Some things about baseball will never change. It will always be 90 feet between first and second base, for example. The ball will always be 9 inches, 5 ounces (or close enough to be within spec). And second-guessers, armchair GMs, and hindsight specialists will always, ALWAYS be among the most vocal groups, particularly around this time of year.
I posted about this on (my personal) facebook, because it really just gets under my skin the way the “best, most knowledgeable fans in baseball” know everything. I mean, these people know it all, and aren’t afraid to tell. The office manager who “knew” signing Mark Mulder was a mistake. (after the fact, of course) The auto mechanic who “still doesn’t understand why Bo Hart isn’t a Cardinal”. The employee at the grocery store who “never agreed with getting rid of Ryan Ludwick.” Well, Mr. produce pusher, you should worry more about your banana-handling skills, and less about topics about which you’re ignorant. Luddy’s average is under .250, his strikeouts are up 30% over this time last year, his OBP is barely above .300, and I can’t keep a straight face when I say he’s, um, slugging .376.
Sure he plays in one of the friendliest of pitcher-friendly ballparks. Sure he was only in the same lineup as Adrian Gonzalez for two months. And sure, he’s basically got zero protection in a lineup that regularly faces the reigning World Champion Giants pitching staff of guys like Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, and Brian Wilson. Chase Headly & Jason Bartlett can’t protect a guy the same way Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday can. Let’s face it, you could put me in a lineup that includes Pujols & Holliday, and I’ve got a chance to make a name for myself with all the pitches I’m sure to see.
But I’m not here to point out all the reasons why Ryan Ludwick is awful…which, by the way, I don’t entirely believe. What I do believe is this: Had the Cardinals not dealt Ryan Ludwick last year at the trade deadline, they likely would not have brought him back for the 2011 season anyway…and still wouldn’t have Westbrook. Or Berkman. You know, Lance “27HR, .993 OPS, 69 RBI & more” Berkman. Big fat puma Elvis himself admits (along with any Cardinals fan I know) that his mid-season numbers would’ve made for optimistic season total projections.
My point is that it’s a darn good thing none of us are running the St. Louis Cardinals. So many things that you or I wouldn’t realize, consider, or even think to think about exist in reality. I think we all want the Cardinals to be successful, and win baseball games. I also think that no less than 75% of the information that goes into evaluating & making trades eludes 99% of fans. Crunch those numbers, and you get an awful lot of reasons to stop second-guessing everything…though, as I said before, won’t happen. It’s part of being a fan, and I accept that.
All I know is that there are reasons behind everything the team does. Sometimes the fans will get some of that info from the organization, and sometimes not. Sometimes the moves work out well, sometimes they don’t. And sometimes the primary goal might be money, with secondary objectives to follow. You can do a lot when you have money, you know.
Let me throw this hypothetical out there: You’ve got a Cardinals team that absolutely blows during a particular decade, and attendance is weak, particularly by St. Louis standards. Then there’s a strike (the work-stoppage kind, not the knee-buckling kind) right in the middle of said decade of suckiness. Along with the other MLB teams, the team’s value declines. Some old rich white guys see a buying opportunity, and they take it, buying the club from a local brewery for $150MM. They fire the manager (who once played for the team), and let another former player finish out the season as manager. The next season, they bring a new manager, and pretty much his entire coaching staff over from another team.
With me so far? I know, hard to use so much imagination, right?
By this point, almost everything that can change about a ballclub has, and has done so in a relatively short timeframe. Let’s say the first year under all these new circumstances, the team makes the playoffs. For argument’s sake, we’ll assume they go up three games to one on a very beatable team, and are knocking on the door to the World Series before they implode, and are outscored 2,500 to 4 over the final three games of the series. The year after that, at the trade deadline, they acquire a prolific power hitter from the team that formerly employed the manager, general manager, and coaching staff.
Now follow me on this path of actual events that occurred starting in the summer of 1997:
- Cards acquire McGwire at trade deadline
- Some fans come out to see him, attendance perks up
- Cards & “Big Mac” reach agreement on a contract in the offseason
- McGwire returns for the 1998 season in a Cards uniform
- Fans attend Cards batting practice (home & road) in droves
- “Home Run Chase” ensues, fans pack the ballparks night-in, night-out
- Revenue increases
During that 1998 season, truckloads of cash poured into St. Louis as a direct result of the hype. In 1999, the Cards finished in 4th place–they would not finish that low in the standings again until 2008. The Cardinals went to the playoffs in six of the next seven years, including their first World Championship in 24 years in 2006, the year they inaugurated a brand new stadium.
Am I saying Mark McGwire is single-handedly responsible for the success the team has had under the current ownership? Of course not. It’s a team effort, and as much as people want to praise Jocketty, bash LaRussa, kiss ownership’s collective rear end, or curse the way Mark Lamping drinks his morning coffee, no single person is responsible for the success or failure of this team.
Here’s what I am saying: More often than not, when the Cardinals make a move, you & I don’t know the half of what’s going on behind the scenes. There are so many things we simply don’t know, and plans ownership may have that they’re not even communicating with the front office. We rely on folks like Matthew Leach, Derrick Goold & others to help glean some insight into these things. The truth is, no one knows everything that goes into particular deals, trades, and even some roster moves (though, those are usually much easier to figure out). So let’s all just stop suggesting the Cardinals trade Tyler Green for Roy Halladay, watch the next couple of days unfold, go back to our actual jobs, and enjoy this NL Central race. After all, the Cubs are in town.