Category Archives: General Baseball

RIP

You stood for Stan.  Now please Vote for Stan

Baseball’s Perfect Knight

We all knew this day was coming, even if we didn’t want it to.  Stan Musial, Greatest Cardinal of them all, one of the ten best hitters ever (by WAR), passed away of old age on Saturday.  He was 92.

How good was Musial?  Mediocre players don’t win 3 MVP awards, 7 batting titles, or get voted onto 24 All-Star games.  Here’s something to think about:  When he retired the all-time HR list looked like this:  Babe Ruth 714, Jimmy Foxx 534, Ted Williams 521, Mel Ott 511, Lou Gehrig 493, Stan 475.  Through the end of the 1963 season, Mickey Mantle had hit 419 HR, Willie Mays 406, Hank Aaron had only 342 HR, Frank Robinson 262, and Harmon Killebrew 223 HR.  The power surge since the 1960s has relegated Musial to 28th on the all-time list and help obscure how dominant he once was.

In case you needed more proof, here’s this: only Aaron and Barry Bonds collected more extra-base hits than Musial.

He was idolized by fans of the team.  Stan Musial was my father’s favorite Cardinal.  Years later, when I met my wife, I discovered her father, who grew up in Cubs country, was a Cardinal fan.  Guess who his favorite player is.  I don’t believe my story is unique.  I never saw him play – my favorite Cardinal growing up was Lou Brock – but I have a signed Musial photo, a signed Musial baseball, and a 1961 Topps baseball card of The Man in my office.  The room would be drab without them.

One could argue he has a supernatural pull with the local populus.  How else to explain the Blues dismantling Detroit 6-0 last night?

It is difficult to come to grips with the death of someone you care about.  Obviously the next few days will be extremely difficult for the extended Musial family.  It will be less difficult for us, the extended Cardinal family.  Stan played his last game in a Cardinal uniform 50 years ago.  Most of us never saw him play; we heard about his exploits from those who did, or saw old footage of him hitting somewhere.  There will be an outpouring of respect and love for the man, which will hopefully make their loss a little less painful.

We will see, and read, multiple eulogies of the man and his baseball legacy, and there will be tears because he’s gone.  It is sad he’s gone.  But he lived a rich, full life.  I would hope that all of us get to live until we are at least 92 years old.  And his legacy, the memory of the player he was – the man he was – will live as long as we remember him.

RIP Stan Musial.  You are gone from this Earth, but you will never be forgotten.

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Stand Down

I'm the runt on the left...

With the World Series over and the parade cleanup complete, the off-season starts in earnest. Every club and player takes a moment to reflect on the season past, the challenges of tomorrow, and their place in it. The Cardinals front office has already started that process and declined to exercise their options for Rafael Furcal and Octavio Dotel. Tony LaRussa began his reflection back in August and announced his retirement yesterday. There are more changes to come for the ballclub.

There are changes coming here too. This is the last post of Stan Musial’s Stance.

I started the blog in 2006, when the Cardinals went on an unexpected playoff run and won the World Series. Apropos that it ends now, after the Cardinals went on an unexpected playoff run and won the World Series.

It’s easy to be a fan. It’s relatively easy to be a fan and a writer. It’s difficult to be a fan and a good writer. In order to do it right, one has to not only read what’s going on with the team but actually watch/listen to the games. I can find the time to read what’s going on via the Post Dispatch, Twitter, and the United Cardinal Bloggers, but unless the game is nationally televised I don’t have the free time to watch or listen to it. You’ve no doubt noticed that; if you laid a schedule down next to the dates I published something, the dates would almost exactly correspond to when the Cardinals were on ESPN, FOX, or in San Diego.

And the time is the issue. Geoff Young of Ducksnorts recently hung up his spikes, and he said something that resonated with me: “The sacrifices and compromises one is willing to make in life at age 42 are different from those one is willing to make at age 28.” I’m closer to 42 than 28. My children demand my attention. My wife deserves my attention. It’s not fair to plop down in front of the TV at 5pm Pacific, spend 3 hours watching the Cardinals, and deny them that. You may disagree, and that’s cool. Everyone’s got to live their life the way they think is right.

I close this chapter with no regrets. I’ve had a lot of fun doing this. Blogging about the team my father and I rooted for has literally changed my life for the better. I’ve had the opportunity to do things I never thought I would experience, and I have met some tremendous people along the way. The people list is an All-Star team of Cardinal writers. Dan Shoptaw. Nick at Pitchers Hit Eighth. Bill Ivie. Bob Netherton. Matt Philip. Derrick Goold. Matt Leach. And many others I should mention but won’t in the interest of brevity. Thank you all for your help, your kindness, and your friendship.

To those reading this – thanks. Thanks for making this blog an occasional part of your week. Thanks for your feedback and comments. I am not disappearing altogether from the internet. I will continue to write. I will do a weekly article for I-70 Baseball as long as Bill Ivie will have me. I also plan to focus on the San Diego Padres, the local team in my time zone, as well as provide sage observations via Twitter on a wide variety of things. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

Cheers.

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Filed under Annual Petco trip, General Baseball, Off-Season Moves, San Diego Padres, St Louis Cardinals

‘Don’t Give Him Anything Good To Hit.’

With less than 3 hours remaining to Game 6, I’m going to steal a page from my friend Bob Netherton‘s book and spin a short tale.

The impending Game 6 reminds me of another Game 6, played 26 years ago TODAY.  In 1985 I was already a Cardinal fan in diaspora; a fact made doubly interesting because I lived in the city of their NLCS foe.  After the Cardinals were soundly beaten and, frankly, somewhat embarrassed during Games 1 and 2 of that series, the locals yukked it up a bit.  Sweep was often heard from fans, acquaintances, and the LA sports writers.  We know how it went down.  Instead, those Cardinals took 3 straight from the Dodgers, and returned to Chavez Ravine with a chance to win the NL Pennant.

The game pitted Joaquin Andujar against Orel Hershiser in a rematch of Game 2.  Six days before Andujar didn’t survive the fifth, surrendering six earned runs, while Hershiser went the route, allowing 2 runs on 8 hits and striking out four.  The game started out as a reprise of the 10 October game – Mariano Duncan doubled leading off the game, and three batters later Bill Madlock knocked him in, giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.  In the second, Hershiser helped himself by delivering a single on a 0-1 pitch with two out, extending the inning for Duncan, who also singled to knock in Greg Brock, and Los Angeles led 2-0.  Whoo boy, here we go.

I should note, this game was played under the Southern California sun; it started at 2:05 pm.  I smuggled a transistor radio into school so I could listen to it during class.  You read that right, too:  a teenager in the mid-80s was listening to a baseball game during the school day.  I sometimes wonder why MLB doesn’t play lots of day games anymore during the playoffs.

Anyway back to the game.  Andujar was a lot of things, but he was also tough and emotional; they didn’t call him ‘one tough Dominican’ for nothing.  Properly seethed, he doubled off Hershiser to start the third, and came around on Tommy Herr’s base hit.  2-1 Dodgers.  It stayed that way into the fifth.

In the fifth the wheels appeared to come off the Cardinal train.  Andujar muffed a Duncan roller to the mound for an error.  Duncan stole second, moved to third on Ken Landreaux’s ground out, and scored on Pedro Guerrero’s sac fly.  Madlock followed that with a HR, and suddenly the Dodgers led 4-1.  Orel was cruising, having allowed just 3 singles and a walk to the Cardinals since the run-scoring knock by Herr. Not looking good.  By this time, class is out and I’m trying to listen to the game on the bus.  Not easy.

In the seventh the Cardinals struck.  Darrell Porter and Tito Landrum led off with singles.  Steve Braun, pinch-hitting for Andujar, moved them up with a 3-1 groundout.  With that play Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda summoned Tom Niedenfuer, to snuff out the Cardinal rally.  He didn’t.  Willie McGee greeted the Dodger closer with a single that scored both.  Three pitches later Ozzie Smith followed with a triple to score McGee, and suddenly the game was tied at 4.  A hush gathered over Dodger Stadium.  Niedenfuer wriggled off the hook by striking out Jack Clark and Andy Van Slyke to end the inning.

Todd Worrell came on in relief of Andujar, and that pest Duncan welcomed him to the game with his third hit, a triple.  Worrell, summoning all the magic he had, retired Landreaux on a pop fly, intentionally walked Guerrero (that noted Cardinal killer) and then retired Madlock on a 6-4-3 twin killing.  Still tied at 4.  Sadly it would only stay that way until the next Dodger at-bat, when Mike Marshall hit the first pitch of the bottom of the eighth out of the ballpark to give the lead back to Los Angeles, 5-4.

I’m still listening to the game on the radio (it was an hour bus ride just to get into my section of town), so I’m tenuously aware the Dodgers have the lead.  However, I get to listen to the game in the car the rest of the way home.

Worrell gets out of the rest of the eighth without incident.  Niedenfuer, who has already worked an inning and two-thirds, stays on for the ninth.  Cesar Cedeno pinch hits for Worrell and strikes out.  McGee singles and steals second.  The Wizard walks.  Herr grounds out to first, moving everyone up 90 feet.  Lasorda walks to the mound.  Will he take Niedenfuer out?  Will he intentionally walk Clark and pitch to Van Slyke, a lefty who was oh-for-four and hitting just barely .100 in the series?

Neither.  He famously talked to Niedenfuer, then said ‘Don’t give him anything good to hit.’

I run into my living room and turn on the TV just as Lasorda is leaving the mound.  Jack Clark hit the next pitch halfway up the LF bleachers for a 3-run HR.  It is impossible for me to describe the absolute feeling of jubilation that coursed through my fifteen year-old body at that moment; I almost jumped through the ceiling.  I swore I saw Guerrero throw his glove down in disgust as that ball flew over him and became a souvenir.  Twenty years later I saw a replay of that entire ninth inning and sure enough, he did.

I remember the Cardinals cleared a LARGE space around home plate so there would be no doubt he touched home.  This was in response to a controversy two days earlier, when Ozzie jumped into the arms of euphoric Cardinal players at the plate after his walk-off HR decided Game 5; some thought he never touched home.

The Dodgers were broken.  Ken Dayley came on and retired the side in order, and St Louis went on to the World Series.

Twenty-six years ago today.  Here’s hoping the 2011 Cardinals win tonight to advance to the World Series.

Thanks for reading, and Go Cardinals!

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Cherry-Picking Statistics

During the ninth inning of NLCS Game 1, TBS posted a graphic which said (in essence, may not be an exact quote):

Winner of Game 1 has won the NLCS in 16 of the last 18 seasons.

The clear implication there was Milwaukee, who did win Game 1 9-6, would represent the National League in the World Series.  That they had taken a step forward was beyond doubt.  That it is easier to win 3 of 6 games vice 4 of six games is also obvious.  To intimate the series was over after one game?  I found that irritating.

Turns out, the last team to lose Game 1 of the NLCS and win the NL was the 2006 Cardinals.  That was six years ago, but since 4 leaders of this year’s Cardinal team (Carpenter, Molina, Pujols, Wainwright) were also on the 2006 team it becomes relevant (not to mention the manager). 

There have been accusations on Twitter that the TBS coverage is overly biased in favor of the Milwaukee Brewers, fed in part because the primary play-by-play voice – Brian Anderson – is the lead broadcaster for Milwaukee’s TV coverage.  I have not noticed any undue bias.  That said, one would think the TBS stats checker could have included the 2006 Cardinals exception in that Game 1 graphic, seeing as the Cardinals are playing in the 2011 NLCS.

It’s a cherry-picked statistic.

Odd they didn’t do a similar graphic based on Game 2 winners.  But that’s why this blog exists, dear reader – to tilt at windmills and bring you amusing information.

SO – looking at the past 18 NLCS, how has the winner of Game 2 fared in terms of winning the National League?

  • Winner of Game 2 has advanced to the World Series 11 of 18 times. That’s pretty good news for St Louis, amIrite?
  • Nine times the winner of Game 2 has taken a 2-0 series lead.  They’ve won the NLCS every time. This is why yesterday’s game was so critical; teams can recover from losing Game 1, but it is extremely difficult to go down 2-0 and come back to win the series.
  • Teams winning Game 2 to make the series 1-1 lost 7 of 9 NLCS.  That’s not so good news for St Louis, and supports the Game 1 graphic.  HOWEVAH,
  • Road teams won Game 2 in 10 of the 18 series reviewed, and went on to win 7 of those NLCS.  Whaddya know – 70% success rate!  That’s a good prognosis.  It also jives with conventional wisdom – that the road team wresting away home field advantage raises their odds of success significantly.

Does the fact St Louis won Game 2 mean they will win the NLCS?  No.  They have turned a best-of-seven into a best-of-five with 3 games at Busch, but that advantage will only last as long as they keep winning.  It does mean the pressure is squarely on Milwaukee.  Kyle Lohse is pitching significantly better than Randy Wolf is at this point; the Brewers almost have to win tomorrow night or face entering Game 5 down three games to one.

Stats quoted above were cherry-picked from Baseball Reference.

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A Pre-Game Speech?

Reports indicate a rousing speech was given on the flight to Milwaukee.  I managed to get an exclusive transcript of those words.

“Cardinals, this is the Captain.

It is an honor to speak to you today, and I’m honored to be flying with you on the magic carpet of this post-season ride.  And once more, we play our dangerous game; a game of chess, against our old adversary … the Milwaukee Brewers.

For years, your mentors before you, and their mentors, played this game and played it well.  But today, the game is different.  We  have the advantage.  It reminds me of the heady days of WhiteyBall and Willie McGee, when the world trembled at the fury of our running game.  Well, they will tremble again – at the sight of our pitching.

The order is: Handcuff Braun and Fielder.

Cardinals, Major League Baseball and Fox don’t know our full potential.  They will do everything possible to thwart us, but they will only cause their own embarrassment.

We will leave our fan base behind.  We will pass through the Milwaukee airport, pass their barbecue grills and tasteless beer salons, and lay wait in their ball park and watch their sausage races – while we review game film of their staff.

Then … and when we are finished, the only sound they will hear is our laughter; while we return to St Louis for the World Series, where the sun is warm and so is the comradeship.

A great day, Gentlemen!  We fly into history.”

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NLDS Epilogue

Euphoria doesn’t really say it.  Satisfaction does.

Sometimes, the outcome is unjust to the team you pull for.  And sometimes, it’s emphatically just.  Those two sentences are not meant as an insult to the Philadelphia Phillies, the best team in the NL during the regular season.  Philadelphia played hard, as hard as all of us expect a champion to play.  Yet, as has already been pointed out by multiple others, the better team on the field was the St Louis Cardinals, from the fourth inning of Game 2 on until the final 4-3 put out of Game 5.

St Louis held the best team in the NL to a .154 batting average and 6 runs over the last 3+ games.  St Louis would have won this thing in four if not for Ben Francisco’s lightning bolt that landed in the Phillies bullpen.

The men in that clubhouse should take a large measure of satisfaction in a job well done.  They earned it.

Now that the Cardinals have advanced into the NLCS for the tenth time in franchise history, it’s time to look ahead to the next foe. Milwaukee.  The Brewers do not have the heralded pitching staff Philadelphia has, but they are no less dangerous.  For one, their lineup is better.  For another, their top 3 starters (Gallardo, Grienke, Marcum) are every bit as good as the Cardinal top 3.  And most importantly, they have the best home record in the NL and hold home field advantage in this series.

Them’s the facts.  Then there’s the history between these teams, the simmering feud, the un-tucking of shirts and T-Plush, the 1982 World Series.  All that baggage will be front and center during this series.  The Brewers are the upstarts, another team built for a championship run, a franchise  that knows this is their last best chance to win with this roster.  Always sitting in the Cardinals prodigious shadow, they want nothing more than to best their southern nemesis and become the only team to qualify for a World Series while representing each league.

The next series will look and sound a lot like the just completed one.  Stockpile your fridge and clean your BBQ grill – it’s going to be another rollercoaster ride.

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Unexpected Is An Understatement

After the Cardinals swept Atlanta, all fans everywhere began to hope they could catch the Braves for the Wild Card.  Even the most die-hard had at that point realized catching Milwaukee just wasn’t going to happen. Those same fans, however, looked at the remaining schedule and saw Mt Everest standing in the way of the Cardinals and a miracle finish:  the Philadelphia Phillies.

They are the best team in baseball right now, and the Cardinals would play them in their yard.  St Louis had won 3 of 5 at Busch, but this was different.  And the Phillies would be looking to clinch their division.

Hope Dashed?  Not even close.  Roy Oswalt dominated the Cardinals has he so often seems to do, but the boys in Red found a way to beat super rookie Vance Worley, and rotation bullies Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay, taking 3 of 4 from Philly in Philly.

To call that result unexpected is an understatement.  I daresay, even the most ardent Cardinals fan hoped for a split of these 4 games, and given the Braves were playing the woeful Mets in Atlanta, that might have been enough to sink their push for good.

Not so.  Thanks to an improbable Florida come back win last night, the Cardinals find themselves only 2 out on the loss side with 9 to play.  They actually made up 2 games in the standings during their trip through Philadelphia.

Atlanta can profess they’re not looking over their shoulder all they want.  No one believes them.  The back of their bullpen, one of baseball’s best in 2011, has suddenly shown large cracks, likely due to overuse.  This race is certainly not decided, not by a long shot.

All the Cardinals can do now is all they could do before.  They have to win every game, and hope for help.  The Marlins showed last night they remain a dangerous team, and they’ve lined up their rotation to throw their best 2 pitchers at the Braves in the next 2 days.  Winning keeps the pressure on Atlanta.  Keep winning.

St Louis has six games at home and a series with the league’s worst team remaining.  Philadelphia, who played most of their starters on Sunday and Monday because of the playoff implications surrounding that game, has 3 at the end of the season with Atlanta.  Hopefully two things will be true for that final series:  the Cardinals will still be alive for the wild card, and Charlie Manuel will play his regulars against the Braves to honor the playoff run.

St Louis is on the downslope, and gathering steam.  Attention Atlanta:  the Cardinals are coming.  You might as well get out of the way now.

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