Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun
The greatest player in Ravens history didn't waste any time delivering the first major headline of the year, announcing Jan. 2 that the team's playoff run would be his "last ride." What happened after that is the stuff of legend, even if you don't believe that Lewis was the major reason the Ravens went on that magical run to claim the Lombardi Trophy. He has always been at the center of the Ravens' universe, and that didn't change in 2013. He turned back the clock after returning from a triceps injury that cost him the final 10 regular-season games, then became a lightning rod again when his name came up during Super Bowl week in the infamous -- or was it just humorous -- "deer antler" scandal. Lewis denied using the substance, which was probably a huge disappointment for all the 40-something weekend warriors hoping to reclaim their athletic primes with a little of the antler velvet extract, which is still marketed despite little scientific evidence that it is anything more than an expensive placebo. Of course, Ray was never going to ride off into the sunset. When he made his retirement announcement, there were already rumors of a deal to join ESPN's team of football analysts. Lewis officially signed on with the "Worldwide Leader" in March and hit the ground running with his controversial analysis of the situation involving former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. Though he has never hidden his allegiance to the Ravens, that hasn't stopped him from delivering some candid assessments of the team -- including a tough evaluation of Joe Flacco in November.
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Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun
There was never much question that Manny Machado would eventually join the pantheon of great Orioles heroes, but nobody could have expected him to do it in his first full season in the major leagues. He was just 20 years old when the 2013 season began, and only 10 days into full adulthood when he played in his first All-Star Game. It isn't anything that Machado says or does off the field that makes him a fascinating figure. He's a fairly quiet guy who knows he still has some dues to pay before he can become a clubhouse leader. But his artistry at third base -- which is not his primary defensive position -- made him a regular in ESPN's "Web Gems" segment. No one, in fact, was featured more often. And this is not just a glove story. Manny led the American League in doubles, led the major leagues in at-bats and ranked seventh in the majors with 189 hits before suffering a severe knee injury during the final days of the season. He underwent surgery and could miss the first month of the 2014 schedule. It's a little early to start likening him to Brooks Robinson, but it's hard not to see some similarities when Machado flashes his amazing quickness and range at the hot corner. He was compared to Alex Rodriguez when he came out of high school in Miami, but he's got a chance to be one of a kind. Maybe the thing that makes him so intriguing is that he hasn't really revealed much about himself. He seems happy to remain out of the celebrity spotlight, at least for the moment, and to let his performance on the field define him.
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It's going to be hard to say goodbye to 2013. It was, by any account, one of the most intriguing, exciting and confounding 12 months in recent Baltimore sports history. The year began with the Ravens' amazing march through the NFL playoffs and featured a second straight winning season for the Orioles, then came full circle with the Ravens' struggle to stay alive in the playoff race this December. In just 12 months, we saw our young quarterback turn into a $120 million superstar and our brand-new third baseman receive the Rawlings Platinum Glove Award as the American League's top defensive player. We saw baseball's version of Paul Bunyan launch baseballs into the stratosphere until he had broken the Orioles record for home runs in a season. We read stories of human interest and witnessed amazing examples of human triumph. Now it's time to take a look back and present -- in no particular order -- our five most fascinating Baltimore sports personalities of 2013. -- Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun