It was Twenty Years Ago...
posted February 1
Has it really been twenty years?
As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to take the big stage in Miami for Super Bowl LIV against the San Francisco 49ers, this bureau cannot help but think back twenty years ago when another team from the Show Me State was on display from sea to shining sea.
It would be the top highlight in the 21-year history of the St. Louis Rams. You know, the same bunch that in January 2016 loaded up their trucks and moved to Beverly. (Hills, that is)
January 30, 2000: the date the “St. Louis” Rams would win the Super Bowl.
Has it really been twenty years?
For those who lived through it or for those of us who covered it in person, it was an unforgettable ride. In the summer of 1995, the Rams arrived in the 314 with their arms wide open and a city ready to fill them with cash: complete with a local media more than happy to carry their water
The team arrived in the Show Me State with much fanfare and anticipation. Local fans ponied up thousands of dollars for personal seat licenses (PSLs) that quickly became the relocation penalty fee the team needed to pay LA for the Rams to bolt the West Coast.
The local media drooled over anything relating to the team. Our town handed the Rams the most lucrative lease deal in the rich & arrogant cartel better known as the National Football League. The lease provisions even provided the team a cut of the concessions during non-football events at the facility then-known as the Trans World Dome. That even included getting kickbacks from concessions sold during Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Gateway City in January 1999.
But despite all that optimism, the St. Louis Rams were not very good (OK, quite bad) in those early years. During their first four seasons in St. Louis, the team compiled a record of 22-42 (aka: twenty games under .500) and finished dead last in the NFC West two of those seasons.
The thrill was fading and quickly taking a back seat to Mark McGwire and his traveling home run show with the Cardinals. To remedy the downward spiral, the Rams signed free agent running back Marshall Faulk and acquired quarterback and Vianney High School graduate Trent Green. But disaster quickly followed as Green was carted off the rock hard tundra of the Dome in the third pre-season game with a season-ending knee injury.
A journeyman quarterback by the name of Kurt Warner was then given the keys to the offense.
And then, it all began.
Warner and Faulk resurrected the Rams in Lazarus-like fashion: leading the team to a 13-3 overall record in 1999, a first place finish in the NFC West and the best record in the Conference.
St. Louis would knock off Minnesota in the first round playoff game as Warner threw seven touchdown passes to seven different receivers. Then the Rams advanced to the Super Bowl by defeating Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship game. This bureau remembers leaving the Dome that night after the post-game interviews and walking to the car against a strong wintery wind with scattered precipitation falling from the sky.
It was true: it would indeed be a cold day if the St. Louis Rams went to the Super Bowl.
The big game would be in Atlanta. During the week prior, an ice storm would hit Dixie making driving treacherous for those traveling from Missouri. But the show would go on.
St. Louis would meet the Tennessee Titans. The franchise formerly known as the Houston Oilers were led by future Rams’ Head Coach Jeff Fischer. Throughout the first half, the Rams threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Tennessee defense. The Titans would bend but not break. They prevented the Rams from scoring touchdowns their first five attempts into the Red Zone.
After the first half, the Rams dominated in the offensive statistics, but the scoreboard read: place kicker Jeff Wilkins 9, Tennessee 0.
After blocking a Tennessee field goal, St. Louis marched down the field and finally reached the end zone as Warner hit rookie Torry Holt with a touchdown pass. This score gave St. Louis an apparently-comfortable 16-0 lead.
But Tennessee was resilient. They overcame this deficit: scoring a touchdown in the final seconds of the third quarter. Later, the Titans tied the game on a second touchdown and an Al Del Greco field goal.
In 1999 the football world wondered all season just how the Rams, with their weak regular season schedule, would face adversity. It did not take long to find out the answer.
After the tying Tennessee field goal, Warner hit veteran wide receiver Isaac Bruce for a touchdown pass to give St. Louis the lead with 1:54 remaining. Wilkins’ eleventh point of the game gave the Rams a seven-point advantage.
Yet the Titans refused to quit. Tennessee came roaring back: bringing the ball to the St. Louis ten-yard line with six seconds remaining in regulation time. Titan quarterback Steve Mc Nair completed a pass to Kevin Dyson who eventually came up one yard short from the goal line with only zeroes posting on the scoreboard clock.
Ball Game-- The team of destiny finally reached their destination. And they did it with one yard to spare.
Commissioner Paul Taglibue presented the Championship Trophy to Rams Owner Georgia Frontierre. In accepting it, the Rams’ Owner discretely slammed the Commish and that rich and arrogant cartel better known as the National Football League by proclaiming that the team made the right choice by moving the team to St. Louis: despite the League’s disapproval.
Warner was named the Super Bowl MVP and a new national hero was born. A Clydesdale-led parade marched down Market Street the following day. The guests of honor were the Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams.
It’s now two decades later. Football fans in the 314 are likely rooting for their Missouri cousins on the western side of the state this weekend. The only time the rich and arrogant cartel are expected to be back in our town this year will be likely in a downtown court room.
For as sweet as that was here in 2000, the football waters are poisoned twenty years later.
Still, they can’t take January 30, 2000 away from the Gateway City.
“When you wish upon a star, it makes no difference who you are!”
Has it really been twenty years?
Comments? Contact Mike at: email@example.com
Diaz, Kurt Warner & Talent Evaluation: Tunnel Vision, Not Knowing
What You Don't Know & Missing Greatness
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
Bowie had become a mainstream pop star whose songs were heard all over
It was my first Bowie
show, and the entire
experience catalyzed an acute awareness of David Bowie and his music.
the party, eh?)
In 2004 Bowie performed
at St. Louis' Fox Theatre,
we were there, and those in attendance were mesmerized by what 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
Forty years ago (March 3,
1976, to be precise),
Susan attended her first David Bowie concert, at Chicago's
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
1976, for a Sunday night performance at Roberts Stadium (the home of
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
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
school advanced chemistry, physics, trigonometry and analytic geometry;
of enjoyment of high school golf; a fun job at an area supermarket
laugh: $2.10/hr and time-and-a-half on Sundays); as well as fun and
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
possessed a little more awareness of the earth around me and had opened
to the talents of David Bowie, who, to me at the time, was the guy who
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
Shrine Circus in Roberts Stadium, a venue that I believed to be
during rock concerts, with pot-smokers and troublemakers that roamed
a world that I did not understand.
In other words, my
perspective was foolishly
limited and suffered from myriad distractions, and my tunnel vision
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 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.
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.
the Super Bowl is over and with spring training games as well as the
start of the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament weeks away, this bureau
has always considered mid-February as the slow time on the sports
Aside from loads of regular season hockey games and even more loads of regular season college basketball games, these days the sports world is rather routine and somewhat mundane.
Meanwhile, here in the 314 questions have popped up all over the sports spectrum during this down time. To that end, this bureau will take a crack to review, discuss and offer some thoughts.
Issue #1: What’s wrong with the Blues?
As is our policy, this bureau does not really focus on the National Hockey League until after the Super Bowl. Now that the big game with Roman Numerals has come and gone and fans are finally recovering from their hangovers across the state in Kansas City, let’s take a look at our defending Stanley Cup Champions.
For the first three months, our Blue has been one of the top teams in the NHL. Most recently they’ve held the top spot in the Western Conference. Our town recently hosted the annual celebration of hockey through the downtown streets in strong fashion. There have been smiles galore throughout Blues Nation and at City Hall.
But the Blues recent trend illustrates this bureau’s haste in jumping on the hockey bandwagon too early. Let’s review. On the morning of January 15, 2020, St Louis was cruising atop of the Conference with an overall record of 30-10-8. Fast-forward to the morning of Monday February 18, 2020: the team’s record is now 32-17-10.
Saying it another way, over the last eleven games, the Blues went 2-7-2. Suddenly the team is no longer alone at the top of the Central Division. They are now tied with Dallas. Plus, two points behind with two games in hand are the Stan Kroenke-owned Colorado Avalanche
In this little corner of cyberspace this bureau asked in the late December’s year-end review if the Blues have peaked too soon. Perhaps that is the case or perhaps this is simply one of the ebbs and flows of an NHL season. To that end, we revert to another theory: the NHL regular season simply thins the herd for the playoffs. It is the Blues job to jockey for the best position in the second season. That may or may not include action at the 2/24/20 trading deadline.
To that end, St. Louis Blues: you are on the clock.
Issue #2: How about them BattleHawks?
Two weeks are now in the books in the second rendition of the XFL. This version is a whole lot different from XFL1. That was a made-for-TV extension of World Wrestling Entertainment. The face of the league was a player that donned the name “He Hate Me” on the back of his jersey. Cheerleaders provided provocative routines that were only missing a pole. The narrator of the League was the former Governor of the great state of Minnesota and professional wrestling icon Jesse “the Body” Ventura. XFL1 was greeted with enthusiasm. But it quickly evaporated as the experiment died a quiet death a decade and a half ago.
XFL2 has rolled out much differently. This time it is football that is driving the product. The League is offering clever gimmicks as micing-up coaches and referees, lining up players during kickoffs at the 35yard line and offering extra point options of one, two or three extra points.
XFL2 is also savvy to launch its product during this dead time on the sports calendar. Looking for programming hours to fill, Fox, ESPN and their cable affiliates are airing XFL games. Right, wrong or indifferent, this provides a degree of legitimacy for the new league.
The XFL2 is also not marketing itself as the same plain as the rich & arrogant cartel better known as the National Football League. Games are played in old baseball stadiums and college facility instead of the NFL palaces. Plus the League wants to focus on regular sports fans. Here in St. Louis, our BattleHawks were present at the NHL All Star Game and the Cardinals’ Winter Warmup and also assisted in packing canned goods at local Winter Food Drives.
The 314 seems curious about the BattleHawks and the XFL. The home team is 1-1 after two weeks. Local reports are predict there will be anywhere between 23-28,000 people at the facility formerly known as the Edward Jones Dome for the home opener,
Time will tell if the BattleHawks will be viewed into the River City Rascal/Gateway Grizzlies category: an alternative for fans and families who want to enjoy the sport or if it will evolve into something better or something worse. Either way, for the fans in the 314, the suggestion here is to simply have a good time and enjoy the games: wherever they lead.
Issue #3: Which pitcher gets handed the baseball in the ninth inning?
As the Cardinals open up their 2020 spring training camp Our Town’s only newspaper is pondering a question this bureau has asked since November: who will be the Red Birds’ closer?
This much we do know: last season’s Opening Day Closer Jordan Hicks won’t be available until mid-July at the earliest. Last season’s playoff closer Carlos Martinez prefers to be a starter. The Front Office has not acquired any outside closer alternatives to add to the roster. While there are many candidates to choose from, none have a proven track record.
We also know this: nothing inspires a team more than a walk-off victory. Also, nothing deflates a team more than losing a walk-off game with a 9th inning blown-save. And here is one more to chew on: over the past four decades or so, no team advances deep into October without a reliable closer on its staff.
Even taking into account the uncertainty of Miles Mikolas’ forearm issue, St. Louis has many starting pitching options. Even with Mikolas’ status, the Cardinals have one of the better starting staffs in the National League Central.
But all of that is irrelevant if the ninth inning is blown.
As the team prepares for the New York Mets in the first spring training game, the Cardinals need to get the closer role right.
Mid-February rolls on. Though this is the down time on the sports calendar, the beat goes on.
Stay tuned---on a whole bunch of fronts.
Baseball is Back!
posted April 2
It is good to have Baseball back.
Here in self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven expectations are high for their heroes to return to post-season play. The 2019 St. Louis Cardinals are a better baseball team than the St. Louis Cardinal team that walked off at Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon September 30, 2018. The mere acquisition of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has made 2019 St. Louis a better baseball team.
But what exactly does that mean? Those in the know believe that the Red Birds have closed the gap between them and the top two teams in the National League Central Division. St. Louis is considered by many as a potential playoff team in October. Still, the scoreboard will have the final say.
The Cardinals would get an early test during the first weekend of the season in Milwaukee in a four-game opening-weekend series against the NLCD defending champion Brewers.
Four games later, the results are in. The Red Birds earned a low score on that first test.
Now, the bureau concedes this weekend is a very small sample size and that a Major League Baseball season is very, very long. But in the end, four games against a strong divisional rival in their backyard is an important series if it were played in April or July or September. St. Louis’ mission was to get at least a split of the four-game series. If that occurred, four games in Milwaukee would be wiped off the schedule with no effect on the standings.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, the Brewers sent a message to the Cardinals and Central Division that they are still here and have no plans on leaving. Milwaukee won three out of four in the opening series against St. Louis. The Red Birds head to Pittsburgh two games behind the Brewers in the standings.
Again we repeat: this is a very small sample size and that a Major League Baseball season is very, very long.
During the first series there was there good news and there was bad news for the local nine.
The good news is that the Cardinals scored nineteen runs in their first four games in Milwaukee. The bad news is Red Bird pitching allowed nineteen runs against the Brewers.
The good news is that St. Louis hit eight home runs in the four game series. The bad news is that Milwaukee hit nine long flies in those four games.
The good news is that the newly-acquired Goldschmidt blasted four home runs in the series: three in one game. The bad news is defending NL Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich also hit four home runs in the series: but he hit one in each of the four games.
The good news is that the Cardinal defense only committed one error in the series. The bad news is that Red Bird batters struck out 43 times in 36 innings against Milwaukee pitching.
The concerning issue though is how the finale ended. The Red Birds held a three-run lead with nine outs to go. By getting those final nine outs, St. Louis would have achieved their objective: splitting the series and wiping four games at Miller Park off the schedule with no affect in the standings.
But that didn’t happen because the Cardinal bullpen did not complete the task in late innings. Despite all those glowing accolades bestowed by the apologists on Fox Sports Midwest regarding the effectiveness of free agent reliever Andrew Miller and the velocity of Jordan Hicks’ pitches, the St. Louis bullpen blew the save in the critical fourth game. Hicks did not get anyone out in the ninth inning as the Brewers captured the finale in walk off fashion.
Again we repeat: this is a very small sample size and that a Major League Baseball season is very, very long. But this series and particularly game four, highlights a concern suggested during those cold winter nights: just who will Mike Shildt give the ball to in the ninth inning?
In today’s game, teams need that shutdown closer or that shutdown bullpen if they have dreams of playing in October. To illustrate and keeping it close to home, let’s review the numbers:
In 2018, the Cardinal bullpen blew 21 saves. The Red Birds finished three games out of the final National League Wild Cards spot.
In 2017, the St. Louis bullpen blew 17 saves. In the end, the team finished four games out of the final Wild Card spot.
In 2016, the Red Bird bullpen blew 17 saves. That Cardinal team finished just one game out of the final National League Wild Card spot.
In 2018, Bud Norris earned 28 saves for St. Louis. In 2017 Seung-hwan Oh earned 20 saves and Trevor Rosenthal captured 11 saves. In 2016, Oh compiled 19 saves and Rosenthal 14 saves.
We now fast forward to the start of the 2019 regular season: Norris, Oh and Rosenthal are not on the St. Louis roster.
So the question remains: just who will Mike Shildt give the ball to in the ninth inning? At this writing that answer is: to be determined.
The Red Birds will play two games in Pittsburgh before returning to the 314 for the home opener against the San Diego Padres. It’s hard to believe Thursday afternoon will be the fourteenth opening day at Busch III.
(SIDE NOTE: With rain in the forecast for Opening Day, inquiring minds wonder what is the over/under for the number of innings the majority of the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball will hang around during the home opener once the Clydesdales and the convertibles leave the field.)
Again we repeat: this is a very small sample size and that a Major League Baseball season is very, very long.
But regardless of the month, the four games in Milwaukee were a missed opportunity.
It’s April and welcome to the return of Baseball, Cardinal Nation.
And it’s good to have it back.
St. Louis Sports Online
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' Take Five
posted April 13
Random thoughts & observations as many of the self-proclaimed Baseball Fans in Baseball suffer from early April panic attacks
Retirement congrats#1: University of Michigan Head Men’s Hockey Coach Red Berenson announced his retirement after 33 seasons behind the Wolverine bench. The 77-year old Berenson led Michigan to eleven Frozen Four appearances. The Gateway City remembers the Red Baron quite fondly as he was the Blues first Superstar, former Captain and Head Coach. Well done, Coach.
Retirement contrats#2: Former St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinatis announced his retirement from that rich & arrogant cartel better known as the National Football League. The thirty-year old Laurinatis played eight seasons: seven in St. Louis. #55 was a class act: a hard working football player on some awful teams. Still, he did not pout about his fate and put his team first. Laurinatis deserved better in his NFL career but this bureau bids him the best in retirement.
Wanna feel old? Happy 76th birthday, Pete Rose (4/14/17)
Wasn’t Ken Hitchcock scheduled to retire from coaching after this season?
AND FINALLY FROM THE “LEGAL DOCKET” BUREAU: In a 4/12/17 story in our town’s only newspaper, football writer Jim Thomas writes: “he city, the county and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority are suing the National Football League over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago. "The Rams, the NFL, through its member teams, and the owners have violated the obligations and standards governing team relocations" because the Rams failed to meet league relocation rules, the suit claims. As such, the league has breached its contractual duties owed the plaintiffs, the suit says.” And in a related story, Los Angeles Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke yawns.
Comments? Contact Mike at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
...from the stlsports.com archives:
Check it out!
originally posted June 17, 1995
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.
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.
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.
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.
we started, Buck was kind enough to remind me to turn on the recorder...
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
WDBX Sunday Sports Review
...from the stlsports.com archives:
St. Louis Sports Online
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…
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?”
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.
“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.
MysteryBut 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.
TalentFrom 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...
ExpectationsAnkiel 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 WordsAnd 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.
“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.”
[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.
Out on a Limb?
posted August 27. 1998A look at the way the St. Louis media handled the publicity surrounding Mark McGwire’s use of androstenedione
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.
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.”