"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Friday, November 1, 2013

St. Louis: Be Proud, But Let's Get Over Ourselves

Now that the World Series has been over for about a day, we've had time to digest everything that happened and come to grips with reality.

First, let me be clear: I'm as big a St. Louis Cardinals fan as anyone.

I can't tell you all the obscure facts like Michael Wacha's college ERA, or Jon Jay's on-base percentage during the month of June. I don't know, and I don't really care. But I pull for the Cardinals every day and hate it when they lose.

The Cardinal Way
I love the "Cardinal Way", and the tradition of the Cardinals franchise. I'm very proud that the Cardinals call St. Louis home, and furthermore, that St. Louis is part of the great State of Missouri.

Even though the Cardinals lost this Series, with the young arms in their bullpen, the up-and-coming talent in the farm system, and now, the experience of playing in the World Series, there's a good chance they'll be back in short order. We can only hope it's next year.

At the same time, I'm a realist. And I have a few realist observations after this series:
  1. The Cardinals were a good team this year, despite the odds.

    They dominated the regular season in incredibly surprising fashion, yet, even though they won 97 games, I felt like they never quite hit their stride. (Remember the multiple game losing streaks?) Having lost their shortstop, closer, starting ace, two other starting pitchers to injury, one to free agency, plus one closer (Jason Motte), another closer (Mitchell Boggs), and towards the end of the season, another closer (Edward Mujica), there's really no way they should have been playing in October, let alone the World Series. But they made it there. And the players, Mike Matheny, the coaches, and the front office deserve all the credit that comes with what they accomplished.
  2. The World Series was different.

    Kozma's botched double-play in Game 1 of the World Series set the tone for the following games.
    Even through all the adversity, they were in the World Series, and looked fairly impressive getting there. As a fan, you'd expect a team that makes it this far to play like a championship team.  But something happened during the Series, and I don't know exactly how to explain it; I'm not sure anyone does. But I think the botched double-play transfer in Game 1 set the tone for the series, and the mediocrity sadly continued for six games.
  3. I hate to say it, but it was embarrassing.

    I was a little embarrassed for the Cardinals at times during the series. Especially after the botched double-play, the missed infield pop-up, losing 8-1 in the first game of the Series, the multiple times with the bases load, no outs, and no runs scored. It was hard to be a Cardinals fan. But I kept with it; I believed in them because, heck, these are still the Cardiac Cards, the Comeback Cards, the team with the Rally Squirrel. They don't quit. They don't give up. They play hard even if they're down with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. That's the Cardinal Way. They even came back and won Game 2 (albeit with a little help; more on that shortly).
  4. I thought they quit.

    I'm not sure when exactly it happened, but I could tell the body language changed. I didn't think the team was very confident from the beginning, but it definitely got worse. Don't believe me? The bats stayed on the shoulders. Pitchers grooved a pitch, or let a breaking ball hang a little too much. Players got that "deer in the headlights" look. Former NLCS and World Series MVP, David Freese, was the worst. Judging by the look of his body language, he looked like he'd never been there before. Judging by his play, it looked like he shouldn't be. Okay, some of it could be chalked up to "you'll have games like that."

    But six games like that? Perhaps the most telling sign was the story I heard after Game 3 when they won on a strange obstruction call. Apparently, the locker room was silent and the mood was sort of tense. Injured ace Chris Carpenter finally spoke up and said, "Hey fellas, we just won a World Series game!" That's not the same swagger that Boston had.
  5. Boston is a good team.

    We all know this. That's why they won their division. They won the NLCS. That's why they were in the World Series. Good teams do those things, and good teams have swagger. I didn't see swagger from the Cardinals. Boston played with reckless abandon each and every inning. They didn't quit. They didn't mope. They played hard, and they annoyed the crap out of me.

    When Jonny Gomes hit that monster home run at Busch in Game 4 and ran around the bases pounding his chest, I realized just how much I disliked the way Boston went about playing. I wanted so badly for the Cardinals pitcher to put one in his ribs the next time he got up to bat. But that's the Red Sox. That's who they are. If a series ever pitted the good guys vs. the "bad guys" this was that series. It was the "Cardinal Way" vs. the "Beard." A group of nice guys vs. a group of scraggly, arrogant, win-at-all-costs guys. Even when the Red Sox were at their worst, and made bonehead plays which literally handed a couple games to the Cardinals, it was because they were going for broke.

    Think about it. Game 2, trying to get an extra out on a play. The throw was bad, but it was aggressive. Game 3, doing everything possible to keep a guy from scoring, even though it was illegal. And you know what, an injured Craig was probably going to be called out had he not been obstructed. In my opinion, both Cardinals wins were gifts. Just as much as, or more than, the Cardinals won those two games, Boston lost them by being too aggressive.
  6. And finally, St. Louis, let's get over ourselves (If you're not mad at me already, this section will surely do it, especially if you're from St. Louis.)

    St. Louis fans, we need to get over ourselves. We have a great team to root for, no doubt about it. But people are starting to, and already do, think we're arrogant. We have the best fans in baseball, but we also have the best fans at reminding everyone else that we're the best fans in baseball. We may have that midwestern charm and all, but we need to stop patting ourselves on the back.

    Permit me to go off on a tangent here, but we're basically a one-horse town when it comes to professional sports. The Blues have some tradition, sure, and a loyal fanbase. But they don't have an elusive title, or an historic name like "Red Wings", "Rangers", or "Bruins." It's also hockey, and no disrespect, but the NHL is not the NFL. And let's not even talk about the hapless Rams. Since 2004, nothing worthwhile has happened in the Edward Jones Dome. So, we hang our hat on the one venerable franchise we have in the Gateway City, the St. Louis Cardinals.

    But, I think we need to take a chill-pill and put things in perspective. We're a great city, but let's look at some others that we're trying to compete with - say, Boston, for example, which has kicked our butt in championship opportunities since 2000. The Patriots beat the Rams in 2001, the Cardinals got swept by Boston in 2004 - ending the 80+ year World Series drought. Then there's this year. And now, Boston has had more World Series titles in 10 years than the Cardinals have in the same time frame. Truth be told: I hate Boston. But I respect the fact that they have good sports teams up there. In all four major sports (they're lucky to have all four), they have a total of nine championships since 2000 - 3 Lombardi trophies ('01, '03, '04), 3 World Series ('04, '07, '13), 2 NBA titles ('08, '10), and one Stanley Cup ('10). (If nothing else, nothing else "Shippin' Up To Boston" is way cooler than "Meet Me In St. Louie", so there's another reason to hate Boston.)

    In St. Louis, we have two World Series wins ('06, '11), and a Super Bowl win in '99.
    The Rams Super Bowl win in '99 was awesome
    It's great that we have had those championships, but even a city like Chicago, which we love to rag on, has had a few NFL championships, six NBA championships, and even a World Series title (albeit the south side) in the midst of a 100+ years of Cubs mediocrity, of which we in St. Louis are so apt to remind them. Those Cubs fans go along with us, and play the pity-game for fun, boo-hooing and whining periodically just for sport. But they know the truth: besides the Arch and A-B, we don't have anything else to brag about.

    Don't Be a Little Brother; Let's Get Over Ourselves

    The gist of my scant World Series analysis and my little tangent is this: I think we're like the annoying little brother to some of these other cities, and they're just like our annoying older brother. They have more going on, more glitz, more glamor, and more championships, mostly in things other than baseball. But we're good at one thing, and we don't let anybody forget it. So, I think ultimately that's why myself and so many around Cardinal Nation are justifiably frustrated after this World Series loss at the hands of "big brother" Boston. Because when the one thing you're good at is trumped by the mean "older brother" who has plenty of other things to brag about, it hurts all the worse. So, St. Louis: be proud of what we have, but let's get over ourselves. We're not quite as great as we think we are.

    Go Cardinals! #12in14

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