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St. Louis Sports Online
99.9% Original Content--Since 1995--The Online Source for St. Louis Sports

Founding Editor: MARK BAUSCH

"Patriotism means to stand by the country.
It does not mean to stand by the president."


Theodore Roosevelt
(Metropolitan Magazine, May 1918)

STL weather
=====



MIKE HUSS

stlsports.com

Lead

Columnist


regular guest:
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review

Huss


email Mike
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Is It Groundhog Day (the Movie)
Down at Busch?


  May 13

 


On Sunday morning July 15, 2018 the St. Louis Cardinals held a press conference. The night before, the team fired Manager Mike Matheny and named Mike Shildt as Interim Manager.

At that time the Cardinals were unperforming and were just one game over .500. During that press conference, team owner Bill DeWitt, Jr. offered his thoughts on the situation:

“In some places a winning record, or even. 500, is even acceptable. Not with this city, not with this franchise, not with its history, and not with the fans.”

Fast forward to Mother’s Day weekend 2024. From April 3, 2023 to May 11, 2024 (404 calendar days, and growing), the St. Louis Cardinals held a winning regular season record only on one date (April 6, 2024: when the team was 5-4). 

DeWitt’s 2018 comments haven’t aged well, eh?

In 2023 after 38 games, the Red Birds record was 13-25.

After 38 games in the 2024 season, the local nine has a 15-23 record.

This is starting to look like a bad movie sequel.

The Red Birds have lost six games in a row, are in last place in the National League Central Division and own the third worst record in the National League. It’s not yet the middle of May and St. Louis is currently eight games out of first place.

Let’s extrapolate. In order for the Cardinals to finish 2024 with a .500 record, they would need to go 66-58 the rest of the day. In order to finish 2024 with 85 wins, the Cardinals would need to go 70-54 the rest of the way.

That is assuming 85 victories will be good enough to reach the post-season.

But, do you really think this team right now will play sixteen games over .500 for the remainder of the season?

Second verse, same as the first?

How did we get here?

You don’t have to look very far to compare and contrast. This weekend St. Louis is in Milwaukee. During the off-season, the Brewers’ highly-touted Manager was signed by the Cubs, their successful and resourceful CEO was lured to New York by the Mets, and their top pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner was traded to Baltimore.

After all of that, at this writing Milwaukee leads the National League Central Division with a 23-15 record and are 5-0 in head-to-head 2024 games against the Cardinals.

Meanwhile, during the off-season the Cardinals re-signed their manager to a contract extension, obtained three free agent pitchers and traded an outfielder who currently has hit nine home runs in 22 games in Boston. At this writing, former MVP Paul Goldschmidt is batting .190 and is 0 for the month of May. The Cardinals are 28th in MLB with a .215 team batting average.

This isn’t getting any better.

In its recent MLB Power Poll, ESPN.com has the local nine ranked 27th with this summary by writer Jesse Rogers: “Everything that could possibly go wrong for St. Louis is continuing, as catcher Willson Contreras fractured his left forearm in a big blow for an already faltering team. He led the team in doubles, home runs and OPS before going down. Backup Ivan Herrera s capable enough, but he can't bring the thunder at the plate like Contreras can. With Paul Goldschmidt and others struggling, the loss is even bigger. Someone is going to have to step up for the Cardinals, and it likely will take a few guys to get their offense in gear.”

This also isn’t going to get any easier.

After two more games in Milwaukee, the Cardinals will travel west for a series in Anaheim. Then the Red Birds return to Busch III for nine games: three each against Boston, Baltimore and the Cubs. After that St. Louis will hit the road for games in Cincinnati followed by a trip to Philadelphia.

It’s not unfair to suggest that the Cardinals could be buried by Memorial Day, if not sooner. When you are eight games under .500, you have to stop digging. Otherwise, there will be more discounted ticket offers and giveaways coming this summer to self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven. 

Right now, the St. Louis Cardinals look like a team expecting to lose.

The self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball are getting restless. After 17 home games, the Cardinals announced home attendance per game in 2024 is 36,849: compared to an announced home attendance of 39,678 per game in 2023 (2,829 per game less and a drop of 7.13%).

This could get worse and this could get uglier as the summer months arrive.

In a sit-down interview with the Athletic before start of the season in Los Angeles, St. Louis’ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak was asked to reflect on the team’s last place finish in 2023 and his thoughts on the upcoming 2024 campaign. “I think there was a lot of humility, really. In the type of sense where you have the type of success we’ve had — even during some difficult times prior to last season, there were ways we could make fixes, and we felt like there was always some sort of solution. Last year, no matter what we tried, it just never really got working. So, you know, you look in the mirror, you realize it’s not always going to be perfect, and hopefully you grow from it.”

The POBO continued: “With what we were able to accomplish this offseason, hopefully the vibe of this group is different than it was a year ago. And I think when you look at the overall roster with this veteran presence versus last year, when we went with a much more-younger approach, we can strike that balance that gets us back to winning.”

As Mother’s Day approaches, Mozeliak’s comments also have not aged well.

At the end of the day, the 2024 Cardinals are Mozeliak’s team. He owns this.

It’s on him to fix this.

Will he and/or how will he, are the questions.

“In some places a winning record, or even. 500, is even acceptable. Not with this city, not with this franchise, not with its history, and not with the fans.”

This is starting to look like a bad movie sequel.






Questions for SLU....


March 17

 

“For eight years, Travis led our men’s basketball program with passion and dignity. This decision was not made lightly.”

With those words St. Louis University Athletic Director Chris May announced that Men’s Head Basketball Coach was relieved of his duties.

Earlier in the week May telegraphed what was coming: “Clearly our goals and expectations are to play in the NCAA Tournament and make a run, and this season has not gone by anybody’s expectations. There are a lot of positives programmatically, but this is a results-oriented business. We need to have success, and the goals haven’t been met this year.”

During his eight-year tenure in Midtown, Ford became the third winningest coach in the school’s history: posting a career record of 146-109, that included a 72-64 conference record. While on paper the numbers seemed acceptable, the Billikens made just one NCAA appearance (2019) and two NIT appearances during the Ford era.

According to published reports, the Ford/SLU divorce could be costly for the University. Those reports show Ford earned $2.45 million for the 2021-22 season (the most recent year available) and has been above $2 million for seven years, barring any unknown cuts. While it is unknown how many years remain on Ford's current contract, but it is believed there are multiple years left.

Apathy has seeped into the school’s Men’s basketball program. There is no Billiken buzz in the 314. If you would read any 2024 game story, there were practically no respondents from the readers on the state of the team. The University of Missouri, whose 2023-24 team achieved zero SEC victories, received more interest/buzz/love than St. Louis University.

But perhaps the biggest red flag was found in the rows and rows of empty seats at Chaifetz Arena on game nights. During 2023-2024, attendance for SLU Men’s basketball dipped to an average of 5,640 per game: one of the lowest average attendance figures in the past thirty years.

This coaching change had to be made. These days SLU basketball is irrelevant in the 314. During recent interviews, Ford resembled the poster boy of burnout and came across as someone who has the sword of Damocles hanging over his head.

So, now St. Louis University is in search of a new Men’s Basketball Coach to win games and restore relevance. To that end, we in this little corner of cyberspace asks two questions:

First, just how attractive is the St. Louis University Men’s Head Coaching job?

In 2005, instead of rejoining the Missouri Valley Conference, the University chose to open its first season in Atlantic Ten Conference. In a July 2005 interview, then-Athletic Director Cheryl Levick said, “Saint Louis University, its alumni and fans are extremely enthusiastic regarding the Billikens' inaugural year in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The profile of the A-10 membership is the best fit that Saint Louis University has enjoyed in the history of Billiken athletics. Plus, the A-10 provides new major market media exposure for our program and also opens the East Coast for undergraduate student recruitment for the institution. We look forward to a long, exciting and successful tenure in the A-10."

Fast-forward twenty years and we now ask, how did that work out for you? SLU is at best a middle of the road member of the A-10: a middle of the road Conference.

While we don’t know how much more lucrative it is for the University to rub elbows and to get conference paychecks with those East Coast schools, those Chaifetz Arena appearances of Fordham, Davidson, Richmond, Duquesne and the like sure don’t create much of a buzz.

Inquiring minds can’t help but wonder if things would be livelier had Missouri State, SIU-Carbondale, Drake and the like (with their fans) would come to town for annual visit.

But SLU made their choice to become the western most member of the Atlantic 10 conference. Now they are looking for a new Men’s Basketball Coach.

Ironically, a couple of attractive/top of the list candidates are posting nice numbers in the Missouri Valley Conference. Will they or any other attractive candidate want to leave and come to the 314 to resurrect a program that is in the middle rung of a middle rung conference?

It goes without saying that the University will need to start budgeting and/or contacting donors for a lot of money to entice a quality coach to the 314. While this might sound sacrilegious to many locals with their parochial, red state mindset, the St. Louis University Men’s Basketball Coaching position is really not a destination job.

So, in order to get the attention of a top-notch basketball coach, the University needs to sell any prospective candidate that the job is attractive. That starts with money. This could be expensive.

We’ll see

The second question is, at this crossroads, this bureau ponders something SLU administrators discusses their students:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s time for the University to decide where they stand on Division I Athletics. Remember, SLU lives within the same boundaries where the Cardinals, Blues, City SC and the Battlehawks reside. Those teams soak up loads the local sport interest and sports dollars.  

SLU must ask the tough questions. Are they content with its current middle-of-the road status while hobnobbing with like-minded East Coast schools or if they want the limelight, prominence and attraction of a school with a strong basketball team?



Many members of Gen-Z likely couldn’t tell you what Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky or Kansas can offer academically. But most could likely tell you each have strong basketball traditions and likely can name you the names of prominent players and coaches.

Right or wrong, Division I athletics do advertise the University. Particularly during March Madness.

Everybody knows their names.

With no disrespect to the University’s outstanding men and women’s soccer teams, the SLU Men’s basketball program is the flagship team for the school.

So, for St. Louis University, it’s time to once again ask:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Again, we’ll see.

“For eight years, Travis led our men’s basketball program with passion and dignity. “This decision was not made lightly.”

To the decision-makers down at Grand & Lindell: the ball is now in your court.

You’re on the clock.

 Who and where you want to be when you grow up?






A Busch Perspective...


September 10

 

Frequent visitors to this little corner of cyberspace may recall that back in the day this bureau worked as an usher for about ten years at Busch Stadium II and the St. Louis Arena. While it was a fun way to earn a few bucks for college, gasoline and beer, the employment time period was during the 1970s/ Aside from Lou Brock and Ted Simmons, Baseball in St. Lou back then was not really good.

This bureau always enjoys chatting with the current Busch III ushering staff. To that end, while walking to the Press Gate prior to the finale of the Labor Day weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates, we chatted with an older usher who shared a tale.

The night before the Red Birds blew another 9th inning save/opportunity that led to a loss. As the bottom of the ninth ended, the older usher said he thanked the departing fans for attending, reminded them to drive home safely and sked if they would see them tomorrow.

When we asked the usher if the departing fans politely declined to returning the next day, the usher replied, “Actually, the fans didn’t say no”

“They said, Hell No”.

My, oh my

This bureau has often questioned the real passion of the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball. Naturally, loads of folks show up on Opening Day and appear during the playoffs.

But it’s during tough time when the dedication is challenged.

The summer of 2023 has indeed been challenging in the 314. Despite winning two straight in National League leading Atlanta, the local nine are still in last place in the Central Division at 61-78. Four more losses would guarantee the team’s first losing season since the Clinton Administration.

At this writing, as a Big-League Manager Oliver Marmol has compiled a 154-146 win/loss record.

Even the national pundits are noticing. In its recent Power Poll, The Athletic ranks St. Louis 26th of the 30 MLB teams with this review: “The Cardinals are not in a position to tear down and rebuild. They don’t really do that in St. Louis. The losing this season has been a shock to the system, but there’s always next year, and Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has emphasized that starting pitching will be a priority moving forward. The Cardinals could look to move some of their excess position-player depth. They could dip their toe into free agency. There are options. But one thing is clear: St. Louis’ pitching staff ranked 25th in ERA, and things have to be better than that.”

Yeah, Self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven has not been the happiest place on earth this summer. In past seasons, the Cardinals success was directly proportional to a winning record against Divisional foes.

But in 2023, not so much. At this writing St. Louis is 15-24 against NLCD foes. That includes the Red Birds going 4-9 against the Pirates and 5-8 against the Chicago Cubs in 2023.

At thus writing the local nine is 12-24 in one-run games and are 17-53 in games when the opposition scores first.

So, it has been a rough summer if you are a Cardinal fan.

And it’s starting to show at the gate.

With ten home games remaining, the Red Bird Official Home attendance is 40,120 per game. Now it should be noted that the “official attendance” does not equal the actual turnstile count or the “eye test”.  Viewing the rows of empty seats from the Press Box while hearing the official attendance total, this bureau was reminded of that famous line of a song by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Eagles:

“You can’t hide your lying eyes”/

Regardless, let’s examine that 40,120 number. Ten home games remain. Even with an expected large crowd for Adam Wainwright Day, that 40,120 per home game total likely will not get much better.

How does that compare to past seasons? In 2022 the Cardinals drew 40,994 per home game. In the pre-COVID seasons of 2019 and 2018, the average per game attendance at Busch Stadium III was 42,967 and 42,019, respectively.

Any way you slice it, the trend is moving the wrong way for for the home. Team.

A deeper 2023 dive is more concerning.

From August 1 through Labor Day, the Cardinals played nineteen home games. In those nineteen games, only three of them announced an official attendance total over 40,000.

We repeat, Memo to the suits at 700 Clark Street: are you paying attention?

Under this ownership group, the Cardinals have consistently been successful in the field. That on-field success translated to success at the gate, television ratings concessions and license merchandise sales. During their tenure, the current ownership group should be proud their franchise year in and year out has been in the top five of Major League home attendance.

That has been the real Cardinal Way.

At the core of the Red Bird business model is success on the field which translates to butts in the seats. Winning baseball brings fans and their discretionary cash downtown to purchase tickets, beers, sodas, hot dogs, souvenirs, parking and perhaps even enjoying all the fun at Ball Park Village.

But last place Baseball will obstruct those plans: especially so in this red state where folks can sometimes be set in its ways.

It sure looks like the fans are speaking:

“Actually, the fans didn’t say no”

“They said, Hell No”.

Memo to the suits at 700 Clark Street: are you paying attention?





 

Better?!

Aptil 30

 

This isn’t getting any better.

As the calendar approaches May, the St. Louis Cardinals are concluding their ten-game in ten days, three-city West Coast road-trip. The West Coast excellent adventure has been not a happy one for the pre-season National League Central Division favorites. 

On the morning of the last Saturday of April, the Cardinals have an overall record of 10-17. They are currently in last place in the NLCD: eight and one-half games behind the first place Pittsburgh Pirates (BTW: that is not a misprint). With two games remaining, the local nine are 2-6 on this West Coast adventure and are 3-7 in the last ten games

Saying it another way, St. Louis needs a seven-game winning streak just to reach .500. The Red Birds are 0-9 this season in the opening game of each season. To reach ninety victories in 2023, the Cardinals have to post an 80-55 record (.592 winning percentage) the rest of the way.

Any way you look at it, St. Louis is playing from behind.

This is not the desired road map for a team whose cleanest path to reach the playoffs is to win the Division. April results so far suggest capturing a 2023 NL Wild Card spot will be challenging. That means winning the Division remains the cleanest route to the playoff.

In an attempt to remedy the Cardinals have tinkered with their roster. After a 12-game hitting streak to open the season, rookie Jordan Walker was assigned to the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Memphis. Shortstop Paul DeJong’s returned to the lineup with a bang. That is the good news. The bad news is this DeJong return has muddled the team’s middle infield structure.

St. Louis has been a team influx during April.

In their first 27 games of 2023, the local nine has a team batting average of .258 (third in the NL) and have scored 120 runs (4.44 runs per game) to date.

Meanwhile, in the same 27 games the St. Louis pitching has posted a 4.49 earned run average while allowing 118 earned runs (4.37 earned runs per game) to date.

Before returning on May Day to Busch III, the Red Birds still have two more games at Dodger Stadium. To date, the Adam Wainwright-less St. Louis starting rotation has logged 142.2 innings. That translates to a tad under 5 innings per starter per game. That also translates to the bullpen having to log those remaining innings per game.

And, it’s only the first weekend of April

This isn’t getting any better

As the calendar moves to May, the Red Birds return to Busch III for a six-game homestand: three each against the Angels and Detroit, respectively. Then the team travels will play three games at Wrigley Field. Then comes nineteen games in nineteen days in four cities. It starts with three games at Fenway Park followed by seven home games: three against Milwaukee followed by four against the Dodgers. After the Dodger series, St. Louis heads to Ohio for games at Cincinnati then Cleveland. May concludes with a Memorial Day matchup against Kansas City in the eastern part of the state of Missouri.

So, let’s review. For Cardinals, who are currently seven games under .500, are scheduled to play 29 games in 31 days. Fifteen of those games will be played at home with fourteen games played on the road.

This is not the best scenario for a stressed pitching staff that to date has logged a lot of innings.

This isn’t getting any better

In its latest ESPN.com Power Rankings, the local nine is ranked 21st of the thirty NLB teams. Writer Jesse Rogers offers these thoughts: “A miserable month can't come to a close soon enough for the Cardinals. St. Louis is finally starting to pitch better, but that doesn't excuse lofty ERAs for starters Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz in April. The Cards aren't deep enough on the mound to withstand multiple starters struggling -- and that's not to mention Jack Flaherty, who is still slowly returning to form after all of his injuries. If those starters don't get rolling, it's going to be a long season in St. Louis -- no matter how well the offense performs.”

In that same chart, the World-Wide Leader of Cable Sports Broadcasting ranks the Tampa Bay Rays in the top spot: with the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, Houston Astros and the New York Yankees, in that order, rounding out the top five. Looking at the upcoming schedule the Cardinals will have to travel to Tampa and Atlanta, with six games against the Mets with both the Astros and Yankees coming to Busch III.

But right now, two games at Chavez Ravine remain.

After the series opening loss to the Dodgers, Red Bird Manager Oliver Marmol offered his thoughts on the situation saying: “(first baseman Paul Goldschmidt) is about to get hot. The swings he is taking right now are really good. Nolan (Arenado) is looking a lot better, so that's a plus. ... There are several things pointing (up) but at the end of the day, you're paid to win."

In a mid-week interview in San Francisco with the team’s regional cable sports outlet, team President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak tried to talk everyone off the ledge saying, “one thing I would ask from our fanbase is patience. We always have to remind ourselves it’s still April”.

With April dwindling and May approaching, we’ll see if the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball will agree. But this s not where the team was expected to be.

Welcome to May, Cardinal Nation. Any way you look at it,

This sure needs to get better.





Soccer in STL:
Today...and a History Lesson

March 4

 

This first Saturday of March is memorable for the Gateway City. St. Louis City FC will play its first regular season Major Soccer League home game at their new stadium near Union Station. A sellout crowd is expected.

Perhaps it is fitting this first match will be played on 3/4/23. You see, the team is in town to hopefully march forth into the 314’s sports calendar.

To date, interest in the new team seems strong. The Opening Game has been sold out for weeks. There will be watch parties all over town. Merchandise sales have been brisk. You can see fans everywhere donning the familiar soccer scarfs throughout town.

We in this little corner of cyberspace salute Carolyn Kindle, Jim Kavanaugh and their entire front office team in pulling this off. Given the political climate of this region, its resistance to change and the history of St. Louis snatching defeat out of the mouths of victory in such endeavors, the completion of the MLS dream is impressive.

It didn’t hurt that Kindle and Kavanaugh are two of a dying breed: Executives of companies that are headquarters in St. Louis. There are not many remaining. Anheuser-Busch, Ralston Purina, Monsanto, Famous Barr and others have either relocated their headquarters elsewhere or ceased operations entirely. To that end, Kindle and Kavanaugh have clout that City Hall can’t counter.

Again, we applaud their efforts and remain amazed they pulled this off.  And this comes from a bureau that is not much of a soccer follower.

The sport of soccer is engraved in St. Louis. From the Hill to North City to South City, youngsters through programs like the Catholic Youth Council and others played the game. The sport advanced to the college level at St. Louis University and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. The sport flourished in the early 1980s when it went indoors. Back then the St. Louis Steamers Indoor Soccer team packed over 17,000 into the old firetrap at 5700 Oakland Avenue for their home games.

But perhaps what brought St. Louis soccer to national/international attention occurred 73 years ago.  That is when the 1950 United States Soccer Team shutout and dramatically upset powerful England 1-0 in World Cup competition. Five of the members of that US team hailed from St. Louis: primarily from the Italian “Hill” section of our town.

Team goaltender Frank Borghi, Gino Pariani, long-time St. Louis University Head Men’s soccer coach, Harry Keough, Walter Geisler and Charlie Columbo, all from St. Louis, are members of the long-shot American team that competed in Brazil. All played instrumental roles. None realized at the time the impact their upset would have on the soccer world.

They were all from St. Louis. All were family men who served our country honorably militarily and proud members of the Greatest Generation. Life was different in 1950. World War II just ended, but Korea was beginning. Many young families were converting from wartime to peacetime with their soldier-fathers and/or sons back home. Harry Truman occupied the White House. Television consisted of a black & white Philco. Cable was only buried in the ground. No one ever heard of “Internet”.

Before that small high school in Hickory captured the Indiana Boys High School basketball championship, long before an unknown walk-on showed up on the fabled turf in South Bend, Indiana and long before we started to believe in miracles on ice in Lake Placid, New York, this young group of Americans shook the world on soccer’s biggest stage. 

In 1950, no one covered the soccer World Cup except for St. Louis Post Dispatch writer and Soccer Hall of Fame member Dent Mc Skimming. He was the only American journalist at the 1950 United States vs. England World Cup game. In order to attend Mc Skimming took vacation time from the Post and paid his own way to Brazil.

In 1950 soccer is considered the “World Game”. But it never really caught on in the U S. Our country was fixed on baseball: with the explosion of football and basketball on the horizon. Still on the Hill and other parts of town, the World Game was a way of life. It was part of the fabric of the community. Despite their talents and successes on this side of the Atlantic, when this throw-together U S squad hit the field in Brazil, no one gave them much of a chance.

Mc Skimming describes how this soccer team with players from all locations and nationalities, competed in the 1950 World Cup. The squad drew the powerful England in the first round. The game would prove to be a classic. Behind forward Joe Gaetjens’ sole goal and the incredible goalkeeping skills of Borghi, the US team would bend but would not break. Ninety minutes later when the final gun sounded, the Americans shut out heavily-favored England 1-0.

The 1950 upset win over England might be the greatest unknown St. Louis sports story. Well before Ozzie Smith had us “Going Crazy” and David Freese walked it off in Game 6, well before the “Monday Night Miracle”, well before Bob Pettit scored 50 points to beat the Boston Celtics, and well before Mike Jones made “The Tackle”, this US soccer team beat England in 1950. While the dramatic win is considered sacred lore on the Hill and in the annals of local sports historians, few outside our town mention this event.

The game was chronicled in the 2005 film “The Game of Their Lives”. The movie’s word premiere took place in St. Louis at the Esquire Theatre on Clayton Road. It was the only time (and likely ever) his bureau attended a red-carpet event. 

On this first Saturday of March, St. Louis City FC starts what hopefully will become a long and successful tenure in the 314. While there is much excitement around town, hopefully this interest will mushroom and not become just a flavor of the week. Time will tell but we wish the Front Office well and this bureau thanks them again for their efforts.

If we may offer one suggestion, hopefully in that new soccer palace downtown there will be an area dedicated to our town’s past with the World’s Game. Hopefully included will be a spot reserved for that 1950 team that shocked the world with several St. Louis kids on its roster.

As big of deal is that professional soccer is arriving in St. Louis in 2023,

It may not have happened not for what occurred seventy-three years ago.

Mike's Letter to Santa

December 23

 

Dear Santa:

 

T’was but days before Christmas and all through the Lou, there’s a whole bunch of us here waiting for you. 2022 was galore throughout the 314. In a nostalgic season the Cardinals returned to post-season play: but their playoff stay lasted less than 36 hours The Blues made it to the second round of the NHL playoffs only to be sent home via a Stan Kroenke-owned team.  Football and basketball at Ol Mizzou are still being bullied in the tough SEC neighborhood. SLU Men’s Basketball continues to tease us. The XFL and MLS are scheduled to return in Q1-2023.

 

While this bureau again asks its standard wish list of being taller, thinner, and darker hair, please allow us to offer a few suggestions to assist in your list before you hitch up the reindeer for your midnight ride. We hope it’ll make it easier as you load up your sleigh for the long trip south.

 

We do know that we better not pout and better not cry. This Wish List is for our local sports heroes, bosses, teams, and fans.  But please keep it quiet because it’s a secret. Some on this list that have been naughty, and some have been nice. But you already know that.

 

So, to that end, this bureau suggests this 2022 Christmas wish list:

 

For the St. Louis Cardinals: A repeat National League Central Championship, lots of innings from their starting pitchers, an offensively-productive outfield and a happy Willson Contreras.

 

For Oli Marmol: A thumbs up for a successful inaugural season as a mature 35-year-old Big League Manager and an open mind and eyes to address things to come 

 

For John Mozeliak: a sense of urgency: The POBO saw the results first hand when the much-needed transactions at the trading deadline produced positive results. Sitting on your hands while spinning professorial excuses for inactions isn’t going to cut it and everyone sees it.

 

For Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols: Thanks for the memories and specific thanks for making 2022 a happy ending instead of it not ending well.

 

For Adam Wainwright: A well deserved farewell tour, career win #200, and a job offer in the broadcasting industry at the end of the season.  

 

For Paul Goldschmidt: A deep appreciation and respect from the fans for solid and productive efforts in a businesslike manner.

 

For Alex Reyes: Our best wishes: it’s a shame that things didn’t work out better in the 314

 

Tyler O’ Neill: A healthy 2023 and a return to his 2021 form: whether in St. Louis or elsewhere.

 

Jack Flaherty: A strong 2023 season to enhance his soon-to-be free agent resume and improve his value as a Cardinal trading chip at the end of July MLB trading deadline.

 

For John Rooney: More appreciation---he remains a top tier baseball announcer

 

For the apologists on Bally Sports Midwest: Broadcast adjustments: PLEASE present telecasts that sound like more baseball games rather than a Management-approved talking point Cardinal pep rally. More analysis instead of infomercials about ticket discounts and giveaways; Please pull back on the hype and please lower the volume.

 

For Dan McLaughlin: the help he badly needs.

 

For Scott Rolen: a phone call and invitation from Cooperstown, New York

 

To Rick Hummel:  A relaxing and enjoyable retirement/semi-retirement: you remain the best reason to buy a copy of the Post-Dispatch. Please don’t be a stranger in your press box next summer.

 

To Tony Las Russa: Good health and satisfaction knowing your career is a job very well done. For the record, those of us you scolded during post-game press conferences, we still wear the experience as a badge of honor.

 

For the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball: Another red October but longer.

 

For the St. Louis Blues: A playoff spot. From what we have seen so far, that is not a given.

 

For Head Coach Craig Barube: His continued blunt management style and feedback. It’s refreshing to see that old school tactics are alive in 2022-2023

 

For Ryan O’Reilly: A contract extension to keep the Captain in the 314. Both parties want to get it done. It is the right thing to do, so just get it done.

 

For Vladimir Tarasenko: Our respect and continued success wherever you may be playing a year from now

 

For Jordan Binnington: A copy of the movie “Back to the Future circa 2019”. Any 2023 Blues success goes directly through #50 goal crease.

 

For Blues Fans: The opportunity to swing their towels and sing “Take Me Home Country Roads” deep into May down at 14th & Clark.

 

For the rich & arrogant cartel better known as the National Football League: Nothing because we don’t care about you anymore---and once again thanks for the big check.

 

For the MLS-STL Group: Thanks. and perfect February soccer weather when the MLS arrives in that new downtown soccer palace It’s still hard to believe it was really pulled off in this town.

 

To the Battlehawks: A copy of John Sebastian’s TV theme “Welcome Back”, 30,000 fans at your home opener and a healthy “Ka-Kaw” from the 314

 

For the University of Missouri Football Program:  A season where the win totals exceed those in the loss total, effective use of the transfer portal for internal and external players and something better than the Gasparilla Bowl (whatever that is) in 2023.

 

To Missouri Head Football Coach Eliah Drinkwitz: a reminder---these are your recruits, your transfers and your program and as such you will own the results.

 

For the St. Louis University soccer programs: Continued success. It was really fun watching how the legacy of Billiken kickers of the past returned in 2022.

 

For the St. Louis University Men’s Basketball program: Tangible results that include wins against ranked opponents. Also, stop the teasing how “this is the year” each season.

 

For local college basketball fans: Two things: 1) Relevancy for the annual “Bragging Rights” game. Remember when that game used to be the hottest ticket in town? 2) An annual Missouri/St. Louis University basketball game rotating between St. Louis and Columbia. There’s no reason why this game shouldn’t occur: especially as programs need shots in the arm.

 

For the flagship radio station of the St. Louis Cardinals: Direction and a clue---The Q4-2022 Arbitron numbers were terrible and the once mighty-MOX continues to dive into irrelevancy in the local radio market. While the decline has been self-inflicted, what has happened to this legendary radio station is sad. Also, please drop the moniker of “America’s Sports Voice”, because you are not.

 

For the faithful readers of St. Louis Sports On-Line: A wonderful, blessed, and safe Christmas, and a wish for a great and prosperous 2023. Plus, our thanks for bookmarking this site and visiting it on a regular basis.

 

Well, that’s about it.  Yeah, I know it’s a long list so thanks for listening, Santa. See you soon. Have a safe trip and we’ll keep the lights at the top of the Arch lit.

 

We’ll also have cookies & milk as well as a couple Blues/Blackhawk tickets waiting for you.

 

Your friend,

 

Mike H.






A Mission from God?!

July 27

 

One of this bureau’s all-time favorite movies is the 1980 flick “The Blues Brothers”. The film chronicled the adventures of Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues and their efforts to save an orphanage while reconstructing a killer rhythm and blues band.

A classic quote from the film occurred when, after securing the needed funds by putting the band back together, the brothers hopped into their car to make the trip to the Cook County Accessor’s office in Chicago to pay the mortgage bill.

 Before leaving Elwood said to Jake: “There's 106 miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark out, and we're wearing sunglasses.” To which Joliet Jake responded: “Hit it!”

This scene came to mind this weekend after the St. Louis Cardinals completed their latest series against the Cincinnati Reds: losing two of three games. This bureau could almost hear Elwood say: ““There's 100 games played, we've got a .500 record, we’re in third place, eight games out of first place, and most of our starting pitchers are still unavailable”.

 To which this Bureau could almost hear Joliet Jake respond: “Forget it!”

After one hundred games, it keeps getting bleaker and bleaker for the local nine. They are running out of time. On the morning of the last Monday of July, the Cardinals’ record is 50-50. Meanwhile, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego keep winning. It’s looking more and more like the two National League Wild Card teams will emerge from the NL West Division.

If that does occur, it means only one NL Central team will advance to the 2021 post-season. That also means that if that does occur, St. Louis must win the Central to move to the next round.

For that to happen, during the next sixty-two games first place Milwaukee will need to go into a major tailspin. Given the strength of the Brewer starting pitchers, a lengthy losing streak does not seem likely.

To that end, given the current condition of the Cardinals starting pitchers, a lengthy winning streak does not seem likely.

Forget it?

In its recent Power Poll, ESPN.com ranks St. Louis at the bottom of its middle third of teams (#20) saying: “The Cardinals are treading water until they get healthy on the mound, but it might be too little, too late. Unlike other veteran teams who are far from first place, it's not likely St. Louis subtracts from its roster before July 30. St. Louis is hoping its 13 remaining games against the Brewers will be the difference.”

With the trading deadline approaching by the end of the week, all indications point to the local nine as possible buyers and/or sellers. Either way, a significant transaction seems unlikely this week in the 314. That ship has likely already sailed when the Front Office did not to make a noteworthy trade once the injuries mounted with the pitching staff.

SIDENOTE--Memo to the apologists of the team’s primary funding partner formerly known as Fox Sports Midwest: during the games this week please do not parrot the talking point that getting a pitcher back from the Injured List will be just like making a trade. It’s not. You can do better than that.

While the August schedule appears on paper favorable for the Red Birds, the September schedule look much tougher. Aside from three games against the first place Brewers and two against the second place Reds, St. Louis will play against teams that currently have losing records. In August, St. Louis will play twenty-two games against a combination of Minnesota, Atlanta, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.

Meanwhile, September not so much: During September the Cardinals will play only six games against teams that currently have losing records. During September, the Red Birds will play twenty-four games against the first place Mets and Brewers, as well as the Dodgers, Cincinnati, and San Diego.

Saying it another way, it appears the continuation of a path for a .500 team.  Forget it?

But could that be a red flag of upcoming storm clouds? 

The Red Birds have not experienced a losing record since 2007. If that occurs and given the labor situation of Baseball and the lingering effects of COVID, the Front Office should take a deep, hard look at its organization and business plan. In the DeWitt era, the Cardinal organization has been successful and profitable. Until COVID hit, over 3 million fans per season came through the turnstiles at self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven.

But for the business plan to work, the baseball team must be successful. If the Cardinals are winning all is well. Fans will show up and open their wallets to giveaway their discretionary cash. But as indicated in this little corner of cyberspace, this bureau continues to wonder how strong the passion of the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball really is.

To that end, inquiring minds wonder: just how will the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball react should their heroes post a losing record in 2021?

We’ve asked this question many times recently.  On the final game of the 2019 regular season, the Cardinals were hosting the Chicago Cubs. If St. Louis wins the game, they become the NL Central Champs. But as the 2:15PM first pitch approached on a beautiful autumn afternoon against the rival Cubs, rows and rows of empty seats were found throughout Busch Stadium.

In Game Four of the 2019 National League Championship Series, the Red Birds forced a deciding fifth game on a walk-off single by Yadier Molina. But Busch Stadium was not sold out for this playoff game: Note the words—Playoff Game. 

On the Sunday after the All-Star break: an unseasonably comfortable July Sunday afternoon against the team with best record in the National League, rows and rows of empty seats were seen at first pitch.

And did we mention, the current Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire at 12:01AM on Wednesday December 1, 2021.

Yeah, the Front Office must be aware of all of this.

Back to the present, there are now sixty-two games remaining. Next up, two games against the franchise that will soon be known as the Cleveland Guardians.

Can the Cardinals make the 2021 playoffs? We suppose they “could”.

But, will the Cardinals make the 2021 playoffs?

It will likely require a mission from God.


Better Make a New Plan?!

July 14

 

This sure hasn’t gone as planned, has it?

The St. Louis Cardinals arrive at the All-Star break as a team with a losing record. The team is two games under .500.

It has been a disappointing ninety games here in self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven. As the All Stars are arriving in Denver, the local nine find themselves tied for third place in the National League Central Division, eight games behind first place Milwaukee.

The Brewers look like a team that is ready to take command of the Division.

Meanwhile, the Red Birds do not.

While conceding there have been injuries to the pitching staff, St. Louis has committed way too many self-inflicted wounds during the first half. At the break, the Cardinals have a team batting average of .230: tied for 25th place in the Majors.

Red Bird pitchers have walked more than any other team (394 bases on balls in 90 games: aka 4.4 walks per game). Cardinals pitchers have struck out 697 batters: 29th in the Big Leagues and just one ahead of last place Arizona. To date, St. Louis pitchers have hit more opposing batters than any other team in MLB (64): ten more to the second place Chicago Cubs. On average, Red Bird pitchers have thrown 17.20 pitches per inning: which translates to an average of 154.8 pitches in a nine-inning game.

For the period of 6/13/21 through 7/4/21, St. Louis was scheduled to play nineteen straight games against teams with losing records. Some of those teams are at the bottom of the standings.  The apologists at the team’s primary funding partner/cable outlet pushed the talking points how this nineteen-game stretch would provide a reboot for the local nine.

So, let’s go to the tape. St. Louis went 8-11 during those nineteen games. During June, the team posted a 10-17 record. In its most recent Power Ranking, CBS Sportsline ranked the Red Birds at #22 with this review: “If we exclude their series against the Diamondbacks and Marlins, the Cardinals are 7-25 since May 19. They have even lost series to the Tigers, Pirates and Rockies.”

Yeah, lots of self-inflicted wounds.

This sure hasn’t gone as planned, has it?

With the first half loaded skewed against weaker teams, logic suggests the second half will be more challenging. That looks correct and here is the rundown:

 

ROAD

 

HOME

 

Opponent

# games

Opponent

# games

At Cincinnati

6

Atlanta

3

At Cleveland

2

Cincinnati

3

At Chicago Cubs

4

Detroit

2

At Kansas City

3

Kansas City

3

At Milwaukee

7

LA Dodgers

4

At NY Mets

3

Milwaukee

6

At Pittsburgh

7

Minnesota

3



Pittsburgh

3

Remaining Road

32

San Diego

3



San Francisco

3



Chicago Cubs

7







Remaining Home

40

 


This translates to 37 remaining games against National League Central Division teams (51.39% of the remaining schedule). This also translates to 19 remaining games against teams that currently are in first place (26.39%): which includes thirteen games against the Division leading Brewers.

So, that brings us to questions: first, are the Cardinals contenders or not?

At this writing, it appears that the two 2021 National League Wild Card teams will be coming from the NL West. If that occurs, then only the champion of the NL Central will head to the post-season.

With seventy-two regular season games remaining, St. Louis is eight games behind the Brewers. But the Cardinals would have to leap-frog over two other teams to reach Milwaukee. If ninety wins are necessary to reach the playoffs, the Cardinals would have to go 46-26 (.639 winning percentage) the rest of the way. This looks like a challenge: even tougher considering the breakdown of the remaining 2021 St. Louis games.

While thirteen games remain against Milwaukee, the Brewers would need to go into a losing streak for the Cardinals to go into a major losing streak to trim the gap. Given the strength of the Milwaukee starting pitching, that seems unlikely.

So, are the Cardinals contenders or not?

That brings us to question #2: should the Red Birds be buyers or sellers at the trading deadline?

Unlike the Cubs, the Cardinals do not have attractive, tradable free agents that could be flipped for prospects. While, the St. Louis roster does have some high-priced contracts that will be coming off the books, none appear to be attractive to other suitors. Plus, with the cloud of labor unrest on the horizon, St. Louis may find it best for the long-term good simply to ride 2021 out and then reset when the new labor rules are in place.

That would likely translate into more discounted ticket offers, bobbleheads and special gimmicks to engage in all the fun at Ball Park Village.

Meanwhile, how will this all set with the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball? It would be at minimum a test of the real passion and enthusiasm with the fan base.

While the All Stars prepare for the Rocky Mountain adventure, here in the Gateway City the Cardinal Front Office will likely be making some candid decisions.

In a conversation with our town’s only newspaper, Red Bird Manager reflected on the first half. “I always equate the season to a dimmer switch on a light. You need to keep it on because this game is such a challenge mentally. The game is so much played between the ears and there’s so much. But if you keep it all the way up all the time it will burn you slap out. My hope is they can lower that dimmer switch to a very, very low setting and just be able to get away from it.

The Manager continued: “Clearly we’d like to be in a better position, buy I think all things being said, it could be in a lot worse position, for sure.”
 
As the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball and the Cardinal pitching staff rest up for the All-Star break, seventy-two games remain. The journey continues when the San Francisco Giants come to town to open a weekend series.

Yeah, the same San Francisco Giants that has the best overall record in Major League Baseball.

This sure hasn’t gone as planned, has it?


The Unthinkable Happened One Year Ago...

posted June 14

It happened one year ago.

On the evening of June 12, 2019 at approximately 9:45PM, although the temperature in St. Louis, Missouri was in the mid-60s, hell was about to freeze over.

On the evening of June 12, 2019 at approximately 9:45PM thousands of Gateway City baby-boomers finally scratched an item off their bucket list.

On the evening of June 12, 2019 at approximately 9:45PM the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball were not overreacting to their favorite baseball team being shut out by the lowly Miami Marlins 9-0.

On the evening of June 12, 2019 at approximately 9:45PM, at the end of Game #108 of the 2018-19 season the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup.

Has it really been one year?

As we remain in a coronavirus world without any live sports to watch, debate or complain, sports fans across the fruited plain remain can only reminisce about the past glories and kick around stories. Reams of film of sporting events of past years have flooded airwaves over the past three months. Fans were searching for reminders of the games.

Here is the Gateway City, there have been many of those moments to remember. Eleven times the Cardinals were crowned as World Series Champions.

In January 2000, our town celebrated what likely will be its only Super Bowl Championship,

On April 12,1958, the St. Louis Hawks won the NBA Championship

On March 18, 1948, St. Louis University captured the NIT Tournament title (which back in those days was more prominent than the NCAA tournament).

But there was still one missing for the 314.

That is, until the evening of June 12, 2019 at approximately 9:45PM, St. Louis time.

For years the St. Louis Blues were considered the Chicago Cubs of the National Hockey League. They were the NHL’s Charlie Brown. Die-hard followers always felt that after success, a trap door would eventually open. Whether it be the financial distresses of ownership, the sudden death of an up and coming young defenseman, a possible relocation to Saskatoon, the sudden break-up of a popular Head Coach as he scampered to enemy territory in Detroit, to a first round playoff elimination after winning the President’s Cup, to a lockout and a lost season, long-suffering Blues fans saw the football being yanked from them as they prepared to kick it.

This was the life of a Blues fan.

But it was different in 2019: although the familiar storyline preceded the celebration. In April 2018 the Blues did not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Then came an Opening Night loss to Winnipeg 5-1 in front of a sellout home crowd On the day before Thanksgiving, the team fired its Head Coach. During the season Blues players were fighting Blues players during a morning skate with local television cameras rolling. Hours after New Year’s Day 2019, the team found itself with the worst record in the NHL.

Days after the big ball dropped in Time Square in January 2019, the St. Louis Blues were a train wreck.

But 2019 would be remembered by St. Louis hockey fans much the same way as 1964 is remembered by St. Louis baseball fans. And just like fifty-five years prior, the turnaround started when a 25-year old whose last name begins with the letter B joined the team.

On January 5, the Blues added goaltender Jordan Binnington to their roster. St. Louis’ record then was 16-9-4 with 53 games remaining in the regular season. Two nights later, Binnington stopped 25 Philadelphia shots as the Blues shut out the Flyers. This would be the start of a run where #50 would win 24 of his next 30 starts (including six shutouts). In Kurt Warner-like fashion, Binnington led the charge to rejuvenate his hockey team. 

The Blues would qualify for the playoffs. Suddenly a perfect storm was forming. As the team advanced deeper in the playoffs, NHL powerhouses in Tampa Bay, Calgary, Pittsburgh and Washington were sent to the golf course.  Suddenly, a path was opening for the Blues.

You had the feeling that if it didn’t happen in 2019, it might never occur.

It started to fall into place. The Blues advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since the Nixon Administration. They would eliminate Winnipeg, Dallas and then San Jose. Only a team remained. But that opponent came from a city that has sent shivers to St. Louis sports fans for over twenty years: Boston.

Beantown seem to have curse over the Gateway City. The Bruins swept the Blues the last time St. Louis reached the NHL Finals in 1970. The Red Sox defeated the Cardinals in the World Series in 2004 and 2013. The Patriots knocked off the two-touchdown favorite St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Now, another team from Boston stands in the way of St. Louis winning a professional sports championship.

The 2019 Stanley Cup Finals were a physical slugfest that went the distance. The deciding Game 7 would be played on a frozen pond in downtown Boston.

But in this showdown, the Blues would conquer the bully. In that Game 7 Binnington was spectacular: stopping shot after shot and making save after save. #50’s performance quieted and declawed the roaring crowd at the TD Garden. 

While Binnington led the way, he was strongly assisted by Captain Alex Pietrangelo, who finally displayed the advertised leadership and dominance. Veteran Ryan O’Reilly took over as the center iceman Blues fans were coveting for over a decade. Their example cascaded down throughout the team.

Then at approximately 10:45PM Eastern Time, the final horn sounded. The scoreboard told the story: St. Louis-4; Boston-1. The Blues players skated around while carrying the Stanley Cup in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The magic number became zero. This was playoff win #16. The Blues were the only NHL team in 2019 that ended its playoff run with a victory

Back in the 314 the celebration began. The Blues playoff run united a region in desperate need of a shot of self-esteem. Watch parties became go-to events around town. From the Enterprise Center to Busch Stadium and spots in between, 60,000-80,000 flocked into downtown to experience Games Six and Seven of the Finals

When the final horn sounded and when the Cup was presented, Gateway City fans celebrated heartily but respectfully. No fires were set. No cars were turned over. No windows were broken.

This was a good time to be in the 314.

The quest for the Stanley Cup is the most grueling gauntlet in all professional sports. A team plays eighty-two games over a six-month period for the opportunity to play some more. Then the first team to win the next sixteen games gets to spend time with the Stanley Cup.

As the Cup was handed to each current Blues players on that Wednesday night in Boston, memories of Glenn Hall, Red Berenson, Barclay and Bob Plager, Garry Unger, Dan Kelly, Ronald Caron, Bob Gassoff, Doug Wickenhauser, Brett Hull, Bernie Federko, Brian Sutter and others that wore the blue note came to mind.

Then the moment hit its crescendo three days later during a parade down Market Street: a parade that many in the 314 are still talking about.

As we approach the fourth month of a professional sports lockdown, we are left to reminisce about past glories. For St. Louis, a big one took place on a mid-June night in Boston.

And yes, it happened one year ago

Comments?        Contact Mike at:    mike@stlsports.com



MIKE HUSS

stlsports.com

Lead

Columnist


regular guest:
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review

Huss


email Mike
here

The Clock is (Still) Ticking

posted June 14

In a normal Major League Baseball season, Memorial Day would be one those benchmark dates to evaluate the state of our National Pastime. In a normal baseball season, roughly one-third of the regular season would be completed. Memorial Days provided teams an opportunity to gage their chances for the post-season or if a better path would be a fire sale of their better/more expensive players the better path.

During a normal Major League Baseball season, the World-Wide Leader of Cable Sports Programming would be flooding their airwaves with games that would start before lunch time and would run straight through until after midnight. Here in self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven, in a normal Major League Baseball season the apologists of Fox Sports Midwest would be spinning patriotic stories while reminding the audience there are plenty of good seats available for future games, upcoming bobble head-giveaways and all the fun that is occurring at Ball Park Village.

But 2020 is not a normal Major League Baseball season.

It’s Memorial Day 2020. It’s the last Monday of May and not one Major League Baseball game has been played. If things went as planned, this bureau would be preparing a Memorial Day barbeque after finishing covering a weekend series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

But this is not a normal time. Instead we are approaching a deadline to decide if there will or will not be a 2020 Major League Baseball Season. The Lords of the Game as well as the MLB Players’ Association have been talking to carve out something to salvage 2020. Along the way there has been finger-pointing and sniping. But the bottom line is there is no agreement.

In this environment, everyone has something to lose. The players are collecting reduced paychecks while helplessly watching a prime season of their career fade away. Published reports that have crunched the numbers predict the cost of a lost season would be $170 million guaranteed and full service time for the players. For those making the minimum, it is spelled out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement: “at the 2019 rate per season plus a cost of living adjustment, rounded to the nearest $500, provided that the cost of living adjustment shall not reduce the minimum salary below $555,000”.

Owners are not collecting ticket revenue and reduced (if any) broadcasting money.  While both sides have been talking since what would have been Opening Day, no plan has been finalized.

Plus (and it’s a big plus), the plan would need a thumbs-up from local officials and the Feds.

The folks at ESPN.com sum it up this way: “Owners want players to take a pay cut on top of one mandated by the March agreement, which states players be given a prorated salary depending on the number of games played. Players continue to hold firm, confident that the language guaranteeing them a pro rata share is unassailable. Talks, accordingly, have grown tense. Neither side has made an official proposal. Even if they agree on a deal that covers money and health, MLB needs federal, state and local officials to rubber-stamp play in home cities, a charge complicated by the varying rates of infection and presence of the coronavirus.”

“Major League Baseball owners are really rich, and if they are cash poor and need to borrow money to pay employees and minor leaguers and major leaguers this season, they can and should. Wealth is often built on debt. This debt is an investment in the future of their asset.”


“The health-and-safety protocol will be there. The posturing is over. Deals take flexibility. Embrace it. The appetite for the game is ravenous. The time for a deal, for baseball to return, is finally here.”

So, as we prepare our Memorial Day barbeques, the Owners and Players keep talking in this expensive game of chicken with Baseball fans across the fruited plain watching their every move.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The sands of the 2020 baseball hourglass are fading away.

In this little corner of cyberspace, the hope is something can be hammered out to have some form of 2020 baseball. In a perfect world, an agreement be reached so that June can be used as a quasi-spring training period with baseball resuming somewhere on or around the 4th of July. Again, that is in a perfect world and perfect worlds don’t always occur.

In the meantime, this bureau wonders if this Owners/Players virus standoff is a preview of upcoming attractions. It has been reported in many venues there is a growing animosity and dislike between both parties. Those of us in this little corner of cyberspace wonder if this COVID-19 resumption is laying the groundwork for a bigger battle. That battle can be found on Page 154 of the current Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement:

“This Agreement shall terminate on December 1, 2021 at 11:59 P.M. Eastern Time.”

The hope is two-fold: first, Baseball can be restored in some shape or form during 2020 and the final product doesn’t create any more mistrust or resentment between the Players and the Owners.

Most of the current Major League Baseball Players were either not yet born or were in elementary school in August 1994: the last time the game shut down. Many of today’s Baseball ownership groups were not involved in that battle. But there are some of us, including this bureau, that remembers vividly just how devasting the shutdown to the industry and how difficult it was to restore the fans’ respect.

When the game returned in April 1995, Owners and Players quickly found out this was not Field of Dreams. If you build it. they would come: Not. Instead, the game returned to stadiums were only 75% full and many of the fans who were attendance jeered and mocked the returning players.

It was ugly. The fans did not forget.

The hope here is returning to the field in 2020 is not a preview of upcoming attractions.

In a normal Major League Baseball season, Memorial Day would be one those benchmark dates to evaluate the state of our National Pastime.

But 2020 is not a normal Major League Baseball season.

Memo to the Major League Owners and Players’ Association: Gentlemen, the ball is in your court.

And the clock is ticking.



Aledmys Diaz, Kurt Warner & Talent Evaluation: Tunnel Vision, Not Knowing What You Don't Know & Missing Greatness



Mark Bausch

Bausch

Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================

 

In June of 1981 I met a young lady (Susan) who, in September of 1982, became my wife.


In 1983 we attended a David Bowie concert at what was then known as the Rosemont Horizon (in suburban Chicago). By that time, Bowie had become a mainstream pop star whose songs were heard all over the world.


It was my first Bowie show, and the entire experience catalyzed an acute awareness of David Bowie and his music. (Late to the party, eh?)


In 2004 Bowie performed at St. Louis' Fox Theatre, we were there, and those in attendance were mesmerized by what we observed: we were in the presence of a star.


By that time, I had gained knowledge of most of his career--in large part thanks to wife Susan, who was far 'ahead of the curve' on Mr. Bowie.


=====


Forty years ago (March 3, 1976, to be precise), Susan attended her first David Bowie concert, at Chicago's International Amphitheater.


She was eighteen years old and returned home from college to see the show--accompanied by her younger brother.

Bowie's perfomance confirmed what she first suspected years previously after seeing the man on a Saturday night Don Kirshner-style music video TV show: namely, David Bowie was an avant-garde performer with world-class talent, talent impossible to ignore if you knew what to look for.

Literally ten days prior to Bowie's International Amphitheater show, that same Bowie tour paused in Evansville IN on February 22, 1976, for a Sunday night performance at Roberts Stadium (the home of the Evansville Purple Aces basketball team).


I was seventeen at the time, still a senior at a small town high school located a half-hour or so from Roberts Stadium...but I believed I had better things to do than watch some Brit named David Bowie perform a couple dozen of his songs.


As I look back to February of 1976, I had plenty of awareness of the upcoming bicentennial celebration; plenty of awareness of high school advanced chemistry, physics, trigonometry and analytic geometry; plenty of enjoyment of high school golf; a fun job at an area supermarket (don't laugh: $2.10/hr and time-and-a-half on Sundays); as well as fun and frivolity with friends and a high school sweetheart.


This was my world, and it was all good.


But my good world, in February of 1976, would have been my better world if I had possessed a little more awareness of the earth around me and had opened my eyes to the talents of David Bowie, who, to me at the time, was the guy who sang the throwaway Top 40 pop song 'Golden Years'.


Therefore, in 1976, I had no interest in attending the Bowie show in Evansville, Indiana.


After all, it was a Sunday night (school the next day!) and I had never attended anything other than basketball games and the Shrine Circus in Roberts Stadium, a venue that I believed to be infested, during rock concerts, with pot-smokers and troublemakers that roamed freely in a world that I did not understand.


In other words, my perspective was foolishly limited and suffered from myriad distractions, and my tunnel vision of that world was incomplete.


The result of tunnel vision?  I didn't know what I didn't know.


=====

 

Tunnel vision in professional sports?


On a macro scale, the industry-wide ban on players of color, best exemplified by MLB's 'habit' of not allowing black players to play the sport of baseball at its highest level, is probably the best (worst?!) example of tunnel vision.

 

On a micro scale, Cardinals' rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz comes to mind as a player whose skills were viewed by major league talent evaluators with tunnel vision: they didn't know what they didn't know.


Recall that on July 8, 2015, Diaz was placed on waivers by the Cardinals, and was therefore made available to the other 29 big league clubs for no charge other than the price of assuming the balance of his contract (which includes 2016 and 2017 salaries of $2.5 million per season).


Diaz went unclaimed, and it seemed as if his aspirations of ever wearing a major league uniform would remain unfulfilled.


=====


At the end of today's game (July 3) the Cardinals will have played 81 games (exactly half of the scheduled 162 regular season games), and Aledmys Diaz' current half-season statistics project to a 20+HR/80+RBI season to go along with his current .300+ batting average/.900+OPS stats--first-half numbers that, despite early-season defensive shortcomings, are likely to earn Aledmys Diaz a place in the upcoming All Star game.


Spring training injuries to starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta and spring acquisition Ruben Tejada (as well as sub-par shortstop play from Jedd Gyorko) opened the door for Diaz; he was literally the Redbirds' fourth and last resort--and the Cuban defector has not looked back.


=====


Another St. Louis example of professional talent evaluators not knowing what they didn't know was personified by the circuitous path taken to greatness by former Rams QB Kurt Warner.


Recall that Northern Iowa alum Warner sat on the bench for his first three college seasons and only cracked the Panthers' starting line-up for his senior year.


Warner was not drafted by any NFL team before spending a couple of weeks as Bret Favre's caddy in Green Bay. He then played three years in the Arena Football League before the Rams signed him in 1998.


In 1998 Warner starred for the Amsterdam team in NFL Europe before returning to St. Louis where he managed a few minutes of playing time in the final game of the 1998 Rams' season.

 

Prior to the 1999 season, the Rams signed free-agent QB Trent Green to a four-year multimillion dollar contract, and viewed Warner, at best, as a back-up--because he (Warner) was made available to the Cleveland Browns in the NFL's 1999 Expansion Draft!

 

The Browns did select a quarterback in their expansion draft: Tampa Bay QB Scott Milanovich, who was released before training camp commenced. Browns' management were convinced that #1-overall draft choice Tim Couch would be their QB for a decade.

 

Nearly two decades later, the Cleveland Browns are still looking for a quarterback while Super Bowl champion Kurt Warner hopes for his induction to the professional football Hall of Fame, and Aledmys Diaz is hoping for an invitation to Miami for the 2016 MLB All Star Game.


And the great David Bowie died in January of this year.


I do not want to miss any more greatness.

 


=====




MIKE HUSS

stlsports.com

Lead

Columnist


regular guest:
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review

Huss


email Mike
here

Memorial Day Weekend--
The Cubs Visit


May 25

 


As we approach Memorial Day, the ceremonial beginning of summer and the one-third pole of the 2024 Major League Baseball season, recent trends have been pretty good for the St. Louis Cardinals. Let’s review:

--In the past ten games, the Cardinals are 8-2

--The Red Birds swept the Baltimore Orioles: an opponent with one of the better records in the American League

--In the past ten games, St. Louis has scored 57 runs and their team batting average has “improved” to .231.

--At this writing, the local nine are two games behind for the final NL Wild Card spot.

All good things, right? When you are in a hole, the first step is stop digging. Over the past ten games it looks like the local nine have put away their shovels.

While these recent trends do provide ammunition to the half-glass-full crowd within the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball and the sports readers on the team’s flagship radio station, there is also one other point to note:

As the Memorial Day weekend approaches, the St. Louis Cardinals are three games under .500.

That point trumps all those others.

On the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day, the Red Birds have an overall record of 23-26 and have wiggled into third place in the National League Central Division. The team is now 11-12 in games played at Busch Stadium and 1-6 in games against NLCS fraternity brothers.

We in this little corner of cyberspace frequently mention a quote once offered by the late Jack Buck. According to Mr. B., you cannot take any team seriously if they are below .500.

So, at this writing, you really cannot take the Cardinals seriously. They still have more work to go in order to become relevant.

It continues this weekend as the Chicago Cubs come to town for a weekend series.

And it continues with a challenge.

The Cubs game one scheduled starter is Shola Imanaga: who enters the game with a 3-0 record and a road earned run average of 0.38. According to Pittsburgh Pirate Manager Derek Shelton, whose team lost 1-0 to Imanaga: "This guy is going to give hitting-coaches nightmares. The fastball is not 94-95, but it's effective. The separator is the splitter looks like a strike. Even the splits he throws in the zone that are strikes have so much action. And there is a lot of deception in the delivery."

Chicago also comes to town with lots of players either on or recently off the Injured List. Still Craig Counsell’s team is in second place in the Division with a 27-24 record. Right now, the Cubs are better than the Cardinals.

Yeah, they are.

So, again if the Red Birds want to be taken seriously and hike toward .500, these games with Chicago are important for relevancy.

And also, to provide a reason for fans to come to Busch III.

In the three games against the Orioles, the announced official attendance totals were 35,598, 32,582 and 33,324 respectively. For the weekday afternoon finale, tickets on the secondary market were as low as $4.00 a pop. To the eyes of this bureau who was attendance for that afternoon finale, there was plenty of room for the fans.

Sidenote: Remember when back in the day, an afternoon baseball game, a Businessman’s Special, was a must-see event?

After 29 home games in 2024, the Cardinals have been averaging 36,778. After 29 home games in 2023, the Cardinals have been averaging 39,135: a decrease of 2,357 per home game. 

It might even be deeper. This week, there were commercials on local TV advertising tickets as low as $15 for the upcoming series. On the team’s website, there was another offer for the Memorial Day weekend series advertising all-inclusive tickets were available for $79.00.

Think about that: discounted tickets on Memorial Day weekend against the Cubs.

Yeah, this is an important series for the St. Louis Cardinals.

While improving, the national image of these Red Birds is still questionable. In its 5/23/23 Windup Newsletter, Fox Sports reporter and sportswriter Ken Rosenthal wrote in The Athletic: “The Cardinals? Those Cardinals?? Swept the Orioles?!”

In its recent Power Poll, ESPN.com ranks the local nine 25th of the 30-team MLB with this summary: “St. Louis has climbed out of last place thanks to some struggles on the road by the Reds -- and a recent series sweep of the Orioles -- but the Cardinals won't exactly be considered contenders until they get themselves over .500. That hasn't happened since they won the NL Central in 2022. That feels like ages ago, but at least the team has played better baseball of late. Three series wins in a row have the Cardinals feeling like they can get back into an NL wild-card race that's pretty wide open. Not one singular thing has propelled them lately; it's simply been steady play at the plate, in the field and on the mound. Can it continue?”

Yeah, can it continue?

It starts with the Cubs.

After the three games with Chicago, the Red Birds hit the road for a 9-game, 3-city road trip in ten days. Their excellent adventure starts with three games in Cincinnati, followed by three games in Philaelphis concluding with three games in Houston.

If the Cardinals wish to be relevant in 2024, it needs to start now.

In a recent conversation with the team’s flagship station, St. Louis President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said: “I understand fans are not happy with myself. They’re not happy with Oli. I don’t think anything I say here today is going to change that. So, I think we have to just keep trying to go back and try to get this to work. We understand that if it doesn’t, people are going to be held accountable. And ultimately, that starts with me.”

Actually, the 2024 St. Louis Cardinals are Mozeliak’s team. He owns this.

In the past ten games, his team is 8-2, swept the Baltimore Orioles: a team with one of the better records in the American League and are two games behind for the final NL Wild Card spot.

But Mozeliak’s team is three games under .500.

That point trumps all those others.

Yeah, this is an important series for the St. Louis Cardinals.



Bausch


Mark Bausch
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================
Uncertainty (Too Much) and Clarity (Not Enough) in Center Field:
"Ask Me In a Week"


March 11


Uncertainty (too much) and clarity (not enough).

Both of these descriptions apply to the predicament facing Cards third-year manager Oli Marmol, who wrote a lineup for Sunday's game vs the Marlins that placed rookie centerfielder Victor Scott in the leadoff spot (producing two hits and a walk) and followed that up with today's (Monday) batting order that featured Dylan Carlson batting seventh (one single through seven innings) while manning the CF position.

Since Lars Nootbaar fractured a couple of ribs on Saturday, March 2, Marmol's starting lineups have ping-ponged back-and-forth between Scott and Carlson at the all-important CF position.

The Nootbaar injury, when combined with the (slower than expected?) Tommy Edman off-season wrist surgery recovery...has presented a very real bump in the road to the Cardinals first-month plans, plans that had Edman starting in CF, Nootbaar in RF and Jordan Walker in RF.

Prior to the start of spring training, statements from the Cards brass indicated that they believed a more consistent line-up, one that featured outfielders primarily playing only one position, would lead to better team defense.

Their proposed lineup included Dylan Carlson as a fourth outfielder, and Victor Scott gaining experience at AAA Memphis.

Then the Nootbaar and Edman situations 'happened'.

And Oli Marmol, who is in the last year of his contract, has unexpected availability in one of the most important positions in baseball: CF.

In a pre-game chat with media on Sunday, March 10, Marmol was asked how he would like to see the center-field position in look in a week's time.

His answer?

"Ask me in a week."



Real Life and Sports--Tied for First?!


September 19

[better formatted for phone -->here<--]


I. Rick Hummel: The Commish


Earlier this year, long-time (really long-time!) St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Rick Hummel passed away.


Although Hummel occasionally covered other sports for the P-D, evidence that the Cardinals were his primary assignment for the better part of five (?!) decades includes [1] his 2007 election into the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and [2] his nickname: “The Commish”…as in the Commissioner of Baseball.


Truth: actual MLB commissioners (Bud Selig and Rob Manfred) referred to Hummel, in person, as Commish...


Additional reminders of Hummel’s excellence (and legacy): [1] his name adorns the current Busch Stadium press box, and [2] the story that current Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold tells on himself—for years, when the self-effacing Goold worked road games and arrived in various press boxes as a visiting sportswriter, on more than one occasion he was greeted by staffers and writers with a bit of a grimace and an ”oh, it’s you” comment—because media in other towns had expected, and even looked forward to, renewing Hummel’s acquaintance.


 

II. Beat Writer Rick Hummel: Tied for First


For most of his career, Rick Hummel was not a columnist. Rather, his specialty was the construction of informative and straightforward ‘game stories’, most of which were leavened with post-game quotes from that night’s notable performers.
 

In other words, in baseball-writing parlance, Rick Hummel was a ‘beat writer.’

 

The guy wrote thousands of game stories—a rather mundane task to some, but in fact, game stories, for decades, were the meat-and-potatoes of daily baseball journalism…especially prior to the rise of highlight shows such as ESPN SportsCenter.


It is tempting to say that Rick Hummel qualified as baseball’s best beat writer.


Or, as former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa might have said, perhaps Hummel was ‘Tied for first’ as baseball’s best beat writer.


It is hard to explain how well the hand of Rick Hummel fit into the glove that is major league baseball.


Umpires, team and league executives and staffers, managers, players and stadium employees…as well as his sportswriting and media colleagues from all parts of North America—all willingly played starring roles in each summer’s edition of ‘The Rick Hummel Baseball Experience.’


 

III. The Baseball Wisdom of Rick Hummel: One Last Thank You


Of course there was no such thing as ‘The Rick Hummel Baseball Experience.’ His ballpark persona was far too humble for that.


But what Rick Hummel was able to offer his readers, from Spring Training through the World Series, was careful and judicious writing, based on his viewing of that night’s game, as well as decades of experience and true baseball wisdom. The man really did know the game of baseball, an essential trait when conversing on a near-daily basis with the likes of former Cardinals managers Whitey Herzog and Tony La Russa—neither of whom suffer fools.


It is with that in mind that I share my very last conversation with Rick Hummel, which took place after a March 2023 Grapefruit League game, within a virtually empty Roger Dean Stadium press box.


While each of us were collecting pens, notebooks, laptops and March Madness pools, our conversation turned to the Cardinals, and their prospects for the upcoming season.


“They don’t have enough pitching,” Hummel said.

 

He continued: “I was a little surprised they didn’t do more to address the pitching…in the off-season. Of course they did add some guys I don’t know a lot about, but it seems like they didn’t add enough pitching. They are going to have to acquire more pitching.”


As we left the press box and headed for the elevator, our chat turned to what I believed to be the singular take-home message offered by the 2023 Grapefruit League edition of the St. Louis Cardinals: the organization’s abundance of genuine position player prospects…young players who could be real stars.


Yours truly: “Rick, if you include some of the young players who made their first contributions last year (2022), I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Cardinals as well-stocked as they are now, in terms of prospects who look like they can really play. And some of these guys look like they will hit.”


Hummel: “You’re right. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen what is here right now, in terms of prospects. Yes, every year in March, the Cardinals might have one prospect to showcase. Some years they had none. This year is different. In (Jordan) Walker [67, left] and (Masyn) Winn [60, left], they have two. Two! Two superior prospects, both with legitimate chances to be star players…or more. I’ve not seen that here before. Ever.”


Masyn Winn was called up from AAA Memphis on August 18, and made his MLB debut vs. the NY Mets the next day.

As a big leaguer, Winn has already dazzled defensively and evidenced repeated hints that he possesses the combination of superlative athleticism and baseball skills that together, along with his jersey number (0), offer echoes of another Cardinals player who wore jersey number 1, and played shortstop in a sublime (wizardly?!) fashion.
 

Style and skills possessed by Wynn sell tickets…and win baseball games.


Masyn Winn (0)  Busch Stadium  (September 18, 2023)   stlsports.com

Offensively, Winn’s growth as a hitter is happening as this is written. The hesitation displayed in his initial big league plate appearances is rapidly disappearing—the young man is learning fast and is likely to contribute in a significant way to the Cardinals 2024 batting order.


Spoiler: Masyn Winn batted lead-off in more than one 2023 Spring Training game.


Meanwhile, the 21 year old Jordan Walker recorded his 100th major league hit in mid-September of this, his rookie season. Wearing #18, Walker has settled into right field rather nicely.


Jordan Walker (18)  Busch Stadium  (April 3, 2023)   stlsports.com

Whenever Winn is slotted in the line-up immediately behind Walker in Cards manager Oli Marmol’s batting order, I am reminded of Hummel’s words about the young duo, and their future possibilities as Cardinals.


It is a pleasant thought.


So…a final thank you to you, Rick.


IV. Rick Hummel and Tony La Russa: A Peek Behind the Curtain


Watching the man at work, it seemed to this observer that Rick Hummel viewed his job as one of gathering information while remaining as invisible as possible, a perspective that put Hummel in good stead as far as his sources were concerned.


Considering only the 21st century work of Rick Hummel: headline makers such as Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright; decision-makers such as former and current Cards executives Walt Jocketty and John Mozeliak; former and current managers Tony La Russa, Mike Matheny, Mike Shildt and Oli Marmol; as well as dozens of rarely-heard-from-again September call-ups…when Hummel needed a quote, he usually got what he needed from these gentlemen.


But in what should not qualify as news, not all big league ballplayers want to be quoted by sportswriters, even those with the pedigree and reputation of Rick Hummel.


For example, a half-hour or so after a spring training game in the early 2000s, Hummel entered the office of Tony La Russa, a modest room immediately adjacent to the team’s home clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium. There was only one other visitor in said office at the time of Hummel’s entry: yours truly.


After a bit of small talk, Hummel shared with La Russa his reason for chatting: he desired some quotes from a player (Player X), and Player X, a rising part-time player the previous year who was thought to be ready to contribute as a regular in the upcoming season, was not cooperating.

 

No doubt a complicating factor was that English was not the first language of Player X.


As if he was shot out of a cannon, La Russa sprung out of his chair while telling Hummel, under his breath, that he would ‘take care of that.’


Hummel responded with a smile, a nod, and a ‘thank you.’


La Russa left his office for the clubhouse (leaving Hummel and I alone there) and returned, grinning, to the seat behind his desk, after only a couple of minutes.


Quotes from Player X were in Hummel’s Post-Dispatch piece the next day.


 

V. My Mother-in-Law Has Something In Common with Tony La Russa?


(AUTHOR’S NOTE: Dear reader—stay with me here!)


More than two decades ago, it became apparent to me that Betty, my mother-in-law, was a lot smarter than she let on.


For me, what tipped it in was when I figured out the genius of one of Betty’s favorite conversational techniques.


It goes like this:


If everyone in our group was ready to leave for a restaurant except for her husband Bob, who might have been in an upstairs bedroom getting ready…what did Betty say to the rest of us?


“Bob’s making himself even more handsome.”


Similarly, when her daughter or a granddaughter were a bit behind schedule for an event, what might she be doing?

 

The young lady in question was not said to be brushing her hair. Nor was she was applying make-up, fixing her coat, or maybe, dressing a child.

 

Instead…“She’s making herself even more beautiful.”


Betty’s explanations, always delivered with a sly smile, accomplished multiple goals.


After a while, the overall utility of “She’s making herself even more beautiful” came to mind whenever I thought of former Cards manager Tony La Russa uttering the phrase “Tied for first.”


And at times it seemed as if La Russa utilized this phrase a couple of times a month.


What happened was this—back in the heyday of major metropolitan daily newspapers and their deadlines, a given paper’s sportswriters needed quick post-game quotes from significant players as well as the team’s manager. Every night. After every game. Over and over.


As a result, a short-hand developed—if Player Y made a spectacular defensive play, the writer might say to the manager: “Talk about Player Y. Was that the best play you’ve ever seen?”


And the response was usually a ready-made quote for that night’s game story.


I first witnessed how this played out with Tony La Russa early in the 1996 season, his first as the St. Louis manager.

 

Remember, Tony La Russa had managed over 2,500 (!) baseball games prior to his hiring as the Cards manager.


As a result, La Russa’s standard answer to that sort of question was a bit different than most. Respecting his former players and their accomplishments seemed important to him. Therefore, he seldom referred to a given play made by a current player as THE best he had seen, but instead made nice with his current players while mentioning his former players as well…by uttering the phrase “Tied for first.”

 

So mother-in-law Betty (“She’s making herself even more beautiful.”) has something in common with Hall of Fame manager Tony (“Tied for first.”); they’re wordsmiths!


I must admit that, over the years, I’ve appropriated both of these phrases and used them as my own.

 

My oh my.


 

VI. A Wedding: Tied for First


Early last month, oldest daughter Emma and Eric were married in a ceremony that took place a few short blocks from Chicago’s United Center.


During the wedding ceremony, new bride Emma delivered heartfelt words to her invited gathering of nearly 200 family and friends.


She described the best days of her life and stated that there were two: the current day (her wedding day), and the day that her sister Hannah was born.


Knowing the room and her (mostly) Chicago audience, she reviewed the managerial career of Tony La Russa—starting and ending with Chicago’s own White Sox, stints which surrounded his decades managing the Oakland Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals.

 

Emma had read the room correctly as it seemed most listening had at least some awareness of the man.


She then explained La Russa’s usage of the phrase ‘Tied for first.’


I had not seen a word of her remarks in advance of the wedding ceremony…but I knew what was coming.


How did her wedding day compare with the day that Hannah was born?


Emma said that these two days were ‘Tied for first.’


Emma’s words brought tears to my eyes.


My oh my.


Real life and sports.


Tied for first.


My oh my.

 

mark@stlsports.com



MIKE HUSS

stlsports.com

Lead

Columnist


regular guest:
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review

Huss


email Mike
here


A Busch Perspective...

September 10

 

Frequent visitors to this little corner of cyberspace may recall that back in the day this bureau worked as an usher for about ten years at Busch Stadium II and the St. Louis Arena. While it was a fun way to earn a few bucks for college, gasoline and beer, the employment time period was during the 1970s/ Aside from Lou Brock and Ted Simmons, Baseball in St. Lou back then was not really good.

This bureau always enjoys chatting with the current Busch III ushering staff. To that end, while walking to the Press Gate prior to the finale of the Labor Day weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates, we chatted with an older usher who shared a tale.

The night before the Red Birds blew another 9th inning save/opportunity that led to a loss. As the bottom of the ninth ended, the older usher said he thanked the departing fans for attending, reminded them to drive home safely and sked if they would see them tomorrow.

When we asked the usher if the departing fans politely declined to returning the next day, the usher replied, “Actually, the fans didn’t say no”

“They said, Hell No”.

My, oh my

This bureau has often questioned the real passion of the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball. Naturally, loads of folks show up on Opening Day and appear during the playoffs.

But it’s during tough time when the dedication is challenged.

The summer of 2023 has indeed been challenging in the 314. Despite winning two straight in National League leading Atlanta, the local nine are still in last place in the Central Division at 61-78. Four more losses would guarantee the team’s first losing season since the Clinton Administration.

At this writing, as a Big-League Manager Oliver Marmol has compiled a 154-146 win/loss record.

Even the national pundits are noticing. In its recent Power Poll, The Athletic ranks St. Louis 26th of the 30 MLB teams with this review: “The Cardinals are not in a position to tear down and rebuild. They don’t really do that in St. Louis. The losing this season has been a shock to the system, but there’s always next year, and Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has emphasized that starting pitching will be a priority moving forward. The Cardinals could look to move some of their excess position-player depth. They could dip their toe into free agency. There are options. But one thing is clear: St. Louis’ pitching staff ranked 25th in ERA, and things have to be better than that.”

Yeah, Self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven has not been the happiest place on earth this summer. In past seasons, the Cardinals success was directly proportional to a winning record against Divisional foes.

But in 2023, not so much. At this writing St. Louis is 15-24 against NLCD foes. That includes the Red Birds going 4-9 against the Pirates and 5-8 against the Chicago Cubs in 2023.

At thus writing the local nine is 12-24 in one-run games and are 17-53 in games when the opposition scores first.

So, it has been a rough summer if you are a Cardinal fan.

And it’s starting to show at the gate.

With ten home games remaining, the Red Bird Official Home attendance is 40,120 per game. Now it should be noted that the “official attendance” does not equal the actual turnstile count or the “eye test”.  Viewing the rows of empty seats from the Press Box while hearing the official attendance total, this bureau was reminded of that famous line of a song by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Eagles:

“You can’t hide your lying eyes”/

Regardless, let’s examine that 40,120 number. Ten home games remain. Even with an expected large crowd for Adam Wainwright Day, that 40,120 per home game total likely will not get much better.

How does that compare to past seasons? In 2022 the Cardinals drew 40,994 per home game. In the pre-COVID seasons of 2019 and 2018, the average per game attendance at Busch Stadium III was 42,967 and 42,019, respectively.

Any way you slice it, the trend is moving the wrong way for for the home. Team.

A deeper 2023 dive is more concerning.

From August 1 through Labor Day, the Cardinals played nineteen home games. In those nineteen games, only three of them announced an official attendance total over 40,000.

We repeat, Memo to the suits at 700 Clark Street: are you paying attention?

Under this ownership group, the Cardinals have consistently been successful in the field. That on-field success translated to success at the gate, television ratings concessions and license merchandise sales. During their tenure, the current ownership group should be proud their franchise year in and year out has been in the top five of Major League home attendance.

That has been the real Cardinal Way.

At the core of the Red Bird business model is success on the field which translates to butts in the seats. Winning baseball brings fans and their discretionary cash downtown to purchase tickets, beers, sodas, hot dogs, souvenirs, parking and perhaps even enjoying all the fun at Ball Park Village.

But last place Baseball will obstruct those plans: especially so in this red state where folks can sometimes be set in its ways.

It sure looks like the fans are speaking:

“Actually, the fans didn’t say no”

“They said, Hell No”.

Memo to the suits at 700 Clark Street: are you paying attention?






=====


Bausch


Mark Bausch
Editor

St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================

Thoughts of Footwork and Masyn Winn

March 16

When the St. Louis Rams first ‘hit’, in the fall of 1999, it was a sight to behold.

For football fans in St. Louis, and for football fans everywhere.

A characteristic of the late 1990s Tony Banks Rams was that seemingly well-designed offensive plays never worked as designed—and they failed in a variety of ways.

During his time as the Rams starting quarterback, Banks seldom had the time necessary to complete passes downfield, and even when the protection was sufficient, his throws were often hilariously off-target.

Speaking of targets, many of that era’s Rams wide receivers seldom achieved separation.

And if the Banks-led passing game was awful, the early Dick Vermeil STL running game was worse.

But when Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Orlando Pace joined forces, magic happened in the Trans World Dome…and the Rams became known as ‘The Greatest Show on Turf.’

=====

As good as those Rams were, it says here that Ozzie Smith’s play at shortstop, for fifteen years, was St. Louis’ first ‘Greatest Show on Turf.’

The Wizard was that good. The man literally controlled the left side of the diamond as well as short left field, from his shortstop position, in ways that remain difficult to explain; you sort of had to see it to believe it

Ozzie Smith was worth the price of admission for his defensive play alone.

The Cardinals have had stellar shortstop play in the twenty-six seasons since Ozzie Smith retired after the 1996 campaign, including four named as NL All Stars: Edgar Renteria, David Eckstein, Jhonny Peralta and Paul DeJong.

But there remains but one Wizard, and there will only be one Wizard.

=====

Whereas Hall of Fame QB Steve Young has a full-time media ESPN media gig, the man he replaced as the 49ers QB, Hall of Famer Joe Montana, has a much lower public profile. Every so often, though, Montana makes the rounds of sports radio and in addition to selling something, he (re)tells stories about his days as an NFL quarterback.

Both Montana and Young recall one particular facet of the quarterbacking skills and habits demanded by Bill Walsh, their Hall of Fame head coach in San Francisco.

Specifically, Walsh was incredibly fastidious about the footwork employed by his quarterbacks…down to the last tiny detail—from snap to release of the football.

And if you think about it, while Montana was more of a stay-in-the-pocket QB than Young (one of the very first of the modern QBs to successfully meld facets of a running QB with that of an accurate, powerful arm capable of making throws from the pocket), Montana and Young were mirror images of each other during their dropbacks, in terms of the footwork they employed during their retreat from the line of scrimmage.

And in their footwork, both Joe Montana and Steve Young set a standard for decades to come, a standard that GOAT Tom Brady emulated for two+ decades, and a standard that young QBs such as Joe Burrow aim to emulate.

=====

Footwork was a major reason for the distinctive look that Ozzie Smith brought to the shortstop position, and YouTube is full of Smith videos demonstrating the finest details of shortstop play, including footwork.

Smith’s gracefulness was reminiscent of a dancer…or maybe a gymnast; and his footwork was an essential (the essential?) component of his singular defensive skill.

=====

The big (literally big) star of the Cardinals 2023 spring campaign is Jordan Walker (67, below).



In the shadow of Walker (above) is shortstop Masyn Winn, #80, who, along with Walker, has turned the heads of those who monitor baseball’s top prospects this spring.

Among Winn’s nine hits so far this spring include two home runs, including one to right-center field reminiscent of Mookie Betts.

Winn, whose baseball pedigree includes substantial time as a pitcher, is known for his 100 MPH+ throws to first base from shortstop.

In large part due to the fact that likely 2023 regular Cardinals shortstop Tommy Edman has played for the Japanese team in the World Baseball Classic (and Edman’s likely backup Paul DeJong has been hampered by injury), Winn has had at least two plate appearances in 13 out of 17 spring games.

At the plate, Winn is a work in progress...and needs to play every day in the summer of 2023.

Defensively, the man looks just about ready to play shortstop at the major league level.

And the next time you see video of Winn, watch his footwork.


Wisdom and Projections:

Miles Mikolas, Jordan Walker & Paul DeJong

It Is Why We Watch

February 16


What is wisdom, actually?

How is wisdom acquired?

Can wisdom be acquired?

And can acquired wisdom lead to accurate projections?


=====


2023 Super Bowl-winning QB Patrick Mahomes was the tenth selection in the 2017 NFL draft. The nine NFL GMs who had a chance to, but did not, draft Patrick Mahomes…they are asking themselves those four questions right about now.

Well, not exactly—because of the nine GMs who passed on selecting Mahomes in 2017, only one (the 49ers John Lynch) is still employed as an NFL general manager.

So eight of those men paid for their lack of NFL wisdom with their jobs.

I think I know something about wisdom; it has something to do with age. But as Oscar Wilde said, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”

So maybe I don’t know anything about wisdom.


=====


About ten years ago, friends of our family hosted a ‘Welcome Home’ party for their oldest son A, who was returning home after completing a two-year stint working for the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan.

A’s primary female acquaintance [(old-school parlance: girlfriend!)...about twenty-five years of age] was also in attendance that day, along with two or three dozen family members and church members (A’s father is a pastor).

Among the church members were a small number of middle-aged women; women who have significant leadership roles in the church and are often at or near the center of attention at various church gatherings and church meetings.

But not this day.

I was amazed by the attention devoted to A’s girlfriend—EVERYBODY wanted to speak with her. She was holding court in a small room with seating for 6-8 people, and at any one time she was chatting with 3-5 guests.

Everyone wanted to know about her, her background, her job…her family…her whatever.

With what looked to be a genuine smile (and a genuine voice), the young lady fielded every inquiry with aplomb. There was nothing overt about her appearance or presentation—she was prim and proper and entirely appropriate while speaking with a couple dozen of her new best friends. She was entirely comfortable with the star billing conferred upon her that day.

Meanwhile, in a room immediately adjacent to where A’s girlfriend was making new friends, the middle-aged ladies sat in comfy chairs and talked quietly among themselves. Others in attendance were demonstrably less interested in hearing what these ladies had to say…than they were in talking to and learning about A’s girlfriend. At this event, these ladies served as extras in a production that starred A’s girlfriend.

That day, without any intent, a bit of wisdom flowed into my head.

I think.

=====

I thought of A, his girlfriend, and the church ladies while attending last month’s 2023 Cardinals Winter Warmup.

At the 2023 edition of the Warmup, many of the Cardinals players sat down, one at a time, for ‘media hits’ that, in mid-January, are much more relaxed and free form than the typical regular season pre- or post-game sessions.

Most regular season player interviews take place in the team’s clubhouse. The Winter Warmup interviews took place in the room made famous by the oft-entertaining (and televised) post-game media Q&As with former Cards manager Tony LaRussa (TonyTV).

The last three player interviews on Monday afternoon, January 16th (Martin Luther King Day, the traditional final day of the Warmup) were, in order, veteran starting pitcher Miles Mikolas, rookie OF Jordan Walker, and SS Paul DeJong.

The 34 year-old Mikolas [a two-time All Star (including 2022)] was in his element during the interview; his demeanor was similar to that on display several weeks earlier when he did a Zoom video chat with Cards pre-and-post-game Bally broadcaster Jim Hayes from his (Mikolas’) garage in Jupiter FL.




Mikolas and Hayes talked a little golf, fishing, teammates' fishing, and a bit of baseball. A wry smile was painted on Mikolas’ face during the entire Zoom session (hat tip to Hayes).

In other words, at the Winter Warmup Mikolas appeared totally relaxed, despite the fact that the upcoming season is the last in his current contract with the Cardinals. In fact, should he remain unsigned at the conclusion of the season, he will become eligible for free agency. So the 2023 season is huge for the righthander.

Following Mikolas to the microphone was rookie (and newly-converted infielder) outfielder Jordan Walker.

Walker turns 21 on the upcoming May 22nd. On that day, while the Cardinals are scheduled to play at Cincinnati, the team’s AAA affiliate (the Memphis Redbirds) has an off day sandwiched between a pair of six-game home series vs the Gwinnett Stripers (May 16-21) and the Norfolk Tides (May 23-28).




Where will birthday boy Jordan Walker be on May 22, 2023? Cincinnati or Memphis?

If twenty year old Jordan Walker, one of the most highly-touted prospects in all of baseball, was nervous during his Winter Warmup media session, he hid it well. The young man owned the room. The dozen or so Cardinals-focused media in attendance were new to Walker and ready to discuss a wide variety of topics, and Walker seemed ready for each and every one of them, including:

*his efforts to learn a new position (corner outfield)
*his family and his middle name (Alexander, after Alexander the Great)
*his boyhood heroes/role models (Henry Aaron and Michael Jordan)
*his relationships with fellow Cards minor league prospects Masyn Wynn (SS) and Tink Hence (RHP)
*his awareness of the importance of the upcoming spring training as far as his baseball career is concerned
*the long bus rides at the end of minor league six game (road) series

At least on this day, Walker did not evidence either an artificial sense of self-importance nor what amounts to a oversized false modesty, as he seemed to understand the very essence of baseball—that for a position player, hot streaks are often followed by slumps.

All in all an impressive performance by a twenty year old youngster, one of the highest-rated prospects in all of baseball, but one who has yet to fill his Baseball Reference page with even one official MLB at-bat.

Jordan Walker, 20, wore the spotlight that day well…

Next on the podium? Cardinals SS Paul DeJong.




DeJong, like Mikolas, is entering the last year of his contract.

Also like Mikolas, DeJong is a former All Star (2019).

Whereas Mikolas exuded affability and confidence just a half-hour or so earlier, the 29 year old DeJong exhibited neither trait.

The 2022 season was one that DeJong would probably like to forget.

After starting the season on the big league roster, DeJong was demoted to Memphis in mid-May before being recalled in late July.

DeJong’s 2022 major league batting average (.157) was based on 237 plate appearances; he had almost as many minor league plate appearances for AAA Memphis (230).

At the conclusion of each season, Bleacher Report rates the top 25 players at each position (minimum 200 ABs).


DeJong was not a part of the 2022 BR top 25 SS list.

So as Spring Training 2023 commences, in the last year of his contract, Paul DeJong, former All Star Paul DeJong, is both literally and figuratively starting over.

At the 2023 Winter Warmup podium, DeJong described off-season efforts to remake his swing, efforts that commenced not long after the completion of his disastrous 2022 season.

DeJong’s goal? In his words, a more reproducible, well-balanced swing, achieved in part by elimination of his front leg kick.

Media in attendance were polite in their questioning of DeJong, who seemed earnest but subdued in his explanation of what undoubtedly is his last chance to make the case that he deserves to wear a Cardinals uniform (or any MLB uniform) well into his mid-thirties.

There was a stark contrast between DeJong’s serious demeanor and quiet voice, and Jordan Walker’s conversational skills and fill-the-room bright smile.

As stated previously, these 2023 Winter Warmup interviews were therefore reminiscent of A, his girlfriend, and the older church ladies.


=====


But sometimes pesky facts and history of all kinds can get in the way of a good story.

Facts and History: A’s girlfriend? Long gone. A is a popular guy!

Facts and History: Miles Mikolas turns 35 in August. Like most veteran starting pitchers, his past includes serious arm problems, problems that cost him the better part of two of his prime MLB seasons.

Facts and History: Jordan Walker turns 21 in May. He is a prospect. As the late great, long-time Blues GM Ron Caron (whose favorite sport was baseball) often opined—"Sometimes prospects turn into suspects.”

Facts and History: DeJong turns 30 in August. Veteran SS Nomar Garciaparra, in his first year as a Dodger (age 32) was an All Star as well as the 2006 MLB Comeback Player of the Year.


=====


So what does all of this have to do with wisdom?

A big part of the fun of baseball (and indeed, all spectator sports) is ‘projection.'

It is a little bit like the old TV show ‘Name That Tune’…how many notes do you need to identify the song?

In baseball, how many at-bats do you need to see to identify generational hitting talent?


=====


About twenty years ago, an undrafted free agent who starred on the US Olympic baseball team toured various MLB parks for a kind of meet-and-greet with teams that displayed interest in his services.

I remember standing just outside the Busch II first-base dugout as the player, pre-game, took part in an extended live batting practice session on the Busch diamond.

Watching carefully was then-Cardinals manager Tony La  Russa, standing as close as possible to the batting cage right behind home plate, folded arms laying on the padded horizontal bar that forms the rear frame of the cage…with a fungo bat dangling from his hand.

With multiple decades of baseball experience, La Russa’s eyes, ears and brain were mere feet from the left-handed hitter and were no doubt internalizing (sub-consciously) the player’s new-age baseball traits such as his launch angle, exit velocity and hard contact rate—before they were even a thing.

Say what you want about the guy, but Tony LaRussa had (has?) literally buckets of a manager’s baseball wisdom.

How does, or how is, that wisdom, that experience…converted to projection? More specifically, an accurate projection?

It is well-known that Tony La Russa identified the special talents of Albert Pujols early on in spring training 2001.

It is also surmised that, in the absence of an injury to Bobby Bonilla, La Russa and Cards management would have returned Pujols to the minor leagues at the start of the 2001 season.

Even La Russa wasn’t sure about the player that later became known as ‘The Great Pujols.’


One more thing...


Three names come to mind to most St. Louis sports fans when thinking of this sort of stuff.

Trent Green.


Rodney Harrison and his hit on Trent Green in the 1999 NFL pre-season, knocking him out of that year's regular season.


And Kurt Warner, who replaced Green and quarterbacked the Rams to a Super Bowl championship.


It was literally unbelievable. Hollywood could make a movie depicting the life and times of Kurt Warner.


Wait. They did.


It is why we watch.


=====


The careers of Miles Mikolas, Jordan Walker and Paul DeJong are three among many Cardinals worth watching in 2023.


Back to wisdom and projection.


Can wisdom (Wisdom) be acquired?

Well…the Cardinals had Wisdom in 2018!


In fact they drafted Patrick Wisdom in the 2012 Amateur Draft.


Wisdom appeared in 32 games as a Cardinal, all during the 2018 season.

So the Cardinals had Wisdom for eight years, before trading him to Texas prior the 2020 season.

Then, prior to the 2021 season, the Chicago Cubs acquired Wisdom, who In the 2021 and 2022 seasons, slugged a total of 53 home runs. As of spring training 2023, he remains on the Cubs 40 man roster.

So the Chicago Cubs have (W)wisdom again this year.

What does that tell you about wisdom (wink emoji)?


 


An Internet-Reconstructed Memory:

“It Was a Very Good Year…A Great Year”
 
October 13


The first time I spoke with Jack Buck he said something smart.

With the aid of the internet, I've attempted to reconstruct some of the details surrounding our conversation...thirty-six years after it occurred.

The year was 1986.

The month was April--probably (almost certainly) late-afternoon, Thursday, April 17.

And the place was, I think, the lobby of The Hotel Pennsylvania, deep in the heart of New York City.


If it wasn’t the Hotel Penn’s lobby, it was a hotel lobby like it—both in appearance and location (very close to, if not virtually inside of, New York City’s Pennsylvania Station).

I was in NYC for a meeting…[not baseball-related(!)]…and at the conclusion of the meeting, needed to return home to upstate NY, by train—and Penn Station was the starting point for almost all things Amtrak in NYC.

=====

Back in those days, MLB’s two leagues were each split into two divisions (East and West).
 
In 1986, teams in the National League’s Eastern Division (including the defending NL Champion Cardinals and the Mets) were scheduled to play each other 18 times [18 x 5 = 90 games] and the six teams in the NL’s Western Division twelve times [6 x 12 = 72 games]…and 90 + 72 equals one regular season: 162 games.

The New York Mets opened the 1986 season with two series on the road (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia), before opening their home schedule with a three game series at Shea Stadium, against the Cardinals, on Monday afternoon, April 14.
 
In a game started by current broadcaster Ricky Horton (7 innings pitched, 2 hits, 1 earned run), the Cardinals defeated the Mets that day, 6-2, in 14 innings.

Tuesday, April 15 was a scheduled open date (available for an Opening Day reschedule if necessary), followed by afternoon Cards-Mets games on Wednesday, April 16 and Thursday, April 17.

 

 

 

Weather data indicate that New York City recorded four inches of rain for the three days following Opening Day (April 15-17)—so what was originally scheduled as a three-game series for the Cardinals was shortened to one game (because of rain) prior to the Redbirds trip north to Montreal for a three game series in Olympic Stadium that commenced Friday, April 18.


Therefore, Games Two (April 16) and Three (April 17) of the three game Cards-Mets series in April were postponed…necessitating a mid-August six game series between the two teams, with two doubleheaders (August 14 and August 17) bookending two single games (August 15 and 16).


So it was likely that, instead of playing the Mets, at Shea, on the afternoon of Thursday, April 17…that day’s game was postponed early Thursday am, enabling the Cardinals entire travel party to depart directly from the Hotel Penn (via bus to the airport), avoiding a Thursday late pm/early Friday am flight to Montreal.


All of which means that when I walked through the lobby of the Hotel Penn on Thursday afternoon, April 17, 1986 (in search of Penn Station and the ‘gate’ for the train ride return to Schenectady), I ran into a bunch of athletes in a public area of a major NYC hotel, literally waiting for their ride to the airport.


It was my aim not to gawk—I think I was successful in that I didn’t realize that I was observing the defending National League champions until I noticed a face and head of hair I couldn’t help but recognize: Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck, sitting on a chair at the edge of the baseball crowd.


I introduced myself, explained why I was there and what I was looking for…and he directed me to the train station.


I then stated that my parents were St. Louis natives, and that the end of the most recent World Series, the 1985 World Series, was a bitter pill to swallow for our entire family.


It was then that Buck, a living baseball encyclopedia with decades of personal experience with the sport, looked me straight in the eye…and said:
 

“But it was a very good year…a great year, in fact. Don’t ever forget that.”


=====


I remembered those April 1986 words of Jack Buck when thinking about the just-concluded 2022 MLB Cardinals season, a season that ended with a pair of Busch Stadium losses to the Philadelphia Phillies.


What at first glance seems like an upset (the Wild Card-qualifiers defeating the NL Central champions) really is not, when considering that the Cardinals were twenty games over .500 vs their four NL Central opponents (and twenty-four games over .500 overall), while the Phillies were only six games over .500 vs their four NL East opponents (and twelve games over .500 overall).


In other words, the Cards played 76 games versus the relatively weak NL Central (W/L 48-28 total; Cubs, Reds, Brewers and Pirates) while the Phillies played 76 games versus the stronger NL East (W/L 41-35 total; Braves, Marlins, Mets and Nationals).


So the Cards Phillies Wild Card Series outcome is not really a surprise.


No matter: the 2022 Cardinals season was a great year.


The reasons are numerous…and the 2022 Cardinals season overview includes a variety of tantalizing storylines:


*iconic cornerstone veterans: Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright—A Season to Remember


*superstar corner infielders: Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt (Pujols)—MVP Candidates


*rising middle infielders: Tommy Edman, Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan—Young and Talented


*quality starting pitchers: Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Matthew Libertore, Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana (Wainwright)—A Mix of Youth and Veterans with Obvious Upside


*quality relief pitchers: Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Jordan Hicks, TJ McFarland, Packy Naughton, Andre Pallante, Zack Thompson and Jake Woodford—Young Arms and Lots of Them


*promising outfielders: Dylan Carlson, Corey Dickerson, Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neil and Juan Yepez—Promise and Potential; Hints of High Ceilings, Additions are Likely


*catchers: Andrew Knizner and Ivan Herrera (Molina)—Change Is In the Air


*a competent front office, manager and coaching staff—John Mozeliak, Mike Girsch, Oli Marmol, Skip Schumaker, Jeff Albert and Mike Maddux and a cast of dozens (?!)—Beginning with the 2000 Season, the Cardinals Won 90 or More Games Thirteen Times, and Only Once Suffered a Losing Season


*a pipeline of major league prospects—lists supplied by Derrick Goold and Rob Rains


=====


Indeed, 2022 was ‘A Great Year’ for the St. Louis Cardinals.


With some roster movement inevitable (OF and C moves are likely), the team’s first spring training game (Friday, February 25 at Jupiter vs the Washington Nationals) is closerthanthis.


The baseball future, 2023 and beyond, is bright in St. Louis.


But about those two wild-card games vs the Phillies...(sad emoji)


More to follow.

=====


Bausch


Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com

============================================

Bausch


Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================

A Baseball Mini-Series in Seven Parts:
“So You’re Yadier Molina: What Would You Do?”


July 14

I. The 2021 Chicago White Sox


Baseball’s All Star break, while thought of as a line of demarcation between the regular season’s first and second halves, really isn’t that: while the Cardinals have played 90 games thus far in the 2021 regular season (44-46 record; T3; 8 GB first-place Milwaukee), they have but 72 games remaining.


July 30 is the so-called 2021 MLB Trade Deadline, and while the Chicago Cubs are likely to be active participants (as sellers) at the end of this month, the other team in Chicago (the White Sox) are likely to participate in this year’s trade market as buyers.


The White Sox are currently in first place in the AL Central…a full eight games (seven in the loss column) ahead of second-place Cleveland.

Injuries have presented themselves as the primary challenge for the White Sox and manager Tony La Russa. The latest significant injury to a White Sox player occurred on July 5, when, with one out in the top of the 6th inning vs the Minnesota Twins, Grandal suffered a torn tendon in his left knee while attempting to check his swing.


Two days later (July 7), it was announced that Grandal underwent knee surgery to repair the tendon. The White Sox also announced that Grandal is still expected to play again in 2021, and in a statement mentioned that an ‘updated timeline’ would be forthcoming, a timeline that might require some adjustment to the initial four-to-six week estimate for the length of time that Grandal would be out of the line-up.


Grandal’s mid-July replacements in the line-up of manager Tony La Russa?

26 year old Zack Collins (career stats: 83 games played; 2021 stats: .230 batting average; 3HR; 21 RBI; 29 stolen base attempts; 5 caught stealing)

27 year old Seby Zavala (career stats: 8 games played; 23 at-bats; 14 strikeouts; 0 HR&RBI


II. The White Sox 1979-1986 and Carlton Fisk


Most reading this are well-aware that his current work as manager of the White Sox is Tony La Russa’s second tour on Chicago’s South Side—he was first hired to manage the Pale Hose by Bill Veeck…late in the 1979 season.


In La Russa’s first full season (1980), the White Sox employed at least four catchers, including Bruce Kimm (the nominal starter) and backups Marv Foley, Glenn Borgmann and Ricky Seilheimer.


In one of the most significant early moves of Jerry Reinsdorf’s ownership of the White Sox, in 1981 Carlton Fisk changed the color of his Sox from Red to White…and the Hall of Fame catcher, after playing 11 seasons in Boston, finished his career playing 13 seasons in Chicago.


Fisk’s signing was a huge move for the White Sox franchise, and for Tony La Russa, who along with his pitching coaches demands a lot from his catchers.

And Fisk was up to the task, burnishing his Hall of Fame credentials with a 37 HR/107 RBI season in 1985.


III. The Oakland A’s (1986-1995) and Terry Steinbach


Mid-season 1986, rookie White Sox GM Ken (Hawk) Harrelson fired La Russa, who quickly found work as manager of the Oakland A’s, where he managed for ten seasons. During those years, Terry Steinbach served as the A’s starting catcher, with at least 83 games played as catcher per season (commencing with La Russa’s first full season as manager: 1987). Steinbach was a three-time All Star.


La Russa’s last season as the A’s manager was 1995; in the ’95-‘96 off-season he was hired by the Cardinals, where he managed from 1996 through 2011.



IV. The St. Louis Cardinals (1996-2004) and Mike Matheny


The primary catchers for the early portion (1996-1999) of La Russa’s tenure in St. Louis?


Tom Pagnozzi, Mike Defelice, Tom Lampkin, Danny Sheaffer, Eli Marrero, and Alberto Castillo.

 

In the 1999-2000 off-season, the Cardinals signed Mike Matheny, who had been released by the Toronto Blue Jays. Matheny served as the Cardinals primary catcher for five seasons, catching at least 100 games in each of those seasons.



V. The St. Louis Cardinals (2005-present) and Yadier Molina


Then, late in 2004, and commencing for real in 2005…Yadier Molina happened.


And it was quite a happening.


First Molina happened for La Russa, who retired in 2011.


Then Molina happened for Matheny, who replaced La Russa and managed the Cardinals from 2012 until he was fired mid-way through the 2018 season. Molina was replaced by Mike Shildt, who remains in place as the Cardinal manager.



VI. Setting Up the Conclusion to “So You’re Yadier Molina: What Would You Do?”


In 21st-century parlance, during Tony La Russa’s Hall of Fame managerial career, he has been ‘blessed’ with (at the very least) steady, (occasionally) stellar, and quite often Hall-of-Fame credentialed catchers on his rosters…in Chicago (Fisk), Oakland (Steinbach) and St. Louis (Matheny and Molina).


La Russa is well-aware of the position of catcher, as far as regular- and post-season success is concerned.


And Tony La Russa knows Yadier Molina.


The traditional second-half of the 2021 MLB season is about to commence.

The Chicago White Sox employ, in their two-man catching rotation, two players with a combined total of 91 MLB games career played.


At the very least, La Russa is likely to prefer a more experienced player as catcher, as the White Sox begin to finish up the end of July and enter the dog days of August…all with an eye on post-season play.


It the wake of Grandal’s injury and the surgery the followed, is a virtual certainty that Tony La Russa and the White Sox hierarchy have discussed, in-house, obtaining a veteran catcher.


With zero factual knowledge on the part of yours truly, I believe it is likely that the White Sox have also communicated their desire to upgrade their own catching position to other teams…including the Cardinals.


I also believe that the Cardinals have communicated their White Sox communications with Molina, but that the situation prior to the start of games post-All Star break remains too fluid for a move at this time.


Finally, I believe that Cardinals management would, in a situation like the one described here: completely defer to Molina’s wishes.


As this is written (July 14), several questions remain:


*How important is it, to Molina himself, that he finish his MLB career as a ‘lifetime Cardinal’?


*How important is it, to Cards owner Bill DeWitt Jr., that Molina finish his MLB career as a ‘lifetime Cardinal’?


*How important, to Molina, is the possibility of another World Series appearance or two? 


*How many more years does Molina wish to play major league baseball (his contract expires at the end of the 2021 season)?


*What is the prognosis for the return of Yasmani Grandal to the White Sox lineup?


*How does Grandal’s contract status (two years remaining after 2021 at $18.25M per season…guaranteed) affect any potential Molina acquisition?


*How well will the current Chisox ‘regular’ catchers perform, both offensively and defensively, in what is clearly a trial period?


*What would the White Sox be willing to trade to St. Louis?


*And finally, how would ‘Cardinal Nation’ react to the trade of perhaps the most beloved Cardinal of the 21st Century…or maybe, as Tony La Russa might say, in this category, Molina and Albert Pujols are ‘tied for first’



VII. “So You’re Yadier Molina: What Would You Do?”


I believe Yadier Molina will be offered the chance to finish his playing career as a member of the Chicago White Sox.

 

So…let’s say you are Molina. What would you do?

 

 


The Halfway Point

July 2

At the 2021 halfway point, the Cards are a .500 baseball team (40-41).

And while St. Louis is said to be the home of ‘Baseball Heaven’, the official National League Busch Stadium attendance for Game #81 (27,235) was optimistic in that the end-of-the-sixth inning infield crew seemed all alone as they made the Busch infield ready for Nolan Arenado et al.

I cannot remember seeing the Busch bleachers so vacant on what used to be called a ‘Businessman’s Special’ weekday afternoon.



Busch Stadium Between Innings 6 & 7; Wednesday Jun 30 2021


And if the Best Fans In Baseball (BFIB) aren’t in (bleacher) heaven…where the hell are they!?

No doubt the business side of the ballteam is doing market research to find out whether the BFIB are staying away because of their fears of COVID, an unsafe downtown area, and/or something simpler (and much easier) to explain: a mediocre Cardinals squad.

This is a sports column…so:

A few observations based on in-person viewing of Game #81, a 7-4 victory over the Arizona (completing a three-game sweep over the hapless Diamondbacks).

*In the second inning, Arizona LFer Josh Rojas ran down (and caught) an oh-so-deep fly ball to left-center field struck by Tommy Edman in part because he was positioned only a few steps from the warning track as the ball was pitched. This observer believed he was playing too deep!

*Two batters later, Rojas moved in several steps when Cards pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim came to the plate. Bad move as Kim hit a double over the head of Rojas…plating the first two runs of the game. Virtually every game opposite-field home runs are hit. All big league outfielders play deeper than ever. My explanation: the baseball used in MLB these days is harder than ever.

*MLB has a very real problem with what is referred to as ‘pace of play’—too many walks, strikeouts and home runs…all outcomes that do not result in a fielding play. You can add to that the act of a batter hitting foul balls. This bureau is convinced that hitters are more proficient at fouling off good pitchers than they used to be. This bureau tossed around the press box the notion that perhaps a batter should only be allowed a certain number of foul balls before he is called out. I suggested four; fifty-year Post-Dispatch baseball writer Rick Hummel thought five fouls was more reasonable (before calling the batter out). Interestingly, he did not dismiss the notion out of hand.

*A likely part of the reason hitters are better than in the past (at spoiling good pitches with foul balls) is the proliferation of batting cages and the pitching machines found within those batting cages. Perhaps when COVID etc quiets down I’ll ask Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons whether or not the batting cage/pitching machine notion has any credibility—you can be certain Simmons will have an opinion on the subject.

*Baseball is a funny game, right? In the previous observation I stated that today’s hitters are ‘better’ than ever. Yet the highest batting average in the Game 81 starting lineup is….271 (Arizona’s Josh Reddick). I guess I’d better describe what I mean by ‘better’!

*Back to the attendance issues at Busch. The recent Giants-Dodgers series drew very well at Chavez Ravine. Both teams are likely to be in contention for the NL West title this year. Can the same thing be said for the Cardinals?

One (now-injured) player’s name comes to mind when aiming to evaluate the first-half performance of the 2021 St. Louis Cardinals: Jack Flaherty.

The absence of Jack Flaherty has been duly noted, as the 2021 Cardinals have not been able to find a modern version of Nelson Briles...who after Bob Gibson's left ankle was broken by a line drive off the bat of Roberto Clemente on July 13, 1967, stepped into Gibson's place in the starting rotation and finished the regular season with a 14-5 W-L record (2.43 ERA) and was the starter and winner of Game 3 in the '67 World Series.



=====


Bausch


Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================


Rosters They Are a Changin':
The New Norm for Intercollegiate Athletics?


June 19

Amid seemingly endless COVID-19 news, the press release ("Saluki Volleyball Announces 2020 Schedule") that arrived via email earlier this week was a welcome relief.

Games! A schedule! Sports!!!

If only for a moment, COVID-19 and its politics were shoved aside.

At least in my head they were.

Buried deep in the release are two sets of intel:

=====
(1) "SIU returns 10 letterwinners from a year ago, which includes six that played at least 100 sets a season ago. The returners are led by all-conference returnees
Hannah Becker and Rachel Maguire."

...and...

(2) "Southern will also welcome a talented group of 10 newcomers to the mix in 2020."
=====

So Saluki volleyball coach Ed Allen has joined SIU's MBB coach Bryan Mullins in reshaping his roster prior to his second season as head coach in Carbondale.

In his first year at SIU, Allen enjoyed some success as the 2019 volleyball team posted a win total nine greater than the 2018 squad, and ten of their 32 matches extended to five sets.

In an effort to get to know Allen, his team and his coaching staff, yours truly attended several practices as well as a handful of both home and away matches.

The result of those efforts? Yes it is obvious, even to a neophyte observer of volleyball, that Ms. Becker and Ms. Maguire were deserving of MVC recognition. They both can play, and as upperclasswomen, more is expected from both in the upcoming season.

Going out on a limb a bit...it is also apparent that Alex Washington is the team's high ceiling player in that in addition to obvious hitting skills--the ball seems to find her at important moments in a match.

Due to what was thought to be a foot injury, Washington appeared in only nine 2019 games as a freshman before being granted a red shirt year.

Also obvious is the respect that Allen seemed to have earned from his players--to my eyes it appeared to be genuine and oh-so-important in these days of college athletics.

With ten (!) new faces in 2020, the process of in-person team-building will have to begin again...whenever SIU volleyball starts up and the entire roster is on campus.

No amount of video-chatting via Zoom, Skype or Google hangouts equals real 'Facetime' as far as that thing that 21st-century coaches call 'culture' is concerned.

We'll look for announcements and post them here.


=====
Mark Bausch

Bausch


Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================


SIU and Ole Miss Quarterbacks:

Decisions Decisions


June 14


Coaches, seasons, games and press conferences all run together after awhile.

But if you listen carefully (and you the reader can see and hear virtually all of SIU head football coach Nick Hill's Q&As at siusalukis.com), some things stand out so much that even in the middle of a pandemic...the brain plays like Arnold Schwartzenegger and has 'Total Recall' (or nearly so).

In what I believe was the primary mid-week media event prior to the SIU-Ole Miss 2018 early-season game, Hill was asked about a player whose name was (and remains) distinctive: Jordan Ta’amu, the Mississippi starting quarterback.

Hill's response was rather direct (paraphrasing): "We've seen him on video. I think he's better than the guy that transferred."

On the one hand, Hill's comment on Ta'amu wasn't surprising--most college football coaches know the Lou Holtz pre-game routine ('...our next opponent could compete in the NFL--we don't have much chance'). So pumping up the QB skills of SIU's next opponent is fully expected--every single week.

But I filed the comment away, because from a distance yours truly has followed Michigan football rather closely for several decades...and 'the guy that transferred' (Shea Patterson) left Mississippi after the 2017 season to join Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor.

Heading into the 2017 season, Patterson (a sophomore) won the starting QB job at Mississippi for coach Matt Luke. Ta'amu (a junior) served as Patterson's backup. But in the Ole Miss-LSU game (the season's seventh), Patterson suffered a serious knee injury, and Ta'amu replaced Patterson as the starter.

Ta'amu played well in his five 2017 starts. That combined with impending penalties for recruiting violations at Mississippi (resulting in transfers from Ole Miss not having to sit out a year), and Harbaugh's QB needs at Michigan, led to Patterson's decision to enroll at the University of Michigan.

All of which means that in Nick Hill's preparation for the SIU-Ole Miss 2018 game, he and his staff reviewed game action for both Jordan Ta'amu and Shea Patterson.

And Hill's comparison was clear: in his mind, Ta'amu was the better player.

Hill was right, as Ta'amu was perhaps the best XFL QB in that league's truncated first (and only?) season.

And
Shea Patterson served as the starting QB for Michigan for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He was good but not great...at times not even good.

A data point, an NFL roster oddity, an SIU QB roster summary...and a question all follow:

*The data point: After trailing SIU at the half, 38-35, Mississippi outscored the Salukis 41-3 in the game's second half, winning 76-41. The Jordan Ta'amu stat line: 23/33, 448 yards, 5 TD.

**The roster oddity: NFL QB whisperer Andy Reid gets a shot at comparing Ta'amu and Patterson, as the Chiefs signed both as free agent quarterbacks. They will compete for the clipboard position at KC, as Chad Henne is returning (contract in hand, and aanother Michigan QB) as the team's backup.

***SIU QBs: A glance at SIU's roster reveals nice balance in the QB room, with senior Karé Lyles as the returning starter, backed up by junior Stone Labanowitz (who was the 2018 starter before injury), sophomore Nic Baker, red-shirt freshman Zach Zebrowski and 'true' freshman Jaylen DeVries. Sophomore jack-of-all-trades Javon Williams is likely to see significant action as a wildcat QB as well.

****And the question: Pandemic-related uncertainties aside, the elephant in the room as far as SIU football is concerned is centered on QB, and Nick Hill's decision about who will start at the most important position on the field:

With his squad's improved defense and running game in place, can Nick Hill FINALLY find the 'right' mix at quarterback at SIU in what may be a pivotal season for Hill as far as his coaching future at SIU is concerned?

A bit melodramatic, eh?! It's just the future of SIU football...that's all!

=====

Bausch


Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================


Rich Herrin, Aaron Cook
& SIU MBB:
An April 2020 Snapshot


April 10


It was a light-jacket kind of day in Carbondale, and early spring was in the air on what was probably a mid-February 2019 afternoon.

 

While the vultures in southern Illinois were circling around head coach Barry Hinson for much of the 2018-19 season, on this day local media were waiting for the start of one of Hinson’s on-campus mid-week media events, as a player or two had already finished with their press obligations.

 

I left the conference room, strolled around the athletic complex, and ran into a surprise visitor: Rich Herrin.

 

I (re)introduced myself to Herrin, as we had not spoken in (yikes!) two decades. I reminded him that, late in the 20th century, he had joined me on my radio show, in-studio, for a conversation about SIU basketball. A highlight of the interview was when (the now-deceased) Charlie Spoonhour joined us live (via telephone) on the air. It was not obvious that Herrin remembered the interview.

 

Mid-way through my February 2019 on-campus conversation with Herrin, Barry Hinson emerged from the stairway. He saw yours truly and Herrin chatting, and made what seemed to me at the time to be a rather curious decision: the normally voluble Hinson did not stop and say hello.

 

Not to me, and not to Rich Herrin, either…who, as Hinson walked away, more-or-less raised an eyebrow.

 

Of course, Hinson had a press conference to get ready for.

 

I still wonder what Herrin was doing in the building that day.

 

The most significant portions of my discussion with Rich Herrin concerned his views on (a) who, in his view, was the most talented Saluki to ever play for him, and (b) the pace of play in both college basketball in general and specifically, the Herrin-era and Hinson-era Salukis.

 

I was delighted when Herrin agreed with me after I suggested that Missouri native Marcus Timmons was my choice as ‘most talented Herrin-era Saluki’.

 

“I think Marcus Timmons may have just been the most talented player I ever coached here,” said Herrin.

 

Herrin’s choice of Timmons was no surprise, as Timmons, a Missouri native, was ticketed to attend Mizzou until that particular Norm Stewart team was hit with NCAA-mandated sanctions (recruiting violations).

 

Herrin and SIU swooped in with an offer and presto (!), Marcus Timmons was a Saluki, and four years of really good…and really entertaining basketball was on display at SIU’s Arena.

 

In 1994-1995 (Timmons’ senior year, 35 second shot-clock), the Salukis averaged about 78 points and 61 shots attempted per game.

 

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In SIU’s just-completed 2019-2020 season (Coach Bryan Mullins’ first year, 30 second shot-clock), the Salukis averaged about 65 points and 51 shots attempted per game.]

 

Timmons excelled at this type of basketball—not run-and-gun but certainly appropriately quick.

 

At SIU, Marcus Timmons was an all-around player with virtually no weaknesses. He was not a score-first talent…instead he often used both his superior passing skills and court vision to orchestrate his team’s play in the offensive zone.

 

In that way (especially his passing skills), the basketball skills and basketball IQ possessed by Peoria’s Shaun Livingston (whose NBA career spanned a decade-and-a-half, and concluded with a run of NBA championship teams at Golden State) always reminded me of Marcus Timmons.

 

I had wanted to speak with Rich Herrin for several years, actually…so I had a bit of a mission in mind when I suggested that Marcus Timmons, without playing out of control, enjoyed playing at a quick pace. Not fast, mind you…but quick.

 

I asked Herrin how Timmons, or a player with his skills, would look in today’s ‘value each possession’ era of college basketball.

 

I pointed out that Barry Hinson’s SIU teams seemed to enjoy milking the shot-clock on most possessions.

 

Without directly addressing Hinson, Herrin was pointed in his comments: “You’ve got to let’em play. It is what they want to do. They have to be able to have fun playing the game of basketball.”

 

=====

 

I thought of this conversation with Rich Herrin when Aaron Cook’s recent decision to spend his graduate transfer year (the 2020-2021 season) at Gonzaga became public.

 

I daresay that young Mr. Cook felt like he won the lottery when he agreed to play for Mark Few. Gonzaga is the best-of-the-best as far as non Power 5 conference men’s basketball is concerned, and way-too-early 2020-2021 polls have Gonzaga rated as a Top 5 team.

 

So Aaron Cook will most likely experience March Madness for the first time as a player—reason enough for a modestly-recruited kid from St. Louis to make the not insignificant move to Gonzaga and the state of Washington.

 

On top of that, Gonzaga’s pace-of-play statistics are, in my view, more in line with the style of play that Aaron Cook believes he plays his best basketball.

 

The exact date (but it was a Hinson-era season) escapes me, but there was a post-game media session after a win a couple or three seasons ago at SIU’s Arena in which Cook and Eric McGill were asked, point blank—‘Do you like playing fast?’.

 

Both players smiled broadly, and shook their heads in a way that was spoke volumes: they felt like their skills were best utilized in a system that allowed them more freedom of movement.

 

Fast forward to the present.

 

For the (abbreviated) 2019-2020 season, Gonzaga/SIU averaged 62/51 shots attempted and 74/66 possessions per game.

 

It will be fun to watch Aaron Cook, playing hard and playing fast, in a Gonzaga uniform. No doubt the winning tradition and post-season opportunities at Gonzaga were of primary import to a player who counted DePaul and Arkansas as other possible destinations for his last season of NCAA eligibility.

 

But don’t discount the relevance of pace of play, either. Aaron Cook had a courtside seat for much of the 2019-2020 Saluki season, a season in which SIU’s 66 possessions per game was greater than exactly three other NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams.

 

In other words, 349 out of 353 D1 men’s squads had a larger number of possessions per game than Bryan Mullins’ initial SIU team.

 

It will be interesting to watch Bryan Mullins fill out the roster for the 2020-2021 SIU season, as Aaron Cook was not the only Saluki with remaining eligibility to request a transfer.

 

It will be interesting to watch his second-year team play, not only in terms of wins-and-losses…but also HOW they play.

 

Stay tuned. And remain virus-free.


=====


Mark Bausch

Bausch


Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================
Batting Orders on the Eights:
1978, 1998 and 2008. 2018?


posted July 24

Let’s pick an arbitrary year in major league baseball—1978.

In 1978, Vern Rapp, Jack Krol and Ken Boyer served as manager of the Cardinals. The batting orders for all 162 Cardinals games that season ‘featured’ a pitcher in the ninth spot in the lineup.

Rapp, Krol and Boyer were following baseball’s 1978 lineup norms: a given team’s pitcher nearly always batted ninth in his team’s lineup.

One year later (1979), Tony La Russa began his baseball managerial career when he was hired to manage the Chicago White Sox.

Fast forward about twenty years to 1998.

During the 1998 season’s All Star break, then-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, with nearly two decades of major league managerial experience already under his belt, dispensed with the pitcher-must-bat-ninth ‘wisdom’.

And for the balance of that ’98 season, La Russa broke with tradition and wrote lineup cards in which his starting pitcher was listed in the #8 spot in his lineup.

Recall two salient facts about La Russa’s 1998 Cardinals squad:

(1) the team was average (83-79 final W-L record; third place in the NL Central)

(2) in 1998, Mark McGwire (after hitting 58 homers while playing for Oakland and St. Louis in 1997) was engaged in a historic season-long chase to eclipse Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61 home runs


Perhaps La Russa felt an obligation to McGwire, who traditionalists viewed as a prototypical clean-up hitter…to get Big Mac as many at-bats as possible, to enhance his chances to break the record.

The move also served as an attention-grabber, and diverted fans (and media) from the rather obvious fact that the Cardinals 1998 team, as a whole, was not a strong contender for post-season play.

Whenever asked, La Russa pointed out that with a ‘hitterish’ position player batting ninth (instead of a weak-hitting hurler), McGwire, in every inning except the first, essentially could be thought of as a clean-up hitter—thus at least partially satisfying baseball’s old-school thinkers.

So the debate began in 1998—where should the pitcher bat in the lineup?

Ten years later...in 2008, La Russa revisited the issue, when future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols hit third in the Cardinals order. In this case, La Russa aimed to enhance the run production of his line-up by enabling ‘The Machine (Pujols)' to see more runners on base.

Fast forward ten more years--to 2018.

The debate concerning La Russa’s ‘innovation’ continues, with Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon among many of today’s MLB managers who have dabbled with ‘hitting the pitcher eighth’.

With every MLB team accessing supercomputers on a daily basis and hiring ‘quants’ to program those computers to their specifications , you can be certain that literally millions of line-up combinations have been simulated...and everybody from the geekiest team employee to the owner has an opinion based on those ‘data’ that aims to answer the question—should a pitcher always bat ninth in the lineup?

Well, if there was ever a line-up that might see benefits from a position player with some ‘pop in his bat’ hitting ninth...not three positions in front of #3 hitters such as Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols, but directly in front of baseball’s hottest hitter (Matt Carpenter), had the new Cardinals skipper given any thought to what, twenty years ago, was a St. Louis innovation?

In the Great America Ball Park visiting dugout, I asked Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt that very question prior to today’s game (July 24) vs. the Reds, one day after his squad lost to the Reds...2-1 in walk-off fashion.



You can listen to Shildt’s response here (along with Talking Heads and Pretenders music in the background...1978?!) or go old school yourself and scroll down for the written word.

Either way, check those box scores, folks.

=====

Q: There's a twenty year history in St. Louis, going back to '98, of the pitcher hitting eighth in the batting order. Your best hitter is...leadoff. Does that cause you to think about batting order a little bit?

Mike Shildt: It is food for thought. It's not anything traditional I've done. I'm still trying to get my head around, quite honestly, what that looks like, and the reasoning behind it. I know there's different reasons for and against, clearly...to point out to make a commitment to what that looks like.

To your point about Carp leading off, as productive as he's been, to get somebody in front of him...it kind of backs up a couple of days ago what you're thinking about.

You know we hit for Miles [Mikolas] the other day, in the fifth inning, or the top of the sixth inning, rather, in Chicago, you know when he still had some pitches on the table.

And I didn't communicate as well as I'd like to after that game. It is also a decision based on, if we get Jed [Gyorko] on at that point, now we get Carp up, and that's a chance to break the game open. So there is some methodology to what that looks like.

=====

Thanks for reading.

 



-----

=====

MIKE HUSS

stlsports.com
For Many St. Louisans—the Sound of Baseball Remains the Voice of Harry Caray


regular guest:
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review

Huss


email Mike
here



posted March 8

Last Saturday (March 1), Harry Caray would have been 100 years old.

 

No kidding: It might be—it could be—it is: a century

 

For those of us baby boomers that grew up in the Gateway City, state of Missouri, the Ozark region or throughout the Midwest, Harry Caray was the soundtrack of summer. For a quarter century, Caray was the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals. His style was unique and no holds bar. His voice boomed describing the exploits of Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and others. For twenty-five years, Harry Caray was the sound of St. Louis baseball.

 

In the world where one can be immediately identified by their first name (Elvis, Ozzie, Madonna, etc), if back in the day you said that “Harry” was on the radio, you knew exactly who was on the air. For many of us growing up in the 1960s and earlier, Caray’s familiar, bold and dramatic musings heard through a transistor radio muffled under a pillow (as we were hiding it from our parents after being sent to bed) created the perfect ending to a summer’s evening.

 

Born Harry Christopher Carabina from Italian and Romanian parents, he grew up on La Salle Street on the near south side of St. Louis on 3/1/1914. Caray’s father died when he was an infant and his mother died when he was around eight years old. In essence he grew up as an orphan.

 

In his youth Caray played semipro baseball before auditioning for a radio job at age nineteen. It was then when young Harry found his calling. He would cut his teeth in the radio business in markets such as Joliet, Illinois and Kalamazoo, Michigan before returning to his home town. He joined the Cardinals radio broadcast team in 1945. It was here in St. Louis and particularly behind a hot KMOX radio microphone where the legend of Harry Caray evolved.

 

It was Caray’s voice that narrated the stories of the successful seasons of the mid/late 1940s, the challenging 1950s and the memorable 1960s for the Cardinals. But it was during the down years of the 1950s when Caray’s career rose to prominence. In February 1953, August A. Busch, Jr. convinced his Anheuser-Busch Board of Directors to purchase the Cardinals from Fred Saigh. The Big Eagle and Harry Caray were both cut from the same cloth. Both wanted to be the center of attention. Both appreciated pretty girls. Both were Type-A. Both were highly competitive.

 

But most importantly, both could sell beer. That alliance would make Harry larger than life. Over the KMOX airwaves he was an unabashed homer. But above all, he could sell beer. Busch once referred to Caray as his best beer salesman. The bond was then formed.  

 

Behind Busch’s influence, the powerful KMOX signal and Caray’s bombastic style the Cardinal radio network became the largest in the Major Leagues. Prior to 1957, St. Louis was the westernmost franchise. Cardinal fans were emerging west of the Mississippi. Caray was the evangelist. Casual and non-baseball fans listened to the games only to hear what Harry had to say. During it all, he promoted and pushed Budweiser. The match seemed made in heaven.

 

The Cardinals went to the World Series three times during the 1960s: winning it all twice. After advancing to the series in 1967 and 1968, St. Louis was expected to make it a three-peat. It didn’t happen. In 1969 St. Louis finished a disappointing third in the newly created NL East. But days after the final out, a bombshell was dropped in the Gateway City. Harry Caray and the Cardinals parted ways. The larger than life broadcaster was out as Cardinal broadcaster.

 

There have been many of urban legends as to what led to the split. We’ll never know for sure. But we did observe in a pre-cable, pre-internet era, that the divorce was far from amicable.

 

Leaving St. Louis, Caray took his talents to Oakland where he spent one season working for the colorful Charles O Finley’s A’s. One year later, Caray was signed as an announcer by legendary owner and promoter Bill Veeck of the Chicago White Sox. It would not take long for Harry to discover that Chicago was indeed his kind of town. 

 

During Caray’s tenure on the south side, the White Sox were not very good. In his first season the Sox went 56-106.  The high water mark was 1977 when they won 90 games. During Caray’s time on the South Side, the Sox had a losing record in eight seasons.

 

But despite the ineptness on the field, fans listened to the White Sox games because of Harry Caray. Partnered with the colorful and unpredictable Jimmy Piersall, the broadcasts were more entertaining than the games. Caray introduced Comiskey Park fans to the familiar chant from the musical group Steam as pitchers were removed from the game or when the Sox were going to win: “na-na-na-na---na-na-na-na-----hey, hey, hey---Good Bye”.

 

Caray and Piersall would broadcast games from the bleachers. On July 12, 1979 Harry spoke over the Comiskey Park PA pleading for calm on “Disco Demolition Night” where the Sox had to forfeit the second game of a doubleheader. Fans rushed the field causing extensive damage.

 

Yep, the White Sox were not very good then—but it was sure fun to listen to the games.

 

In 1982, Caray moved to the north side of Chicago: signing a contract to broadcast games for the Cubs. It was there through the magic and power of the WGN-TV Superstation signal where Harry Caray would be introduced to a new generation of baseball fans. The Cubs turned Harry loose over the airwaves and it proved to be reality television at its finest. The Cubs were not very good. But just like when with the White Sox, baseball fans tuned in to hear Caray offer his insight and opinions: from trying to pronounce player’s names backwards to welcoming who at the ball park that day to saluting the smallest towns throughout the fruited plain.

 

During his stay with the Cubs, Caray introduced his trademark: the seventh inning stretch singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. Regardless of the score or the loyalty, Wrigley Field fans sang along with Harry: as Caray, then in his 70s, used his microphone as a baton.

 

My last conversation with Harry was in 1996. It was during a Saturday afternoon game at Busch Stadium II between the Cardinals and Cubs. Prior to the game, I was in the press lounge. Sitting very quietly in the corner was Harry Caray watching the Fox Network pre-game show. On the screen was his grandson Chip. As I passed his table, Harry smiled and said to me, “isn’t he great?” I politely smiled, agreed continued some small talk. During it all Harry just kept smiling.

 

 

So here is this larger than life personality I grew up listening to via a transistor radio under my pillow savoring the moment as a proud grandfather. I started smiling also.

 

In 1989, Harry would be inducted into the Broadcaster’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame and a year later, into the National Radio Hall of Fame. He suffered a stroke in 1987. But Caray would not leave the broadcast booth. Then in February 1998, Caray fell at a restaurant and suffered a head injury. He died February 18, 1998 of cardiac arrest with resulting brain damage. 

 

1998 was the season of the great Home Chase that rescued baseball from the 1994 Work Stoppage. The Cardinals’ Mark Mc Guire and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa would blast long flies in pursuit of Roger Maris’s single season home run record. It would have been fun and perhaps fitting had Harry hung around one more year to describe those events as only he could.

 

Today, television (particularly cable television) is the primary outlet for baseball. The legendary baseball voices from past years have been replaced by some combination of blow-dried polished announcers and former ball players: each parroting team written talking points and are nothing more than an extension of the team’s marketing department. You know: always remember that good seats are available, always look for the positives and never criticize the Home Team.

 

I wonder if Harry Caray would have been hired as a broadcaster in today’s environment. My thinking is probably not. And that’s too bad. Games were sure more fun during Harry’s day.

 

Last Saturday (March 1), Harry Caray would have been 100 years old.

 

Holy Cow.

 

=====

MIKE HUSS

stlsports.com
Dan Kelly: Simply the Best


regular guest:
WDBX-FM Sunday Sports Review

Huss


email Mike
here



posted February 7

On the same date the Beatles made their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show a half century earlier, this Sunday will also mark the twenty-fifth  anniversary of the death of long-time St. Louis Blues broadcaster Dan Kelly. He once was called the "purest, most knowledgeable, most accurate" voice in hockey. Kelly was 52 years old when he died at his Chesterfield home after a five-month struggle with cancer.

Patrick Daniel Kelly was the best play-by-play announcer ever to broadcast a hockey game. He was an announcer, a salesman, a preacher and a teacher. Born on St. Patrick’s Day 1936, no one has ever come close to his talents in describing the sport of hockey. To this day he remains the Gold Standard in the industry. When Dan Kelly’s voice boomed behind a nationally televised hockey game, you knew that game had to be important.

There will always be a debate on who is/was the best baseball announcer. While Cardinal fans lobby for the talents of the legendary Jack Buck, one can understand why those on the West Coast provide equal testimony for the great Vin Scully. Yankee fans speak with pride about the calls of Mel Allen. Yet those in Michigan fondly will counter about the homespun style of Ernie Harwell. You will never get consensus on who is the best baseball announcer. But there is no debate on who is hockey’s best announcer. As NBC’s Bob Costas once said: “hockey is a sport that should never be broadcasted on radio. Yet in broadcasting hockey, Kelly is like Secretariat in the Belmont. Whoever is second is really closer to third or fourth”.

The Canadian-born, portly Irishman cut his broadcasting teeth in the CFL and on his native land’s best-known hockey vehicle: Hockey Night in Canada. Back in the day when only the original six teams skated in the National Hockey League, a young Kelly would assist legendary broadcaster Danny Gallivan in calling the Saturday night Game of Week as it beamed throughout all the Canadian provinces and in the northern US.  It was THE event on TV in Canada.

Then in 1966, the NHL expanded: doubling from six to a dozen franchises. The new markets would be Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Local insurance executive Sidney Solomon Jr. and his son Sidney III owned the St. Louis franchise and nicknamed them the Blues. The Solomons purchased the deteriorating fire trap at 5700 Oakland Avenue and transformed it into a hockey arena. The Blues games were aired over the 50,000 red-hot watts of KMOX Radio that first season. Buck was named as the team’s first radio play-by-play man with former NHL defenseman and Coach Gus Kyle providing the analysis. Jay Randolph replaced Buck once spring training arrived. The Blues finished in third place that first season. But behind the goaltending of veteran Glenn Hall, the Note advanced in the playoffs to the NHL Finals: only to lose to the mighty Montreal Canadiens in four straight games. 

The following year, the Blues searched for a new play-by-play man to take over for Buck. A young up-and-coming St. Louis hockey executive named Scotty Bowman recommended Kelly to the Solomons. They’d pay Kelly a king’s ransom to lure him and his family from Ottawa to St. Louis. But it would be money well spent.

It took the 34-year-old Kelly and his partner Kyle only a short period of time to earn the respect and admiration of the St. Louis listening public. Kelly would educate his mid-America radio audience about the rules, traditions, beauty and skills of hockey. With the help of the KMOX signal, Kelly and Kyle would spread the word into over 44 states and throughout Canada. Kelly’s familiar “He Shoots, He Scores” call quickly became and still remains a St. Louis hockey staple. Kyle would be the loveable sidekick: referring to close games as “barn burners” and occasionally butchering the English language. A classic “Kyleism” occurred after a jolting Bob Plager hip check. Old Gus said: “Plager hit him so hard, his socks changed feet”. It was just great stuff.

Back in those days, the Blues were the hottest ticket in town. There was actually a season-ticket waiting list for Blues games. 1968-1969 was memorable for the franchise and Kelly would serve as the narrator. He painted the pictures with words over the KMOX airways as Hall of Fame goaltenders Hall and Jacques Plante captured the Vezina Trophy. Kelly’s description of all six goals scored by Red Berenson on a November 7, 1968 night in Philadelphia remains legendary. Kelly and Kyle would announce with fervor the fisticuffs when the Plager Brothers and/or Noel Picard would not back down from the League’s tough guys. That season the Blues won the Conference title and returned to the NHL Finals: only to again be swept by Montreal. After the season Kelly narrated a KMOX-produced album re-living those 1968-69 highlights.

It took less than one season, but Canadian born Dan Kelly became a St. Louis original.

He would become the Gateway City’s hockey evangelist. For the next nineteen seasons, it would be Kelly’s voice describing Blues action on those cold winter nights. He was behind the microphone in January 1972, when some Blues players went into the stands in Philadelphia to confront the Flyer fans: eventually sending Head Coach Al Arbour and those players to jail. He calmly explained to fans why trading Berenson to Detroit was a good thing as a young star named Garry Unger would be coming to town. Kelly helped hockey fans grieve over the sudden death of young defenseman Bob Gassoff. He told fans to keep the faith as the Solomons were contemplating bankruptcy due to rising debts. He introduced Ralston Purina as new Blues owner and Emile Francis as the team’s new President.  A few years later, he watched helplessly as Ralston left the Blues for dead: with the distinct possibility the team would be relocated to Saskatoon. He introduced and interviewed Harry Ornest: a Beverly Hills businessman who bought the team off the scrap heap while bringing hockey executives Ronald Caron and Jacques Demers to town with him. Kelly described the classic 1981 first round Game 5 playoff game when Mike Crombeen’s double-overtime goal advanced the Blues into the next round.

It was Kelly’s voice that narrated arguably the franchise’s most memorable game: May 12, 1986 (a. k. a. the Monday Night Miracle). The Blues faced elimination in Game 6 of the Conference Finals against Calgary. St. Louis trailed 5-1 in the third period, only to tie the game and then win it in overtime on a Doug Wickenheiser goal. Kelly’s voice provided that soundtrack.

Dan Kelly was the link. From the Solomons to Ralston to Ornest to Shanahan: from player trades to coaching changes, from possible relocation to financial stability, it was Kelly that was the constant for Blues fans. He not only taught the Gateway City the game of hockey, but also served as the voice of reason and experience.

While hockey was his trademark, Kelly was also versatile in other sports. He was in the locker room in Montreal when the Cardinals captured the 1982 National League Eastern Division title. In 1983, he and Mike Shannon described Bob Forsch’s second no-hitter. He was one of the CBS regional NFL TV broadcasters.  Kelly was behind the University of Missouri radio network microphone when the Al Onofrio-coached Mizzou football team marched into Columbus to upset Ohio State. Kelly teamed with Bob Starr during the glory years of the St. Louis Football Cardinals: including the legendary Mel Gray phantom catch game against Washington. Plus Kelly made countless cameo appearances on Jack Carney’s highly-rated KMOX radio show.

Unlike today, especially as seen on local cable telecasts, Kelly was not bashful to speak his mind: even if it ruffled the feathers within the Blues front office. One night he was in New York to emcee an event honoring Arbour. Kelly introduced himself saying, “I come from St. Louis where we had Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour and we fired them both. How smart are we?”

Then in 1988, hockey’s greatest voice grew weak and ill. We eventually found out that cancer was the culprit. Others would describe Blues games. But it wasn’t the same. We then realized just how spoiled we all were. In January 1989, the Blues honored for their play-by-play man. That night it also was announced that Kelly would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The guest list included local celebrities such as Buck, Costas, Whitey Herzog and Shanahan as well as his hockey colleagues Don Cherry and Jiggs Mc Donald. They all took turns playfully roasting, yet honoring the Voice of the Blues. But the Great Kelly was too ill to attend in person. Ironically, he listened to all the festivities on KMOX Radio from his hospital room.

A month later, hockey’s greatest announcer died at the far too young age of 52.

Now a generation has passed since we heard Dan Kelly announce a hockey game. Millenials do not know what they missed. Thank goodness for audiotapes. On his tombstone at Resurrection Cemetery in southwest St. Louis is engraved “Voice of the Blues”. That just says it all.

“Hockey is a sport that should never be broadcasted on radio. Yet in broadcasting hockey, Kelly is like Secretariat in the Belmont. Whoever is second is really closer to third or fourth”.

Said another way, Dan Kelly was simply the best.

 

 

 

 


 

...from the stlsports.com archives:

FOX, with Joe Buck as host, is once again televising the Men's US Open Golf Championship. In 1995, St. Louis Sports Online sat down with Joe for a lengthy Q-and-A.

Check it out!
 =====


Mark Bausch

Bausch

Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================

Joe Buck Speaks

originally posted June 17, 1995



Joe Buck, along with his father (Jack Buck), Mike Shannon, Al Hrabosky, and Bob Carpenter, is one of the five broadcasters that bring Cardinal baseball into the family rooms, cars, and offices of Redbird fans all over the midwestern United States. Joe Buck’s work in the St. Louis market is not simply an accident of birth--the FOX network hired Buck to do play-by-play work for their inaugural season broadcasting NFL games. National reviews on young Buck were mostly positive. Indeed, by the end of the NFL season, he was regularly given assignments indicating that FOX considered him among their top two or three play-by-play guys.

In a nutshell, the guy has as much talent as any young broadcaster, since, say, a youthful Bob Costas. Most St. Louis Sports Online readers surely recall that Costas, fresh out of Syracuse University, took St. Louis, and then the country, by storm.

In thinking about Joe Buck and the kinds of questions I would ask, two things came to mind. First, I hoped to bring StLSO readers some new and timely information about the Cards young broadcaster. On this point I feel reasonably confident.
I had also hoped that Buck would play along and poke a bit of good-natured fun at his legendary broadcasting partner, the one and only Mike Shannon. For example, during a recent broadcast, Shannon was discussing ballpark architecture and Coors Field, and, while querying Joe Buck as to the age of the Roman Colosseum, Shannon suggested that it [the Colosseum] was “three- or four- hundred years old, right Joe?”.

In that regard I failed, as Joe Buck played all Shannon-related questions straight down the middle, earnestly saying that “Mike has been extremely helpful to me just starting out in this business.”

Prior to a recent Cards-Braves game, Buck and I sat down in the dining room behind the Fulton County Stadium press box. He is 26 years old...and looks young enough (and fit enough) to be part of a double play combo with Cards shortstop Tripp Cromer. Indeed, Buck said that the Cards had thoughts of drafting him right out of high school. I should have reminded him that the Cardinals drafted Paul Coleman right out of high school, too.

It should surprise no one that Joe Buck, who makes his living as a play-by-play sportscaster, is a verbal individual. But I was surprised to find Buck to be extremely intelligent, as well. Throughout the interview he listened very intently to the questions, and at times, gave quite specific and carefully worded answers that sort of demanded that the original question be rephrased. When a tough question was posed, he wouldn’t give an inch. In other words, the guy is good...and, at least in this interview, didn’t really let down his guard too much. In retrospect, perhaps I could have done a better job interviewing him.
I didn’t feel so bad, though. After all, he’s the professional interviewer!

And before we started, Buck was kind enough to remind me to turn on the recorder...
________

StLSO: Joe Buck, you’re a St. Louis native. Do you have brothers and sisters, and are they still living in St. Louis?
Buck: I have seven brothers and sisters. All except one (who resides in the Chicago area) still live in St. Louis. I’m the second-to-the-youngest...my younger sister works for a radio station back in St. Louis and I have an older sister who works for a TV station in St. Louis. So we’re everywhere.

StLSO: Where did you go to high school, and when did you graduate?
Buck: I went to St. Louis Country Day High School, and I was graduated in 1987.

StLSO: What were your favorite subjects?
Buck: Chemistry...uhhh...you know what? That sort of stuff always baffled me. I’m not a smart guy. I know that. That’s why I’m a broadcaster. I was more an English and Spanish...those kind of subjects, as opposed to math and chemistry.

StLSO: Did you attend a college or university?
Buck: Yes. I went to Indiana University in Bloomington Indiana. I played some college baseball there...Mickey Morandini was also on the IU baseball team.

StLSO: What was your major...and did you graduate?
Buck: I was an English major. I did not graduate. I was at IU for three and a half years, and in the middle of my fourth year I got the Cardinal job. While I was going to school I was broadcasting Louisville Redbird games.

StLSO: If you weren’t a sportscaster, what career might you have pursued?
Buck: Probably...law.

StLSO: Give us an oral resume, starting with your first broadcasting job....
Buck: In 1987, I did afternoon sports reports on KMOX, and mornings on KMOX’s sister station on the FM side, which at that time was called KHTR. I worked Louisville Redbirds games for two years, beginning in 1989. During that time, I also did some fill-in work for the Cardinals when my Dad was doing football or baseball...and that blossomed into a full-time position which is when I left college.

StLSO: Are you married? If so, does your wife enjoy sports?
Buck: Yes I am married, and I have been married for two and a half years. And yes, my wife does enjoy sports.

StLSO: Do you have children?
Buck: No.

StLSO: You are no doubt aware that ESPN spawned ESPN2. Does ESPN3 have a futures contract on your first-born?
Buck: [Laughs out loud in a resigned sort of way.] Sure...that’s the way things are going in baseball these days. The kids are taking over.

StLSO: Approximately how many nights per year do you sleep in an out-of-town hotel room?
Buck: Ummm. I would say...I would say about half the nights in a given year I’m on the road.

StLSO: Does your wife often accompany you on road trips?
Buck: Yes, she does.

StLSO: What are your favorite cities to visit?
Buck: Cities where I have friends like here in Atlanta...or in Los Angeles with a friend of mine who’s in a rock group out there. Both are towns that I enjoy visiting because I have good friends from high school who reside there, including Kevin Omell here in Atlanta.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Omell was also graduated from Country Day in 1987, and sat next to Buck for much of the interview.

StLSO: On a given three day trip to Pittsburgh, what do you do between games?
Buck: Golf is a big time-killer. You know, we get back so late...I can’t get to sleep before three o’clock in the morning...I get up about eleven and have lunch and maybe do a little exercising and then go to the ballpark.

StLSO: In your job as a Cards broadcaster, who is your boss....any one person? And on Fox?
Buck: A lot of people. For the Cards, I guess Steve Uline of Bud Sports is my boss. It just progresses after that. You’ve got Anheuser-Busch and their broadcasting division, and you’ve got the Cardinals and their division.
For FOX, David Hill is the Vice-President of Sports, and Ed Goren, I think, is the Executive Executive Producer, and George Krieger is Executive Producer. All three of those guys are more-or-less in charge.

StLSO: Politicians and their staffs often work from “talking points” when they try to get out a certain point of view to the public. Have any A-B or Cards brass ever suggested that you say, X, Y, or Z? Putting it differently, are you ever given “talking points” to work from?
Buck: No. That’s a good question and I would assume that other broadcasters are told what to say and what not to say. But I work out of common sense. I know where my bread is buttered...so...I’m always trying to promote the Cardinals. But I’ve never been told to say something or not to say something.

StLSO: How does your work with the Cards differ from your work with Fox?
Buck: Well, when I’m doing baseball with the Cardinals I feel like I’m more part of the team, and as the team goes so goes my mood.

StLSO: You’re not feeling too good then, eh?
Buck: Yeah, exactly. If the team’s not playing well, I’m usually not in a good mood. With FOX, with something more national, I couldn’t care less who wins...I have no attachment to the teams and I’m really worried about my performance and being accurate and here [with the Cards] it’s more being a part of the group and hope that they’re winning.

StLSO: Do you review your own on-air performance? If so, what do you listen for?
Buck: All the time. I listen for...verbal crutches and things that I fall into from time to time...repeating the way I’m describing something over and over...varying your call when you’re describing something. I’m not one for cliches.

StLSO: Do play-by-play broadcasters suffer slumps?
Buck: Oh yeah. There are days when I wonder whether can speak English! I mean, sometimes you’re not enunciating and just not getting the words out...and other days you’re almost telling yourself to shut up, because the stuff is just coming out so quick and easy.

StLSO: Do play-by-play men read reviews of their work (i.e. USA Today)? Do you?
Buck: Yeah...and anyone who says they don’t...is lying. This is a very...uhhh...this is a business where you like positive reinforcement, and negative criticism really gets at you.
It [negative criticism] hurts...I’m doing everything I can...I’m traveling and sweating in the booth and doing my homework and when you read something bad about yourself...it’s not fun.

StLSO: I recall hearing you broadcast some Missouri Valley Conference basketball games a couple of years ago.
Buck: Let’s see...that was two years ago so it was the winter of ‘93.

StLSO: I remember watching one of those games...quite honestly, it didn’t seem that you were prepared for one of those games.
Buck: Really [said in the form of a statement].

StLSO: Yeah, that night, the normal Joe Buck delivery seemed less smooth than normal as you didn’t seem to know the names of the players and their uniform numbers...I bring this up not to embarrass but rather to make the point that a good deal of preparation is involved in your job. This is true, isn’t it?

Buck: Yeah, you absolutely have to prepare. But you have to remember that what people might hear or see on television and what comes across is not always...
See, you can look at something and say he doesn’t know the name or number and say that he’s not prepared, but sometimes that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes it might be what’s going on in my ear. Sometimes it might be what the producer’s telling me...sometimes it might be what the director’s saying, while I’m talking, that could throw you off that is incorrect. A lot of the times the people behind the scenes make mistakes when you’re the front man out there.

StLSO: I don’t think I’m wrong about this...my point was that you just didn’t seem as familiar with some of these guys as other times and I think that points out how much preparation is important...
Buck: It’s all familiarity. I could run down the names and numbers of all the guys in major league baseball....that’s one thing because I’m around it every day of my life. But when you’re swooping down to do a game on a given weekend...having to learn two different teams...or...in fact, I was doing two MVC games a week...that’s four different teams...including women’s games....you know, keeping that straight all the time is not the easiest thing in the world. And I might add that the MVC production side of those games could have been improved, in my opinion. The MVC deserves better.

StLSO: You received a lot of positive notoriety for your ESPN duh-duh-duh...duh-duh-duh after Mark Whiten’s fourth homer vs. the Reds. Was that spontaneous or did your practice that?
Buck: [Buck delayed answering for an instant while a look of disapproval came over his face.] You can’t practice anything. If I were to practice something....I mean, that’s the beauty of what I do...you can’t practice anything. It just comes out...you don’t know what’s going to happen.

StLSO: Describe your preparation for a typical Cardinal game that commences at 7:35...
Buck: I prepare for every game...very easily...just by being there. I know exactly what’s been going on, on a daily basis...I mean, I know more, about this team, than anybody listening knows about this team.

StLSO: So, for a 7:35 start, you arrive at Busch Stadium at what time?
Buck: 4:00...4:30, sometimes 5:00...depending on whether I have other obligations..doing other work during the day...commercials or reporting of some sort.

StLSO: Describe your preparation for a typical FOX broadcast...
Buck: It’s totally different [from the Cards preparation]. When I’m preparing for a Sunday game for FOX, I start out on Monday evening doing spotting boards that I make out for myself...then we [the FOX team] get to the city on Friday and meeting the teams on Saturday...meet as a group on Saturday night...and as a group on Sunday morning....do the game on Sunday and then come back on Sunday night.
So there’s really a lot more preparation to be done...because I’m having to learn two new teams each week and I’ve got to pick up a team in week #14 and act like I’ve been watching them for the first 13 weeks.

StLSO: I’ve noticed that some things about baseball seem easier to evaluate while watching TV, as opposed to coming to the stadium and seeing the game in person. In particular, certain aspects of pitching seem to be much easier to follow on TV, as opposed from the stands.  Do you rely on a video monitor while broadcasting?
Buck: You can’t rely on it...you have to split your...

StLSO: Rely is the wrong word...utilize is better...
Buck: Oh yeah, yeah, you have to...you have to be aware of what they’re showing. You have to work together. You have a director and a producer and you have to all be on the same page. I can’t start talking about the crowd while they’re shooting Ken Hill and I can’t start talking about Joe Torre when they’re shooting Todd Zeile.

StLSO: And on radio?
Buck: Well on radio I can do whatever I want. There’s no one that is working with me...it’s all what I want to cover.

StLSO: Earlier, you said you graduated from high school in 1987 or so. Do you keep in contact with many of your high school classmates?
Buck: Yes, I do. Some more so than others.

StLSO: What fraction of them are baseball fans?
Buck: I would say, probably, half.

StLSO: The ones that aren’t...why aren’t they, in your mind? What would you tell them if you were to try and persuade them to come to the ballpark?
Buck: Well, that’s a tough question. I just think it’s a personal preference. I would never try to persuade someone to enjoy baseball. Baseball is just something that either you grow up around and really enjoy, or you have a tough time picking it up and staying alert while you’re at a game. I think [that for] some people, the game of baseball bores them. To me, I enjoy the two and a half to three hours that it takes to play a baseball game. But I think, to some people, that’s too slow. It’s a reflection of our society...they want things fast and they want scoring.

StLSO: Assume for a moment that you’ve been named Commissioner of baseball.
Buck: I’d quit...

StLSO: What would you prescribe for what ails baseball 1995-style?
Buck: Well, everybody’s trying to speed up the game. If I were to do one thing I’d make the umpires call a legitimate strike zone. I think that’s the absolute only way you can speed up the game...not when the PA announcer says the guy’s name one minute and fifteen seconds into the break. That doesn’t have anything to do with it...it has to do with a small strike zone and pitchers falling behind. These guys [the batters] don’t go up there swinging the bat...then they’re waiting to get ahead in the count and then they’re hammering away. I would say call the strike zone as it is written in the rule book.

StLSO: Among your suggestions for major league baseball, I’m surprised you didn’t include grammar and diction lessons for your broadcasting partner Mike Shannon.
Buck: No...I would not say that.

StLSO: Your on-air work is the most visible part of your job. Tell us a bit about your off-air responsibilities as a member of the Cards broadcasting team.
Buck: I’m involved with a lot of charity work in St. Louis, which, I believe, is part of being a broadcaster. In the off season I do a number of the Cardinal Caravans. But mainly charity work.

StLSO: After an evening’s worth of broadcasting, you said you were up ‘til three a.m., what do you do to unwind?
Buck: It’s not that I’m wound up...it’s just that my schedule starts later than everybody else and I end up later than everyone else.

StLSO: Do you work out regularly?
Buck: Yeah, I do. I try to. On the road, definitely, and at home, every day.

StLSO: What is the most difficult part of your job?
Buck: Uhhhhh...the travel. It’s tough, with a wife, and you want to see each other as much as possible...but it’s not always economically feasible to have her with me all of the time.

StLSO: Is there one part of a baseball game that you would like to do a better job communicating to your listeners?
Buck: I wish I could interview people better.

StLSO: Do you enjoy doing rain delay fills?
Buck: Yes and no. I don’t really feel that qualified to do them yet. I think people more enjoy listening to people that have been around the game a little longer than I have...I don’t have the background that Mike Shannon or my Dad would.

StLSO: What is the best part of your job?
Buck: Every day...the thrill of doing it every day...there’s not one day that has gone by where I had not wanted to do a game. I would rather do a game than not do a game.

StLSO: Bob Costas tells a story of traveling with the team on a day off...when he first started broadcasting. He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to do that.
Buck: Yeah...well, that’s fun though. I did say travel is the toughest part but it can be the most enjoyable part...to get to know these guys...it’s like a traveling fraternity.

StLSO: Joe, you’re only 26 but have already accomplished a great deal in an extremely competitive field. What do you do to keep from getting the big head?
Buck: From day one, from being around my father, I’ve realized that being a broadcaster is not the most important thing in the world. It’s a fun job and I’m lucky to be doing it and I’m lucky to have been doing it for the last five years. But it doesn’t matter what level of success that I achieve...in the grand scheme of things it’s not that important. Therefore I will not get the big head.

StLSO: As far as your career is concerned, what would you like to accomplish professionally in the next five years?
Buck: That’s tough to answer. Because if anybody had asked me back in 1989 that five years from then if I’d be doing NFL football on FOX, I’d have never imagined that. Five years from now I would be very happy doing what I’m doing right now, and if something else comes along, like a chance to do nationally broadcast baseball, I would jump at that chance and would hope to be doing it.

StLSO: Joe...the best broadcasting I ever heard you do was during one of your football games. It was something minor and not something that I’m sure I’m going to be able to put into words. Your timing on what we used to call a down-and-out...it’s sort of like counting to five.
The quarterback takes the snap, drops back three or four steps, throws the ball on a line to the receiver, the receiver makes the catch and runs a little bit, and the defender makes the hit, knocking him out of bounds. You talked around all of those things, rather than interrupting what I was watching.
Buck: Sure. That is the essence of how I broadcast, or how I try to broadcast. It drives me nuts when I hear broadcasters talking incessantly. And just talking over the entire action.

StLSO: Do you understand what I’m talking about? That’s a perfect kind of a play that sort of has a rhythm to it...your basic seven yard down and out.
Buck: Well, broadcasting is all rhythm.

StLSO: I want to try this again. Do you practice that [the rhythm]?
Buck: No. That’s the way I grew up. I don’t think my Dad talks incessantly on a broadcast. I told myself because I listen to myself so much...watching tapes of my games on TV whether it’s basketball, baseball, or football...my voice sometimes drives me nuts...I don’t want to hear it all the time. I would rather accent the action instead of knocking you over the head with it. Especially on TV, being a TV play-by-play guy is almost redundant with people watching it. So if you can accent it, and you can add to it, then that is, I think, my job, and not tell people what they’re already seeing.

StLSO: At this point in the season, you’ve seen the Cards play forty some-odd ballgames and play .400 baseball. What should Cardinal fans look for in the future?
Buck: Well, there are no untouchables on this squad. You can’t have untouchables if you haven’t won since 1987. In my opinion, two-thirds of the significant players could, emphasize could, be different in 1996. If you asked Walt Jocketty or Mark Lamping, I think they would admit that this is not a first-place ballclub.

StLSO: So finally, Joe, when was the Roman Colosseum built?
Buck: Seventy-five years ago. You never know what you’re going to get on a nightly basis. You can be talking about rain or a home run and something like that comes along.

StLSO: Thanks.
Buck: OK. Thank you. 


=====
Mark Bausch

Bausch

Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================
posted November 10

Role Models in Radio; Role Models in Coaching?

There's always good radio to be found the day after the Philly Eagles lose. That's because 97.5 The Fanatic employs long-time sports-talk radio pro Tony Bruno, who, with wit and wisdom and alacrity, persuades most (but not all) of his ever-insufferable listeners not to jump from the top of the nearest tall building. The wonder of the internet brings Bruno and his Philly-based station to anyone looking for an entertaining listening experience.

In a similar vein, the Cardinals' flagship radio station, 'The Voice of St. Louis' (TVoSTL), in the mid-afternoon of Wednesday, November 7, 2012, supplied a great deal of potential.

Hosts and callers alike on this station, during the mid-afternoon time slots, lean right-of-center (ya think?!)...and the day before (November 6) was election day.

'The Voice of St. Louis' (TVoSTL) has always tilted a bit to the right.

For example, you can bet the mortgage that long-time CBS VP Robert Hyland had no use, in 1972, for most of the positions held by that year's Democratic presidential nominee (George McGovern).

But somehow, back in those days, the political views of the newsreaders and hosts at TVoSTL were, if not difficult to ascertain...they were at least restrained. Hyland himself voiced an occasional, usually right-of-center 'editorial' in the early a.m. (before what is now called morning-drive), but his opinions were not delivered with the 'in-your-face' and 'take-no-prisoners' mentality that a certain Cape Girardeau-born nationally-syndicated personality (heard five days a week on TVoSTL) has popularized.

And the 'take-no-prisoners' approach to talk-radio has metastasized: in all likelihood, the locally-based right-of-center show that commences on TVoSTL at 2 pm (and other regional shows like it around the country) would not exist were it not for the popularity of the nationally-syndicated show that precedes it.

=====

On Tuesday, November 6, voters in Missouri re-elected Democratic senator Claire McCaskill...while voters in the United States re-elected President Barack Obama.

These results virtually guaranteed that compelling mid-afternoon radio would be found the next day on TVoSTL.

Indeed, during the 2 o'clock hour on November 7, while discussing the election results and a 60 Minutes TV segment that featured a chilly and forced conversation involving US senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Harry Reid (D-NV), TVoSTL's mid-afternoon local host chimed in with his own view, agreeing with the notion that it would be hard for anyone (including the Republican leadership in the US Senate) to work with Reid, saying "Yeah, I hate Harry Reid too."

First, I chuckled--I was right! Then I groaned and quite literally thought of Robert Hyland, whose approach to radio is missed by many.

But Hyland is gone, and a man with the golden EIB microphone has acolytes all over the United States.

My chuckle and groan was followed by a click, as I changed the station to a St. Louis-based sports-talk station, whose update guy was discussing the St. Louis University men's basketball program and its head-coaching situation.

Back to sports, and to SLU basketball in particular.

To recap, in the wake of what is apparently a life-threatening medical issue, SLU head coach Rick Majerus has relinquished his coaching duties and has been replaced, on an interim basis, by veteran basketball man Jim Crews.

Crews, who played (1972-1976) and served as an assistant coach (1977-1985) at Indiana for more than a decade while the Hoosiers were coached by Bob Knight, was, beginning in 1985, a head coach at Evansville and then Army, for 24 successive seasons (seventeen and seven years, respectively), during which time his teams qualified for four NCAA tournaments.

From a basketball perspective, SLU's athletics department is fortunate that Majerus, prior to the 2011-12 season, was able to persuade Crews to return to coaching and join his staff at SLU.

My own thinking about Crews, though, centers on a post-game press conference held at the Arena at SIU-Carbondale, after an Evansville-SIUC game.

I don't recall the outcome of the game. I don't remember anything about the game itself. I'm not even certain as to the game's exact date, although I am certain it was in the late 1990s.

What I do recall, vividly, is being embarrassed, as a 1980 graduate of Evansville, to be in the same room with Jim Crews, as he, while serving as Evansville's head basketball coach, berated and belittled...INTENTIONALLY...a young man who was apparently the Aces' beat writer for the Evansville daily newspaper.

The reporter, who didn't look a day over the age of thirty and did not at all resemble the late Mike Wallace in demeanor, had the temerity to politely ask a mundane question about something that had transpired during the game he had just witnessed...a game that, as part of his job description, he was required to describe to his paper's readers.

Jim Crews would have none of the reporter’s questions and the reporter did not persist in asking them. Crews left the closet-sized room for the comfort of his team's locker room, leaving most of the other half-dozen or so in the tiny room shaking their heads. I do not recall, ever, in person, witnessing a more childish, silly and needless display of (bad) attitude by a person in a position of leadership.

Well, that's not exactly true.

A couple of months later (late in the decade of the 1990's), Bob Knight visited Jupiter FL as a spring-training guest of his buddy, then-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

During one pre-game session near the Roger Dean stadium first-base line, La Russa and a horde of media left the area, and Knight and I remained in place, alone for several minutes.

While the details are not important, suffice it to say that as Jim Crews was to that Evansville-based basketball reporter, Bob Knight was to yours truly.

Mr. Knight was not interested in idle chat of any type that morning, and had a rather direct way of expressing that perspective. Furthermore, his approach is not likely to be found in the classic book 'How to Win Friends and Influence People'.

=====

No one can deny the (broadcasting) excellence of Rush Limbaugh, in terms of listenership and revenue generation. Limbaugh is a wealthy man and a man of significant influence.

No one can deny the (coaching) excellence of Bob Knight, in terms of four-year player graduation rates and national championships. Bob Knight is in basketball's Hall of Fame, and, like Limbaugh, a man of significant influence.

But the effect of Limbaugh, on aspiring broadcasters...and the effect of Knight, on aspiring coaches--it seems to me that the plusses and minuses of those effects can (and should) be debated, in part because, in fact, only a fraction of their work is on public display.

What listeners hear, on the radio, from Limbaugh...is unique to him...and impossible to duplicate. And what goes into Limbaugh's daily 'performance' is something unseen to his listeners; it is private. Indeed, Limbaugh's private life is just that: private.

But in radio studios all over America, the talk-show posers try to imitate the master.

Including the clownsuit at 2 pm on TVoSTL. Click.

And what fans of college basketball saw of Knight, on the bench, was certainly unique to him...and also impossible to duplicate. One can argue, I think, that Bob Knight succeeded as a college basketball coach in spite of his public demeanor, not because of it.

But even today, in high school and college gymnasiums all over America, the coaching posers still try to imitate the General, in all his glory.

=====

Bob Knight was dismissed, at Indiana, in September of 2000, after physically accosting and verbally abusing an IU undergrad. It was, according to the leadership at Indiana, the last in a long line of missteps committed by Knight.

Jim Crews was dismissed, at Army, in September of 2009, under cloudy circumstances that some said involved physically accosting and verbally abusing Army players (i.e. cadets). Crews’ offense was, according to the athletic leadership at Army, the last in a string of missteps. His dismissal came only a few weeks after signing a three-year contract extension (with a two-year option), and just weeks before the start of the college season.

Three years after his dismissal at Army, one hopes that Jim Crews emulates the results associated with Bob Knight, and leaves out the General's 'colorful' side.

That dog won't hunt in the genteel college basketball climate that is St. Louis University, whose most successful modern-day coach (the late Charlie Spoonhour) opened practices to the public at the old gym on Pine Street and, for awhile, was arguably the most beloved sports figure in St. Louis.

It really was a site to see—while Spoonhour watched his team do 3-on-3 drills, runners were circling the track above the court. Runners as in students and faculty. Other athletes were exercising courtside, too…but there was an excitement in the air: everybody wanted to be a part of Spoonball—it was fun and all of St. Louis knew it.

One hopes that interim coach Jim Crews gets the memo.

 

 

WDBX Sunday Sports Review
SSR Show Intro mp3 #1
(featuring Ozzie Smith, Tony La Russa, Bruce Weber, Jerry Kill, Rich Herrin and Charlie Spoonhour, and Joe Buck)
SSR Show Intro mp3 #2
(featuring Jan Quarless, Rick Ankiel, Ron Caron, Walt Jocketty, Brian Jordan and Joe Buck)


 

...from the stlsports.com archives:

Rick Ankiel is now part of the extended Cardinals family again, as he has been hired by Fox Sports Midwest for pre- and post- game commentary. In 1999, St. Louis Sports Online sat down with Rick for a Q-and-A.

Read on...

=====


Mark Bausch

Bausch

Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================

Reluctance & Mystery,
Talent & Expectations:
A Conversation with Rick Ankiel

originally posted June 28, 1999

Rick Ankiel is the brightest lefthanded pitching prospect in all of baseball…and at 19 years of age, is gaining maturity on and off the field…

Reluctance

Earlier this month, Thomas Harding, the Memphis Redbirds’ beat writer for the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, asked yours truly a simple question.

It was a question I’ve heard before.

But admittedly, the sports context of his question...was new.

Certainly, though, Harding’s query brought a smile to my face.

His question was this: “How was it for you?”

The context?

Harding, a friendly bloke, wanted to hear about the Rick Ankiel interview I had conducted earlier that evening in the Redbirds’ dugout.

My answer was polite.

“He was...uhhh...reluctant.”

“Good answer!” said the beat writer, making like game-show host Richard Dawson.

Generally speaking, if you want to know something about a professional baseball player, talk to his beat writer.

Evidently, my description of Ankiel squared with Harding’s view of the youngster: reluctant.


Mystery

But the reluctance that Rick Ankiel displays, in his interviews, only adds to the mystery that surrounds him
.
Here’s an analogy.

Think back to when you were fifteen or sixteen...a freshman in high school.

Wasn’t there a pretty girl, a graduating senior girl, that you found mysterious?

Wasn’t she difficult to approach?

And wasn’t she hard to talk to?

But from a distance...wasn’t she fun to watch?

That’s one way to view the mysterious side of Rick Ankiel.

-----

The first thing you notice about Ankiel, up close, is his demeanor.

No, that’s not exactly right.

It’s the combination of his demeanor and his appearance that is so striking.

It’s like one of those “What’s wrong with this picture?” features, where one thing is out of place in a photograph.

That’s because, while Ankiel is only 19, and his face and body have the unfinished look of a 19 year old, his outward disposition appears to be that of a veteran (or maybe a teenager trying to act like a veteran).

In this reporter’s opinion, an opinion based on a limited set of observations, Ankiel’s disposition displays equal parts detached arrogance and active intimidation.

And as the recent pre-game beaning in a collegiate baseball game evidenced, there is a substantial intimidation component to pitching
.
(Don’t believe that? Step into a batting cage and dial it up to 80 MPH. You’ll get the picture...and don’t forget your helmet.)

So, for what it’s worth, Rick Ankiel appears intimidating...and mysterious.


Talent

From a distance, though, Rick Ankiel’s pitching talent is obvious to anyone with even a modest knowledge of baseball.

For starters, Ankiel’s delivery has a bit of (ex-Met lefty) Sid Fernandez flavor to it.

You remember El Sid--he hid the ball behind his front hip and leg for what seemed like an eternity, before projecting an above-average fastball toward the batter.

Ankiel’s trickery isn’t as pronounced, but it’s there, and he uses it to his advantage. As a result, Ankiel’s fastball seems to handcuff hitters in a way that adds a few MPH to its 91-92 MPH velocity.

Ankiel’s breaking pitch looks more like a curve ball than a slider. Its effects are best observed by observing the helpless, weak-kneed batter, who often looks like a Little Leaguer watching his first roundhouse.

That’s because Ankiel can throw his sharp-breaking curve for strikes...which, when combined with his heavy fastball, leads to stupendous strikeout totals.

But that’s not all. Ankiel’s change-up, though harder to spot from the stands, is apparently well developed, too.

So where do those strikeouts come from?

In the words of Cardinals minor league pitching coordinator Mark Riggins: “He has a very deceptive fastball...the ball jumps...it explodes at the plate.

“He can pitch up in the zone...and the ball just jumps by the hitters’ bat. He can use his change-up to strike guys out...he can use his curve-ball to strike guys out...he has weapons that produce strikeouts. He’s a gamer. He’s an intense guy. When he has two strikes on a guy he tries to strike him out and he has the weapons to do that.”

Riggins continues: “It’s amazing that [Ankiel] has the breaking ball and the change-up at 19 years of age.
“We have guys in our system at the AAA level that we’re still trying to teach the change-up to. Rick has all of those pitches already. It’s just a matter of consistency and getting those pitches in the locations he needs to...all the time.”

Which leads to...


Expectations

Ankiel is 19 years old. The last 19 year old pitcher to make a big splash in the big leagues was Dwight Gooden.

Is it unreasonable to compare Ankiel, the summer 1999 Ankiel, with Gooden?

“I think so,” said Riggins. “You don’t want to put that much of a burden on him. We as pitching coaches treat every kid the same...whether he was a number one [pick] or a free agent...whether he is 8-and-1 or 1-and-8...

“We treat all these guys the same...and try not to put the pressure on him...that’s created more by the media..
.
“The expectations are also created by the fans,” continued Riggins. “That’s great...I love that stuff. But we shouldn’t put that much of a burden on Rick right now. He’s still a young kid trying to develop his stuff.”

And a young kid that, at 6-1 and 190 lbs, still sometimes looks like the teen-ager that he is.

Yet one final word from the Cardinals minor league pitching coordinator, Mark Riggins.
“His body is still growing. Usually at 21 or 22 years old...they fully develop. He’s got a couple more years...and may grow an inch or two…and his body will harden up,” Riggins said.

“When we signed him he was just a soft kid...a little overweight for his age...

“Last year in Peoria...Rick was very low on a test administered by our minor league strength coordinator.

“Rick, he was very low in the group of pitchers. That really stuck in his mind...but the very next day he was out early, running...

“By the end of the year, last year, he had grown into a man and he’s still growing.”


The Last Words

And how might Rick Ankiel finalize his development?

Recently, it was suggested to Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan that a pitcher combining the veteran moxie of Kent Bottenfield with the talent and tools of a Rick Ankiel would be a superstar pitcher.
Duncan’s response?

“That would be a nice combination,” Duncan replied. “Hopefully that’s what Rick Ankiel will be when he gets to the big leagues. He’ll have his physical skills so that he can execute and the only thing that will be missing is what you gain with experience at this level.

“And that’s knowing the opposition and knowing what you have to do to be a successful major league pitcher. He is 19 years old. There’s no getting around that,” Duncan said.

“I think he’s a mature 19 when it comes to baseball...he has a very good idea what he’s doing. He pays attention...he’s been a very coachable athlete and he’s learned a lot in the short time he’s been playing professional baseball.”

And Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty‘s view on Ankiel?

“Rick Ankiel is a young man who just needs a little more seasoning. He’s going to get better with experience. He’s got great ability and great pitches...he has to learn how to get hitters out at the higher levels...how to set up guys....everything comes easy for him right now but it’s going to get tougher as he moves up. But I think he’s very capable of making the adjustments.”

Jocketty’s parting shot, issued in March of 1999?

Not a promise or a commitment; just a declarative sentence.

“I don’t think it will be very long before he gets to St. Louis.”


The Conversation
[recorded June 12, 1999]

StLSO: We’re here in Nashville, Tennessee, visiting with Memphis Redbirds lefthander Rick Ankiel. Good afternoon, Rick.
Ankiel: Hi…how you doin’?

StLSO: We’re doing all right. Rick Ankiel…you’re 19 years old…you finished high school…two years ago?
Ankiel: Yeah, I believe so.

StLSO: That’s not too long ago. Fans are interested in your pitching ability and they are interested in some other things about you. Your pitching ability has brought you along way…do your high school days seem like a long time ago…or just yesterday?
Ankiel: It seems like a long time ago…to be honest. Last year was a long year, this year has gone well and has been flying by and I hope it will continue to be the same.

StLSO: What kinds of experiences from your high school days directly apply to what it is you’re doing now?
Ankiel: What do you mean?

StLSO: What I mean is…did you feel like your pitching skills were pretty well formed as a senior in high school…or not?
Ankiel: I don’t think so. [In high school] I just went out there and threw. I’ve started to learn a lot about pitching rather than just throwing the ball by people. I’m learning a lot and it’s a lot of fun right now and it couldn’t be better.

StLSO: It couldn’t be better…I guess you had a satisfactory for yourself last night…you feel pretty good about your performance yesterday?
Ankiel: I think last night was probably my worst performance of the year.

StLSO: In what way was it not as good as you would like?
Ankiel: In every way…in five innings I threw 92 pitches. As a starter, you’re not going to be able to stay in the game and help your team. As a starter, you just can’t pitch like that.

StLSO: We cover 40 or 50 games with the Cardinals every year…and you can hardly do a post-game interview with Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan without either of them using words like ‘adversity’ and people being able to come back from adversity…was yesterday as adverse a set of conditions that you’ve faced as a minor leaguer?
Ankiel: I don’t know as a minor leaguer…but definitely this year. It just wasn’t a good outing…I couldn’t really find a zone and things just didn’t really go too well.

StLSO: Rick, what is it that you like best about minor league baseball at this point…your teammates, the traveling…or not?
Ankiel: Everything…I mean…you’re playing something that you love to do and you’re playing in a dream when you’re doing things like that.

StLSO: So things are in a real positive sense for you…you’re happy where you’re at, biding your time, and looking to make good pitches…
Ankiel: I guess so.

StLSO: I’m wondering if there’s something I can ask you outside of baseball…that you’d be interested in talking about…high school…favorite classes…something you were interested in or not?
Ankiel: No man…baseball…that’s it.

StLSO: When you were eight, when you were ten, when you were twelve…you wrote on a paper somewhere that you wanted to be a baseball player…how long has this been a dream of yours?
Ankiel: I think, like, most kids in America, just growing up…it’s always a dream…for me, I don’t know. I guess ever since I’ve been little…right now, I’m trying to fulfill that and just keep focused on baseball.

StLSO: Do you have any sense of the anticipation that the folks in the city by the Arch, St. Louis, have for you?
Ankiel: I don’t pay attention to that…I leave that up to you guys…I just try to stay focused on pitching…and not worry about media…and other outside influences.

StLSO: Frankly, we’re interested, in the media, as well as the fans, in seeing that, that can happen for you, Rick Ankiel…good luck the rest of the year.
Ankiel: Thank you.

=====

 

=====
Mark Bausch

Bausch

Editor
St. Louis Sports Online
editor@stlsports.com
====================

Nearly 18 years ago, the androstenedione controversy surrounding Mark McGwire was the talk of St. Louis...but perhaps not how you mighrt remember it!

Out on a Limb?

posted August 27. 1998

A look at the way the St. Louis media handled the publicity surrounding Mark McGwire’s use of androstenedione


MEMO TO:
The St. Louis sports community

SUBJECT:
Mark McGwire and Androstenedione (andro)

DATE: August 27, 1998

....on KMOX radio, Hall-of-Fame sportscaster Jack Buck said it was a “non-story”, and pledged not to talk about the Mark McGwire androstenedione controversy.

Ex-St. Louis Sports Online contributor Randy Karraker, ably working the KMOX mike alongside Buck, agreed.

KTRS’ Kevin Slaten pitched in with his own bombastic opinion, saying that the original AP account of the story, and the front page androstenedione follow-up by the Post-Dispatch, only confirmed his own view that print journalists, and sportswriters in particular, are the lowest form of life on this planet.

In essence, Slaten completely agreed with the stated Buck-Karraker on-air opinion, saying that the whole Mac-andro affair was a “non-story”.

On KFNS AM-590, host Frank Cusumano expressed his view that “it’s legal, and therefore I don’t have a problem with it”.

St. Louis media veteran Scott Simon, another former St. Louis Sports Online contributor who now plies his trade at Kansas City’s CBS AM outlet, KMBZ, informed yours truly that the story was overblown...that he himself suffers from asthma, and the medication that he takes to control his condition renders him ineligible for the Olympics.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m thinking of the Jamaican bobsled team...Mr. Simon.)

Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, a recent guest of the Saturday Sports Review, chimed in with a rather balanced view of the McGwire andro connection, noting that (1) the Olympic ban of andro can’t be taken too seriously in light of the IOC’s banning of various over-the-counter medications (such as Sudafed); and (2) the NBA ban of andro is ridiculous, too, since pot is not on the league’s list of banned substances.

But Miklasz covered all bases by espousing the view that androstenedione is legal, considered to be a nutritional supplement, and not banned by baseball’s establishment.

In other words, it’s OK to take andro because it’s not against the rules to do so.

KFNS’ Brian Stull, yet another former St. Louis Sports Online contributor, noted that the current media attention to Mac’s andro usage is, in his view, overblown, since Stull claims that McGwire openly discussed his use of supplements on at least two occasions in the weeks prior to the AP “scoop”.

And in their initial comments on the McGwire story, which were apparently based on early media accounts of the controversy, St. Louis Sports Online columnist (and WGNU sportscaster) Mike Huss, and St. Louis Sports Online photographer Eric Niederhoffer both leaned toward the view that the story was overblown...and that a possible driving force for the story was the media’s incessant desire to tear down the heroes that they themselves elevate.

So, despite all those opinions, all which sound logical in one way or another...

…why does McGwire’s use of andro leave a funny feeling in the pit of the stomach of this observer?

I don’t know.

Well, maybe I do.

Maybe it’s because all of Mac’s defenders sound, to my ears, a lot like President Clinton’s defenders.

Literally straining to defend their man.

Parsing their words.

And sounding like lawyers.

The Clinton defenders...and the McGwire defenders...their statements sound OK...they just don’t sound right.

Complicating issues include the fact that yours truly voted for Clinton.

Twice.

And McGwire’s mammoth home runs have lit up summer for this particular sports consumer like no other recent time in sports.

But one thing seems certain.

In the 1998 baseball season, there is almost nothing connected with Mark McGwire that can be referred to as a non-story.

And the McGwire-androstenedione connection is, in fact, a huge story.

And, to this observer, it seems wrong to blame the media for publishing a story that, in more than one aspect, defines sports in the ‘90s.

We haven’t heard the last of Big Mac and androstenedione.

It does seem unfortunate, though, that in this one-in-a-lifetime baseball season, that Mark McGwire’s historic chase has been tarnished.

One more thing, though.

Recall that longtime St. Louis baseball observers--guys like Bob Broeg, Red Schoendienst, George Kissell, and the aforementioned Buck (that’s about two centuries worth of baseball there, folks)--all grin and utter more or less the same line, when asked about McGwire.

“I’ve never seen anything like him.”