Where There's Smoke…?

Fact: There is something wrong with the 2010 Cardinals.

This season has gone horribly wrong.  It is more than just bad luck, more than an injury-prone roster. Yet nowhere have I read a good enough explanation for this season’s unbelievable Redbird slump.  My faith in this team is deep, but my concern is taking over.  Call it woman’s intuition or just blame it on an imagination run wild, but even I am beginning to wonder what horrible secret could be at the root of this Cardinal demise.
Yesterday breaking news from the Cardinal clubhouse insinuated bad blood was again boiling as Felipe Lopez was given his ‘unconditional release’ from the Cardinals.
For being late.
I am well aware that the public is not (and should not) be privy to all team dynamics.  However we are the ones left watching as the Cardinals systematically dismantle a team BEFORE the season has ended.  The organization recently attempted (and failed) to sweep escalating troubles between Colby Rasmus and Tony LaRussa under the rug. Then last week management announced it was shutting down pitcher Jaime Garcia early, as a precaution.  (The fact that Twitter found out before Jaime himself knew of the decision looks to be another symptom of a much larger illness plaguing the club.)
David Freese
Brad Penny
Ryan Ludwick
Jason LaRue
Sure, we lost some vital components in the Cardinal machinery through the season.  However the ‘leftovers’ are hardly scrubs.
Albert Pujols
Matt Holliday
Yadier Molina
Adam Wainwright
Chris Carpenter
What is becoming more and more obvious is that this team is no longer having fun.  The spark is gone.  But why? I am certain every player has been through bad baseball seasons before.  Most of these guys are experienced professionals.  They know the ups and downs of a season.  Afterall, baseball is a crazy game.  Sometimes the ball drops in the gap and sometimes the hits just won’t come.  Luck has something to do with it.  Attitude has more.
Unlike some writers and bloggers I have read, I am not blaming the boys for giving up.  I truly believe they care.  The Cardinals are a GOOD group of GREAT guys, and I will defend (most) of them with every breath I have left.  However, it saddens me to see these proud, talented guys struggling (and here is where the supposition starts…) under some invisible weight that seems larger than the sum of its parts.
Back to that intuition (aka:  lack of facts, but saying it anyway).  I get the feeling there is something larger looming in that clubhouse. It could be anything.  Tempers may be flaring and the guys may be fussing.  However I have to say I am worried it is something deeper.  Bad calls and misfortune at the plate may have played a part in some hard luck losses, but I fear something else is eating at this team from the inside.
Have the players lost confidence or respect in their skipper for some yet unrevealed reason?  Do the boys know Albert is on his way out the door?  Are they too assuming that LaRussa will be calling it quits after this season?  Would those rumors be enough to dismantle the dedication of an entire club of professionals?  I would hope not.
I am trying to keep my imagination in check.  But speaking as a fan who loves the players as much as the game, it is heartbreaking to see the joy leave the field.
I know the superstars are getting paid exorbitant amounts of money to do a job, but my baseball-loving heart wants to believe that ballplayers continue to go out there on the field every day, dedicated to a career they enjoy and a game they are still passionate about.
Wins are nice, but happy ballplayers are my ultimate viewing pleasure.  I miss my energetic and fun-loving Cardinals.  Something just isn’t right with the 2010 Cardinals and I hope – whatever it takes- that they cure the problem and get back to the love of the game.

To the Cardinals:
I am willing to help. Homemade cookies? A listening ear?  I’m your gal!  Just let me know!  My heart is breaking here boys.  Tell me how we can fix this!  It isn’t about the playoffs anymore.  I just miss true “play like a Cardinal” baseball and the sight of you having fun on the field.

6 thoughts on “Where There's Smoke…?

  1. >As always, a very nice article. I feel your pain :-)Above all else, the 2011 season will start with enthusiastic "Play Like a Cardinal" attitudes from the players and fans. This will all be forgotten, and expectations will be high again in the greatest city in baseball.It is heartbreaking though because you don't see what you hope and expect. Doesn't make it all bad though. My last company (recently acquired) had a similar problem. Some really smart people building things nobody wanted and not building things they did. And we were out selling these things (unsuccessfully), and it got sad too. Maybe it's no more difficult than that. New company, new attitudes and we're back doing what we did, being successful and loving every minute of it.The answer to your question is in your article. It takes 25 players, not six or seven to win. The team had exposures in key positions, and they became apparent when the injuries started happening. There's an adage – if you have a weakness, the ball will find you. And it did, repeatedly.As hard as this is, cheer up for there will be a hot stove league. New players will come in or be promoted – so now attachment opportunities. Maybe Albert Pujols will get his contract extension, and we can talk about that. It will get better, it always does. And we will be in first place again on opening day :-)

  2. >In any business — and Major League Baseball, including the Cardinals, truly ARE businesses — blame for short-comings has to start at the top, right? To me, that's where the blame for 2010 lies: with John Mozeliak, for constructing the roster that's in place, and with Tony La Russa, for his management of the team. If you are not motivated in your particular job, isn't the finger pointed at your boss for creating that atmosphere? Yes, there is personal responsibility with any individual in any job, but there also is accountability by those who manage your workplace team. Are those managing the 2010 Cardinals, on the field level and in the front office, doing what they can to address the atmosphere they've created in the past six weeks? The employees certainly aren't motivated on a regular basis these days like they were earlier in the season. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like there's a necessarily quick fix that cookies will solve!

  3. >Bob and Chris,You both make excellent points. If management leads in a direction without support of the 'staff,' the disconnect can kill forward progress. But how could the organization lose the support of its troops so completely and so quickly? It certainly seems to imply a lack of communication and motivational skills. Management style may be the culprit, especially with the young guys. ;)…. and I agree, ordinary cookies would certainly make no difference. But according to my kids, MY cookies make EVERYTHING better. It may be worth a try! ;)

  4. >You're kids are right – cookies make everything better!And Chris is right too – there's a lot of blame on both sides of the management disconnect. Clearly these two levels aren't working cohesively, and they need to if they want to build a perennial contender.I don't think it is quickly as it looks. There is a lot of playing through difficulty that masquerades a lot of these things. So many of these guys are such professionals, they are going to do that. It's harder with the younger guys (like Rasmus – I just work here) that don't have the experience to weather these storms.I suspect the tipping point was the Ludwick trade, although the troubles extended back into the spring.Now, what I would suggest is sending your cookies to the fans that are trying to keep up a positive outlook – we're the ones that need the help right now :-)

  5. >Persoally, I think the tide did turn with the Ludwick loss. His 'spirit' and 'heart' for the game was one reason I loved the Cardinals this year. But, I'll take some of those cookies to tide me over, Erika.

  6. >Say it ain't so. I am not liking the 'elephant' that I am seeing in the room and no one is stating. I hope this is not the sign of lean years returning to STL. I hope this is just some 'flu' bug and not a clubhouse collapse, resulting in building years again.

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