Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cardinals Win!

Last night the St. Louis Cardinals became the 2011 World Series Champions. At the start of September, they were 10 1/2 games out and just about everyone had written them off by that point. I was at what turned out to be pivotal game for the Cards on September 9, 2011. It was the start of a three game match-up with the Braves. The Braves had a very comfortable lead against the Cards for the NL Wild Card spot. However, the Braves ended up losing that game 4-3 in the bottom of the 10th. That was the game that things went downhill for the Braves and uphill for the Cards. Over the next 7 weeks, the Cardinals went on to have one of the biggest comebacks and turnarounds in baseball history.

Even if you're not a Cardinals fan, you have to admit that this World Series was a great series. There was some bad baseball, but there was also a lot of great baseball. Games 3 (all of those runs) and 6 (extra innings and there were two times the Cardinals were one strike away from loosing) were particularly memorable.

In post-season, all the talk is going to be about Pujols. He's a great player and if he sticks in St. Louis, he'll have a career even after he retires. They'll put him in the office, maybe even hire him as manager if he wants. He'll get a statue in front of Busch Stadium and will probably be even more adored in St. Louis than Stan Musial. His agent want a 10-year $300 million contract. Had the Cardinals not be idiots and signed Matt Holliday for such an extensive and expensive contract (7 years for $120 million) in 2009, they would have the money they needed to keep Pujols around. Holliday isn't a consistent player. He has moments of greatness, but they aren't reliable. Pujols is and has been. In the next 10 years, Pujols probably will be reliable for that time, but it's difficult to say. Ten years is a long time, particularly when a baseball player is reaching the twilight of his career. I'm not sure what I would do if I was in Pujols place. He'll make a great deal of money either way and his family should never have to worry about finances ever for at least three generations. He'll make a lot more money in the short term if he goes to New York (about the only team in baseball with a bottomless bank account). However, if I was in Pujols's shoes, I think I would stay. St. Louis has been his home his whole career and no matter where he goes, he'll never have "fans" who like him as much as they do in St. Louis. If he stays in St. Louis and he gets injured or his career ends abruptly, he'll still be adored. If he leaves, he'll be seen as a traitor who betrayed his hometown for more money; in the St. Louis area he'll be the Benedict Arnold of baseball. The true Cardinal fans'll resent him for awhile, but then welcome him back with open arms whenever he does come back to visit, but most of Cardinal Nation isn't composed of true baseball and Cardinal fans. There are only about 15% of "Cardinal Nation" that are true baseball and Cardinal fans. The rest of "Cardinal Nation" is composed of fairweather fans who care more about the spectacle than they do the game. In fact, most Cardinal fans don't even consider themselves to be a part of "Cardinal Nation" (I don't, for instance). That's a neat little marketing tool creating by the Cardinal advertisers to get people to come to the games and sell merchandise to people who normally couldn't care less about baseball.

I'm relatively young, but I'm pretty much and old foagie, fuddy-duddy in the way I view the world and see things. Pujols is a great player, but he's only a part of the Cardinals. For me, the players I've enjoyed watching the most this season have been guys like this:Lance Berkman

David Freese

Berkman is a classic old-school ball player. He's not really skinning or overtly muscular. He's built they way Babe Ruth and Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb were. He looks the way a baseball player (except for pitchers) is supposed to look in my mind. Not only that, but he plays with a pure love for the game. You can see it in his eyes every time he's up to bat and with every play that he makes (see picture above). He loves the game of baseball. This season he's had a comeback, too. The Braves and Yankees all wrote the guy off before the Cardinals signed him this year. Even though he wants to coach college baseball in Texas after he retires from the majors, I think he'd like to stick around St. Louis until then. I know I'd love watching him.

Then there's David Freese. David Freese is a St. Louis native. When you think about it, it's pretty amazing that a local boy goes into the majors and eventually becomes the hero and MVP of a World Series playing for his hometown team in the ballpark not far from where he grew up. Freese has had a good season, but it's one that got better in the post season. Freese saved the Cardinals several times not with just hits and homeruns, but with stellar plays. Other players did, too, but the other players aren't local boys like Freese. That's what makes his story that much more special.

Congratulations, St. Louis Cardinals on a job well done. 11 in 2011. I didn't think it was possible, but it's happened. My Dad and Grandpa always said the "Cardinals can never do things the easy way." I guess this season has shown that. But, even though they didn't do it the easy way, they ended up doing it the right way.

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