First We Win The World Series And Now This

I keep wanting to write an analysis piece regarding the World Series (particularly while it’s still fresh in my mind) that will touch on how this may have been the first set of games that I can remember in which Tony actually managed in a way that suited my style: more in the moment and less from the stat sheet, and how Albert’s lack of production at the plate proved both that he is an incredible baseball player (not just an incredible talent) and that Prince Albert does not the Cardinals make. But I just haven’t had the right amount of time or brain power to get it done. It is, however, lurking in the shadows somewhere and may appear in the next few weeks. (Most likely when my picks and pans are no longer relevant.)

Of course, I blame (as usual) this untimely delay on work. However, all is not lost. The Super Top Secret project I’m currently working on (read: I signed a vast and encompassing confidentiality clause) has provided me with the opportunity to meet a few former MLB stars. So, I won’t be able to disclose anything about what we’re filming but I can tell you this: Though I’ve spent the past few days with Jose Canseco, the highlight for me came today when Vince Coleman made an appearance on the set. What a special day, indeed.

And, I am happy to report, that I do believe I did us Cardinals fans proud.

Upon his arrival I was the first to greet him and I took a moment to express my adoration. After all the welcomes and niceties, I said (and this is darn near a direct quote), "Vince, I have to take a second to tell you something. I know you played for other teams and you may have even liked them better, but I’m a Cardinal fan. I love the St. Louis Cardinals. And in my book, once a Cardinal, always a Cardinal. So, having you here is a real highlight for me. I am so glad you’re here."

To which, Vince put his arm around me and said, "The Cardinals were always my favorite. I bleed Cardinal red."

We went on to talk about the midwest and baseball. And all was gravy.

Later in the day I went to see Vince in his room and found that some of the Producers were also paying him a visit. When he saw me walk in the door he hollered something to the effect of (and I’m sort of filling in the gaps, here): Get over here and prove to these guys that they’re idiots. Being that these "idiots" were the producers of the show I’m working on and that they could fire me at their whimsy, I, naturally, obliged Vince and joined him at their table.

After asking the other men to pipe down, he asked me: Who is the only player to steal 50 consecutive bases? And I replied, "Other than you?"

That got a rousing response and he looked to the suits and quipped, "You don’t know, but she knows." (Personally, I was worried that suddenly I was going to become that prize daughter of some proud parent who insists on quizzing her on the States and Capitols while at the Thanksgiving dinner table to prove to the rest of the family that his child is smarter than the rest of the cousins. But, of course, feeling up to the challenge, I was willing to play along.)

Loving that I had gotten the first answer right, Vince threw another trivia question at me: He asked, "What is ‘The Call’?" I asked back, "Are you talking about the Cardinals?" He said he was. So I said, "You mean the missed call in the ’85 World Series." He rocked back in his chair laughing and whooping it up at the Producers’ expense.

Trying to defend their ignorance, one of the Producers cut through Vince’s laughter saying that these were all obscure facts. Then, thinking that he could prove his point by presenting me with what he viewed as the most ridiculous Vince Coleman trivia question of them all, he tried to stump me with: The Tarp Incident, in a tone and diction that was sopping with insolence and came complete with finger quotes and bulging eyes. To which I looked directly at Vince and said with a smirk (in a, ‘You and I can be amused that they don’t know this’ kind of way): "When you got rolled up in it?"

With a smile that had his face beaming, he pointed at me. Then he pointed at them with a knowing nod. And then he grabbed my arm and said, "Let’s leave these fools."

And so we did.

P.S. I got to shag for Jose while he took batting practice. Astutely, I positioned myself in the left field stands. Most of the balls I threw back into the mix. But I did keep a couple for myself– which he most graciously signed– and one feather from a bird that he hit in the rafters.

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Soaking It All In

So I’ve spent the weekend soaking up the warm rays of victory and basking in the glow of a Cardinal-Red happy ending. It’s been fun receiving notes and phone calls full of good tidings and congratulations.

Friday night after the game, our local television station did a live broadcast from a bar in Manhattan Beach. They somehow found a threesome of fellas who were the only Cardinals faithful in a house that seemed packed full of Tigers fans. They interviewed one of them who proclaimed that he had waited 23 years for this World Series Championship and that that Friday night was the happiest night of his life.

One of my many well-wishing friends called shortly thereafter and reiterated the same sentiment. He even went so far as to claim phantom pangs of worry before having to remind himself that we had actually won. He said he wasn’t sure he’d be able to believe it until the next morning when the newspapers came out.

But about three or four celebratory phone calls down the line, I realized that something was wrong. Well, something was wrong with me, at least. I was loving the excitement and jubilation from everyone else, but I just wasn’t feeling it– not truly reveling in it– myself. I knew I was supposed to be jumping up and down and hugging my neighbors and shooting bottle rockets into the air… But my cup just wasn’t overflowing in that way.

I had to check myself.  But the answer was obvious and came to me without much coaxing or soul searching. I wasn’t feeling ambivilence or reluctant glee. And I certainly wasn’t dealing with a case of disappointment or shame. As opposed to my exuberant friends, I was sitting fat and happy in my living room oozing with well-satiated satisfaction and pride.

This World Championship is what was supposed to happen. Winning the World Series is what we, as Cardinals, are supposed to do– every year. In my mind, being a Cardinal means you’re a champion at the core. It’s in our blood to fight harder when the chips are down. The struggles and the injuries are only supposed to make us stronger come crunch time. And that’s what happened. It was a storybook ending for the St. Louis Cardinals that truly ended "… happily ever after." Having all our boys piled on top of each other in the middle of a baseball field is how the end of every Cardinals season is supposed to look. I just wanted to lean back in my La-Z-Boy (if I’d’ve had one), rub my bloated gut (I’m working on it) and watch the fruits of our labors erupt on the screen.

It’s those frustrating, ill-begotten years that actually set my blood on fire and get me all awash with emotion. Those years in which we defy ourselves and fall flat in the face of adversity make me want to slit my wrists. Those games in which we defeat ourselves send me into fits of anger and torment. Those self-satisfied seasons that we expect more from our opponents and less from our teammates make me want to throw my TV out the window. It’s those years that send me into winter depressed and sullen. It’s those seasons that find me crying helpless tears. It’s at the end of another fruitless World Series that my heart sinks into the deep cavernous pit of my stomach making me want to sleep for a thousand years as opposed to, say, look at anyone.

The cap to the 2006 season was everything I’ve thought each of our previous season-enders should have been. I go into each season earnestly believing that we can, and should, go all the way. (Is that a Yankee thing to do?) For me, there is just something about being a Cardinal that dictates you’ve got "class" and "winner" hard-wired into your system. There is nothing to do during the regular season than to make way for the post-season.

So for a moment there, I felt ashamed for not acting like I thought this day would never come. For not treating our victory as a minor miracle. But only for a moment.

And then I relaxed. I absorbed all that I was witnessing on the TV screen. It was fun to watch our boys having their moments in the sun: So Taguchi tossing batting gloves into the stands, Scott Rolen running in open-mouthed joy for Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa hugging his wife. And then I did the same. In my own way. Meaning, I wallowed in the knowledge that for the first time in quite a while, we had finished our season as Cardinals. We had done what we were meant to do and somehow I felt as though I had helped in that effort.

I let the warm strains of Cardinal pride and exhaustion pour over me and have never felt so right with the world.

Going Thru The Big D (and I don’t mean Dallas)

Just a few notes before I sign off for what could be the remainder of the World Series.

I dont’ care what’s been said about Detroit’s bullpen, they are the key to our success. Once we infiltrate those Tiger relievers it’s going to be all over for the Motor City Felines. We scored four runs in Game 1 off of their highly touted relief corps and Game 2 almost saw us make the biggest comeback of World Series history against their closer. Getting to their bullpen is going to be key for us.

Despite the loss, tonight was a good game. We hit the ball hard and all over the field. It’s just that sometimes they fall in and sometimes they fall on a fielder. Well, suffice it to say that if our offense had been target practicing, we’d be ranked sharp-shooters for all the fielders we hit.

I hope, for our own sake, that Juan Encarnacion gets to watch a few games as opposed to play in them. He’ll enjoy the games a lot more and fewer flyballs will rattle around in the void he creates out in right field. Plus, he’s been hitting like a junior high kid: wailing at the ball, pulling his head, whipping his body around with the errant speed of his bat because he has no foundation underneath him… Whatever, just give someone else a chance to do better.

Leave Kenny Rogers alone about the "foreign substance" on his pitching hand. He was dominant for the next seven innings without it. For all I know, maybe he should have kept it on. That way, maybe our hits, in turn, would have had some crazy movement on them as they took to the field and we’d have gotten a few more guys on base.

Tonight our defense carried us. Man, our boys dug in and battled. That goes for Jeff Weaver, too. That bases loaded, no outs prize fight was just awesome. The key there was that strike out for out number one. That meant everything and Jeff went out and got it. His efforts have been A-One and he’s really made us proud. We turned a couple of much-needed double plays out there, too, to help support Weaver in his battle to keep us afloat. That diving stop by Eckstein and subsequent throw to first was terrific. We bounced back well and kept our heads in the game when things weren’t going our way. All-in-all, I go away from Game 2, sorry about the loss, but satisfied with our level of play. I feel good about the road we’re on.

Carpenter at home, Supe in Game 4… who doesn’t like the sound of that? (Besides the Tigers, of course.)

We can do this. So let’s get it done. Go Cardinals!

Stacking The Cards

By now you’ve probably heard about my "Bag O’ Wins" theory regarding the success of a team in any given season. I invented it in 2004 after our remarkable collapse to the Red Sox. So, this year, using that theory as my foundation, I was not surprised after our regular season struggles that we had made it to the post-season and have thrived ever since. (In case you aren’t familiar with my "Bag O’ Wins" Theory, I’ll post it– in it’s original form– after this entry for your baseball karma enjoyment.)

And now we’re back in World Series play, and basing their views on our regular season performance, everyone (including John Kruk who is usually a faithful friend of the feather!) can’t help but feel that all the cards are stacked against us. And, seeing what they’re seeing, I can’t really say I blame them.

After all, the Tigers’ pitching staff is all but lethal. They have five solid and consistent starters ranging from rookie phenoms to hardened veterans. Some would say that’s the perfect mix of fire and steel. Then, of course, there’s their lights out bullpen that consistently drills opponents into submission. (As opposed to, say, ours that, instead, has a few holes drilled in it.) Now, there was a time when our lineup was quite potent. But then, that was before Edmonds came down with a harry case of Post-Concussion Syndrome and turf toe; David Eckstein suffered a concussion of his own, along with a strained oblique and a sprained left shoulder; Albert Pujols became hampered by continued pain from heel spurs and a strained hammy; and Scott Rolen still hasn’t made peace with his surgically repaired left shoulder. And those are only the injuries that have plagued them coming into the post-season! Detroit’s closer is a beast. Um, we don’t really have one. Nor do we have a left fielder, for that matter. Jim Leyland spent his formative years (as a former professional player) under the tutelage of current Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. He watched him, studied him and learned from him. If there was one person out there who knew the workings of TLR’s baseball mind better than Tony himself, it might be Jim.

All that combined with season records, league difficulty and myriad other little aspects that in the end make a difference, it’s not so hard to understand why folks want to side with the Tigers. And with all signs pointing to Detroit, that’s why the Cardinals are going to pull this thing off… or at least give the Tigers a real run for their money. A real champion doesn’t win when he’s supposed to, but when it’s least expected of him.

Welcome to St. Louis baseball. Go Cards.

Bag O’ Wins Theory

This email was sent Wednesday, October 27, 2004 at 11:36pm.

Sure is a sad and pathetic way to end a season

But the getting there was a terrific ride. And I was thinking about our long and amazing tour of Major League baseball and road upon which we traveled, that led us to be one of the last two teams standing and  I had to wonder:

Karmically speaking, I wonder if each team is only allotted so many wins per season? Just follow me on this… Is it possible that the baseball gods— knowing far better and far more than mortal scouts and critics— look down from the great Field of Dreams and assess each team and its potential and then determine the highest possible number of wins each could muster in a single season, should all things go right and the stars align perfectly, so on and so forth?

Maybe at the onset of each season, the hitting gods and the pitching gods, the first base gods and the trainer gods, along with the third base gods and the fitness gods, get together, measure and weigh each player’s potential and worth, each man’s character and stamina and determine the pinnacle number of wins a team can possibly achieve if each player, manager and coach should perform up to his ability throughout a season. A number that is achievable yet aspiring, possible but not necessarily probable, unlikely but still vaguely realistic. It’s most likely, of course, that no team will ever reach that penultimate number because it is virtually impossible, or at least highly unlikely, that EVERY player, coach and manager will be able to uphold that highest standard the full duration of a 162 game season.

Anyway, after this magical number is set and the wheel of fortune is dialed in, the baseball gods set before each team its bag of allotted victories— much like a bag of practice balls— from which they may pull out wins as the season progresses. So, without really knowing it, each team sets out upon each new season striving to empty out that bag, to achieve that mythical number of possible wins and make the most of its assets. But, keep in mind, to go beyond what the baseball gods have allotted your team— to over-achieve your team’s potential, one might say— is impossible, because once you’ve reached the

bottom of your victory barrel, there are no more wins to be had. However, to actually win all the victories ordained from above is to achieve your team’s ultimate potential and, therefore, is an infinitely small possibility, for reasons stated earlier.

This system is a prime measuring stick, though. Think about it. Theoretically, at the end of each season, a team need only look into its heavenly satchel to see how well it lived up to its ultimate potential. One may look into the bag come October and see 40 victories still lying in wait, telling you that your team wasted its talent and potential. You would know you’ve got a solid team but changes in practice, attitude or philosophy may need to be made. On the flip side, it would also be possible to go through a miserable losing season only to find a handful of victories still left in the bag.  This would tell you that your team did all it could, but its best wasn’t good enough to compete with the other teams. Meaning, a reorganization of the team might be in order. And, likewise, to achieve your team’s ultimate number of victories does not necessarily ensure a World Championship victory, either. You see, here enlies what some might call: the rub. Or rather, it might present an as yet unforeseen, or at least undetected, angle/facet to the play of the game. It seems this system also brings to the game, the strategy of winning.

Remember what I quoted from ‘The Fast and The Furious’: “Whether it’s by an inch or by a mile. Winning’s winning.” Well, maybe what the baseball gods are telling us is: Why go a mile when an inch will do? Really, it’s nothing we haven’t heard a hundred times throughout our lives. “Don’t spend your money all in one place.” “Waste not, want not.” “Save some for a rainy day.” “If you eat it all now, you won’t have any for later.”

Because what if, and I mean just What If, going into this World Series the Cardinals had maxxed out their wins? Not that the baseball gods had made a mistake in determining our maximum number of possible wins, but that we had squandered the wins we needed to win (or at least compete in) the World Series during the regular season. Think about it. We blew away the Central Division by 13 games. What if we had captured the title by only eight games? Would we have won the division any less? No. But maybe we would have had

five more wins in our victory bag… five more wins to put up against the Red Sox.

Of course, this is all just rhetoric, but here’s an interesting note to my theory: I read that only once in baseball history has the winningest team in the major leagues also won the World Series. Maybe that’s because those other winningest teams, like this year’s Cardinals, used up all their allotted wins to earn that title and didn’t leave enough in the stash to also capture the Championship title. It’s something to think about and consider for next year…

Well, folks, I think this is it. You have a winter’s reprieve to recover from my rants, raves, thoughts, ideas, suggestions, accusations, spoutings, questions, judgments, critiques, jokes, quotes, misleading and often incorrect statistics, lamentations, ramblings, joys, sorrows, boasts, remarks, quibbles, gushings, evaluations, assessments, mistakes, opinions, analogies, predictions, complaints, biases, hypocrisies, fervor, verve, updates, recants, brain-farts, mutterings, musings, encouragements, salutations, views, etc., etc.

I guess it can be said that the Cardinals have died and along with them, so has another year of baseball. But never fear, as do the seasons renew themselves, so will this great sport of ours. Come next March, as nature brings the birth of a new living cycle, baseball will be born again in the greatest rite of passage: Spring Training.

Already I can’t wait. See you then.

The Birth Of A Superstition

Several readers have brought it to my attention that I’ve been a bit lax on my postings lately. Well, I assure you there’s a very good reason for it: It’s been better luck for the Cardinals when I stay off the web-waves.

It all started back at the end of the regular season when we were taking it to the wire to determine whether or not we’d continue our trek into the post-season. We were just one game away from a Division Series berth and it would only take a Cardinal victory or an Astro loss to seal the deal. That Saturday we had beaten the Brewers and had the Braves beaten the Astros it would have been, "Post-Season Here We Come!" But, the ‘Stros won, thus keeping their dreams alive and us dangling on a string.

That night I had an inspired idea for a blog. I was going to play on that famous quote by Pedro Cerrano in ‘Major League’ in which he admonishes Jobu for not rewarding his subservient efforts with the ability to hit a curve ball. You remember it: Pedro’s at the plate late in the biggest game of the season and he had just swung mightily and missed yet another bender. He then turned from the batter’s box, bat in hand and stalked toward the on-deck circle out of everyone else’s earshot and says (after a few words in his own defense): "So I say, ‘F*ck you, Jobu. I do it myself." At which point he digs back in at the plate and proceeds to hit a monster homerun ala The Natural.

Well, that’s how I felt about the position we were in going into that fateful Sunday game at the end of our regular season. I was tired of begging the Braves to be our saviors and for wishing ill-will against Houston. I just thought, enough’s enough. Let’s go out there and get it done ourselves. You know, be the masters of our destiny.

Despite all my attempts to get to the computer and get the words down, I just never got the piece written. I had tried on Saturday night and even Sunday morning before the game, but I never quite made it (though the first few paragraphs remain archived in my drafts).

Then came that final game. And, though I was riding high on my notion of "If you want it done right, do it yourself," the Cardinals floundered. Luckily, at about that same time, the Astros were also floundering and they ended up losing to the Braves thus sneaking our Beloved Birds into the post-season via the servant’s entrance out back.

However, the seed had been planted. My boastful musings that nearly made their public appearance as an entry on this site were surely the jinx that kept us from winning the right to play in October forthright. And suddenly I was thankful that I had never actually posted the piece. I mean, as it was, the Cards lost but, then, so did Houston. Imagine what might have happened had the piece been published! I can only suspect that, just to serve me right, the Astros would have won that game and then… Oh, I don’t want to even think about it. It makes me sick to my stomach to even surmise at how close I was to ruining everything for everyone. In fact, let’s get off the subject.

Anyway, a precident had been born. I needed to not write until there was a clean slate. Unfortunately, those opportunities have been few and far between, but the system seems to be working.

I’ll probably drop a few notes regarding the World Series up to this point now that we are into an off day and everything is free and clear. However, I’ll probably go back under the radar after that. After all, who am I to mess with the system?

NLDYes!

All week long I had a system going that seemed to be working like a charm. But today I blew it. So I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to take this opportunity to pipe in before setting things straight tomorrow.

In Game One it only took an inning and a half before it became clear we were going to rope Peavy all over the field. We had fouled so many off and gotten a piece of so many pitches that I knew the second time through the line up we’d really knock him around. And we did.

In Game Two it was all about pitching and defense. Weaver was at his best and we let nothing get by us in the field. It was like watching a well-oiled machine do its magic.

Today’s game was like watching dubbed-over foreign film. Everything was disjointed and about two-degrees off kilter, not to mention what seemed about two hours too long. Supe had an off day. Poor Dunc never recovered from his first-inning gaffe and so he continued to be plagued throughout the game. Pujols looked terrible at the plate. Rolen couldn’t be more uncomfortable with a bat in his hands if it were made of molten lead.

So now that we’ve gotten that out of our system, let’s rev up the engines and burn rubber tomorrow. Carp’s on the mound so if that doesn’t give us a whale of a chance to pull this thing off, I don’t know what will. We’re at home and there’s no place like home to clinch a Division Series. Our bats have had their day of rest and so they should be raring to go. Let’s take this post-season to the next level. Mr. Carpenter, you may lead the way.

But, before I go, I’d like to send out a special thanks to Ronnie Belliard who, in my opinion, should be awarded our defensive MVP of our NLDS thus far. He has saved us four or five runs at least with his stellar play out there at second. He’s got amazing range, a strong and accurate arm, and a terrific sense of play-making. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Ronnie Belliard hass been our most important acquisition this season. Ronnie, we owe our post-season success to you.

I’d also like to send a special shout out to all those guys who have managed to get on base in front of Albert. THEY are the ones who change the complexion of the game and get things moving in our direction. Keep up the good work, fellas!

Now let’s go get ’em! Go Cardinals!