This weekend marks the last weekend for seven more months that we won’t have at least some Major League Baseball to enjoy. Of course, the season has already started, but MLB is balancing on the fence between “we’re excited to play games in Japan, and give those fans something to enjoy” and “we still want to make Opening night between the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins a huge event”. Another spring full of meaningless games has almost come to an official close, and the next chapter will begin in a matter of days.
The same is true for our beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Well chronicled are the events of this past offseason, and departures for various reasons: retirement, free agency, re-prioritizing things in life, as well as moving on to other organizations (in the National League Central…for now) to name the most commonly recognized ones. Since the Cardinals won their 11th World Championship five months ago, no fewer than three Hall of Fame-caliber people have left the organization, you could easily argue a higher number. That doesn’t even count losing Dave McKay, Jeff Luhnow, and Barry Weinberg, among others.
New roles have been filled by new faces–some faces are new to the major-league level, and some are new to a non-player role, but few (if any) are new to the Cardinals organization. So, as the redbirds head into the 2012 season to defend their World Championship title, they’ll be doing so with a very different look of leadership in that dugout, that bullpen, and even on the field. But that is not news to you or I, or at least, it shouldn’t be.
It’s time, as we go into this final weekend without meaningful baseball games, and reflect on the Cardinals’ recent past, be thankful for what we, as fans, were able to enjoy.
And then, friends, it is time to move the hell on.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m likely to mention Tony LaRussa and/or Dave Duncan in future articles and conversation here & there, but it’s time for all of us to get past what has been, and get excited about what’s about to be!
Albert Pujols? He’s gone, ok? But I’ve said before that, just like basketball or golf, baseball is not a game where one player can dramatically impact the outcome as much as in some other sports. He was one man, he’s gone, and the Cardinals are still a very, very strong team if you’d not noticed. Whether you wish him the best, wish him the worst, or something other than either of those, you’ll have to do so from halfway across the country, starting most nights at 9:10pm Central Daylight Time. He’s not a Cardinal anymore–let’s respect what he accomplished while wearing the birds on the bat, and move on. Berkman’s solid, Craig is more than adequate, and Adams looks very very promising. There’s no “hole” at first base for this team.
LaRussa’s gone too, and sure, a large portion of the fanbase is still hungover from the huge party they threw when he announced his retirement. But, love him or hate him, he won baseball games, and there are two more World Championship flags that fly over Busch today than were here when he arrived. He revolutionized the way bullpens are used in the game today, and I suspect there’s no shortage of relief pitchers (and agents of these relief pitchers) who are grateful for the changes he brought to the game. There will be things about his management style that will be missed, just as there are things that won’t. But, he’s gone. Mike Matheny is the new skipper, and he’s the one Cardinal nation needs to get behind and support–not blindly defend his every decision, but support him in his role as the leader of this ballclub.
Duncan may very well be the first pitching coach elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Plenty of others have said that, including some of the national media folks, so it isn’t just me drinking the Kool-Aid. This man is a once-in-a-generation type, and will sorely be missed. Lilliquist is more than capable, and you know what? He’s going to have to be, because the Deacon is no longer around. His priceless expertise, the books upon books upon books he’s known for keeping, the calming spirit he brought, and the magic he bestowed on the Woody Williamsessesess’ of the league are great memories of the past, but will not be a part of the future.
Many thought Walt Jocketty could do no wrong during his tenure at the helm as General Manager in St. Louis. He moved on, and things worked out just fine. St. Louis is a city (and a fan base) that loathes change of any kind–it makes the entire area very, very nervous. The guys over at Joe Sports Fan have countless examples of fans who are walking around “the 314” TODAY wondering why Bo Hart & Stubby Clapp aren’t on the 40-man roster.
“Bring back ________” is a common mantra, because there’s such a strong aversion to letting go of the past. I CLEARLY recall the day the old arena near highway 40 (I live here, I don’t have to call it “Interstate 64”:) and Hampton. Traffic stopped on 40 when they were getting ready to bring “the old barn” down. Protests were held. Tears were shed. Listen, I’m not saying it didn’t hurt a little bit inside when that last section of Busch II fell to the ground, but you can’t keep up and stay competitive in this business if you don’t grow…and growth, without change, is impossible.
So, peace out, Albert, Tony, Dave and others. Thanks for what you gave to this city, the Cardinals franchise, and the memories we have because of the things you did. Thank you for the best years of your lives, and for living lives that allow us to pass stories and lessons on to our children–the next generation of Cardinals fans. We might not exchange Christmas cards, but hit us up on Facebook, and we’ll probably like a photo or a comment here & there to stay in touch. But, since I root for the name on the front of the jersey before rooting for the name on the back, I’ve gotta let you go.