NEW YORK -- The theme of the 2009 baseball season was set by Japan winning its second World Baseball Classic in March and ended Wednesday night with Hideki Matsui becoming the first Japanese player to win MVP honors of the World Series.
If that's not a clear example of how far the sport has come under the watch of Commissioner Bud Selig, nothing else is. From an international event that wasn't even played until 2006 to a postseason that culminated in the Yankees' 27th World Series championship. The progressive to the traditional.
"It was a tremendous postseason," Selig said on the field at the new Yankee Stadium after the Yankees dispatched the defending-champion Phillies in six games with a 7-3 win. "It was just stunning -- a postseason that had one gripping game after another. The excitement was palpable and it just kept building and building, ending with an event such as this."
Around him, many of the 50,315 fans remained in the stands, clapping, cheering and stomping. The new stadium opened this year just as the original was inaugurated in 1923 -- with a World Series victory. The House That Ruth Built opened with the club's first championship -- a victory over the New York Giants, who played in the Polo Grounds just across the Harlem River.
Eighty-six years later, the Yanks won again as they opened their new Yankee Stadium. And Major League Baseball has thrived with great television ratings for the series, plus high-level merchandising and marketing.
"The only slight frustration I've had over the last couple of years with how well we've done -- breaking attendance records, revenue going up -- was that postseason excitement and ratings weren't as good as the rest of the [regular] season," Selig said. "It didn't reflect how popular the sport is. But guess what? This year, we accomplished that.
"Certainly, having the Yankees back in really helped. But even some of the short series had a lot of drama. The Yankees' victory over the Angels in six games had great drama. So it all came together. I talked to a lot of people tonight and this will be a postseason that will not be forgotten for a long, long time."
It was a year that began in the offseason with a great deal of economic trepidation, reflecting a slumping national economy. But MLB held its own, ticket sales dropping only slightly from the record numbers of the last few years. The overall gross revenue streams should match the record $6.5 billion of a year ago. It's no wonder the Commissioner was happy.
"This was our greatest season, oh my goodness, without a doubt," he said, echoing words that he first relayed back in July. "Given the economic environment, given all the concerns everybody had -- beginning with me in February and March -- this is the season I'll always be the proudest of."
The fact that baseball's richest team, playing in the most expensive baseball stadium in the world ($1.5 billion to build) and with the highest player payroll ($201 million), won it all didn't seem to faze Selig this time around.
After all, the Yankees have been baseball's biggest spenders for more than a decade, but seven other teams had won the World Series since they last snared the title in 2000 by defeating the crosstown Mets in five games.
"I'm not the least bit concerned about it," Selig said. "We've had more competitive balance than we've had in our history. In the last five or six years, 20 of the 30 teams have made the playoffs. We had Tampa Bay in the World Series last year, Colorado in it the year before. It just goes in cycles."
So do the playoffs. This was the first year since the Yankees lost to the Marlins in 2003 that the World Series has gone as far as six games.
"Even sitting at home watching, I was drained after some of these games," he said. "I couldn't sleep. I'd wake up at three in the morning and my wife would ask me what I was thinking about. I'd be analyzing the events I had just seen. But that's the kind of postseason it was.
"And so, the year comes to as spectacular a finish as one can imagine. I just can't tell you how good I feel tonight."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.