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Archive for the ‘2010 Season’ Category


Or somebody to play like him.

When Whitey Herzog retooled the 1981 St. Louis Cardinals, he built the team around speed and defense.  Thanks to the addition of Ozzie Smith, there was not a better infield anywhere in baseball and it gave the Cardinals a significant advantage when they played on the fast turf in St. Louis.  Just as important, he put together a strong outfield although the missing piece didn’t come along until a mid-season injury to David Green in 1982  introduced Willie McGee to the National League.  Their impact to the game is very hard to see in the box scores, but one quick look at the 1982 World Series statistics tell you all you need to know – they reduced the stress on the pitching staff, and allowed some good pitchers to become great, and mediocre ones to be winners.

When we fast forward to 1985, a number of new faces show up on the Cardinals roster.

Jack Clark had taken over from perennial Gold Glove for former NL Most Valuable Player winner, Keith Hernandez.   While our first base defense took a major step backwards, Clark more than made up for any loss with his ferocious bat – the archetype for a Herzog cleanup hitter.

Veterans John Tudor, Bob Forsch and Joaquin Andujar mentored a pair of young right-handers: Danny Cox and Kurt Kepshire.   They would make all but five starts in the season.  One was a gamble as Whitey Herzog and Dal Maxvill shopped Neil Allen, desperately hoping to find somebody that would take him.  He didn’t make it out of the 3rd inning a 13-2 blowout in Pittsburgh – one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen.   The other four were a spot start by Matt Keough and then three from Ricky Horton in September when the struggling Kurt Kepshire lost his spot in the rotation.

As interesting as these changes are, none compare to the youngster that took over for Lonnie Smith as the catalyst at the top of the batting order.   That young man was Vince Coleman.

If you’ve ever seen a military fighter jet take off, you can appreciate what Coleman meant to that team.   Just like an afterburner, when Coleman got on base, things started happening very quickly.  Coleman would only hit .267 for the season.   If you do that math, that’s only 1 hit in every 4 at-bats – but hitting in the lead-off spot, that meant Coleman came up at least 4 times per game.   We learned to love those odds.   If you add 50 walks to his 170 hits, that’s 220 times on base.   Almost half of those resulted in a stolen base or two as he tallied 115 swipes in his rookie season.  Willie McGee would add 54 steals, many of them at the same time as Vince Coleman – they worked the double steal to perfection.  With Coleman, and often McGee, it was not if or when they would steal, but how many bases would they eventually get before scoring.  Tommy Herr and Jack Clark’s offensive statistics from the 1985 season are bloated thanks to Coleman and McGee.

While the Cardinals speed on the defensive side of the game helped take stress off the pitching staff, Coleman became a one man wrecking crew to the opposing arms.   Pitchers would start paying more attention to Coleman on base than than Willie McGee or Tommy Herr in the batters box, and both would take advantage.  Willie McGee would earn the NL Most Valuable Player award as he led the league in hits (217), triples (18) and batting average (.353), many of those being a quick pitch or due to lack of focus from the pitcher.  His 82 RBI’s, mostly from the second spot in the order, were thanks to Coleman flying around the bases.  What McGee didn’t drive in became easy prey for Tommy Herr as he joined an elite list of players with over 100 RBIs in a season (110) with 10 home runs or less (8).

To understand this just a bit better, let’s take a look at the game on September 13 when the Cardinals visited the Chicago Cubs.  Steve Trout, a tall left-hander started for the Cubs and poor Jody Davis was behind the plate.  Remember that it’s supposed to be harder to steal on a left-handed pitcher.  Yeah, right.

Vince Coleman leads off the game with one of those 50 walks he’d tally in 1985.  He immediately steals second base cleanly.   Willie McGee follows that with a single, easily scoring Coleman.  McGee then proceeds to steal second base.   Getting a bit frazzled, Trout walks Tommy Herr which turned out to be a big mistake.  Cesar Cedeno follows with an RBI single, scoring McGee easily.  Both Herr and Cedeno take an extra base when center-fielder Bob Dornier bobbles the ball – apparently team speed affects defenders as much as it does pitchers.   Tito Landrum drives in Herr with a swinging safety squeeze grounder for the first out of the inning.    Terry Pendleton would make the second out of the inning with a strikeout.  Ozzie Smith would walk and then get into the larceny as he swipes second base for the third steal of the inning.  Unfortunately Bob Forsch would end the inning with a harmless groundout, but the Cardinals had just sent nine men to the plate and totally demoralized the Cubbies, even though no ball was hit hard.

Things wouldn’t get any better for Cubs in the second inning.  With one out, Willie McGee would walk.  He would advance to third base on a single by Tommy Herr, who would be caught in a run-down, trying to turn the single into a double.  Cesar Cedeno would come through for the second time in as many innings with another RBI single.

In the fifth inning, some more Redbirds would get into the action.  Andy van Slyke would lead off with a bunt single and steal second base.  Terry Pendleton singles him home, and then proceeds to swipe second base himself.   Reliever George Frazier wasn’t having any more success than Steve Trout.  Neither would his successor, Jon Perlman who would walk Willie McGee in the sixth inning.  McGee would steal second and advance to third on a wild pitch.   A harmless fly ball from Andy van Slyke would score McGee with the sixth Cardinal run.

No, the Cardinals were not done.  Not by a long shot.   In the ninth inning, after the Cubs had gotten a couple of the runs back,  Andy van Slyke leads off the inning with a single.   Terry Pendleton would follow that with a single.   Andy van Slyke would then steal third base as the Cubs weren’t paying enough attention to him.  Ozzie Smith would follow that with a single, scoring van Slyke.  Smith would be thrown out at second base trying to advance to second on the throw to third, which was too late to get Pendleton.    Darrell Porter would be intentionally walked to get to the pitcher, a young flame thrower named Todd Worrell.  Worrell would be an easy strikeout victim, which was unfortunate for the Cubs.    Now it’s Porter’s turn, and he steals second for the 8th Cardinal swipe on the day.   Poor Jody Davis.   Pendleton and Porter would score on a Vince Coleman single – his only hit on the day.

The point to this story – Coleman would go just 1-4 on the day, but he set the pace early in the game and threw out whatever playbook the Cubs had put together.    Five other Cardinals would follow Coleman’s lead by stealing bases, McGee and van Slyke with two each.

And that would not be the only time they would steal 8 bases.    The 1985 Cardinals stole 3 bases or more 55 times in the season.  That’s over 1/3 of the games they played.

The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals are starting to resemble more of an Earl Weaver “we love the 3 run homer” Orioles of the 70’s, rather than that of Herzog’s Whiteyball, but if you dig back into those great Baltimore teams you will find a youngster named Don Baylor that stole more than a few bases in his day.   If the 2011 Cardinals are going to make it to the post-season, they will have to do something other than stand around and wait for Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols or Matt Holliday to hit a three run homer.   They will have to play with the aggressiveness of Herzog’s (or even Weaver’s) teams and quit acting like a base runner is a precious commodity.  Put runners in motion and good things will happen.  Suddenly holes will open up in the infield, pitchers will start pitching quickly and groove a pitch or two.   You might even find out that not many teams have a catcher like Yadier Molina.   If they don’t, then I’ll be looking forward to House Season 8 in October instead of Cardinals baseball.

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If last year taught us anything, it is that the emotional rollercoaster associated with daily reporting on whether or not a player is going to sign with the Cardinals, or any team,  is no fun.   A lot of energy is spent worrying about something that you have no control over, and in the end it doesn’t matter anyway.

If you want to get your fix on the Cardinals/Pujols situation, just read two articles.

The first is Justin Adams’The Real Reason the Pujols Deal Will Get Done“.  It starts off funny, makes a few good points, gets funny again and then closes with the only reasonable (and inevitable) conclusion.  Nothing is going to change this, and the sooner we come to Justin’s way of thinking, the happier we all will be.    And if he’s wrong, it just doesn’t matter anyway.

The other article you must read is Aaron Hooks’ series “Pujols Week“.  There’s a lot to *ahem* absorb there, so take your time.  The key to the negotiations lies in Aaron’s song.  I have it on good authority that should Albert Pujols fail to sign a contract extension before the start of the season, the stadium audio guys will use it for his walk-up music every day until he finally caves in.   And if he signs elsewhere after this season, the song is a poison pill to make sure he goes to the American League – but not Detroit or Kansas City since we always seem to get them in inter-league play.

There is a historical reference that we can use if you are still needing just a bit of comfort.

After the 1982 World Series, Hall of Fame shortshop Ozzie Smith signed a 3 year deal for $3.6M, making him the highest paid player on the Cardinals roster.  Entering the 1985 season, General Manager Dal Maxvill found himself in a similar situation as John Mozeliak today.  Ozzie Smith was entering the last year of his contract, his trade value was at it’s absolute peak and he had a short window to get Ozzie to sign an extension or he would have to be traded.   And he didn’t want to be known as the GM that let Ozzie get away.

From the Los Angeles Times on March 9, 1985

Shortstop Ozzie Smith, trying to negotiate a new contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, says he is optimistic about reaching an agreement.

Smith is in the final year of a three-year contract that will earn him $1.3 million this year. He is eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Although neither Smith nor his agent, Ed Gottlieb, will talk in specifics, it is believed Smith is seeking a four- or five-year contract worth close to $2 million per season.

Smith would like the situation to be resolved by the end of spring training.

“I think we’ve gotten to the serious stage,” said Smith, a five-time Gold Glove award winner and a four-time All Star. “There is no doubt (that I want to stay). But we realize that everything we want is not always possible. It doesn’t always work out. If it doesn’t, it will not be the first time or the last.

“If the club is sincere about signing me, they will. If not, they won’t.”

Just three days before the season started, Dal Maxvill made a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for Ivan de Jesus.  De Jesus was two years older than Smith and had been the starting shortstop for the last three years in Philadelphia and five more before that in Chicago.   He was a good hitter and base stealer in Chicago, but had struggled with the Phillies.   There is no question that De Jesus would be a big step down from what we had been getting from Ozzie the last three years, but he was better than the other utility infielders and available minor leaguers the Cardinals had at the time.

This move clearly signaled that the contract negotiations with Ozzie Smith were going poorly.  Or so we thought.

It’s probably a good time to point out that Lance Berkman will be playing the role of Ivan de Jesus in this dramatic recreation of 1985.

There was much doom and gloom around St. Louis after the trade.   The official news was that there wasn’t any news, just that both sides were working towards a deal that they hoped to have in place before the season started.    The season did get under way as planned, on April 9 in New York.   No contract news yet, so Cardinals fans were beginning to prepare for the worst – no more Ozzie Smith.

The two sides continued working out the remaining details and came to terms just a few days later.   On April 15, 1985, just hours before the start of the home opener at Busch Stadium, Dal Maxvill announced that they had reached an agreement with Ozzie Smith, and he signed a 4 year contract extension for $8M.   That would keep Ozzie a Cardinal until the end of the 1989 season, and pay him $2m per year after this season.  Only two other players in the National League were making that kind of money were George Foster in Cincinnati and Mike Schmidt in Philadelphia.

An article from the same Los Angeles Times on April 16, 1985 reads

All-Star shortstop Ozzie Smith became what his agent claimed was baseball’s highest-paid player by signing a four-year contract extension through 1989 with the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday.

“In terms of dollars and cents, it makes him the highest-paid player,” said Ed Gottlieb, the infielder’s agent. Gottlieb said the agreement will pay Smith more than $2 million a year.

“I think the highest contracts are (Philadelphia’s Mike) Schmidt and (the New York Mets’ George) Foster at $2 million,” Gottlieb said. “Ozzie’s contract for the four-year extension is in excess of $2 million.”

Negotiations with Smith had begun in earnest last month, and at one time it appeared likely he would be traded.

“I’m happy and hopefully the organization is happy. It’s a great day,” Smith said. “At one time, it didn’t look good. I have great memories here.”

The 30-year-old Smith was acquired from the San Diego Padres before the 1982 season. He started at shortstop the following season when the Cardinals won the World Series in seven games over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Last year, he batted .257 with 44 RBIs and 35 stolen bases. He is a four-time All-Star. The 5-9, 150-pound switch-hitter had a .238 career batting average coming into the 1985 season.


When the Cards new $2M man took the field in the home opener against Montreal, he had a pretty good game.  He would go 2-3 with a single and a home run.   The home run was off Dan Schatzeder, who was a lefty, so Ozzie was batting right handed.  His first left handed home run would not come for another 6 months.   The Cardinals would win the game 6-1, but the bigger victory was the contract that would keep Smith in St. Louis for most of the decade.    By the time this contract expired, extending it again was merely a formality.   Until the arrival of Tony La Russa.

What can we learn from all of this ?

Smart business men making smart business decisions will often times do them in complete silence.   That’s the way it should be.   Bill De Witt, Jr and John Mozeliak are smart men and will do what is right for their multi-million dollar business.

Just because there is no news doesn’t mean that things aren’t progressing.   And sometimes that progress will hit a few obstacles, but if it is meant to be then it will happen.

Our social media tools give us instant access to information and not all of it is well vetted.  What used to be mature sports writing (Rick Hummel) is now rushed opinion and guesswork (Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal).  Fortunately, Cardinals Nation have a few professionals that participate in the social  networks that honor the traditions of Rick Hummel and Bob Broeg, and in doing so don’t add to the emotional rollercoaster as much as  other teams and most of the national media.

You can do what you want, but I’m going to take John Mozeliak at face value when he said that he doesn’t want to conduct the Albert Pujols contract negotiations in public.   That’s how Ozzie’s was carried out, and that’s as it should be.    I’m also going to take Albert Pujols at his word that he would like to remain a Cardinal for the rest of his career.  I can’t believe that his brushes with Stan Musial haven’t made a big impact on Pujols.   There may be a Stand for Albert Day in a couple of decades, who knows.

No, I’m not going to get on the contract extension rollercoaster like many of us did last year with Matt Holliday.   At least this time, we don’t have Scott Boras at the controls.

I look forward to reading a Los Angeles Times article like that one from April 16, 1985, but outlining the details of the new Pujols contract extension.

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I was originally going to title this, Rethinking Lance Berkman, to be consistent with a few of my earlier postings.   Then it struck me that we haven’t really had time to think about it, so rethinking it seemed terribly premature.   Instead, I’d rather look back into history to see if I can find any parallels to set my mind at ease.

Some time ago the Cardinals made a similar December deal that left many players and fans scratching their heads.    As we cue up the The Twilight Zone theme song, let’s take a closer look at this deal and how it played out.

(1) The Cardinals were just a few years removed from a Championship season, but had largely disappointed fans since then.   There was far too much talent on this team not be playing in post-season.

(2) Their manager was a fan favorite, a former infielder and would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame (ok, perhaps that’s giving it away, but keep playing and pretend to be surprised at the end).

(3) A new General Manager had taken over from one of the best in the game.

(4) The departing GM would soon surface at a rival and start building his new dynasty.

(5) The new GM would start making all sorts of changes,  including sending away a fan favorite third baseman.   The Cardinals had subsequently struggled to find an adequate placement for the former star, and were still looking when this deal was made.

(6) The catcher was considered a leader on the club, but there wasn’t an obvious backup in case he went down to an injury or needed some time off.   There was help coming in the farm system with a (7) most promising youngster that looked like he could swing the bat like a lumberjack, but he was still a few years away.

Does any of this sound familiar ?

The rotation was anchored by a couple of right handed studs.   The (8) veteran had already won 20 games and was considered one of the most competitive pitchers of his day.   If you made a mistake, he would not hesitate to call you out, either on the field or in the dugout – and he generally scared the goobers out of everybody.   The (9) younger pitcher, who had spent some time in the bullpen,  was similar in body stature, but didn’t have the outward intensity as his mentor.   He would soon flirt with a 20 win season of his own.

(10) Another right hander in the rotation had been suffering from recurring arm troubles and each off-season brought the hope that he would return to his earlier winning form, but as of yet, that hadn’t happened.

(11) The surprise in the rotation was a young lefty that had started turning heads around the league.  This youngster was going to be very good some day.

(12) The bullpen featured a most unusual and reluctant closer.   He was a pitch to contact type with a relatively low strikeout rate.   He was a veteran, and a former starter for another team.   He took over the role of closer when the heir-apparent failed to hold onto the job.

(13) The shortstop was considered one of the best defensive players in the league, and many teams coveted his glove.  Unfortunately he couldn’t hit worth a lick – but man, could he flash some leather and did he ever have a cannon of an arm.  We would never be invited to an All Star Game, but would soon win a Gold Glove.

(14) This trade caused a right handed hitting platoon outfielder to move to third base.

Have you guessed it yet ????  If not, just a few more clues.

(15) The player coming to the Cardinals in the trade had bad legs and couldn’t run terribly well.   His bat was formidable, but because of the injuries was nowhere near the force he once was.   As a younger player, he absolutely tore up the Cardinals in the post-season, but as a veteran near the end of his career, didn’t hit lefties particularly well.   Great, another Cardinal that was going to have trouble with lefties – blah!

Prior to the deal, the Cardinals clubhouse was somewhat fractured.  (16) One player oozed personality and frequently stirred things up in the clubhouse.   He was flamboyant and somewhat of a clown, but he always seemed to be having fun.   (17) The moody and aloof star of the team, considered one of the best players of his era, stayed away from all of those shenanigans – in fact, the clowning around probably irritated him.   Young players were lacking role models to teach them how to play Cardinals baseball.   (18) A group of young and exciting outfielders would soon be getting splinters as they rode the bench, and all of them would find success in the future with new teams.

OK, you must have this one figured out by now.   I am talking about December of 1966 and the acquisition of Roger Maris from the Yankees.    The parallels between the Maris and Berkman deals are just spooky.

Here’s what Roger Maris did when he came to St. Louis.

  • He brought a ton of experience and professionalism, and younger players looked up to the newcomer
  • Old timers on the team had to re-evaluate the man as he came in and played hard – he was the real deal
  • His leadership in the clubhouse helped balance out the extremes of the other factions, and the team became a unit by the middle of the season following the trade.
  • He hit effectively and smartly between the speed at the top of the order and the MVP slugger that followed him
  • Even though he was thought to be a defensive liability, the Cardinals were able to produce more than enough offense to compensate for his defense
  • A speedy young outfielder with a good arm (Bobby Tolan)  was ready to go as a late inning substitute, but wasn’t needed nearly as much as the experts feared

And let’s not forget the most important thing ……..

The Cardinals won 2 NL Pennants

and 1 World Series

Apparently Bob Howsam knew what he was doing.   The trade caused one player (Mike Shannon) to change positions and put a defensive question mark in right field, when there was already one in left, but other parts of the team compensated.   A good pitching staff became a great one, and then the next season became legendary.   The infield rose to the challenge  and became a formidable first line of defense (pun intended).   And finally, the offense just out-slugged the competition all summer long.

Maybe this is a good time to take a step back and acknowledge that there are a number of ways to win in baseball.   Whitey Herzog did it with pitching, speed and defense.  Johnny Keane did it by putting players in spots where they could succeed and removed their fear of failure (sort of an anti-La Russa).  Red Schoendienst did a little bit of both.   With Lance Berkman on the roster in 2011, the team will look a lot different than anything we’ve seen recently.  Yes, good pitching can neutralize good hitting most of the time – but that doesn’t mean that this team can’t put up enough offense to beat anybody, especially in a weak division like the NL Central.

It will be interesting to look back at this next May or June and see how this is working out for the Cardinals.  Of course, this could go totally in the Vada Pinson direction, but until proven otherwise, I shall take the optimistic view.

If you want to try to guess some of the players and events in the earlier hints, feel free to do so in the comments.  A couple of the clues have more than one right answer.

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The recent trade that sent reliever/spot starter Blake Hawksworth to the Los Angeles Dodgers for middle infielder Ryan Theriot has unleashed a lot of passionate blogging, both for and against.   Rather than jump into the middle of that scrum, I’d like to look at a few of the comments in these blogs directed at other players, and perhaps set the record straight.  For a specific example, let’s use Dayn Perry’s The Theriot Problem. I’m not picking on Dayn, he can defend his overall position – but there are a couple of unnecessary passing comments that just chap my hide.

“Skip Schumaker last season was dreadful at the plate and equally as dreadful in the field.”

Interestingly, this statement in its entirety is true, but the two parts when taken separately just aren’t.

Let’s take a look at Mr. Schumaker’s offensive production, broken down month by month

Month PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG
April 96 18 4 0 1 3 .212 .302 .294
May 96 26 5 1 0 9 .271 .327 .344
June 82 23 2 0 1 7 .311 .350 .378
July 69 15 2 0 1 7 .246 .333 .328
August 71 20 1 0 1 10 .303 .352 .364
Sept + Oct 104 24 4 0 1 6 .255 .317 .330

Did Skip Schumaker really have a dreadful year at the plate ?  No.  He did have a dreadful month (April) and a not-so-good month (July).   He also rocked August and June as well as he ever did, but that was largely hidden by the offensive funk of the previous two months dragging down his seasonal averages.   I’m writing off the post-callup part of the season (Sept/Oct) due to the general malaise that was spreading through the clubhouse at the time.

Looking a little deeper we notice that Schumaker struck out once every 8.26 plate appearances.    To put this number in perspective, consider that Albert Pujols struck out once every 9.2 plate appearances and Yadier Molina (one of the best in the National League) at just over 10.   Then there’s Colby Rasmus at a whopping strikeout every 3.1 plate appearances.  Yes folks, that’s one per game.   While it may not necessarily help me in making my point, Brendan Ryan’s strikeout rate was about the same as Schumaker.

Criticizing Schumaker’s defense at second base is fair, but when you do so please consider that he is still a work in progress at the position.  No, that is not an excuse, but among the converted outfielders, Schumaker is one of the best.  OK, I didn’t actually look that up because I couldn’t think of another outfielder turned middle infielder, but I’m not going to let that stop me from making my point!!!   The last time we saw something like this sort of transformation, it was Mike Shannon moving from right field to the hot corner, making room for Roger Maris.  Nobody is going to put Shannon down in the record books as a great third baseman, but he played the position effectively and helped a good Cardinals team become very good, taking two trips to the Fall Classic.

Are there better second baseman ?  Absolutely ?   In the Cardinals system ?   Perhaps.   We lost a wonderful chance to see whether or not Daniel Descalso can play second base in the major leagues when he was called up in September.  Thanks to some head-scratching late season moves, Descalso saw time at third base so we are left to wonder if he might be the future Tommy Herr or Julian Javier.  On the plus side, this gives us plenty to argue about over the long winter break.

On a team that aspires to win its division, he’s a fifth outfielder, not a starting second baseman.

Psst.  I hate to bring this up, but Schumaker was the starting second baseman for the 2009 team that did win their division.   They should probably have beaten the Dodgers and faced the Phillies in the NLCS, but they didn’t.  I realize that this might make me sound like a Tony La Russa mouthpiece, but just because he said it doesn’t make it untrue.

We can’t lay the blame for the 2010 season at the feet of Skip Schumaker.   All he is guilty of is having a couple of bad months and not hitting over .300 like he had the previous two years.  If Schumaker’s performance is the criteria for determining fault, let’s heap a big dose on Brendan Ryan, Brad Penny, the injured Kyle Lohse, the fragile one David Freese, Colby Rasmus, Randy Wynn, Felipe Lopez and Pedro Feliz.   Heck, Schumaker doesn’t even make my top 10 “it’s my fault” list.

More troubling is the other part of Dayn’s comment – fifth outfielder ????  Really ?

I guess he hasn’t noticed that Schumaker was the best defensive outfielder on the active roster once Ryan “Gold Glove” Ludwick was traded to San Diego.   No, I’m not going to quote some spreadsheet metric to back that up, that’s just an opinion from watching Schumaker play the outfield – and that darn cannon of a right arm that he possesses.   At worst, Schumaker is a fourth outfielder, and a pretty darned good one at that.   I have to go back to he mid-80’s before I find a fourth outfielder that is as good as Schumaker (that would be the rather uncomfortable platoon of Tito Landrum and Andy van Slyke).

Would I rather have Schumaker in the outfield than at second base ?  Absolutely.   Are the Cardinals better with him on the active roster ?  Again, absolutely.  I will agree with Mr. Perry about rather having Ryan Theriot play second base than shortstop, and that’s what might actually happen if some a trade cannot be worked out for Brendan Ryan.   I’m also not willing to give up on Daniel Descalso quite yet.   But I cannot accept the notion that Schumaker is a fifth outfielder.   I just cannot dismiss his abilities quite that easily.

While we’re on the topic of setting the record straight, let’s look at Yadier Molina, month by month.

Month PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG
April 88 20 3 0 2 15 .260 .341 .377
May 96 22 5 0 0 13 .256 .333 .314
June 79 13 2 0 1 7 .183 .256 .239
July 92 21 3 0 1 8 .259 .341 .333
August 93 28 3 0 1 10 .329 .355 .400
Sept + Oct 73 18 4 0 1 14 .277 .342 .385

Molina’s season is much easier to defend.  He did get off to a bit of a slow start, but was still productive behind David Freese and Colby Rasmus in the lineup.   Molina had an absolutely brutal month of June.   Looking back at the schedule, perhaps he should have been given just a bit more time off, but the wheels were quickly coming off the wagon at that point in the season, and Molina’s presence behind the plate was far more important to the team than any offensive production that may or may not have been occurring.   Molina’s turnaround, starting around the All Star break is astonishing, and when you throw in a gold glove performance behind the plate and a certain moment in Cincinnati,

Yadi the Enforcer

there’s no reason to take away any of the luster of his brightly shining star.   In fact, quite the opposite – his star should be shining just a bit brighter now than it did at the start of the 2010 season.

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Later this week, most of us will be sitting around a dining room table, gathered with friends and family and enjoying the traditional feast of turkey, stuffing and all of the other goodies that go with it.   Something like this …..

A glorious bird, indeed!

Then we excuse ourselves from the table and go watch football.  Here in Dallas, that hasn’t exactly been real high on the “thankful” list this year, so I thought I would use this as an opportunity to give thanks for some of the wonderful people associated with the St. Louis Cardinals.  At I-70 Baseball, I’ve written an article covering some of the players, so this one is heading off in different direction.

Cardinals Nation

It’s not until you move away from the St. Louis area that you can really appreciate how big Cardinals Nation is.  Yes, it is a chicken and egg thing dating back to when the Cardinals made up the western (and believe it or not, southern) border of the Republic of MLB. Couple that with the powerhouse  KMOX, broadcasting the games all the way to Proxima Centauri and you have an enormous, somewhat captive market.  Throw in some great Gashouse baseball in the 40s and again in the 60s, toss with a bit of Harry Caray and Jack Buck (who we will talk about in a moment) and you now have generations of listeners from the Ohio Valley down to the Gulf of Mexico and west to the Pacific.

What this means for a displaced fan is that you are likely to run into another member of Cardinals Nation at an airport, Starbucks, sports bar and even in the work setting.   You’ll recognize them by the clothing – sport shirt of choice is red with the Birds on the Bat proudly displayed.   The subtle ones just wear the hat, but a trained eye can spot them several gates over in the airport terminal.

Something like that happened to me just a short while ago.  I was talking to colleague about some work things – those things drifted to personal pleasantries and all of a sudden we’re talking Cardinals baseball.  Shortly after that we found out that we’d be in St. Louis at the same time for a customer visit, and you know what that means, right ?  Yep – Dodgers at Cardinals right after the All Star break.   And it was great!

It’s not just a cliche, the players truly get this one right when they thank the fans first.

Twitter

I suppose that I could broaden this to include other social media technologies, but one stands alone in it’s ability to connect transplanted, relocated or just plain distant fans of the Cardinals, and that’s Twitter.  It started with a single conversation with a person that calls himself @FredbirdSTL.  Next was the discovery of the #stlcards hashtag.  From that point, it quickly ballooned into a genuine community of enthusiastic fans, discussing everything from managerial decisions, trade rumors and the ever disquieting #chickcomments (sorry ladies, Skippy is a brand of peanut butter) – just like we used to do when we were kids listening to Harry and Jack after an evening of backyard baseball.

It has awakened and energized the inner kid in me, and by reading comments of other tweeps, the inner child in them as well.   Throw in some nice high bandwidth network access so that you can enjoy high definition video of most of the game broadcasts and it’s almost like being back in St. Louis with my buddies.

The only thing that would make this better is to have more “In Real Life (IRL)” get togethers.  The few that I’ve been able to have attended have been very special, and I’m most thankful for the real people behind the twitter avatars that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. More than Twitter, I thank each and every one of you.

August A Busch, Jr (Gussie)

It hardly seems possible today, but in 1953, the Cardinals were a very troubled organization.   If Anheuser Busch, under the direction of Mr. Busch, had not bought the team, it might have been the Cardinals moving out of St. Louis instead of the Browns.  He set in motion a number of things that changed the franchise forever, and we should take a moment and appreciate them.

  • He bought Sportsman’s Park so that the Cardinals had a place to play instead of renting from their cross-town rivals
  • He undid the biggest damage done by his predecessor (Fred Saigh) who let Branch Rickey get away by hiring the second greatest executive in the game, Bing Devine
  • He let Devine rebuild the farm system and put in place one of the last dynasties of the pre-Free Agent era
  • When the team was in trouble in 1980, had the vision and courage to hire Whitey Herzog as both manager and general manager

To be fair, he did run Bing Devine out of town in August 1964 – so Gussie was only human.

Where Gussie differs from so many owners today, he was the teams biggest and most visible fan.  I can still hear him telling Harry Caray (and later Jack Buck), “I’ve never been so happy in my live long life”.  He said that in 1964, 1967, 1968, 1982 and 1985.  I don’t remember hearing from him in 1987, but he probably said it then too.   While it was a business, running the Cardinals seemed more like a hobby and he did it with great gusto.  Even when hard financial times hit in the 70s, he somehow managed to keep the team in place, albeit with several unpopular trades – Jose Cruz comes to mind.  At the darkest time since taking over, he invested again and let The White Rat give the team a much needed makeover that doesn’t even seem possible by today’s standards.   If Mr. Busch had lived past 1989, I’m confident that Herzog would have stayed around longer and there would have been more trips to the World Series in the early 90s.

As if directed by Gussie from somewhere in heaven, the brewery sold the Cardinals to one of the best baseball men, Bill De Witt, Jr.  Say what you will about the rest of the executive team, De Witt, Jr and his father, De Witt, Sr have ties back to the Branch Rickey era of the Cardinals and their glory days of the Gashouse era.   And, as if to scream out “irony”, the cross-town rival, St. Louis Browns.   Certainly more business than hobby, the Cardinals are in good hands with the De Witt family.

Sometimes I don’t think we appreciate how close the Cardinals came to being another Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds.  Not once, but several times.   Thanks to Gussie, that didn’t happen.   And we should remember to thank him more often than we probably do.

Harry Caray

If Gussie Busch was the biggest Cardinals fan, Harry Caray would have been the second.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, called a game like Harry Caray.   You might lose track of who is on base, the current count, and sometimes even the score.  But Harry called it they way he saw it and completely unfiltered by any pretense that he was supposed to be objective and analytic.   He was pure emotion, and it would ebb and flow throughout the game, just as the fans were doing in the stadium.   And when he saw something he didn’t agree with, he’d let the fans know.  “do you ….. would you believe?”, “how could that be?” and the now famous “there’s a drive …. it might be, it could be, it is *huge breath* a home ….. run”.

On September 30, 1964, the Cardinals were tied with the Cincinnati Reds with 3 games to play.   The Cardinals won their game giving them a half game lead over the Reds, who were at home playing the Pirates.  Caray relayed the progress in the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game to anxious Cards fans listening on KMOX.  By telephone.  Until the 16th inning when the Pirates won the game on a suicide squeeze play at 1am,  St. Louis time.  It is one of the most amazing broadcasts.  Today we would just flip over to another audio or video feed and think nothing of it.  But in 1964, Caray was on the phone with the Pittsburgh broadcasters.  Simply unbelievable.

If your only association with Harry Caray is from his Chicago Cubs days on WGN, know that he was something altogether different when sitting behind the microphone in St. Louis.  A great many of us owe our love of the team to Caray’s enthusiastic game calling.

Johnny Keane, Whitey Herzog and Tony La Russa

Three times in the last half decade, the Cardinals have been one step from becoming a perpetual cellar dweller in the National League.  Earlier we gave thanks to Gussie Busch for rescuing the team in each of these situations.  Now is the time to thank the field generals who really orchestrated the turn-around.  Specifically, Johnny Keane, Whitey Herzog and yes ….. Tony La Russa.

Herzog and La Russa’s stories are probably well known, so I’ll focus on Keane.  While Bing Devine was busy assembling all of the pieces in what would eventually become World Champions in 1964, 1967 and NL Pennant winner in 1968, manager Solly Hemus was having a hard time getting the individuals to play as a cohesive team.  He was a hard-nosed ballplayer, and by all accounts, he was just as tough as a manager.   The problem wasn’t one of discipline, it was that his team was afraid to fail.   In the Hemus era, if you failed, you sat on the bench.  Players became uncertain of their roles and played too conservatively.   Bob Gibson found himself in the bullpen instead of in the starting rotation.

All of this changed midway through the 1961 season.  Enter Johnny Keane.   He was another hard-nosed manager, but the difference was that he gave the players a role and let them fail.   Every failure became an opportunity to improve, and that’s just what his team did.  The Cardinals posted a winning record in every year under Keane.   They came up just short of winning the NL Pennant in 1963 and won the World Series in 1964.   He had posted back to back 90+ win seasons for the first time since their World Series win in 1946.   Keane had brought gashouse baseball back to St. Louis, but more importantly he gave players like Curt Flood, Julian Javier, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson the chance to become superstars, and most of them did exactly that.

Whitey Herzog did that two decades later with his brand of baseball, as did Tony La Russa a decade later.   We are still enjoying the rewards of the La Russa era.   This makes it easy to be a Cardinals fan.   We discover the rich history of the franchise as a result of the recent success.   If the team was hapless and floundering around the bottom of the NL Central, we might not be as interested in learning about the Wille McGee era, how Bob Gibson slayed an entire league of batters, and of course, Stan the Man – the greatest of them all.   Oh sure, there would be some.   But en0ugh to fill a stadium demanding that the ambassador to the city be given a presidential medal ?  Perhaps not.

There is certainly much more to be thankful for.  These were a few of the people whom I will give thanks this year.   Who are some of yours ?

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Good Colby!!!

Recently, I have read a number of blogs and comments from Twitter users, worried that the recent contract extension for Tony La Russa means that the Cardinals  front office is going to do something silly, like trade away Colby Rasmus.  To all of you nice scribes and tweeps, I have but one word to offer

Relax

The executive management team is not going to do anything stupid.

True, there hasn’t been a particularly good track record of late.  Beginning with the Mark Mulder trade, it seems that we have been mostly on the short end of the deal stick, but that might not be altogether fair.  Mulder did give us some great games before going down with a career ending (err, interrupting) injury.  Same for Mark De Rosa – OK, that one was a complete and total fleecing of the minor league system.  At least the Giants didn’t lose any pitching prospects for De Rosa,  just a big wad of cash.

So, is Colby Rasmus up for sale ?   You betcha.  Nobody is totally off the market, although a few contracts (Holliday, Lohse – well, just because we might not want to admit it doesn’t make it untrue) might make deals unrealistic.  And a few have such value (Pujols, Molina, Wainwright, most of the bullpen, and yes – Rasmus) that a trade seems unlikely.

But if there was such a deal for Rasmus, what would it look like, and how might it all play out ?  Oh, that sounds like a trip through Cardinals history – now we’re talkin’ !!!!!

The players closest to the Rasmus situation would be JD Drew, Andy van Slyke, Lance Johnson and Bobby Tolan.

Not so much …..

Tolan was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, along with a promising young reliever (Wayne Granger), for veteran outfielder Vada Pinson after the end of the 1968 season.  The trade was made, not so much because Tolan (or Granger for that matter) had fallen out of favor, but the Cardinals needed a dependable outfielder to replace the retiring Roger Maris.  On paper, Pinson was the perfect choice.   When Pinson got off to a hot start in 1969, everybody was happy.  Until May, when injuries limited his playing time, and then the wear and tear from his days in Cincinnati became apparent as we saw a big drop in his production.  The former Reds star would only spend one season in St. Louis.

There is one extra piece of intrigue that disqualifies this particular trade.  The Cincinnati General Manager making this deal was Bob Howsam.  He was previously the General Manager of the Cardinals, and in that capacity, he drafted Tolan.  He knew what he was getting and giving up in the deal.  Insider information, to be sure.

Lance Johnson was the next Vince Coleman, but with a huge batting average – and he didn’t strike out!  He was a future star, and everybody that saw him play the game knew it.  Like Tolan, he was traded right after the Cardinals lost in the World Series.  This time it was 1987.  The speedster was sent to Chicago (White Sox) along with left-hander Rick Horton for Jose DeLeon.   The Cardinals had been looking for an ace right hander ever since Joaquin Andujar was shipped off to the Oakland Athletics after the 1985 World Series.  Injuries and inconsistency from Danny Cox meant the Cardinals had to go elsewhere, and elsewhere turned out to be the south side of Chicago.  Again, on paper, this seemed like an ideal arrangement.   With Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Tom Brunansky and Curt Ford in the outfield, Johnson became expendable, and the trade was made.   In retrospect, the Cardinals would have been better off holding onto Tommy Herr and letting Bruno play in Minnesota and keeping Johnson.  DeLeon was an enigma of a hurler – unbelievable stuff for 6 innings and then nothing but batting practice.

Looking back at this deal, you really have to wonder why it was made.  Johnson had not been in St. Louis long enough to fall into or out of favor.  He seemed like the perfect Whitey Herzog player – high batting average, good defense and could run like the wind.  We just didn’t keep him around long enough to find out.   A fleecing by the White Sox – most certainly.  Useful for a Rasmus deal comparison, not so much.

The Archetypes

Andy van Slyke.  Now we’re talking.   Van Slyke was a walking defensive highlight reel.   When he played with Willie McGee and Vince Coleman, it took a scorching line drive to get down between the outfielders.  Pop-ups just over the right side of the infield were never a problem – van Slyke appeared out of nowhere to make some of the most unbelievable catches.

But……  there’s always a but.  van Slyke could not hit left handed pitching.  Sound familiar ????  I thought so.

Not that van Slyke didn’t work hard on it, by all accounts he did.  And he became increasingly frustrated when Whitey Herzog platooned him with Tito Landrum for most of the 1985 season.   When Willie McGee missed almost all of August 1986 with an injury, van Slyke started playing every day.  For that month he hit a cool .354/.419/.631 for an amazing Pujols-like OPS of 1.050.  But Herzog refused to budge on the right field platoon situation.   When the 1987 season started, the Cardinals were in dire need of a catcher and were able to put together a deal with Pittsburgh, sending the frustrated van Slyke for Tony Pena.

How did that deal work out ?  Perhaps not so well personally for Pena, but as an organization, the Cardinals won another National League Pennant and came within 15 outs of winning another World Series title.  Yeah, I’d say that deal worked out nicely.

JD Drew.  Now there’s a name that will strike fear throughout all of Cardinals nation.  All the more fascinating since his brother Stephen’s name keeps coming up in speculation about off-season upgrades to the Redbirds infield.  JD is another thing altogether.   A fantastically talented player, Drew  drew attention (that’s really hard to say) when the Cardinals drafted and signed him out of the Independent Northern League a year after the Philadelphia Phillies first drafted him.  He received a huge contract and blew through the minor leagues.  Critics of Drew suggest that the big contract gave him a sense of entitlement and he lacked the passion of most of the players around him (oh boy, does this sound familiar).  Injuries started mounting, and eventually the Cardinals had enough.  A deal was made and Drew was sent to the Braves along with catcher/outfielder Eli Marrero for pitchers Ray King, Jason Marquis and a tall prospect by the name of Adam Wainwright.

Do I even need to ask how this one worked out ?  How about if we just ask Carlos “Weak Knee” Beltran or Brandon Inge.  Even before that, Jason Marquis went 15-7 for another World Series bound Cardinals team in 2004, and Ray King was about as good an arm out of the bullpen as the Cardinals had seen in a long time.  This deal was worth not one, but two trips to the World Series.

A Bright Future

It doesn’t matter if you are pro or anti-Rasmus.  Both sides have to admit that he is a genuine talent, and a valuable part of the franchise.  Knowing that, if (and that remains an enormous IF) the Cardinals do trade the young outfielder, history shows that they will get something valuable in return.   The last two times a player like Rasmus has been involved, the Cardinals ended up in the Fall Classic.   If Rasmus is traded, it will be for another impact player, and I would have every expectation for the Cardinals to face the American League champion in the fall.

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With a dominating 6 inning performance against the Chicago Cubs on September 24, 2010, Adam Wainwright earned his 20th win of the season.  That places him in some rather elite company in Cardinals history.  In the previous 50 years, this feat has only been accomplished 15 times.  Here is a complete list of the 20 game winners since 1960, including Wainwright’s in 2010.

Year Pitcher Record
2010 Adam Wainwright 20-11
2005 Chris Carpenter* 21-5
2001 Matt Morris 22-8
2000 Darryl Kile 20-9
1985 John Tudor 21-8
1985 Joaquin Andujar 21-12
1984 Joaquin Andujar 20-14
1977 Bob Forsch 20-7
1971 Steve Carlton 20-9
1970 Bob Gibson* 23-7
1969 Bob Gibson 20-13
1968 Bob Gibson* 22-9
1966 Bob Gibson 21-12
1965 Bob Gibson 20-12
1964 Ray Sadecki 20-11
1960 Ernie Broglio 21-9

* also won the National League Cy Young Award

Yes, Adam Wainwright has joined some pretty spectacular company indeed.   To help put this achievement in perspective, only 13 additional pitchers have come close, winning 18 or more games: Adam Wainwright (2009), Woody Williams(2003),  Kent Bottenfield(1999),  Andy Benes(1996),  Joe Magrane(1989),  Danny Cox(1985), Nelson Briles (1968),  Curt Simmons (1964),  Bob Gibson (1963, 1964, 1972),  Ernie Broglio (1963) and  Larry Jackson (1960).

Only two names appear on the 20 game list more than once, Bob Gibson (5 times) and Joaquin Andujar (twice), although Steve Carlton would go on to win 20 or more five additional times with the Philadelpha Phillies.    If you include the 18 game winners, that list grows to Ernie Broglio and Adam Wainwright (and Gibson’s total balloons to 8 times).   Yes, very elite company.

What it takes to win 20

These two lists point out just how difficult it is to even have a chance to win 20 games in a season.   Where a pitcher might get 40 or more starts in the early part of the 1960’s, the typical 5 man rotation used today will limit a pitcher to 34-35 starts.   That doesn’t leave much room for no-decisions and bullpen losses.  It’s also the reason we will probably never see another 30 game winner in the major leagues.  Denny McLain started 41 games in 1968, pitching on more than 3 days rest just 11 times.  He also loaded up 336 innings on his arm, and we’ll likely never see anything approaching that either.

A big part of a 20 win season, especially the way the game is played today, is the bullpen.  Just ask Adam Wainwright.   In 2009, he left his last start of the year with a comfortable lead in the seventh inning.   The bullpen failed to hold the lead, and he was denied his 20th victory.   Bullpens also played a big part in the past, but in a much different way.  Starters used to go deeper into games, resulting in more wins earlier in the year.  The increased number of innings took their toll, and all but the best pitchers faded as the season wore on.  When called, those bullpens were stocked with young arms learning how to pitch or veterans trying to keep their careers alive – not like the specialists we see today.    Regardless of the era, bullpens are big reason the two lists aren’t any longer than 16 and 13 pitchers.

Injuries are also a big part of  a 20 win season, perhaps even more today than in the 60s.   To appreciate that, just look at Chris Carpenter’s amazing 2009 season.  Carpenter would finish the season with a 17-4 record, and a league leading 2.24 ERA.   The big right hander would also finish second in the Cy Young voting.  Carpenter also missed 5 starts with an injury, and that kept him from having a legitimate chance for 20 wins and his second Cy Young Award.  Health issues kept pitchers like Ray Washburn, Silvio Martinez, Andy Rincon, Danny Cox, Joe Magrane off the list, and perhaps John Tudor, Matt Morris and Chris Carpenter from appearing more often.

In the early 60’s, it would not be uncommon for a starter to be used in relief  during difficult parts of the schedule, or when a pitcher was struggling.  In fact, Ernie Broglio earned 7 of his 21 wins in 1960 that way.   With the differences between the roles of a starter and reliever today, that just does not happen any more.

It is interesting to look at how different pitchers reached the 20 game milestone.  Hurlers like Bob Gibson and Chris Carpenter would just go out there and wear down the opposition with inning after inning of dominating pitching.  All you need to do is look at their low ERAs and high number of innings pitched to see this.  Some others, like Ray Sadecki and Bob Forsch, would consistently pitch well enough to  stay in the game, waiting for the offense to take the  lead before turning things over to the bullpen.  Some others pitched even better, but just didn’t have the run support or bullpen help.  As a result, Dick Hughes, Ray Washburn and Rick Wise didn’t make either list.

Some other observations

Bob Gibson was unbelievable.   Any way you look at it, Gibson had an amazing career.  No pitcher today comes close to matching Gibson’s intensity and competitiveness, although Chris Carpenter comes close.  There have been some outstanding finesse pitchers since Gibson, but none of them just overmatched hitters, year after year, for more than a decade.   I would have considered Roger Clemens a modern day Gibson, but there are mitigating circumstances in the era that The Rocket pitched in that give me reason to question the comparison, for the moment.   Five times with 20 or more wins, three more times within 2 games.  Many of those seasons, his ERA floated in the low 2’s – or 1.12 in 1968!

Adam Wainwright is a very special pitcher, and the list of 20 game winners helps put that in perspective.  Removing Gibson from consideration, there just aren’t many pitchers that have come through the Cardinals system that compare to Wainwright.  Perhaps the closest is Matt Morris, but the injury bug bit him early in his career.  Wainwright doesn’t have the overtly  intense approach of a Bob Gibson or Joaquin Andujar – that’s Chris Carpenter territory. He does have John Tudor’s cool, but Wainwright’s pitches are so much better and his control is every bit as good.   His fastball is as good as Chris Carpenter, his curve better than Matt Morris or Darryl Kile.   The only pitcher in the 20 win club that compares to Wainwright is Steve Carlton, and that’s a scary indicator of how good Wainwright has become.  This begs the question – how many games will Wainwright win in his career, and will they all be in a Cardinals uniform ?

The Ernie Broglio/Lou Brock looked much different in 1964 than today.  Broglio was an established star, both in the rotation and out of the bullpen.  At the same time, Brock was a free swinging young outfielder with questionable defensive skills.  Even with Broglio’s struggles in 1964, the Cubs made a good trade based what they knew at the time.  Broglio just owned the Cubs, posting an 11-4 career record with a 3.53 ERA.  Add 10 complete games, 4 of them being shutouts.   With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this was the most lopsided trade in modern history, but now you know what the Cubs thought they were getting in the deal.

And finally, the lists points out how tough it was to be a Cardinals fan in the 1970’s and 1990’s.  There were some great individual performances (Richie Allen, Reggie Smith, Bob Gibson, Bob Forsch, Steve Carlton), but the teams were just not competitive with the rest of the league.  It is no surprise that there are clusters of 20 game winners in the 60s, 80’s and again in the 2000’s.

Even though 2010 has been a disappointing season for the Cardinals as a team and as an organization, it has certainly been a pleasure watching Adam Wainwright reach this important milestone.  I have a feeling that this will not be the last time.

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