Brett Hull. When the players offered to roll back salaries 24 percent, management scoffed. ''The NHLPA proposal is like a shot of morphine,'' said Jimmy Devellano, the Red Wings' senior vice president. ''It eases the pain, but doesn't cure the disease.''

3. PACERS BRAWL WITH PISTONS FANS
(AP Photo)
A forgettable NBA game had an unforgettable ending Nov. 19, when members of the Indiana Pacers charged The Palace of Auburn Hills stands to confront Detroit Pistons fans. Having been doused with a beverage thrown by a fan, Pacer Ron Artest led the charge, followed by several teammates. Fans fought back, a chair was thrown, punches flew, and when NBA commissioner David Stern rendered his decision, Artest got suspended for the year and teammates Stephen Jackson (30 games) and Jermaine O'Neal (25) were idled for substantial periods. Later, the county prosecutor filed criminal charges against five Pacers and seven fans.

4. A-ROD TRADED TO YANKEES
(Globe Photo)
Some people buy chocolates for Valentine's Day, others send flowers. Then there is George Steinbrenner, who goes grander. Like overseeing the holiday deal with Texas that brought shortstop Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. Red Sox owner John Henry, whose bid to acquire Rodriguez had fizzled just seven weeks earlier, blasted the deal by pointing out that New York's payroll was now $185 million. Steinbrenner sneered, ''It is time to get on with life and forget the sour grapes.'' Rodriguez, who was moved to third, hit .286 with 36 HRs and 106 RBIs, decent numbers, for sure, though his presence was hardly a hindrance to the Red Sox' magical express.

5. PHIL MICKELSON WINS THE MASTERS
(AP Photo)
All he had done in his 12-year PGA Tour career was win 22 times. What he had never done in 42 starts as a professional was win a major championship. But those facts disappeared in the time it took the lefthander's 20-foot birdie putt to roll true at the 18th green in the final round of the April classic. Mickelson shot 31 on the back, closed with a 3-under 69, and finished at 9-under 279 to edge Ernie Els by a shot. He had finished third three straight times in the Masters and second in three other majors, but all that heartache disappeared when they offered him the fabled green jacket. ''It's 43 long,'' said Mickelson with a smile.

6. LANCE ARMSTRONG WINS SIXTH STRAIGHT TOUR DE FRANCE
(Getty Photo)
Red, white, and blue flags were everywhere, but they were the colors of France and the state of Texas as well as the US on that glistening Sunday in late July. Indeed, everyone was reaching out to be part of the historic show when the 32-year-old American broke the tape at the finish line at the Champs-Elysees in downtown Paris, the first six-time winner of the world's most grueling athletic test. ''I don't know. It hasn't sunk in yet. It might take years,'' said Armstrong, who just eight years ago was given a 50-50 chance at overcoming testicular cancer. ''He's changed the Tour forever,'' praised fellow American Bobby Julich.

7. MICHAEL PHELPS'S MEDAL SPLASH
(Globe Photo)
He had dared to talk the bold talk, of matching or even surpassing Mark Spitz's record-seven gold medals in a Summer Olympics. Then, the 19-year-old from Baltimore went out and backed it up with a performance in Athens that was majestic, albeit a bit shy of Spitz. Phelps struck gold six times, but when he added a pair of bronze medals, his total of eight matched Russian gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin's record that had been established in 1980, a Summer Games that had been boycotted by most Western nations. ''He is the greatest swimmer ever,'' said TV commentator and former Canadian Olympian Byron MacDonald.

8. PISTONS WIN NBA CROWN AS LAKERS CRUMBLE
(AFP Photo)
It was not a dynasty, but the Los Angeles Lakers' three-year run as NBA champs (2000-02) had been electrifying, thanks to high-profile personalities Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. But when unheralded Chauncey Billups led a balanced attack and helped the Pistons overwhelm the Lakers in a five-game NBA Finals, it signaled a shift in power. The Pistons returned to elite status; the Lakers dissolved. Within weeks of that pounding, the Lakers sent O'Neal to the Miami Heat, bid farewell to the ego that is coach Phil Jackson, and tried to rebuild around Bryant, whose rape case had helped envelop the club in a season-long controversy.

9. US GYMNASTIC SUCCESS, CONTROVERSY
(Globe Photo)
Even before all the political dialogue and intrigue, the US had enjoyed unparalleled Olympic gymnastics success. But when the Court of Arbitration for Sport in late October made official Paul Hamm's gold in the men's all-around at the Athens Games, it gave the red, white, and blue the most gymnastics medals (nine) by any nation in a non-boycotted Olympic Games. There was silver for both the men's and women's teams, but all-around gold for Carly Patterson and Hamm surely highlighted the Athens experience. South Korea had protested that a judge's scoring error had unfairly cost Yang Tae Young the all-around gold, putting Hamm's celebration on hold.

10. SMARTY JONES'S TRIPLE CROWN BID
(Reuters Photo)
Not since Secretariat and Affirmed had a horse captured a nation's fancy like this 3-year-old chestnut colt of the blue-collar background. In the days following a dramatic win in the Kentucky Derby, we knew of the training accident that had left his face badly damaged. Then he demolished the competition by 11 lengths in the Preakness and we were infatuated. Alas, the storybook tale fell short when Smarty Jones ran second to Birdstone in the Belmont, halting a bid to become the first Triple Crown winner in 26 years. Even Birdstone's jockey, Edgar Prado, had been caught up in the emotions. ''I'm happy, but I'm sad. I'm sorry,'' he told Elliott Stewart, Smarty's rider.

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