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Archive for the ‘General History’ Category


In my last entry, I issued something of a cease-and-desist order on criticizing the Cardinals front office over the Albert Pujols contract negotiations.   This time, we’ll take a slightly different approach and try to put into perspective how privileged we are to see the big man playing first base in St. Louis.

Bill White (1957-1965).   24 WAR (20 offensive, 4 defensive)

There is no denying that Bill White could hit the ball.   Oh, could he ever hit the baseball.  The 4 dWAR for his time in St. Louis is a bit surprising because his defense seemed to be much better than that, as suggested by his  seven consecutive gold gloves.  The big man (for his era) was as graceful as a predatory cat, and his ability to track down a pop up over his head was as good as anybody.   I could recall some of my dad’s stories about watching him play, but instead I’ll reiterate: seven consecutive Gold Gloves between 1960 and 1966.

Ken Boyer may have won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1964, but White’s second half turnaround was a big part of the Cardinals catching the Phillies in September.

George Crowe (1959-1961)   .5 WAR (.5 offensive, 0 defensive)

Bob Gibson, Stan Musial and Big George

Crowe had been an amazing athlete, playing both baseball and basketball before finally settling on hitting the ball instead of bouncing it.   He was a veteran of the Negro Leagues and one of the first wave of players to accompany Jackie Robinson in tearing down the color barrier in baseball.   The big man was at the end of his playing career when he came to St. Louis and was used primarily as a pinch hitter and backup starter when Bill White needed a day off, which wasn’t often.   Even at age 38, he managed to hit .301 in just over 100 at-bats – which included 8 home runs.   Yes, the man could hit the baseball.   Crowe’s biggest contribution to the Cardinals was as a role model for a some of the young players who were battling the early days of baseball’s integration efforts.   Bob Gibson recounts in 60ft 6in how Crowe helped him and teammate Curt Flood deal with some unfair events early in their career, and how to overcome them.   While he may be long forgotten as a player off the bench, his influences can be seen in the development and determination of Gibson and Flood.

Orlando Cepeda (1966-1968)  11 WAR (10 offensive, 1 defensive)

Like Bill White, Cepeda developed as a first baseman.   Unfortunately the Giants also had a youngster by the name of McCovey in their minor league system, which meant that Cepeda had to move to the outfield if he wanted to stay on the roster.   The wear and tear on his legs took a big toll, and the subsequent drop off in production allowed the 1966 Cardinals to swing a sweatheart of a deal, sending Ray Sadecki westward for Cha Cha Cha.   In St. Louis, he returned to his more comfortable position and the production came back with a vengeance.    Thanks to a freak injury to Bob Gibson in July 1967, Cepeda became the obvious choice as NL MVP, turning in almost Albert Pujols type offensive numbers.   A big drop off in production in 1968, probably due to an injury suffered late in the 1967 season, prompted his relocation to Atlanta and another return to All Star form.   He was a steady first baseman with soft hands, but when your infield consists of Julian Javier and Dal Maxvill, nearly anybody could play first base.

Joe Torre (1969, 1971-1973) – not gonna list his WAR breakout, just not gonna do it

Joe Torre was one of the best pure hitters in Cardinals history, but was a defensive liability at any position except catcher.   He moved from first base to catcher, back to first base, over to third and then back to first.   Those moves were all made to keep his ferocious bat in the lineup.   He would earn an NL MVP award in 1971 by hitting .363 and driving in a mind-boggling 137 runs.

Richie Allen (1970) 2.4 WAR (3.9 offensive, -1.5 defensive)

Speaking of defensive liabilities, that pretty much described the career of Richie (Dick) Allen.   But the man could hit, and hit, and hit.   Some of those moonshots he hit in the summer of 1970 still leave a mark in your minds eye.  Of his contemporaries, only Jimmy Wynn hit the ball harder.   The smartest thing the Cardinals did in 1970 was move Allen from third base to first, where he would remain for most of his career.   With the reduced defensive stress, his mighty bat could do the talking for him, and the rest is history.

Joe Hague (1971) 0.4 WAR (0.8 offensive, -0.4 defensive)

Joe Hague was the Allen Craig of his generation.   Hague was drafted in 1966 and developed in the Cardinals minor league system as a first baseman, to replace Orlando Cepeda when the time came.   Cepeda’s early decline caused the Cardinals to try a few other players at the position, before finally turning it over to Hague in 1971.   Hague just raked at Tulsa (AAA), but was a bit of a free swinger with more strikeouts than you would typically like to see for heart-of-the-batting-order player.  After two full seasons in St. Louis, Hague would be traded to the Reds for Bernie Carbo, a player the Cardinals gave up on far too quickly.

Matty Alou (1972) 1.3 WAR (1.4 offensive, -0.1 defensive)

Of the three Alou brothers, Matty was arguably the better hitter.  Felipe got more hits, but Matty had the higher career batting average.   He spent nearly two years in St. Louis, just at the beginning of his career decline.   When you were hitting .330 or better year after year, even your first few decline years were better than most players.   If the Cardinals had just left him alone to be the new Curt Flood, things might have gone better for the team in 1971 and 1972, but they didn’t.    With no good first base options, manager Red Schoendienst often used the 5ft 9in Alou at first, and it looked practically comical.    Ted Sizemore might not have had much of a problem throwing to Alou from second base, but to Dal Maxvill and Joe Torre, he must have been a tiny tiny target.   Of course, Maxvill spent 1970 throwing to Richie Allen, who wasn’t much taller.

He might not have been a defensive marvel in St. Louis, but Alou was a reliable .315 hitter in both seasons.   If the Cardinals had a legitimate power bat to play first base, perhaps their fortunes would have been better than a 75-81 finish.

Keith Hernandez (1974-1983) 40 WAR (31 offensive, 9 defensive)

After several failed attempts at finding a first baseman, the Cardinals struck gold with Keith Hernandez.   Was there a better defensive first baseman in the game ?   A National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1979 and 11 Gold Gloves (6 with the Cardinals and 5 more with the Mets) suggest that he might have been.  Nobody started a prettier 3-6-3 double play than Keith Hernandez.   He charged the ball hard, made a crisp throw from inside the base line, well away from the runner, and scampered back to first base in time to receive the return throw.  His presence on the field was much larger than his actual 6ft frame as he was the field commander, almost willing ground balls to be hit right to his teammates.

But Hernandez was not a one trick pony.   He was the perfect bat to go with Whitey Herzog’s running style of offense.   While he could hit with power, Hernandez’s greatest asset was some of the best gap-to-gap hitting we’ve ever seen in St. Louis.   When you have runners like Garry Templeton, Lonnie Smith and Willie McGee on base, those shots into the gaps produced a frightening number of runs.

George Hendrick and David Green (1984) about 1 WAR apiece

An “in the dead of night” deal in 1983, sending Keith Hernandez to the New York Mets for pitcher Neil Allen signaled that something was very wrong in the Cardinals clubhouse.   It would take another season for all of it to settle down so that White Herzog’s rabbits could return to the World Series.   In this transition, David Green and George Hendrick platooned as first baseman.   Both were converted outfielders, so the move to first base meant that neither were playing in a comfortable position.   And their play backed that up.   Hendrick had a cannon of an arm, but never got to show it off from first base.  Green could run like the wind, but that athletic ability was rarely seen on the right side of the infield.

Hendrick was just starting his late career decline, and before the start of the next season, he would have a new home.   That trade would would turn out to be one the best in Cardinals history as it brought left handed pitcher John Tudor to the gateway city.

For his part, Green never developed as Herzog had hoped.   An injury in 1982 opened the door for a youngster named Willie McGee, and Green found himself on the outside looking in.   With Andy van Slyke and Vince Coleman tearing it up in the minor leagues, his days with the Cardinals were numbered.

Jack Clark (1985-1987) 11.4 WAR (12.5 offensive, -1.1 defensive)

Another converted outfielder with a cannon for an arm.   Like George Hendrick before him, he didn’t get much of a chance to see it put to use.   His defense was much maligned in the day, but in retrospect that might have been more a function of the quality of the players surrounding him than his actual performance.   After all, when Ozzie Smith is the shortstop and Tommy Herr the other middle infielder, you are going to have to play like Keith Hernandez to even get noticed.

But that bat.  Just as with Orlando Cepeda, injuries had caused the Giants to give up on him and the Cardinals were able to get the slugger for a modest price.  Two of Clark’s seasons in St. Louis would be played relatively injury free, and the result were two trips to the World Series (1985, 1987).   When they pitched to Clark, the slugger made things happen.  Even in 1987, when pitchers didn’t even try to hide the fact that they were working around The Ripper, he still found ways to make the other teams pay dearly for any baseballs left close to the plate.   He would be the first man since Richie Allen to hit 30 home runs for the Cardinals, and the last until Ron Gant accomplished the feat in 1996, after some renovations that transformed Busch Stadium into a more home run friendly park.

Curiously, the Cardinals did not resign Clark following the 1987 season and he eventually signed with the New York Yankees.  Apparently the front office knew what they were doing as Clark never came close to the offensive production he’d shown in St. Louis in 1985 and 1987.

Bob Horner (1988) 0.2 WAR  (0.5 offensive, -0.3 defensive)

When Bob Horner and Dale Murphy broke in with the Braves in 1978, Atlanta thought they had captured lightning in a bottle.   They hoped that they could build a perennial contender with Horner and Murphy at the core.   Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way, although there were a lot of high points before injuries caught up with one of them.   Breaking his wrist in 1983 and again in 1984 sapped most of the power Horner had shown early in his career.   More than that, the ability to play a full season in the major leagues was just beyond his reach.   After failing to find a suitor for the 1987 season, Horner played baseball in Japan for one season before returning to the Cardinals in 1988, taking over for Jack Clark.   That didn’t last long as Horner would suffer a severe shoulder injury, ending his career.

But all is not lost.   This failure, through no fault of Horner’s, did open the door for a future fan favorite.   With the Cardinals in free fall at the non-waiver trade deadline, a deal was worked between St. Louis and Los Angeles.   The Cardinals would send fan favorite John Tudor to the City of Angles and in return we would receive Pedro Guerrero.

Pedro Guerrero (1989-1991) 2.9 WAR (6.7 offensive, -3,8 defensive)

Big Pete was well into his late career decline when he made the trip across the continental divide to finish out his career in St. Louis.  We didn’t see him at his best, for he was a beast of a hitter in his youth.  When Guerrero was healthy, a .320 batting average and a slugging percentage in the mid to upper .500s could be counted on out of the slugger.   If you missed him playing in Los Angeles, know that he also possessed some exceptional speed and twice stole 20 or more bases.   That all came to an end when he ruptured a tendon in spring training in 1986.  It cost him nearly the entire season, but he roared back in 1987 with some of the best offensive production in his career.

We didn’t know what to make of Pete when he came to St. Louis.  He always seemed to have some of that George Hendrick or Juan Encarnacion lack of hustle, but we soon found out that the big man played the game very hard and he gave us three outstanding seasons at the end of his career.    If not for an injury, we might have enjoyed him a bit longer.

Andres Gallaraga (1992) -0.4 WAR (-0.3 offensive, -0.1 defensive)

The Big Cat played first base as his nickname suggests.   He was a big man with soft hands and moved with the grace of Bill White.   Oh, he was slick.   And he’d won a pair of Golden Gloves with the Montreal Expos in 1989 and 1990.  A hamstring injury suffered in 1991 led to a poor year for both Galarraga and the Expos.   He became a Cardinal prior to the 1992 season.   He got off to a good start, until his was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken wrist.   As it so often happens, injuries to the hand area take a long time to heal, and he basically lost the ’92 season in St. Louis.

But Cardinals pitching coach Don Baylor was impressed with the big man, and when he became the skipper of the Colorado Rockies, he swiped Galarraga at his first chance.   And did he ever respond.   How about hitting .370 in the thin air in Denver ?  Injuries would slow him down there too, but he would also put together 5 consecutive seasons of 100 RBIs or more, the tops being 150 in 1996.   Big Cat indeed.

We saw just a glimpse of what Galarraga was capable of in that short season.   It would have been nice if the Cardinals front office had been just a bit more patient.

Gregg Jefferies (1993-1994) 6.9 WAR (7.3 offensive, -0.4 defensive)

Jefferies came to the Cardinals by way of the Kansas City Royals, but we were more than familiar with him from his days with the New York Mets.   It was hard to believe, but he was only 25 years old when he came to the Redbirds, but was starting his sixth full season in the big leagues.  He’d never shown much power and didn’t hit for much of an average, so we were a little bit nonplussed when the Cardinals acquired him.   Add to that a return to the little man at first base and we were all starting to wonder about the sanity of the front office.

Any concerns about Jefferies playing hard were quickly put to rest.  He turned in the two best years of his career in St. Louis, hitting .342 in 1993 and following that up with a nifty .325 average in the strike shortened 1994 season.   The Cardinals chose not to offer him a contract following the 1994 season and he moved on to Philadelphia.  Injuries and inconsistent play would bring about a premature end to his career.

We never saw it coming, but learned to appreciate the little man for those two seasons in the gateway city.

John Mabry (1995-1996) -0.3 WAR (-0.4 offensive, 0.1 defensive)

When the big man broke in with the Cardinals in 1995, he looked to be the second coming of Todd Zeile, but with a lot more plate discipline.   Perhaps that is a bit more prophetic than I had intended, because after a quick start to his career, Mabry began to struggle at the plate.   His average dropped from a steady .300 all the way to .249 before being released following the 1998 season.    But Mabry was a good baseball man and continued to keep his career alive, making his way across most of the major leagues before coming back to St. Louis for a swansong season in 2004, reclaiming some of that early glory.  Mabry was a big part of helping the Cardinals make it to the World Series.

He turned out to be the perfect Tony La Russa scrappy utility player, playing nearly every position except catcher.   The hardest thing for Cardinals fans was watching him end his career up Interstate 55, playing for the rival Cubs.

Dmitri Young (1997) 0.3 WAR (-0.3 offensive, 0.6 defensive)

All the while John Mabry was holding down first base, we kept hearing the name Dmitri (Da Meat Hook) Young and how he was tearing it up in the minor leagues.  He was going to be a masher at the plate and it was just a matter of time before National League pitchers retired rather than facing him.

In just one full season in St. Louis, he failed to live up to the hype.  Needing some help in the bullpen, the Cardinals traded Young to the Cincinnati Reds for Jeff Brantley.   Young would have several good seasons in Cincinnati, but still didn’t live up to the hype we had been given during his early development.   After a couple of good years in Detroit, Young would finish out his career with the Washington Nationals.

Mark McGwire (1998-2001) 22.5 WAR (26.3 offensive,  -3.8 defensive)

Tabling any discussions about the steroid era, Mark McGwire was a genuine basher.   One of the best.   From record setting rookie season when the red headed one would bash 49 home runs to a pair of seasons in St. Louis when he would hit over 60 homes, the man could bash with the best of them.   A closer look at his career will reveal a player that worked very hard at his craft, and a rising batting average later in his career was the result.   He would hit over .300 once, and just missed that one time in St. Louis.  Injuries seemed to be a part of nearly every season for Big Mac, and towards the end of his playing days, it was almost painful to watch him take a swing.

Big Mac will never go down in history has being one of the best defensive men to play the position, but he was sure a lot of fun to watch.  Especially at a time when baseball needed a couple of heroes to erase the memories of a strike in 1994.

Tino Martinez (2002-2003) 3 WAR (2 offensive, 1 defensive)

After the retirement of Mark McGwire and with no legitimate first baseman prospect in the minor league system, Tino Martinez seemed to be the perfect choice to take over first base when the Cardinals signed him following the 2001 season.  After becoming a star in Seattle, Martinez had been a big name on one of the biggest stages for baseball, Yankee Stadium.   When the Yankees opted not to sign him, the Cardinals moved quickly to secure the slugger.

Disappointing doesn’t begin to describe the two long years he was in St. Louis.   It seemed like everything he tried to do made things worse.   He would only manage 69 and 75 RBIs and his batting average that once floated near .300 was heading towards .250 in a hurry.   After the 2003 season, the Cardinals traded him to Tampa for a player to be named later, and they really didn’t want the player.

Martinez was such a professional, those two years had to be at least as hard on him as they were to the Cardinals fans.

Albert Pujols (2004-2010) 60 WAR  (51 offensive, 9 defensive)

And that brings us to Albert Pujols.   Do I really need to say much about “El Hombre” ?   I didn’t think so.

The purpose of this article, as long as it has become, is to make exactly 2 points.

1. In the last 50 years, every Cardinals championship team has a common characteristic.   They all had an MVP caliber offensive producer playing first base.   In 1964 it was Bill White.   In 1967 and 1968, it was Orland Cepeda.  Keith Hernandez was the offensive force for Whitey Herzog’s only championship team in St. Louis in 1982.   Two trips to the World Series, coming just a few outs from winning it all in 1985 and 1987 had Jack “The Ripper” Clark tearing things up.   And 2004 and 2006 had Albert Pujols leading the offense.

But it’s even more than that, every time the Cardinals had an offensive leader at first base, they eventually made it to the World Series.

2. When you think of the great glove men that manned the right side of the infield, you think of Bill White and Keith Hernandez.   According to the dWAR statistic, which claims to measure such things, Albert Pujols is every bit as good as those two defensive specialists, and perhaps just a bit better.

A slightly subtle sub-theme started developing as I typed out each of these paragraphs.   A single season of Albert Pujols, both on the offensive and defensive side of the game, is more productive than many careers of players who played the position before him.

Without nullifying my cease-and-desist notice from a few days ago, I really do suggest that Bill DeWitt and the front office pay the man what he is worth.   There hasn’t been anything like him in St. Louis for a very long time, and we really don’t know if we’ll see another any time soon.

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As I was researching my latest article for I-70 Baseball (yes, I really do research when I write – lots of it), I found a most unexpected trend in the number of batters that were hit by a pitch.    In fact, it was the exact opposite of what I would have expected, so I had to dig in a little bit more and see if I could come up with an explanation.

Here is a chart showing the average number of NL batters hit by a pitch between 1960 and 2010.   For the two strike shortened seasons, 1981 and 1994, I extrapolated the numbers to a full 162 game schedule.   I did the same for 1960 and 1961 when the NL only played 154 games.

HBP data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

 

Let’s take a look at the assumptions that I had as I started this little project.

More players were hit in the 60s than now

Well, clearly from the data, that is not true.   There was a little bit of a blip in the early 60s that I will write off to the impact of expansion, but generally there is a downward trend in the data until the early 80s when the numbers started steadily rising.   I am not going to argue with the data, but there is no question that pitchers used to throw a lot more inside than they do now.   If you even looked like you were thinking about reaching towards the outside corner then guys like Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson would soon test your reflexes, and courage.   Surprisingly, for all of those pitches that were thrown inside, not many of them made contact with the batter.

Expansion means more AAA pitchers

I expected to see a much larger increase shortly after the league expanded in 1962, 1969 and again in 1993.  Each time the league added two teams, and that meant that about 25 pitchers would be throwing in the major leagues that wouldn’t have been the year before.  Maybe it is worth looking at strikeout rates and k/bb ratios to see more of an impact, but there is nothing in the data to suggest that expansion lead to more batters being hit, immediately or over the next few years.

Maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong direction.   Maybe these 25 AAA pitchers couldn’t hit a batter with any more regularity than they could the strike zone.   Nah – there may be something in expansion, but not the big trend shift that was expecting to see.

Umpires taking control

This is the one that gave me a huge chuckle because I generally dislike rule changes “to make the game better.”   The league started phasing in warnings when pitchers were throwing at batters in the early part of the 1980’s, reaching the mandatory state we have today in 1994.   It clearly has had the desired effect – ABSOLUTELY NOT!   I love it !!!!

The average number of batters being hit by a pitch had been steadily decreasing since a high of 40 in 1965 to a low of 21 in 1984.   After the rule changes, the numbers started going up year after year, with the rate significantly increasing after the mandatory warnings were instigated.

Equipment changes – the batting helmet

Improvements in protective equipment has led to a more ferocious game in hockey and football, so why not baseball ?   Well, mainly because there just isn’t that much protective equipment.   The league made batting helmets mandatory in 1971, but most players were either using them already or wore small protective inserts under their regular cap.   The rules changed again in 1983, requiring the use of batting helmets with ear flaps.

Perhaps if we stretch a bit, the ear flaps might have some impact (ok, that was a pun).   But we’re not buying this, are we ?   No, this is like the classic marketing data example of correlating diapers and beer, drawing the conclusion that babies drink beer.  No, ear flaps did not lead to an increase in HBP rates.   Maybe all of the arm, elbow, knee, shin and foot protection some of these modern day gladiators wear might make them less able to get out of the way of an inside pitch, but that is largely moot because the pitchers just don’t throw inside like they used to.

What is it, then ?

One possibility is that pitchers today just don’t have the control as those that played the game before them.   I’m willing to give this some merit.   I’ve seen Mitch Williams pitch, and while Al Hrabosky used a similar Tasmanian Devil windup, the results were remarkably different.  Hrabosky could paint the corner with just about every one of his pitches, and all you could say about Williams is that the ball was generally headed in the direction of home plate.

There’s another more plausible explanation.   What started appearing in baseball in the early 90s, got real popular after about 1998 and then fell off sharply after 2005 ?

I’ll give you a clue.   It’s an 8 letter word that rhymes with spairoids (if that were an actual word).

It might be just as simple as that.   It might be simple retaliation for batters hitting some moonshots that they weren’t capable of in prior seasons.   Maybe just a little bit of chemically induced rage might make a pitcher throw at a batter in anger when he wouldn’t have under different circumstances.

We will never know, but it is fun to try to speculate the cause behind the effect.

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Before you all give me a big “DUH”, let me explain.

Earlier today, Steve Lombardi posted an interesting piece of research over at baseball-reference.com.   Using ERA+, which takes into consideration runs scored in the home ballpark plus the ERA of the other pitchers in the league, Steve lists the top pitchers since 2005.  Note that a higher ERA+ number is better, unlike the real ERA.    The list is fascinating and it helps put a few pitcher’s careers in perspective.   As you glance down the list, a few names might surprise you (Roy Oswalt – wish the Cardinals had picked him up last season).   A few will certainly make you grrrrrr (Dan Haren – yeah, that Mark Mulder trade just keeps on giving).   And like him or not, Carlos Zambrano is among the top pitchers.

What you will not find are the names Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright.   The highest rated Cardinal pitchers were Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan.   Steve’s cutoff was 1,000 innings pitched and neither Carpenter nor Wainwright met that criteria.   Let’s do our own research and see how far they missed, and where they might have finished had they made it.

Pitcher W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO SV IP ERA+ WHIP
Chris Carpenter 69 28 .711 2.88 132 16 8 0 912 1/3 145 1.088
Adam Wainwright 66 35 .653 2.97 119 8 2 3 874 1/3 140 1.202

The 21 1/3 innings Carpenter could only manage in 2007 and 2008 combined kept him off the list.   Even missing most of 2 years, Carpenter almost logged enough innings to qualify.   If he did, his 145 ERA+ would have put him in 3rd place, just 1 behind Johan Santana at 146.

Adam Wainwright only got a tiny look in 2005 and spent his 2006 season in the bullpen.   Had he not missed 14 or more starts in 2008, he might have been able to accumulate enough innings to make the list.  If he had, his 140 ERA+ would put him right there behind Chris Carpenter and well ahead of the next pitcher on the list, CC Sabathia at 133.

I know that this falls into the category of “tell me something I don’t already know”, but now you have one more piece of data to support the claim that we in Cardinals Nation are fortunate because we get to enjoy watching two of the best pitchers in the game.

If you want to see the complete line on Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright to compare to the others on Steve’s list, click the links in the table.   That will take you right to the summary data.

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A couple of days ago, I posted an article where I tried to put the Lance Berkman signing in some sort of historical context.  In case you wanted to know who some of the players and events were in the Roger Maris scenario, here are the answers.   If you tried to play along at home, and I hope that you did, how did you do ?

(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.

Answer: 1965 and 1966.   Even though there were few changes from the team that challenged the Dodgers in 1963 and defeated the Phillies and Reds in 1964,  the 1965 Cardinals were a huge disappointment.  It was especially tough on lefties Ray Sadecki and Curt Simmons.  On the offensive side, only Curt Flood and Tim McCarver kept pace with their ’64 performance.  Dick Groat, Bill White and Ken Boyer had a particularly hard time and would soon be gone.  Julian Javier suffered a devastating injury, but we’ll talk about that in a future I-70 Baseball article.   The situation didn’t improve in 1966 and that lead to the mid-season deal that brought 1967 NL MVP Orlando Cepeda to the Cardinals.

(2) Their manager was a fan favorite, a former infielder and would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame

Answer: Red Schoendienst.  A Cardinal for most of his 19 seasons, Red would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.   He would also manage the Cardinals for 14 seasons, including some interim assignments.   He would win 2 National League Pennants (1967, 1968) and one World Series title (1967).  Red represents what it means to play like a Cardinal.

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

Answer: Bob Howsam.   He took over for Bing Devine in August 1964, just before the Cardinals got hot and overtook the Phillies for the National League Pennant.  While Devine’s firing was done in haste, Howsam proved to be a more than adequate replacement, and successfully retooled the Cardinals and put them back into post-season.   He also did the same for the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s, using many players he drafted while in St. Louis.

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

Answer: Bing Devine.   He would soon take over the New York Mets, first as General Manager and then as President,  and transform them into a championship, much like he did with the Cardinals.   He would soon return to the Cardinals.  He would change sports and then serve as General Manager to the St. Louis Football Cardinals (the Big Red).   His second tour with St. Louis wasn’t as successful, even though he continued to bring talent into the organization.

(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.

Answer: Ken Boyer.  Applying Branch Rickey’s rule,  “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late,” Bob Howsam traded Ken Boyer to the New York Mets at the end of the 1965 season.   In return the Cardinals received left handed pitcher Al Jackson and third baseman Charlie Smith.  Smith would play third base in 1966, but not any better than Boyer had the previous year.   Smith would soon be sent to New York for Roger Maris, the final piece to the 1967 and 1968 championship team.

(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.

Answer: Tim McCarver.  McCarver was one of the better signal callers in the game and managed the Cardinals pitching staff brilliantly.   He was also a dependable bat in the lineup, bringing up the rear of the power part of the order.   McCarver’s performance in the 1964 World Series could easily have earned him the MVP award, if not for some heroics by his battery mate, Bob Gibson.   He would go 11-23 in the series with a double, triple and home run for a .478 batting average.   Add 5 walks and his OBP would scream at .552.   He would be held in check by the Red Sox in 1967, but had a very good series in 1968, nearly rivaling ’64.

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.

Answer: Ted Simmons.   Simmons was drafted in 1967 and would get his first taste of the major leagues as a September call-up in 1968.   Joe Torre would take over at first base in 1969 and then move behind the plate for a short time in 1970.   By June of that year, Simmon took over and Torre moved to 3rd base.   Simmons would own the backstop position for the Cardinals until Whitey Herzog retooled the team in 1981.  Simmons was one of the most dependable catchers and was a prolific hitter.   He played in the shadow of Johnny Bench, who was a much better defensive catcher and hit with more power, but Simmons was the far better hitter.  Simba should be in the Hall of Fame.

The (8) veteran had already won 20 games and was considered one of the most competitive pitchers of his day.

Answer:  Bob Gibson.   Nobody was more competitive.  Some could match him, Don Drysdale and Ferguson Jenkins to name a couple, but nobody had more fire.   Joaquin Andujar and Chris Carpenter are the only other Cardinals that had that same intensity, but neither could sustain it over a decade and a half like Gibson did.   Gibson came close to winning 20 games in the Johnny Keane era (1963 and 1964).   He would win 20 in 1965 and 1966.  Only an injury prevented him from repeating in 1967.   Gibson would follow that up with the single greatest year for a pitcher in the last 50 years, if not in the history of the game.   He would also win 20 or more in 1969 and 1970 as well as coming close in 1972.   He would win 2 World Series MVP awards (1964, 1967), 2 Cy Young awards (1968, 1970) and the National League MVP in 1968.   Yeah, Gibby was kinda good.

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.

Answer: Nelson Briles.  Briles broke in with the Cardinals as a reliever in 1965.  He would be in and out of the rotation as he struggled through the 1966 campaign.  The Cardinals tried to trade him at the start of the 1967 season, and fortunately failed to find a suitor.  When Gibson went down with a broken leg midway through the 1967 season, Briles stepped up and became a second ace on the staff.   He would win 9 in a row to end the regular season, win his only decision in the World Series and start off the 1968 season on fire.  He would flirt with 20 wins in 1968, falling one win short.

(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.

Answer: Ray Washburn.  Washburn entered the National League like a bull in a china cabinet.  He threw hard and took no prisoners.  Arm troubles developed while flirting with a perfect game (April 27, 1963) shut him down for a couple of years, and another freak injury would sideline him for some time in 1967.   He would finally put it together in 1968 and fulfill his promise when he threw a no-hitter in San Francisco.

For the trivia buffs, on May 12, 1966, Washburn threw the first pitch at the new Busch Stadium.   He also appeared in relief at the opener of Riverfront Stadium on June 30, 1970 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.  Ironically, both games were against the Braves.

(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.

Answer: Steve Carlton (although if you said Larry Jaster for the Jaime Garcia parallel, you would not be wrong).  Yeah, Lefty was going to be very good, like Hall of Fame good.  Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, a contract dispute similar to that of Curt Flood would get Carlton sent to the Phillies where he would dominate the National League.

(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.

Answer: Joe Hoerner.   Hoerner had been a starter in the Houston organization and failed to develop.  The Cardinals would take a chance on him and put him in the bullpen with Hal Woodeshick, another Houston cast-off.  When Woodeshick started slipping, Hoerner took over and proved to be one of the better closers in the league.  He also had the UGLIEST pitching motion I’d ever seen.   U-G-L-Y.   He would stand up straight in his delivery and sling the ball side-arm to the plate.  His follow-through looked like a duck waddling toward the third base line.   All that was missing was a giant “quack”.   But Hoerner was amazingly effective.   He would through inside to both righties and lefties and nobody could intimidate him.

(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.

Answer: Dal Maxvill.   Maxvill took over for an injured Julian Javier in the 1964 World Series and flashed his glove in front of a national TV audience.   After a disappointing 1965 season by Dick Grote, Maxvill took over at short.   He was not a high average hitter, but really wasn’t that bad in the clutch.   It always seemed like a Maxvill hit was in the middle of some late inning rally.

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

Answer: Mike Shannon.   Shannon took over in right field midway through the 1964 season.   He struggled in 1965 but rebounded in 1966.   When Roger Maris came to the Cardinals prior to the 1967 season, Shannon made the move to third base so that his right handed bat could stay in the lineup.   He worked with Red Schoendienst relentlessly to learn the position, and it was a struggle in the beginning.  By the end of 1967, Shannon was turning pretty 5-4-3 double plays.

(15) The player coming to the Cardinals in the trade had bad legs and couldn’t run terribly well.

Answer: Roger Maris.  Maris is the hero of our little story and he captured the imagination of this little 7 year old.   I’ve tried to give some indication of what Maris meant to the Cardinals, and you can read that here.  A better place would be in the excellent biography, Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero.  This is one of those books that every baseball fan should read.  Several times.

(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.

Answer: Orlando Cepeda.  He would wear flamboyant clothing and was known to play lots of different music in the clubhouse.  He also hustled and put up the offensive numbers so that you had to take him seriously as a teammate.   He was no clown, but wanted the players around him to play with some gusto.   And they did.  Viva el Birdos, Cha Cha Cha.

(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.

Answer: Bob Gibson.  Drawing this parallel to Albert Pujols may not be entirely fair, but on-the-field body language suggests that Brendan Ryan may not be Albert’s favorite teammate.

(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.

Answer: Bobby Tolan, Alex Johnson, Ed Speizio (although an infielder), Ted Savage, Ron Davis, Dick Simpson and Joe Hague.  Bobby Tolan and Alex Johnson would be the most popular choice here, but extra credit will be given for any of the other players.  A special prize for Phil Gagliano, especially if you spelled his name correctly which might be difficult if you listened to Harry Caray back then.

I hope you enjoyed the original article and tried to fill in a few of the names for yourself.   If you did, how did you do ?

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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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If you know me, or have read any part of this blog, you know where I’m going to stand on these controversial changes to the game.  I don’t like any rule changes to baseball for the purpose of bringing more entertainment value, or the real motivation, increasing revenues to the teams and players.  But, and this is a big BUT, my opinions don’t really matter and it has taken a long time to come to that understanding.  Please allow me to explain.

When I talk to younger fans, either through social media technologies like Twitter or face to face with the children of my peers, there is an unmistakable desire to improve the game by using instant replay.  Not quite as overwhelming, but I get the feeling that nearly as many favor an extended playoff system thus providing more opportunity for their favorite team to win a championship.  At least there is some ambivalence towards the designated hitter in the National League which means that should the league choose to implement it, the youngsters would be OK with that.

All of this is perfectly OK because the game is now more theirs than it is mine.   The game has given me over 4 decades of great memories, and at the risk of sounding morose, it doesn’t have that many more to give me and those of my generation.   What the game must do is continue to capture the interest of the younger fans so that it lives on.   If it takes instant replay and a longer playoff system to do that, so be it.    It will be much easier for me to adapt than to continue to bang the “how the game was once played” drum.  It might even make that drum more appreciated since it will be played in the background rather than continually in the listeners face – which is as it should be.

Some other things to consider.

  • In 1969, Major League Baseball added four teams (Kansas City, Seattle, San Diego and Montreal) and to accommodate them, created two divisions in each league with a round of playoffs to determine who would play in the World Series.   It took the league 16 years to get it right, eventually switching to a best-of-seven format over the original best-of-five.
  • In 1973, the American League adopted the Designated Hitter.
  • In 1975, Andy Messersmith (and Dave McNally) became the first Free Agents.
  • In the 1980’s, controlled substance abuse (cocaine in particular) became an epidemic.
  • In the late 1990’s and early part of the 2000’s, steroids and human growth hormones (HGH) changed the way the game was played.
  • Due to recent expansion, and planning for future teams, both leagues adopted a 3 division alignment and added a best-of-five game divisional playoff system in 1995.

Throughout all of this, new stadiums were built with shorter fences, bizarre outfield walls arrangements and that silly silly ant mound in Houston.  Every single one of these has changed the game I grew up with and not a single one of them has made baseball any better, in my opinion.  None of that matters because I am as much a fan of baseball now as I have ever been, perhaps even more so thanks to on-line social media and streaming video broadcasting over the Internet.

Instant Replay

This seems to be the most popular choice among the younger fans that I talk to.  For every story I  can share about a team working an umpire (like Greg Maddux always getting the corners, and whoever is pitching to Pujols never getting the corners) there is an equally compelling one that tells a different story (Armando Galarraga’s non-perfect game in 2010, Don Denkinger in Game Six of the 1985 World Series).  Rather than continuing to “agree to disagree”, I’ll come over to the instant replay side, but with a cautionary request – make it fast and make it simple.

College Football almost gets instant replay right.  The decision whether to not to review a play is made by an official that is not on the field.   If he (or she) thinks a particular call should have another look,  they signal the referee on the field that play should be suspended.   That official reviews the available video and issues a ruling: overturn, confirm or unable to determine so the call on the field stands.   Most of these are done rather quickly, with the only delays being when the replay official has to determine where to place the ball and how much time should be put back  on the clock.  None of these problems apply to baseball, so it seems reasonable to assume that this can be done without a terrible interruption to the pace of the game.  What MLB can’t do is put this decision in the hands of the two managers who will, as they often do in the NFL, turn it into yet another way to disrupt the flow of the game.

Concerns about instant replay adding to the length of an already long game can easily be resolved by a following a couple of rules that are already on the books, but never enforced: call the high strike and don’t let batters step out of the batter’s box without permission (and a reasonable excuse as to why they are doing so).   Give me back the high strike and keep the batter in the box and I can enthusiastically sign on to instant replay.

Extended Playoffs

In many respects, this genie is already out of the bottle.  The one thing that separated baseball from the other sports was that the grind of a horrifically long season would ultimately determine the best team in each league, and they would face each other in the championship series – which is yet another war of attrition fought over as many as seven games.   That has not been the case since 1969 and even less so since 1995.  We’ve all pretty much come to terms with it, and if we were being totally honest, we actually like the arrangement since it means a chance to see our favorite team playing more meaningful games late in the season.

In order to sign up to this, I’ll need a few more concessions than with Instant Reply.

(1) Avoid a short series.   Baseball is a game of attrition and the playoffs should test both team’s rosters just as much as the regular season.  Make every round a best of seven series so that the starting rotations get stretched out and the two bullpens become tested.   Don’t let a couple of hot pitchers and a short series knock a team out of the playoffs like the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks did to the Cardinals.

(2) Keep every team playing.  A first round pass for the top divisional winners, as is done in the NFL, would be unthinkable for baseball.  How often have we seen a team struggle after sweeping a playoff series and then suffering through a long wait until the next round can start ?  Look to the NHL for an example of how this is done correctly.   Let the team with the best record play the one with the worst, second play next to worst and so on.  And this leads to the next important consideration…..

(3) Don’t do anything to punish the wild-card teams in the play-off system.  Again, the NHL gets this right as they play a best-of-seven series and expect the higher ranked teams to defeat those below them with nothing more than a single home game advantage to the team with the better record.   I also like the NHL format of 2 home games, 2 away games and then alternating home and away for the final three, but this also leads to a longer series due to all of the travel, so I’ll concede to the traditional MLB format of  2-3-2.   If the length of the extended playoffs is an issue, eliminate the travel days and only use them between series.   This can shorten the playoffs by as many as three days per round, again mimicking the grind of the regular season.

(4) Start new playoff record keeping.  Nothing enrages a dinosaur like me faster than calling someone like Cliff Lee the winningest pitcher in post-season history (that was illustrative, not factual).  We have no idea how many home runs Mickey Mantle would have hit if they had divisional and league playoffs in the 50’s and 60’s.  Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford might have 30 or more wins in post-season instead of the mind-boggling totals from their era.  You might need to put your calculators into scientific mode to record Sandy Koufax’s strikeout totals.  This is surely a problem in the regular season as well (Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds), but for those players I mentioned, the seasons when they didn’t win their respective pennant, they were certainly the second best team in their league (more so for the Dodgers and Cardinals than the Yankees).

An extended playoff system will change the game again, but more of an evolutionary one than revolutionary.  We already have a wild-card, so why not a couple more ?   No, I wouldn’t do it, but then again, I’d go back to the two divisional alignment and let the chips fall where they do, but I’m not going to argue against this change if doing so would lesson the ability for all of the generations to share their love of the game.

Designated Hitter

This one might be tough, but I would like to see something done to bring the two leagues closer together, or at least playing by the same set of rules.  I’d also like to see inter-league play abolished, but free agency has largely destroyed the mystique of a championship series played between two combatants who never face each other in the regular season – but that’s a topic for another day.

If we can all agree that something must be done then we must be realistic in our expectation of the American League abandoning the DH.  It is just not going to happen.  Period.

So …… that puts the ball in the court of the National League, for yet another non-baseball related metaphor.   The National League will eventually adopt the DH, just as the NFL has adopted “in the grasp of the defender, throwing away the ball when outside of the tackles and pass interference only on catchable balls.”   The failure in Major League Baseball is less about the merits of the DH but that each league is allowed to play the game under a different set of rules, and that has to come to an end.  Differences in how they play the game (NL being a fastball first and the AL being curveball first) is acceptable, but the rules that govern the game must be uniform.  If that requires me to come off my “purity of the game” stance, then that’s what it will take and I can live with that.  I would be vastly disappointed, but I’m not going to turn my back on the game nor am I going to give anybody who is in favor of the DH a hard time for their opinion.

Looking Ahead

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few years.  Things will be different, certainly with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement just around the corner, but other structural  changes are going to happen.     Ultimately it will fall upon us fans to embrace these changes enthusiastically so that we can continue the conversations rather than driving a “the way baseball used to to be played” wedge between the generations.

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