The St. Louis Cardinals opened Spring Training camp Saturday with a markedly different cast compared to the past 16 seasons.
Former manager Tony La Russa wasn’t in Jupiter, Fla., this weekend to lead a new group of Cardinals through their calisthenics and everything that comes with the first few weeks of Spring Training. Instead, La Russa retired days after winning the World Series, and he will now help out his buddy Jim Leyland and the Detroit Tigers.
As La Russa moves on to do whatever he wants during his retirement, Cardinals camp will start to look a lot more like it did in the decades before La Russa showed up in 1996.
Most notably, Whitey Herzog and Ozzie Smith will be at camp to help out the current group of Cardinals. That should be a welcome sight to Cardinals fans.
Even though La Russa won baseball games for the Cardinals (1,408 to be exact), he didn’t always have a good relationship with important members of Cardinals history. Smith played his final season in 1996 for La Russa, but the two developed a frosty relationship as La Russa tried to install Royce Clayton as the new shortstop to replace Smith.
Smith hasn’t been at a Cardinals Spring Training camp since.
This isn’t to say La Russa discarded the history and tradition of the St. Louis Cardinals. He was well aware of how important the history of the franchise is to the community and even pushed to bring the Budweiser Clydesdales back to Busch Stadium to circle the field as they did back when Gussie Busch owned the team.
La Russa also kept former second baseman and manager Red Schoendienst on staff as an assistant both in Spring Training and during the season. And, La Russa chafed at the idea of passing Schoendienst on the all-time win list for Cardinals managers, even though he eventually surpassed Schoendienst’s mark by nearly 400 wins.
Still, La Russa always had his own way of doing things, and his methods often did not include advice from other Cardinals heroes. But, this year Herzog, Smith, Schoendienst, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson are all expected to be central figures in Cardinals Spring Training camp under new manager Mike Matheny.
In addition, former centerfielder Jim Edmonds will return to the team as an instructor for Spring Training and former closer Ryan Franklin will be an assistant to general manger John Mozeliak.
Edmonds’ return to the team as an instructor surely wouldn’t have happened if La Russa was still the manager. Although Edmonds and La Russa had a great run together during the 2000s, their relationship soured once the Cardinals traded Edmonds to the San Diego Padres following the 2007 season and he eventually ended up with the hated Chicago Cubs.
This season was going to be the beginning of a new era in Cardinals history regardless of how Matheny set up camp, but it is nice to see some of the Cardinals legends wear the red jersey with the birds on the bat logo across their chest.
So as the doors to 2012 Spring Training open, hopefully this year’s team adds to the impressive history set forth by many of the people who will lend a helping hand for the next six weeks.