As the calendar turns, the state of the game can be summed up in a phrase from the Commissioner of Baseball: "The incredible paradox."
On the plus side, the 2001 season brought record hitting feats from Barry Bonds -- while the postseason brought pitching brilliance, particularly from Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. It was a something-for-everyone blend, and that was pleasantly reflected in attendance figures along with rebounding postseason TV ratings.
On the minus side, the economic disparity among franchises continued to increase. And the Major League owners released figures indicating that the industry lost $519 million in 2001 and 25 of 30 franchises lost money.
So in one way, the grand old game was in splendid shape. But in another it was simply broken.
"I call it 'the incredible paradox,'" said Commissioner Bud Selig in an interview with MLB.com. "By any number of objective measurements, the game is enjoying unprecedented popularity. But there are questions that have to be solved; the competitive imbalance and a whole range of economic problems.
"I don't like those problems any more than anyone else. I like them less. But for years baseball has failed to address these problems. Now we don't have that luxury. Now we have to deal with reality."
The issues move forward on two fronts. A series of negotiations between the owners and the players union on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement are scheduled for January.
"You know me, I'm an optimist by nature," the Commissioner said on this topic. "I'm hopeful that we can get an agreement."
The contraction of two franchises, currently the subject of a legal battle in Minnesota, is an equally difficult subject. The owners -- and the Commissioner -- were roundly criticized for tarnishing the moment by introducing this topic two days after the conclusion of the compelling World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees.
"We had no choice," Selig says. "People talk about 'the timing.' But when I talk, ask the people who were critical 'what should I have done?' they just shrug their shoulders. They have no answers.
"When contraction was first proposed, I didn't like it, either. But we have so many economic problems before us that they will require a myriad of solutions. These problems are so pervasive that they are not going to be solved through one or two solutions. We have problems that need to be solved.
"I know some of the solutions are painful and I'm sorry about that. But the reality would be even more painful if we didn't proceed with an attempt to find solutions."
The two clubs to be contracted have not been named by the owners, although Minnesota and Montreal are most frequently speculated upon as the two leading candidates. In any case, contraction would strike two small-market, low-revenue franchises. The Commissioner has said that a review of the finances of all the clubs has indicated that there are some franchises that appear to have no reasonable chance for success.
From a competitive standpoint, this is also the core problem for the relatively small-revenue operations that are in no danger of being contracted.
"Dating back to when I was with the (Milwaukee) Brewers, you've heard me talk about 'hope and faith,' " the Commissioner says. "It's the hope and faith that the fans need to have that their team can successfully compete. Why can't the fans in a Pittsburgh or a Cincinnati or a Kansas City or a Milwaukee have that hope and faith? Let the quality of management take over as opposed to just the amount of money.
"On April 1, a significant number of clubs have to know that they can compete for a pennant. That's my job. We must solve these problems."
Much of whatever progress is made on these issues, particularly in the areas of increased revenue sharing and some form of cost containment, will have to come through the forthcoming negotiations. Given the labor-management history of baseball, the average fan approaches this topic with something less than the desired "hope and faith."
But at least the problems, and the accompanying need for solutions, have been clearly delineated. And there is on hand a Commissioner who recognizes that it his job to make the necessary repairs.
So as 2001 turns into 2002, "the incredible paradox" persists. The game of baseball is glowing on one hand and troubled on the other. This is not merely a question of whether you want to see glass being half full or half empty. This is an issue of a wonderful game that goes on amid some perilous economic flaws.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com based in Milwaukee.
Bud Selig would like to see the economic system change in baseball.