MLB @ a Crossroads
Recently this bureau had the opportunity to spend some quality time with my nephew Sean: a hard-working, kind, blue-collar young man who in a couple of months will be able to legally purchase a beer in the state of Missouri.
As with many of our family conversations, topics generally morphs into discussions around sports. When this bureau is in the mix, baseball is usually one of the topics.
We discussed the recently concluded World Series, the Cardinals’ new Manager and the possibility of a shutdown due to labor issues. After a little while, Sean said that he did not want to hurt my feelings, but “Uncle Mike, I really don’t follow Baseball much”.
Like we said, Sean is a kind young man.
It then occurred to this bureau, just how many others in their early twenties hold the same opinion as Sean? He’s not totally wrong. The Grand Old Game hasn’t done much to promote interest with Generation Z. Bobbleheads, giveaways, theme nights and trinkets can only go so far. These gimmicks only provide only a short- term sugar high to the ticket buying public.
Major League Baseball is at a crossroads. Games keep getting longer. Storm clouds are brewing with labor unrest. Television ratings are dropping. Turnstile counts are slowing down.
Baseball needs to be careful here. The Game has been given notice that it needs to get this right.
Hopefully they have read the memo.
Even taking COVID into account, MLB’s 2021 attendance totals are still concerning. During the past season only one franchise averaged over 30,000 per game (LA Dodgers). In 2021 six franchises averaged less than 11,000 in official attendance per game. By comparison, during the COVID-free season of 2019, thirteen franchises averaged more 30,000 per home game (three of them over 40,000). In 2019, only one of the thirty MLB franchises drew less than 11,000 in average official attendance per game.
During the 2021 season, 2,102,950 came through the turnstiles as “official attendance” here in self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven: an average of 26,281 per game for eighty home games. During the COVID-free season of 2019, the local nine average 42,967 official attendance per eighty-one home games: with a season attendance of 3,480,393.
It’s not just at the ballpark. Fewer folks are tuning in. We have offered this in previous visits to this little corner of cyberspace. But it’s worth repeating. In mid-October our town’s only newspaper provided these findings regarding the Cardinals television audience: “(2021) is the fourth time in the last five “normal” seasons that the rating has decreased, and this year it was down a whopping 48% over the 10.0 figure reached in 2015. Of course, TV viewership in general has declined significantly in recent years, leading to lower ratings for most programming across the board. But a loss of nearly half the audience in six years is significant.”
Although August’s game at the Field of Dreams location and the 2021 post-season television ratings were encouraging, the overall viewership numbers are becoming alarming. More fans are not turning on the ballgame. And if they are tuning in, how long are they watching? In 2021, the average time of a nine-inning regular season baseball game was three hours, ten minutes, and seven seconds: an all-time high. Compare and contrast that to ten years ago. In 2011 the average time of a nine-inning regular season baseball game was two hours and fifty-one minutes.
To that end in a 11/9/21 article on SportsNaut.com, Matt Johnson writes: “Baseball will never return to its peak as America’s Pastime, both the NFL and NBA evolved much faster. While the league started falling behind before (MLB Commissioner Rob) Manfred took over, nothing he has done very little to inspire confide for baseball’s long-term outlook. Meanwhile, the NBA and NFL secured a stranglehold of the future with younger fans. The average age of MLB fans is telling. After sitting at 52 in 2000, the average baseball fan is now 57. By comparison, the average age of an NFL fan is 50 and it’s even lower for the NBA (42). Just as alarming, per the Sports Business Journal, just 7% of MLB’s viewers are under the age of 18 and the numbers weren’t much better among young adults.”
Meanwhile, in roughly two and one-half weeks the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association is set to expire. To date, the tone of the talks regarding a new Agreement have been labeled in published reports as stagnant, unproductive, and frigid.
That brings inquiring minds to the question: if Major League Baseball shuts down to a labor dispute, will the “young folks” (aka: the next generation of ticket-purchasing fans) notice?
Here in the 314, under this ownership group the Cardinals have produced a successful business model. At the model’s core is a successful/competitive ball club while inspiring passion with its fan base to attend/watch games. Considering the number of playoff appearances and annual attendance total of over 3,000,000 illustrates how the Front Office has been successful.
But, COVID has provided a peek on just how fragile the local nine’s business model is and how quickly it could evaporate. An uninspired industry with an aging fanbase does not help the cause.
A lengthy labor dispute could provide long-term harm.
Meanwhile, the countdown continues to the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. This bureau wonders if the young folks are watching.
Major League Baseball is at a crossroads. There are storm clouds brewing with labor unrest. Games keep getting longer Television ratings and turnstile counts are spiraling downward. Baseball is notice that it needs to make this right.
Baseball needs to be careful here.
Hopefully they have read the memo.
A Mission from God?!
this bureau’s all-time favorite movies is the 1980 flick “The Blues
Brothers”. The film chronicled the adventures of Joliet Jake and Elwood
Blues and their efforts to save an orphanage while reconstructing a
killer rhythm and blues band.
A classic quote from the film occurred when, after securing the needed funds by putting the band back together, the brothers hopped into their car to make the trip to the Cook County Accessor’s office in Chicago to pay the mortgage bill.
Before leaving Elwood said to Jake: “There's 106 miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark out, and we're wearing sunglasses.” To which Joliet Jake responded: “Hit it!”
This scene came to mind this weekend after the St. Louis Cardinals completed their latest series against the Cincinnati Reds: losing two of three games. This bureau could almost hear Elwood say: ““There's 100 games played, we've got a .500 record, we’re in third place, eight games out of first place, and most of our starting pitchers are still unavailable”.
To which this Bureau could almost hear Joliet Jake respond: “Forget it!”
After one hundred games, it keeps getting bleaker and bleaker for the local nine. They are running out of time. On the morning of the last Monday of July, the Cardinals’ record is 50-50. Meanwhile, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego keep winning. It’s looking more and more like the two National League Wild Card teams will emerge from the NL West Division.
If that does occur, it means only one NL Central team will advance to the 2021 post-season. That also means that if that does occur, St. Louis must win the Central to move to the next round.
For that to happen, during the next sixty-two games first place Milwaukee will need to go into a major tailspin. Given the strength of the Brewer starting pitchers, a lengthy losing streak does not seem likely.
To that end, given the current condition of the Cardinals starting pitchers, a lengthy winning streak does not seem likely.
In its recent Power Poll, ESPN.com ranks St. Louis at the bottom of its middle third of teams (#20) saying: “The Cardinals are treading water until they get healthy on the mound, but it might be too little, too late. Unlike other veteran teams who are far from first place, it's not likely St. Louis subtracts from its roster before July 30. St. Louis is hoping its 13 remaining games against the Brewers will be the difference.”
With the trading deadline approaching by the end of the week, all indications point to the local nine as possible buyers and/or sellers. Either way, a significant transaction seems unlikely this week in the 314. That ship has likely already sailed when the Front Office did not to make a noteworthy trade once the injuries mounted with the pitching staff.
SIDENOTE--Memo to the apologists of the team’s primary funding partner formerly known as Fox Sports Midwest: during the games this week please do not parrot the talking point that getting a pitcher back from the Injured List will be just like making a trade. It’s not. You can do better than that.
While the August schedule appears on paper favorable for the Red Birds, the September schedule look much tougher. Aside from three games against the first place Brewers and two against the second place Reds, St. Louis will play against teams that currently have losing records. In August, St. Louis will play twenty-two games against a combination of Minnesota, Atlanta, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.
Meanwhile, September not so much: During September the Cardinals will play only six games against teams that currently have losing records. During September, the Red Birds will play twenty-four games against the first place Mets and Brewers, as well as the Dodgers, Cincinnati, and San Diego.
Saying it another way, it appears the continuation of a path for a .500 team. Forget it?
But could that be a red flag of upcoming storm clouds?
The Red Birds have not experienced a losing record since 2007. If that occurs and given the labor situation of Baseball and the lingering effects of COVID, the Front Office should take a deep, hard look at its organization and business plan. In the DeWitt era, the Cardinal organization has been successful and profitable. Until COVID hit, over 3 million fans per season came through the turnstiles at self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven.
But for the business plan to work, the baseball team must be successful. If the Cardinals are winning all is well. Fans will show up and open their wallets to giveaway their discretionary cash. But as indicated in this little corner of cyberspace, this bureau continues to wonder how strong the passion of the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball really is.
To that end, inquiring minds wonder: just how will the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball react should their heroes post a losing record in 2021?
We’ve asked this question many times recently. On the final game of the 2019 regular season, the Cardinals were hosting the Chicago Cubs. If St. Louis wins the game, they become the NL Central Champs. But as the 2:15PM first pitch approached on a beautiful autumn afternoon against the rival Cubs, rows and rows of empty seats were found throughout Busch Stadium.
In Game Four of the 2019 National League Championship Series, the Red Birds forced a deciding fifth game on a walk-off single by Yadier Molina. But Busch Stadium was not sold out for this playoff game: Note the words—Playoff Game.
On the Sunday after the All-Star break: an unseasonably comfortable July Sunday afternoon against the team with best record in the National League, rows and rows of empty seats were seen at first pitch.
And did we mention, the current Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire at 12:01AM on Wednesday December 1, 2021.
Yeah, the Front Office must be aware of all of this.
Back to the present, there are now sixty-two games remaining. Next up, two games against the franchise that will soon be known as the Cleveland Guardians.
Can the Cardinals make the 2021 playoffs? We suppose they “could”.
But, will the Cardinals make the 2021 playoffs?
It will likely require a mission from God.
Better Make a New Plan?!
hasn’t gone as planned, has it?
The St. Louis Cardinals arrive at the All-Star break as a team with a losing record. The team is two games under .500.
It has been a disappointing ninety games here in self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven. As the All Stars are arriving in Denver, the local nine find themselves tied for third place in the National League Central Division, eight games behind first place Milwaukee.
The Brewers look like a team that is ready to take command of the Division.
Meanwhile, the Red Birds do not.
While conceding there have been injuries to the pitching staff, St. Louis has committed way too many self-inflicted wounds during the first half. At the break, the Cardinals have a team batting average of .230: tied for 25th place in the Majors.
Red Bird pitchers have walked more than any other team (394 bases on balls in 90 games: aka 4.4 walks per game). Cardinals pitchers have struck out 697 batters: 29th in the Big Leagues and just one ahead of last place Arizona. To date, St. Louis pitchers have hit more opposing batters than any other team in MLB (64): ten more to the second place Chicago Cubs. On average, Red Bird pitchers have thrown 17.20 pitches per inning: which translates to an average of 154.8 pitches in a nine-inning game.
For the period of 6/13/21 through 7/4/21, St. Louis was scheduled to play nineteen straight games against teams with losing records. Some of those teams are at the bottom of the standings. The apologists at the team’s primary funding partner/cable outlet pushed the talking points how this nineteen-game stretch would provide a reboot for the local nine.
So, let’s go to the tape. St. Louis went 8-11 during those nineteen games. During June, the team posted a 10-17 record. In its most recent Power Ranking, CBS Sportsline ranked the Red Birds at #22 with this review: “If we exclude their series against the Diamondbacks and Marlins, the Cardinals are 7-25 since May 19. They have even lost series to the Tigers, Pirates and Rockies.”
Yeah, lots of self-inflicted wounds.
This sure hasn’t gone as planned, has it?
With the first half loaded skewed against weaker teams, logic suggests the second half will be more challenging. That looks correct and here is the rundown:
This translates to 37 remaining games against National League Central Division teams (51.39% of the remaining schedule). This also translates to 19 remaining games against teams that currently are in first place (26.39%): which includes thirteen games against the Division leading Brewers.
So, that brings us to questions: first, are the Cardinals contenders or not?
At this writing, it appears that the two 2021 National League Wild Card teams will be coming from the NL West. If that occurs, then only the champion of the NL Central will head to the post-season.
With seventy-two regular season games remaining, St. Louis is eight games behind the Brewers. But the Cardinals would have to leap-frog over two other teams to reach Milwaukee. If ninety wins are necessary to reach the playoffs, the Cardinals would have to go 46-26 (.639 winning percentage) the rest of the way. This looks like a challenge: even tougher considering the breakdown of the remaining 2021 St. Louis games.
While thirteen games remain against Milwaukee, the Brewers would need to go into a losing streak for the Cardinals to go into a major losing streak to trim the gap. Given the strength of the Milwaukee starting pitching, that seems unlikely.
So, are the Cardinals contenders or not?
That brings us to question #2: should the Red Birds be buyers or sellers at the trading deadline?
Unlike the Cubs, the Cardinals do not have attractive, tradable free agents that could be flipped for prospects. While, the St. Louis roster does have some high-priced contracts that will be coming off the books, none appear to be attractive to other suitors. Plus, with the cloud of labor unrest on the horizon, St. Louis may find it best for the long-term good simply to ride 2021 out and then reset when the new labor rules are in place.
That would likely translate into more discounted ticket offers, bobbleheads and special gimmicks to engage in all the fun at Ball Park Village.
Meanwhile, how will this all set with the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball? It would be at minimum a test of the real passion and enthusiasm with the fan base.
While the All Stars prepare for the Rocky Mountain adventure, here in the Gateway City the Cardinal Front Office will likely be making some candid decisions.
In a conversation with our town’s only newspaper, Red Bird Manager reflected on the first half. “I always equate the season to a dimmer switch on a light. You need to keep it on because this game is such a challenge mentally. The game is so much played between the ears and there’s so much. But if you keep it all the way up all the time it will burn you slap out. My hope is they can lower that dimmer switch to a very, very low setting and just be able to get away from it.
The Manager continued: “Clearly we’d like to be in a better position, buy I think all things being said, it could be in a lot worse position, for sure.”
As the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball and the Cardinal pitching staff rest up for the All-Star break, seventy-two games remain. The journey continues when the San Francisco Giants come to town to open a weekend series.
Yeah, the same San Francisco Giants that has the best overall record in Major League Baseball.
This sure hasn’t gone as planned, has it?
The Unthinkable Happened One Year Ago...
posted June 14
It happened one year ago.
On the evening of June 12, 2019 at approximately 9:45PM, although the temperature in St. Louis, Missouri was in the mid-60s, hell was about to freeze over.
On the evening of June 12, 2019 at approximately 9:45PM thousands of Gateway City baby-boomers finally scratched an item off their bucket list.
On the evening of June 12, 2019 at approximately 9:45PM the self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball were not overreacting to their favorite baseball team being shut out by the lowly Miami Marlins 9-0.
On the evening of June 12, 2019 at approximately 9:45PM, at the end of Game #108 of the 2018-19 season the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup.
Has it really been one year?
As we remain in a coronavirus world without any live sports to watch, debate or complain, sports fans across the fruited plain remain can only reminisce about the past glories and kick around stories. Reams of film of sporting events of past years have flooded airwaves over the past three months. Fans were searching for reminders of the games.
Here is the Gateway City, there have been many of those moments to remember. Eleven times the Cardinals were crowned as World Series Champions.
In January 2000, our town celebrated what likely will be its only Super Bowl Championship,
On April 12,1958, the St. Louis Hawks won the NBA Championship
On March 18, 1948, St. Louis University captured the NIT Tournament title (which back in those days was more prominent than the NCAA tournament).
But there was still one missing for the 314.
That is, until the evening of June 12, 2019 at approximately 9:45PM, St. Louis time.
For years the St. Louis Blues were considered the Chicago Cubs of the National Hockey League. They were the NHL’s Charlie Brown. Die-hard followers always felt that after success, a trap door would eventually open. Whether it be the financial distresses of ownership, the sudden death of an up and coming young defenseman, a possible relocation to Saskatoon, the sudden break-up of a popular Head Coach as he scampered to enemy territory in Detroit, to a first round playoff elimination after winning the President’s Cup, to a lockout and a lost season, long-suffering Blues fans saw the football being yanked from them as they prepared to kick it.
This was the life of a Blues fan.
But it was different in 2019: although the familiar storyline preceded the celebration. In April 2018 the Blues did not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Then came an Opening Night loss to Winnipeg 5-1 in front of a sellout home crowd On the day before Thanksgiving, the team fired its Head Coach. During the season Blues players were fighting Blues players during a morning skate with local television cameras rolling. Hours after New Year’s Day 2019, the team found itself with the worst record in the NHL.
Days after the big ball dropped in Time Square in January 2019, the St. Louis Blues were a train wreck.
But 2019 would be remembered by St. Louis hockey fans much the same way as 1964 is remembered by St. Louis baseball fans. And just like fifty-five years prior, the turnaround started when a 25-year old whose last name begins with the letter B joined the team.
On January 5, the Blues added goaltender Jordan Binnington to their roster. St. Louis’ record then was 16-9-4 with 53 games remaining in the regular season. Two nights later, Binnington stopped 25 Philadelphia shots as the Blues shut out the Flyers. This would be the start of a run where #50 would win 24 of his next 30 starts (including six shutouts). In Kurt Warner-like fashion, Binnington led the charge to rejuvenate his hockey team.
The Blues would qualify for the playoffs. Suddenly a perfect storm was forming. As the team advanced deeper in the playoffs, NHL powerhouses in Tampa Bay, Calgary, Pittsburgh and Washington were sent to the golf course. Suddenly, a path was opening for the Blues.
You had the feeling that if it didn’t happen in 2019, it might never occur.
It started to fall into place. The Blues advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since the Nixon Administration. They would eliminate Winnipeg, Dallas and then San Jose. Only a team remained. But that opponent came from a city that has sent shivers to St. Louis sports fans for over twenty years: Boston.
Beantown seem to have curse over the Gateway City. The Bruins swept the Blues the last time St. Louis reached the NHL Finals in 1970. The Red Sox defeated the Cardinals in the World Series in 2004 and 2013. The Patriots knocked off the two-touchdown favorite St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Now, another team from Boston stands in the way of St. Louis winning a professional sports championship.
The 2019 Stanley Cup Finals were a physical slugfest that went the distance. The deciding Game 7 would be played on a frozen pond in downtown Boston.
But in this showdown, the Blues would conquer the bully. In that Game 7 Binnington was spectacular: stopping shot after shot and making save after save. #50’s performance quieted and declawed the roaring crowd at the TD Garden.
While Binnington led the way, he was strongly assisted by Captain Alex Pietrangelo, who finally displayed the advertised leadership and dominance. Veteran Ryan O’Reilly took over as the center iceman Blues fans were coveting for over a decade. Their example cascaded down throughout the team.
Then at approximately 10:45PM Eastern Time, the final horn sounded. The scoreboard told the story: St. Louis-4; Boston-1. The Blues players skated around while carrying the Stanley Cup in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The magic number became zero. This was playoff win #16. The Blues were the only NHL team in 2019 that ended its playoff run with a victory
Back in the 314 the celebration began. The Blues playoff run united a region in desperate need of a shot of self-esteem. Watch parties became go-to events around town. From the Enterprise Center to Busch Stadium and spots in between, 60,000-80,000 flocked into downtown to experience Games Six and Seven of the Finals
When the final horn sounded and when the Cup was presented, Gateway City fans celebrated heartily but respectfully. No fires were set. No cars were turned over. No windows were broken.
This was a good time to be in the 314.
The quest for the Stanley Cup is the most grueling gauntlet in all professional sports. A team plays eighty-two games over a six-month period for the opportunity to play some more. Then the first team to win the next sixteen games gets to spend time with the Stanley Cup.
As the Cup was handed to each current Blues players on that Wednesday night in Boston, memories of Glenn Hall, Red Berenson, Barclay and Bob Plager, Garry Unger, Dan Kelly, Ronald Caron, Bob Gassoff, Doug Wickenhauser, Brett Hull, Bernie Federko, Brian Sutter and others that wore the blue note came to mind.
Then the moment hit its crescendo three days later during a parade down Market Street: a parade that many in the 314 are still talking about.
As we approach the fourth month of a professional sports lockdown, we are left to reminisce about past glories. For St. Louis, a big one took place on a mid-June night in Boston.
And yes, it happened one year ago
Comments? Contact Mike at: email@example.com
The Clock is (Still) Ticking
posted June 14
In a normal Major League Baseball season, Memorial Day would be one those benchmark dates to evaluate the state of our National Pastime. In a normal baseball season, roughly one-third of the regular season would be completed. Memorial Days provided teams an opportunity to gage their chances for the post-season or if a better path would be a fire sale of their better/more expensive players the better path.
During a normal Major League Baseball season, the World-Wide Leader of Cable Sports Programming would be flooding their airwaves with games that would start before lunch time and would run straight through until after midnight. Here in self-proclaimed Baseball Heaven, in a normal Major League Baseball season the apologists of Fox Sports Midwest would be spinning patriotic stories while reminding the audience there are plenty of good seats available for future games, upcoming bobble head-giveaways and all the fun that is occurring at Ball Park Village.
But 2020 is not a normal Major League Baseball season.
It’s Memorial Day 2020. It’s the last Monday of May and not one Major League Baseball game has been played. If things went as planned, this bureau would be preparing a Memorial Day barbeque after finishing covering a weekend series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
But this is not a normal time. Instead we are approaching a deadline to decide if there will or will not be a 2020 Major League Baseball Season. The Lords of the Game as well as the MLB Players’ Association have been talking to carve out something to salvage 2020. Along the way there has been finger-pointing and sniping. But the bottom line is there is no agreement.
In this environment, everyone has something to lose. The players are collecting reduced paychecks while helplessly watching a prime season of their career fade away. Published reports that have crunched the numbers predict the cost of a lost season would be $170 million guaranteed and full service time for the players. For those making the minimum, it is spelled out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement: “at the 2019 rate per season plus a cost of living adjustment, rounded to the nearest $500, provided that the cost of living adjustment shall not reduce the minimum salary below $555,000”.
Owners are not collecting ticket revenue and reduced (if any) broadcasting money. While both sides have been talking since what would have been Opening Day, no plan has been finalized.
Plus (and it’s a big plus), the plan would need a thumbs-up from local officials and the Feds.
The folks at ESPN.com sum it up this way: “Owners want players to take a pay cut on top of one mandated by the March agreement, which states players be given a prorated salary depending on the number of games played. Players continue to hold firm, confident that the language guaranteeing them a pro rata share is unassailable. Talks, accordingly, have grown tense. Neither side has made an official proposal. Even if they agree on a deal that covers money and health, MLB needs federal, state and local officials to rubber-stamp play in home cities, a charge complicated by the varying rates of infection and presence of the coronavirus.”
“Major League Baseball owners are really rich, and if they are cash poor and need to borrow money to pay employees and minor leaguers and major leaguers this season, they can and should. Wealth is often built on debt. This debt is an investment in the future of their asset.”
“The health-and-safety protocol will be there. The posturing is over. Deals take flexibility. Embrace it. The appetite for the game is ravenous. The time for a deal, for baseball to return, is finally here.”
So, as we prepare our Memorial Day barbeques, the Owners and Players keep talking in this expensive game of chicken with Baseball fans across the fruited plain watching their every move.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The sands of the 2020 baseball hourglass are fading away.
In this little corner of cyberspace, the hope is something can be hammered out to have some form of 2020 baseball. In a perfect world, an agreement be reached so that June can be used as a quasi-spring training period with baseball resuming somewhere on or around the 4th of July. Again, that is in a perfect world and perfect worlds don’t always occur.
In the meantime, this bureau wonders if this Owners/Players virus standoff is a preview of upcoming attractions. It has been reported in many venues there is a growing animosity and dislike between both parties. Those of us in this little corner of cyberspace wonder if this COVID-19 resumption is laying the groundwork for a bigger battle. That battle can be found on Page 154 of the current Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement:
“This Agreement shall terminate on December 1, 2021 at 11:59 P.M. Eastern Time.”
The hope is two-fold: first, Baseball can be restored in some shape or form during 2020 and the final product doesn’t create any more mistrust or resentment between the Players and the Owners.
Most of the current Major League Baseball Players were either not yet born or were in elementary school in August 1994: the last time the game shut down. Many of today’s Baseball ownership groups were not involved in that battle. But there are some of us, including this bureau, that remembers vividly just how devasting the shutdown to the industry and how difficult it was to restore the fans’ respect.
When the game returned in April 1995, Owners and Players quickly found out this was not Field of Dreams. If you build it. they would come: Not. Instead, the game returned to stadiums were only 75% full and many of the fans who were attendance jeered and mocked the returning players.
It was ugly. The fans did not forget.
The hope here is returning to the field in 2020 is not a preview of upcoming attractions.
In a normal Major League Baseball season, Memorial Day would be one those benchmark dates to evaluate the state of our National Pastime.
But 2020 is not a normal Major League Baseball season.
Memo to the Major League Owners and Players’ Association: Gentlemen, the ball is in your court.
And the clock is ticking.
Diaz, Kurt Warner & Talent Evaluation: Tunnel Vision, Not Knowing
What You Don't Know & Missing Greatness
In June of 1981 I met a
young lady (Susan) who, in
September of 1982, became my wife.
In 1983 we attended a
David Bowie concert at what
was then known as the Rosemont Horizon (in suburban Chicago). By that
Bowie had become a mainstream pop star whose songs were heard all over
It was my first Bowie
show, and the entire
experience catalyzed an acute awareness of David Bowie and his music.
the party, eh?)
In 2004 Bowie performed
at St. Louis' Fox Theatre,
we were there, and those in attendance were mesmerized by what we
were in the presence of a star.
By that time, I had
gained knowledge of most of his
career--in large part thanks to wife Susan, who was far 'ahead of the
Forty years ago (March 3,
1976, to be precise),
Susan attended her first David Bowie concert, at Chicago's
She was eighteen years old and returned home from college to see the show--accompanied by her younger brother.
Bowie's perfomance confirmed what she first suspected years previously after seeing the man on a Saturday night Don Kirshner-style music video TV show: namely, David Bowie was an avant-garde performer with world-class talent, talent impossible to ignore if you knew what to look for.
Literally ten days prior
to Bowie's International
Amphitheater show, that same Bowie tour paused in Evansville IN on
1976, for a Sunday night performance at Roberts Stadium (the home of
Evansville Purple Aces basketball team).
I was seventeen at the
time, still a senior at a
small town high school located a half-hour or so from Roberts Stadium...but
I believed I had better things to do than watch some Brit named David
perform a couple dozen of his songs.
As I look back to
February of 1976, I had plenty of
awareness of the upcoming bicentennial celebration; plenty of awareness
school advanced chemistry, physics, trigonometry and analytic geometry;
of enjoyment of high school golf; a fun job at an area supermarket
laugh: $2.10/hr and time-and-a-half on Sundays); as well as fun and
with friends and a high school sweetheart.
This was my world, and it
was all good.
But my good
world, in February
of 1976, would have been my better world if I
possessed a little more awareness of the earth around me and had opened
to the talents of David Bowie, who, to me at the time, was the guy who
throwaway Top 40 pop song 'Golden Years'.
Therefore, in 1976, I had
no interest in attending
the Bowie show in Evansville, Indiana.
After all, it was a
Sunday night (school the next
day!) and I had never attended anything other than basketball games and
Shrine Circus in Roberts Stadium, a venue that I believed to be
during rock concerts, with pot-smokers and troublemakers that roamed
a world that I did not understand.
In other words, my
perspective was foolishly
limited and suffered from myriad distractions, and my tunnel vision
that world was incomplete.
The result of tunnel
vision? I didn't know
what I didn't know.
Tunnel vision in professional sports?
On a micro scale, Cardinals' rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz comes to mind as a player whose skills were viewed by major league talent evaluators with tunnel vision: they didn't know what they didn't know.
Prior to the 1999 season, the Rams signed free-agent QB Trent Green to a four-year multimillion dollar contract, and viewed Warner, at best, as a back-up--because he (Warner) was made available to the Cleveland Browns in the NFL's 1999 Expansion Draft!
The Browns did select a quarterback in their expansion draft: Tampa Bay QB Scott Milanovich, who was released before training camp commenced. Browns' management were convinced that #1-overall draft choice Tim Couch would be their QB for a decade.
Nearly two decades later, the Cleveland Browns are still looking for a quarterback while Super Bowl champion Kurt Warner hopes for his induction to the professional football Hall of Fame, and Aledmys Diaz is hoping for an invitation to Miami for the 2016 MLB All Star Game.
Memories of Place, Practice & Championships:
Mike Shannon and DeAnna Price
--->DeAnna Price: Off to Tokyo<---
A Baseball Mini-Series in Seven Parts:
“So You’re Yadier Molina: What Would You Do?”
I. The 2021 Chicago White Sox
Baseball’s All Star break, while thought of as a
demarcation between the regular season’s first and second halves,
that: while the Cardinals have played 90 games thus far in the 2021
season (44-46 record; T3; 8 GB first-place Milwaukee), they have but 72
July 30 is the so-called 2021 MLB Trade Deadline,
and while the
Chicago Cubs are likely to be active participants (as sellers) at the
this month, the other team in Chicago (the White Sox) are likely to
in this year’s trade market as buyers.
The White Sox are currently in first place in the AL Central…a full eight games (seven in the loss column) ahead of second-place Cleveland.
Injuries have presented themselves as the primary
for the White Sox and manager Tony La Russa. The latest significant
injury to a
White Sox player occurred on July 5, when, with one out in the top of
inning vs the Minnesota Twins, Grandal suffered a torn tendon in his
left knee while
attempting to check his swing.
Two days later (July 7), it was announced that
underwent knee surgery to repair the tendon. The White Sox also
Grandal is still expected to play again in 2021, and in a statement
that an ‘updated timeline’ would be forthcoming, a timeline that might
some adjustment to the initial four-to-six week estimate for the length
that Grandal would be out of the line-up.
Grandal’s mid-July replacements in the line-up of manager Tony La Russa?
26 year old Zack Collins (career stats: 83 games played; 2021 stats: .230 batting average; 3HR; 21 RBI; 29 stolen base attempts; 5 caught stealing)
27 year old Seby Zavala (career stats: 8 games
at-bats; 14 strikeouts; 0 HR&RBI
II. The White Sox 1979-1986 and Carlton Fisk
Most reading this are well-aware that his current
manager of the White Sox is Tony La Russa’s second tour on Chicago’s
was first hired to manage the Pale Hose by Bill Veeck…late in the 1979
In La Russa’s first full season (1980), the White
at least four catchers, including Bruce Kimm (the nominal starter) and
Marv Foley, Glenn Borgmann and Ricky Seilheimer.
In one of the most significant early moves of Jerry
Reinsdorf’s ownership of the White Sox, in 1981 Carlton Fisk changed
of his Sox from Red to White…and the Hall of Fame catcher, after
seasons in Boston, finished his career playing 13 seasons in Chicago.
Fisk’s signing was a huge move for the White Sox franchise, and for Tony La Russa, who along with his pitching coaches demands a lot from his catchers.
And Fisk was up to the task, burnishing his Hall of
credentials with a 37 HR/107 RBI season in 1985.
III. The Oakland A’s (1986-1995) and Terry
Mid-season 1986, rookie White Sox GM Ken (Hawk)
fired La Russa, who quickly found work as manager of the Oakland A’s,
managed for ten seasons. During those years, Terry Steinbach served as
starting catcher, with at least 83 games played as catcher per season
(commencing with La Russa’s first full season as manager: 1987).
Steinbach was a three-time All Star.
La Russa’s last season as the A’s manager was 1995;
in the ’95-‘96
off-season he was hired by the Cardinals, where he managed from 1996
IV. The St. Louis Cardinals (1996-2004) and Mike
The primary catchers for the early portion
(1996-1999) of La
Russa’s tenure in St. Louis?
Tom Pagnozzi, Mike Defelice, Tom Lampkin, Danny
Eli Marrero, and Alberto Castillo.
In the 1999-2000 off-season, the Cardinals signed
Matheny, who had been released by the Toronto Blue Jays. Matheny served
Cardinals primary catcher for five seasons, catching at least 100 games
of those seasons.
V. The St. Louis Cardinals (2005-present) and
Then, late in 2004, and commencing for real in
And it was quite a happening.
First Molina happened for La Russa, who retired in
Then Molina happened for Matheny, who replaced La
managed the Cardinals from 2012 until he was fired mid-way through the
season. Molina was replaced by Mike Shildt, who remains in place as the
VI. Setting Up the Conclusion to “So You’re
What Would You Do?”
In 21st-century parlance, during Tony La
of Fame managerial career, he has been ‘blessed’ with (at the very
(occasionally) stellar, and quite often Hall-of-Fame credentialed
his rosters…in Chicago (Fisk), Oakland (Steinbach) and St. Louis
La Russa is well-aware of the position of catcher,
as far as
regular- and post-season success is concerned.
And Tony La Russa knows Yadier Molina.
The traditional second-half of the 2021 MLB season is about to commence.
The Chicago White Sox employ, in their two-man
rotation, two players with a combined total of 91 MLB games career
At the very least, La Russa is likely to prefer a
experienced player as catcher, as the White Sox begin to finish up the
July and enter the dog days of August…all with an eye on post-season
It the wake of Grandal’s injury and the surgery the
followed, is a virtual certainty that Tony La Russa and the White Sox
have discussed, in-house, obtaining a veteran catcher.
With zero factual knowledge on the part of yours
believe it is likely that the White Sox have also communicated their
upgrade their own catching position to other teams…including the
I also believe that the Cardinals have communicated
Sox communications with Molina, but that the situation prior to the
games post-All Star break remains too fluid for a move at this time.
Finally, I believe that Cardinals management would,
in a situation
like the one described here: completely defer to Molina’s wishes.
As this is written (July 14), several questions
*How important is it, to Molina himself, that he
finish his MLB
career as a ‘lifetime Cardinal’?
*How important is it, to Cards owner Bill DeWitt
Molina finish his MLB career as a ‘lifetime Cardinal’?
*How important, to Molina, is the possibility of
World Series appearance or two?
*What is the prognosis for the return of Yasmani Grandal to the White Sox lineup?
*How well will the current Chisox ‘regular’ catchers
perform, both offensively and defensively, in what is clearly a trial
*What would the White Sox be willing to trade to St.
*And finally, how would ‘Cardinal Nation’ react to
of perhaps the most beloved Cardinal of the 21st Century…or
as Tony La Russa might say, in this category, Molina and Albert Pujols
You’re Yadier Molina: What Would You Do?”
I believe Yadier Molina will be offered the chance
his playing career as a member of the Chicago White Sox.
So…let’s say you are Molina. What would you do?
The Halfway Point
At the 2021 halfway point, the Cards are a .500 baseball team (40-41).
And while St. Louis is said to be the home of ‘Baseball Heaven’, the official National League Busch Stadium attendance for Game #81 (27,235) was optimistic in that the end-of-the-sixth inning infield crew seemed all alone as they made the Busch infield ready for Nolan Arenado et al.
I cannot remember seeing the Busch bleachers so vacant on what used to be called a ‘Businessman’s Special’ weekday afternoon.
Busch Stadium Between Innings 6 & 7; Wednesday Jun 30 2021
And if the Best Fans In Baseball (BFIB) aren’t in (bleacher) heaven…where the hell are they!?
No doubt the business side of the ballteam is doing market research to find out whether the BFIB are staying away because of their fears of COVID, an unsafe downtown area, and/or something simpler (and much easier) to explain: a mediocre Cardinals squad.
This is a sports column…so:
A few observations based on in-person viewing of Game #81, a 7-4 victory over the Arizona (completing a three-game sweep over the hapless Diamondbacks).
*In the second inning, Arizona LFer Josh Rojas ran down (and caught) an oh-so-deep fly ball to left-center field struck by Tommy Edman in part because he was positioned only a few steps from the warning track as the ball was pitched. This observer believed he was playing too deep!
*Two batters later, Rojas moved in several steps when Cards pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim came to the plate. Bad move as Kim hit a double over the head of Rojas…plating the first two runs of the game. Virtually every game opposite-field home runs are hit. All big league outfielders play deeper than ever. My explanation: the baseball used in MLB these days is harder than ever.
*MLB has a very real problem with what is referred to as ‘pace of play’—too many walks, strikeouts and home runs…all outcomes that do not result in a fielding play. You can add to that the act of a batter hitting foul balls. This bureau is convinced that hitters are more proficient at fouling off good pitchers than they used to be. This bureau tossed around the press box the notion that perhaps a batter should only be allowed a certain number of foul balls before he is called out. I suggested four; fifty-year Post-Dispatch baseball writer Rick Hummel thought five fouls was more reasonable (before calling the batter out). Interestingly, he did not dismiss the notion out of hand.
*A likely part of the reason hitters are better than in the past (at spoiling good pitches with foul balls) is the proliferation of batting cages and the pitching machines found within those batting cages. Perhaps when COVID etc quiets down I’ll ask Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons whether or not the batting cage/pitching machine notion has any credibility—you can be certain Simmons will have an opinion on the subject.
*Baseball is a funny game, right? In the previous observation I stated that today’s hitters are ‘better’ than ever. Yet the highest batting average in the Game 81 starting lineup is….271 (Arizona’s Josh Reddick). I guess I’d better describe what I mean by ‘better’!
*Back to the attendance issues at Busch. The recent Giants-Dodgers series drew very well at Chavez Ravine. Both teams are likely to be in contention for the NL West title this year. Can the same thing be said for the Cardinals?
One (now-injured) player’s name comes to mind when aiming to evaluate the first-half performance of the 2021 St. Louis Cardinals: Jack Flaherty.
The absence of Jack Flaherty has been duly noted, as the 2021 Cardinals have not been able to find a modern version of Nelson Briles...who after Bob Gibson's left ankle was broken by a line drive off the bat of Roberto Clemente on July 13, 1967, stepped into Gibson's place in the starting rotation and finished the regular season with a 14-5 W-L record (2.43 ERA) and was the starter and winner of Game 3 in the '67 World Series.
Rosters They Are a Changin':
Amid seemingly endless COVID-19 news, the press release ("Saluki Volleyball Announces 2020 Schedule") that arrived via email earlier this week was a welcome relief.
Games! A schedule! Sports!!!
If only for a moment, COVID-19 and its politics were shoved aside.
At least in my head they were.
Buried deep in the release are two sets of intel:
(1) "SIU returns 10 letterwinners from a year ago, which includes six that played at least 100 sets a season ago. The returners are led by all-conference returnees Hannah Becker and Rachel Maguire."
(2) "Southern will also welcome a talented group of 10 newcomers to the mix in 2020."
So Saluki volleyball coach Ed Allen has joined SIU's MBB coach Bryan Mullins in reshaping his roster prior to his second season as head coach in Carbondale.
In his first year at SIU, Allen enjoyed some success as the 2019 volleyball team posted a win total nine greater than the 2018 squad, and ten of their 32 matches extended to five sets.
In an effort to get to know Allen, his team and his coaching staff, yours truly attended several practices as well as a handful of both home and away matches.
The result of those efforts? Yes it is obvious, even to a neophyte observer of volleyball, that Ms. Becker and Ms. Maguire were deserving of MVC recognition. They both can play, and as upperclasswomen, more is expected from both in the upcoming season.
Going out on a limb a bit...it is also apparent that Alex Washington is the team's high ceiling player in that in addition to obvious hitting skills--the ball seems to find her at important moments in a match.
Due to what was thought to be a foot injury, Washington appeared in only nine 2019 games as a freshman before being granted a red shirt year.
Also obvious is the respect that Allen seemed to have earned from his players--to my eyes it appeared to be genuine and oh-so-important in these days of college athletics.
With ten (!) new faces in 2020, the process of in-person team-building will have to begin again...whenever SIU volleyball starts up and the entire roster is on campus.
No amount of video-chatting via Zoom, Skype or Google hangouts equals real 'Facetime' as far as that thing that 21st-century coaches call 'culture' is concerned.
We'll look for announcements and post them here.
Coaches, seasons, games and press conferences all run together after awhile.
But if you listen carefully (and you the reader can see and hear virtually all of SIU head football coach Nick Hill's Q&As at siusalukis.com), some things stand out so much that even in the middle of a pandemic...the brain plays like Arnold Schwartzenegger and has 'Total Recall' (or nearly so).
In what I believe was the primary mid-week media event prior to the SIU-Ole Miss 2018 early-season game, Hill was asked about a player whose name was (and remains) distinctive: Jordan Ta’amu, the Mississippi starting quarterback.
Hill's response was rather direct (paraphrasing): "We've seen him on video. I think he's better than the guy that transferred."
On the one hand, Hill's comment on Ta'amu wasn't surprising--most college football coaches know the Lou Holtz pre-game routine ('...our next opponent could compete in the NFL--we don't have much chance'). So pumping up the QB skills of SIU's next opponent is fully expected--every single week.
But I filed the comment away, because from a distance yours truly has followed Michigan football rather closely for several decades...and 'the guy that transferred' (Shea Patterson) left Mississippi after the 2017 season to join Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor.
Heading into the 2017 season, Patterson (a sophomore) won the starting QB job at Mississippi for coach Matt Luke. Ta'amu (a junior) served as Patterson's backup. But in the Ole Miss-LSU game (the season's seventh), Patterson suffered a serious knee injury, and Ta'amu replaced Patterson as the starter.
Ta'amu played well in his five 2017 starts. That combined with impending penalties for recruiting violations at Mississippi (resulting in transfers from Ole Miss not having to sit out a year), and Harbaugh's QB needs at Michigan, led to Patterson's decision to enroll at the University of Michigan.
All of which means that in Nick Hill's preparation for the SIU-Ole Miss 2018 game, he and his staff reviewed game action for both Jordan Ta'amu and Shea Patterson.
And Hill's comparison was clear: in his mind, Ta'amu was the better player.
Hill was right, as Ta'amu was perhaps the best XFL QB in that league's truncated first (and only?) season.
And Shea Patterson served as the starting QB for Michigan for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He was good but not great...at times not even good.
A data point, an NFL roster oddity, an SIU QB roster summary...and a question all follow:
*The data point: After trailing SIU at the half, 38-35, Mississippi outscored the Salukis 41-3 in the game's second half, winning 76-41. The Jordan Ta'amu stat line: 23/33, 448 yards, 5 TD.
**The roster oddity: NFL QB whisperer Andy Reid gets a shot at comparing Ta'amu and Patterson, as the Chiefs signed both as free agent quarterbacks. They will compete for the clipboard position at KC, as Chad Henne is returning (contract in hand, and aanother Michigan QB) as the team's backup.
***SIU QBs: A glance at SIU's roster reveals nice balance in the QB room, with senior Karé Lyles as the returning starter, backed up by junior Stone Labanowitz (who was the 2018 starter before injury), sophomore Nic Baker, red-shirt freshman Zach Zebrowski and 'true' freshman Jaylen DeVries. Sophomore jack-of-all-trades Javon Williams is likely to see significant action as a wildcat QB as well.
****And the question: Pandemic-related uncertainties aside, the elephant in the room as far as SIU football is concerned is centered on QB, and Nick Hill's decision about who will start at the most important position on the field:
With his squad's improved defense and running game in place, can Nick Hill FINALLY find the 'right' mix at quarterback at SIU in what may be a pivotal season for Hill as far as his coaching future at SIU is concerned?
A bit melodramatic, eh?! It's just the future of SIU football...that's all!
Rich Herrin, Aaron Cook
It was a light-jacket kind of day in Carbondale, and early spring was in the air on what was probably a mid-February 2019 afternoon.
While the vultures in southern Illinois were circling around head coach Barry Hinson for much of the 2018-19 season, on this day local media were waiting for the start of one of Hinson’s on-campus mid-week media events, as a player or two had already finished with their press obligations.
I left the conference room, strolled around the athletic complex, and ran into a surprise visitor: Rich Herrin.
I (re)introduced myself to Herrin, as we had not spoken in (yikes!) two decades. I reminded him that, late in the 20th century, he had joined me on my radio show, in-studio, for a conversation about SIU basketball. A highlight of the interview was when (the now-deceased) Charlie Spoonhour joined us live (via telephone) on the air. It was not obvious that Herrin remembered the interview.
Mid-way through my February 2019 on-campus conversation with Herrin, Barry Hinson emerged from the stairway. He saw yours truly and Herrin chatting, and made what seemed to me at the time to be a rather curious decision: the normally voluble Hinson did not stop and say hello.
Not to me, and not to Rich Herrin, either…who, as Hinson walked away, more-or-less raised an eyebrow.
Of course, Hinson had a press conference to get ready for.
I still wonder what Herrin was doing in the building that day.
The most significant portions of my discussion with Rich Herrin concerned his views on (a) who, in his view, was the most talented Saluki to ever play for him, and (b) the pace of play in both college basketball in general and specifically, the Herrin-era and Hinson-era Salukis.
I was delighted when Herrin agreed with me after I suggested that Missouri native Marcus Timmons was my choice as ‘most talented Herrin-era Saluki’.
“I think Marcus Timmons may have just been the most talented player I ever coached here,” said Herrin.
Herrin’s choice of Timmons was no surprise, as Timmons, a Missouri native, was ticketed to attend Mizzou until that particular Norm Stewart team was hit with NCAA-mandated sanctions (recruiting violations).
Herrin and SIU swooped in with an offer and presto (!), Marcus Timmons was a Saluki, and four years of really good…and really entertaining basketball was on display at SIU’s Arena.
In 1994-1995 (Timmons’ senior year, 35 second shot-clock), the Salukis averaged about 78 points and 61 shots attempted per game.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: In SIU’s just-completed 2019-2020 season (Coach Bryan Mullins’ first year, 30 second shot-clock), the Salukis averaged about 65 points and 51 shots attempted per game.]
Timmons excelled at this type of basketball—not run-and-gun but certainly appropriately quick.
At SIU, Marcus Timmons was an all-around player with virtually no weaknesses. He was not a score-first talent…instead he often used both his superior passing skills and court vision to orchestrate his team’s play in the offensive zone.
In that way (especially his passing skills), the basketball skills and basketball IQ possessed by Peoria’s Shaun Livingston (whose NBA career spanned a decade-and-a-half, and concluded with a run of NBA championship teams at Golden State) always reminded me of Marcus Timmons.
I had wanted to speak with Rich Herrin for several years, actually…so I had a bit of a mission in mind when I suggested that Marcus Timmons, without playing out of control, enjoyed playing at a quick pace. Not fast, mind you…but quick.
I asked Herrin how Timmons, or a player with his skills, would look in today’s ‘value each possession’ era of college basketball.
I pointed out that Barry Hinson’s SIU teams seemed to enjoy milking the shot-clock on most possessions.
Without directly addressing Hinson, Herrin was pointed in his comments: “You’ve got to let’em play. It is what they want to do. They have to be able to have fun playing the game of basketball.”
I thought of this conversation with Rich Herrin when Aaron Cook’s recent decision to spend his graduate transfer year (the 2020-2021 season) at Gonzaga became public.
I daresay that young Mr. Cook felt like he won the lottery when he agreed to play for Mark Few. Gonzaga is the best-of-the-best as far as non Power 5 conference men’s basketball is concerned, and way-too-early 2020-2021 polls have Gonzaga rated as a Top 5 team.
So Aaron Cook will most likely experience March Madness for the first time as a player—reason enough for a modestly-recruited kid from St. Louis to make the not insignificant move to Gonzaga and the state of Washington.
On top of that, Gonzaga’s pace-of-play statistics are, in my view, more in line with the style of play that Aaron Cook believes he plays his best basketball.
The exact date (but it was a Hinson-era season) escapes me, but there was a post-game media session after a win a couple or three seasons ago at SIU’s Arena in which Cook and Eric McGill were asked, point blank—‘Do you like playing fast?’.
Both players smiled broadly, and shook their heads in a way that was spoke volumes: they felt like their skills were best utilized in a system that allowed them more freedom of movement.
Fast forward to the present.
For the (abbreviated) 2019-2020 season, Gonzaga/SIU averaged 62/51 shots attempted and 74/66 possessions per game.
It will be fun to watch Aaron Cook, playing hard and playing fast, in a Gonzaga uniform. No doubt the winning tradition and post-season opportunities at Gonzaga were of primary import to a player who counted DePaul and Arkansas as other possible destinations for his last season of NCAA eligibility.
But don’t discount the relevance of pace of play, either. Aaron Cook had a courtside seat for much of the 2019-2020 Saluki season, a season in which SIU’s 66 possessions per game was greater than exactly three other NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams.
In other words, 349 out of 353 D1 men’s squads had a larger number of possessions per game than Bryan Mullins’ initial SIU team.
It will be interesting to watch Bryan Mullins fill out the roster for the 2020-2021 SIU season, as Aaron Cook was not the only Saluki with remaining eligibility to request a transfer.
It will be interesting to watch his second-year team play, not only in terms of wins-and-losses…but also HOW they play.
Stay tuned. And remain virus-free.
Batting Orders on the Eights:
1978, 1998 and 2008. 2018?
posted July 24
Let’s pick an arbitrary year in major league baseball—1978.
In 1978, Vern Rapp, Jack Krol and Ken Boyer served as manager of the Cardinals. The batting orders for all 162 Cardinals games that season ‘featured’ a pitcher in the ninth spot in the lineup.
Rapp, Krol and Boyer were following baseball’s 1978 lineup norms: a given team’s pitcher nearly always batted ninth in his team’s lineup.
One year later (1979), Tony La Russa began his baseball managerial career when he was hired to manage the Chicago White Sox.
Fast forward about twenty years to 1998.
During the 1998 season’s All Star break, then-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, with nearly two decades of major league managerial experience already under his belt, dispensed with the pitcher-must-bat-ninth ‘wisdom’.
And for the balance of that ’98 season, La Russa broke with tradition and wrote lineup cards in which his starting pitcher was listed in the #8 spot in his lineup.
Recall two salient facts about La Russa’s 1998 Cardinals squad:
(1) the team was average (83-79 final W-L record; third place in the NL Central)
(2) in 1998, Mark McGwire (after hitting 58 homers while playing for Oakland and St. Louis in 1997) was engaged in a historic season-long chase to eclipse Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61 home runs
Perhaps La Russa felt an obligation to McGwire, who traditionalists viewed as a prototypical clean-up hitter…to get Big Mac as many at-bats as possible, to enhance his chances to break the record.
The move also served as an attention-grabber, and diverted fans (and media) from the rather obvious fact that the Cardinals 1998 team, as a whole, was not a strong contender for post-season play.
Whenever asked, La Russa pointed out that with a ‘hitterish’ position player batting ninth (instead of a weak-hitting hurler), McGwire, in every inning except the first, essentially could be thought of as a clean-up hitter—thus at least partially satisfying baseball’s old-school thinkers.
So the debate began in 1998—where should the pitcher bat in the lineup?
Ten years later...in 2008, La Russa revisited the issue, when future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols hit third in the Cardinals order. In this case, La Russa aimed to enhance the run production of his line-up by enabling ‘The Machine (Pujols)' to see more runners on base.
Fast forward ten more years--to 2018.
The debate concerning La Russa’s ‘innovation’ continues, with Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon among many of today’s MLB managers who have dabbled with ‘hitting the pitcher eighth’.
With every MLB team accessing supercomputers on a daily basis and hiring ‘quants’ to program those computers to their specifications , you can be certain that literally millions of line-up combinations have been simulated...and everybody from the geekiest team employee to the owner has an opinion based on those ‘data’ that aims to answer the question—should a pitcher always bat ninth in the lineup?
Well, if there was ever a line-up that might see benefits from a position player with some ‘pop in his bat’ hitting ninth...not three positions in front of #3 hitters such as Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols, but directly in front of baseball’s hottest hitter (Matt Carpenter), had the new Cardinals skipper given any thought to what, twenty years ago, was a St. Louis innovation?
In the Great America Ball Park visiting dugout, I asked Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt that very question prior to today’s game (July 24) vs. the Reds, one day after his squad lost to the Reds...2-1 in walk-off fashion.
You can listen to Shildt’s response here (along with Talking Heads and Pretenders music in the background...1978?!) or go old school yourself and scroll down for the written word.
Either way, check those box scores, folks.
Q: There's a twenty year history in St. Louis, going back to '98, of the pitcher hitting eighth in the batting order. Your best hitter is...leadoff. Does that cause you to think about batting order a little bit?
Mike Shildt: It is food for thought. It's not anything traditional I've done. I'm still trying to get my head around, quite honestly, what that looks like, and the reasoning behind it. I know there's different reasons for and against, clearly...to point out to make a commitment to what that looks like.
To your point about Carp leading off, as productive as he's been, to get somebody in front of him...it kind of backs up a couple of days ago what you're thinking about.
You know we hit for Miles [Mikolas] the other day, in the fifth inning, or the top of the sixth inning, rather, in Chicago, you know when he still had some pitches on the table.
And I didn't communicate as well as I'd like to after that game. It is also a decision based on, if we get Jed [Gyorko] on at that point, now we get Carp up, and that's a chance to break the game open. So there is some methodology to what that looks like.
Thanks for reading.
Last Saturday (March 1), Harry Caray would have been 100 years old.
No kidding: It might be—it could be—it is: a century
For those of us baby boomers that grew up in the Gateway City, state of Missouri, the Ozark region or throughout the Midwest, Harry Caray was the soundtrack of summer. For a quarter century, Caray was the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals. His style was unique and no holds bar. His voice boomed describing the exploits of Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and others. For twenty-five years, Harry Caray was the sound of St. Louis baseball.
In the world where one can be immediately identified by their first name (Elvis, Ozzie, Madonna, etc), if back in the day you said that “Harry” was on the radio, you knew exactly who was on the air. For many of us growing up in the 1960s and earlier, Caray’s familiar, bold and dramatic musings heard through a transistor radio muffled under a pillow (as we were hiding it from our parents after being sent to bed) created the perfect ending to a summer’s evening.
Born Harry Christopher Carabina from Italian and Romanian parents, he grew up on La Salle Street on the near south side of St. Louis on 3/1/1914. Caray’s father died when he was an infant and his mother died when he was around eight years old. In essence he grew up as an orphan.
In his youth Caray played semipro baseball before auditioning for a radio job at age nineteen. It was then when young Harry found his calling. He would cut his teeth in the radio business in markets such as Joliet, Illinois and Kalamazoo, Michigan before returning to his home town. He joined the Cardinals radio broadcast team in 1945. It was here in St. Louis and particularly behind a hot KMOX radio microphone where the legend of Harry Caray evolved.
It was Caray’s voice that narrated the stories of the successful seasons of the mid/late 1940s, the challenging 1950s and the memorable 1960s for the Cardinals. But it was during the down years of the 1950s when Caray’s career rose to prominence. In February 1953, August A. Busch, Jr. convinced his Anheuser-Busch Board of Directors to purchase the Cardinals from Fred Saigh. The Big Eagle and Harry Caray were both cut from the same cloth. Both wanted to be the center of attention. Both appreciated pretty girls. Both were Type-A. Both were highly competitive.
But most importantly, both could sell beer. That alliance would make Harry larger than life. Over the KMOX airwaves he was an unabashed homer. But above all, he could sell beer. Busch once referred to Caray as his best beer salesman. The bond was then formed.
Behind Busch’s influence, the powerful KMOX signal and Caray’s bombastic style the Cardinal radio network became the largest in the Major Leagues. Prior to 1957, St. Louis was the westernmost franchise. Cardinal fans were emerging west of the Mississippi. Caray was the evangelist. Casual and non-baseball fans listened to the games only to hear what Harry had to say. During it all, he promoted and pushed Budweiser. The match seemed made in heaven.
The Cardinals went to the World Series three times during the 1960s: winning it all twice. After advancing to the series in 1967 and 1968, St. Louis was expected to make it a three-peat. It didn’t happen. In 1969 St. Louis finished a disappointing third in the newly created NL East. But days after the final out, a bombshell was dropped in the Gateway City. Harry Caray and the Cardinals parted ways. The larger than life broadcaster was out as Cardinal broadcaster.
There have been many of urban legends as to what led to the split. We’ll never know for sure. But we did observe in a pre-cable, pre-internet era, that the divorce was far from amicable.
Leaving St. Louis, Caray took his talents to Oakland where he spent one season working for the colorful Charles O Finley’s A’s. One year later, Caray was signed as an announcer by legendary owner and promoter Bill Veeck of the Chicago White Sox. It would not take long for Harry to discover that Chicago was indeed his kind of town.
During Caray’s tenure on the south side, the White Sox were not very good. In his first season the Sox went 56-106. The high water mark was 1977 when they won 90 games. During Caray’s time on the South Side, the Sox had a losing record in eight seasons.
But despite the ineptness on the field, fans listened to the White Sox games because of Harry Caray. Partnered with the colorful and unpredictable Jimmy Piersall, the broadcasts were more entertaining than the games. Caray introduced Comiskey Park fans to the familiar chant from the musical group Steam as pitchers were removed from the game or when the Sox were going to win: “na-na-na-na---na-na-na-na-----hey, hey, hey---Good Bye”.
Caray and Piersall would broadcast games from the bleachers. On July 12, 1979 Harry spoke over the Comiskey Park PA pleading for calm on “Disco Demolition Night” where the Sox had to forfeit the second game of a doubleheader. Fans rushed the field causing extensive damage.
Yep, the White Sox were not very good then—but it was sure fun to listen to the games.
In 1982, Caray moved to the north side of Chicago: signing a contract to broadcast games for the Cubs. It was there through the magic and power of the WGN-TV Superstation signal where Harry Caray would be introduced to a new generation of baseball fans. The Cubs turned Harry loose over the airwaves and it proved to be reality television at its finest. The Cubs were not very good. But just like when with the White Sox, baseball fans tuned in to hear Caray offer his insight and opinions: from trying to pronounce player’s names backwards to welcoming who at the ball park that day to saluting the smallest towns throughout the fruited plain.
During his stay with the Cubs, Caray introduced his trademark: the seventh inning stretch singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. Regardless of the score or the loyalty, Wrigley Field fans sang along with Harry: as Caray, then in his 70s, used his microphone as a baton.
My last conversation with Harry was in 1996. It was during a Saturday afternoon game at Busch Stadium II between the Cardinals and Cubs. Prior to the game, I was in the press lounge. Sitting very quietly in the corner was Harry Caray watching the Fox Network pre-game show. On the screen was his grandson Chip. As I passed his table, Harry smiled and said to me, “isn’t he great?” I politely smiled, agreed continued some small talk. During it all Harry just kept smiling.
So here is this larger than life personality I grew up listening to via a transistor radio under my pillow savoring the moment as a proud grandfather. I started smiling also.
In 1989, Harry would be inducted into the Broadcaster’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame and a year later, into the National Radio Hall of Fame. He suffered a stroke in 1987. But Caray would not leave the broadcast booth. Then in February 1998, Caray fell at a restaurant and suffered a head injury. He died February 18, 1998 of cardiac arrest with resulting brain damage.
1998 was the season of the great Home Chase that rescued baseball from the 1994 Work Stoppage. The Cardinals’ Mark Mc Guire and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa would blast long flies in pursuit of Roger Maris’s single season home run record. It would have been fun and perhaps fitting had Harry hung around one more year to describe those events as only he could.
Today, television (particularly cable television) is the primary outlet for baseball. The legendary baseball voices from past years have been replaced by some combination of blow-dried polished announcers and former ball players: each parroting team written talking points and are nothing more than an extension of the team’s marketing department. You know: always remember that good seats are available, always look for the positives and never criticize the Home Team.
I wonder if Harry Caray would have been hired as a broadcaster in today’s environment. My thinking is probably not. And that’s too bad. Games were sure more fun during Harry’s day.
Last Saturday (March 1), Harry Caray would have been 100 years old.
On the same date the
Beatles made their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show a half century
earlier, this Sunday will also mark the twenty-fifth anniversary
of the death of long-time St. Louis Blues broadcaster Dan Kelly. He
once was called the "purest, most knowledgeable, most accurate" voice
in hockey. Kelly was 52 years old when he died at his Chesterfield home
after a five-month struggle with cancer.
...from the stlsports.com archives:
Check it out!
originally posted June 17, 1995
In a nutshell, the guy has as much talent as any young broadcaster, since, say, a youthful Bob Costas. Most St. Louis Sports Online readers surely recall that Costas, fresh out of Syracuse University, took St. Louis, and then the country, by storm.
thinking about Joe Buck and the kinds of questions I would ask, two
things came to mind. First, I hoped to bring StLSO readers some new and
timely information about the Cards young broadcaster. On this point I
feel reasonably confident.
In that regard I failed, as Joe Buck played all Shannon-related questions straight down the middle, earnestly saying that “Mike has been extremely helpful to me just starting out in this business.”
Prior to a recent Cards-Braves game, Buck and I sat down in the dining room behind the Fulton County Stadium press box. He is 26 years old...and looks young enough (and fit enough) to be part of a double play combo with Cards shortstop Tripp Cromer. Indeed, Buck said that the Cards had thoughts of drafting him right out of high school. I should have reminded him that the Cardinals drafted Paul Coleman right out of high school, too.
surprise no one that Joe Buck, who makes his living as a play-by-play
sportscaster, is a verbal individual. But I was surprised to find Buck
to be extremely intelligent, as well. Throughout the interview he
listened very intently to the questions, and at times, gave quite
specific and carefully worded answers that sort of demanded that the
original question be rephrased. When a tough question was posed, he
wouldn’t give an inch. In other words, the guy is good...and, at least
in this interview, didn’t really let down his guard too much. In
retrospect, perhaps I could have done a better job interviewing him.
we started, Buck was kind enough to remind me to turn on the recorder...
always good radio to be found the day after the Philly Eagles lose.
That's because 97.5 The Fanatic employs long-time sports-talk radio pro
Tony Bruno, who, with wit and wisdom and alacrity, persuades most (but
not all) of his ever-insufferable listeners not to jump from the top of
the nearest tall building. The wonder of the internet brings Bruno and
his Philly-based station to anyone looking for an entertaining
WDBX Sunday Sports Review
...from the stlsports.com archives:
St. Louis Sports Online
Reluctance & Mystery,
Talent & Expectations:
A Conversation with Rick Ankiel
originally posted June 28, 1999
Rick Ankiel is the brightest lefthanded pitching prospect in all of baseball…and at 19 years of age, is gaining maturity on and off the field…
Earlier this month, Thomas Harding, the Memphis Redbirds’ beat writer for the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, asked yours truly a simple question.
It was a question I’ve heard before.
But admittedly, the sports context of his question...was new.
Certainly, though, Harding’s query brought a smile to my face.
His question was this: “How was it for you?”
Harding, a friendly bloke, wanted to hear about the Rick Ankiel interview I had conducted earlier that evening in the Redbirds’ dugout.
My answer was polite.
“Good answer!” said the beat writer, making like game-show host Richard Dawson.
Generally speaking, if you want to know something about a professional baseball player, talk to his beat writer.
Evidently, my description of Ankiel squared with Harding’s view of the youngster: reluctant.
MysteryBut the reluctance that Rick Ankiel displays, in his interviews, only adds to the mystery that surrounds him
Here’s an analogy.
Think back to when you were fifteen or sixteen...a freshman in high school.
Wasn’t there a pretty girl, a graduating senior girl, that you found mysterious?
Wasn’t she difficult to approach?
And wasn’t she hard to talk to?
But from a distance...wasn’t she fun to watch?
That’s one way to view the mysterious side of Rick Ankiel.
The first thing you notice about Ankiel, up close, is his demeanor.
No, that’s not exactly right.
It’s the combination of his demeanor and his appearance that is so striking.
It’s like one of those “What’s wrong with this picture?” features, where one thing is out of place in a photograph.
That’s because, while Ankiel is only 19, and his face and body have the unfinished look of a 19 year old, his outward disposition appears to be that of a veteran (or maybe a teenager trying to act like a veteran).
In this reporter’s opinion, an opinion based on a limited set of observations, Ankiel’s disposition displays equal parts detached arrogance and active intimidation.
And as the recent pre-game beaning in a collegiate baseball game evidenced, there is a substantial intimidation component to pitching
(Don’t believe that? Step into a batting cage and dial it up to 80 MPH. You’ll get the picture...and don’t forget your helmet.)
So, for what it’s worth, Rick Ankiel appears intimidating...and mysterious.
TalentFrom a distance, though, Rick Ankiel’s pitching talent is obvious to anyone with even a modest knowledge of baseball.
For starters, Ankiel’s delivery has a bit of (ex-Met lefty) Sid Fernandez flavor to it.
You remember El Sid--he hid the ball behind his front hip and leg for what seemed like an eternity, before projecting an above-average fastball toward the batter.
Ankiel’s trickery isn’t as pronounced, but it’s there, and he uses it to his advantage. As a result, Ankiel’s fastball seems to handcuff hitters in a way that adds a few MPH to its 91-92 MPH velocity.
Ankiel’s breaking pitch looks more like a curve ball than a slider. Its effects are best observed by observing the helpless, weak-kneed batter, who often looks like a Little Leaguer watching his first roundhouse.
That’s because Ankiel can throw his sharp-breaking curve for strikes...which, when combined with his heavy fastball, leads to stupendous strikeout totals.
But that’s not all. Ankiel’s change-up, though harder to spot from the stands, is apparently well developed, too.
So where do those strikeouts come from?
In the words of Cardinals minor league pitching coordinator Mark Riggins: “He has a very deceptive fastball...the ball jumps...it explodes at the plate.
“He can pitch up in the zone...and the ball just jumps by the hitters’ bat. He can use his change-up to strike guys out...he can use his curve-ball to strike guys out...he has weapons that produce strikeouts. He’s a gamer. He’s an intense guy. When he has two strikes on a guy he tries to strike him out and he has the weapons to do that.”
Riggins continues: “It’s amazing that [Ankiel] has the breaking ball and the change-up at 19 years of age.
“We have guys in our system at the AAA level that we’re still trying to teach the change-up to. Rick has all of those pitches already. It’s just a matter of consistency and getting those pitches in the locations he needs to...all the time.”
Which leads to...
ExpectationsAnkiel is 19 years old. The last 19 year old pitcher to make a big splash in the big leagues was Dwight Gooden.
Is it unreasonable to compare Ankiel, the summer 1999 Ankiel, with Gooden?
“I think so,” said Riggins. “You don’t want to put that much of a burden on him. We as pitching coaches treat every kid the same...whether he was a number one [pick] or a free agent...whether he is 8-and-1 or 1-and-8...
“We treat all these guys the same...and try not to put the pressure on him...that’s created more by the media..
“The expectations are also created by the fans,” continued Riggins. “That’s great...I love that stuff. But we shouldn’t put that much of a burden on Rick right now. He’s still a young kid trying to develop his stuff.”
And a young kid that, at 6-1 and 190 lbs, still sometimes looks like the teen-ager that he is.
Yet one final word from the Cardinals minor league pitching coordinator, Mark Riggins.
“His body is still growing. Usually at 21 or 22 years old...they fully develop. He’s got a couple more years...and may grow an inch or two…and his body will harden up,” Riggins said.
“When we signed him he was just a soft kid...a little overweight for his age...
“Last year in Peoria...Rick was very low on a test administered by our minor league strength coordinator.
“Rick, he was very low in the group of pitchers. That really stuck in his mind...but the very next day he was out early, running...
“By the end of the year, last year, he had grown into a man and he’s still growing.”
The Last WordsAnd how might Rick Ankiel finalize his development?
Recently, it was suggested to Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan that a pitcher combining the veteran moxie of Kent Bottenfield with the talent and tools of a Rick Ankiel would be a superstar pitcher.
“That would be a nice combination,” Duncan replied. “Hopefully that’s what Rick Ankiel will be when he gets to the big leagues. He’ll have his physical skills so that he can execute and the only thing that will be missing is what you gain with experience at this level.
“And that’s knowing the opposition and knowing what you have to do to be a successful major league pitcher. He is 19 years old. There’s no getting around that,” Duncan said.
“I think he’s a mature 19 when it comes to baseball...he has a very good idea what he’s doing. He pays attention...he’s been a very coachable athlete and he’s learned a lot in the short time he’s been playing professional baseball.”
And Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty‘s view on Ankiel?
“Rick Ankiel is a young man who just needs a little more seasoning. He’s going to get better with experience. He’s got great ability and great pitches...he has to learn how to get hitters out at the higher levels...how to set up guys....everything comes easy for him right now but it’s going to get tougher as he moves up. But I think he’s very capable of making the adjustments.”
Jocketty’s parting shot, issued in March of 1999?
Not a promise or a commitment; just a declarative sentence.
“I don’t think it will be very long before he gets to St. Louis.”
[recorded June 12, 1999]
StLSO: We’re here in Nashville, Tennessee, visiting with Memphis Redbirds lefthander Rick Ankiel. Good afternoon, Rick.
Ankiel: Hi…how you doin’?
StLSO: We’re doing all right. Rick Ankiel…you’re 19 years old…you finished high school…two years ago?
Ankiel: Yeah, I believe so.
StLSO: That’s not too long ago. Fans are interested in your pitching ability and they are interested in some other things about you. Your pitching ability has brought you along way…do your high school days seem like a long time ago…or just yesterday?
Ankiel: It seems like a long time ago…to be honest. Last year was a long year, this year has gone well and has been flying by and I hope it will continue to be the same.
StLSO: What kinds of experiences from your high school days directly apply to what it is you’re doing now?
Ankiel: What do you mean?
StLSO: What I mean is…did you feel like your pitching skills were pretty well formed as a senior in high school…or not?
Ankiel: I don’t think so. [In high school] I just went out there and threw. I’ve started to learn a lot about pitching rather than just throwing the ball by people. I’m learning a lot and it’s a lot of fun right now and it couldn’t be better.
StLSO: It couldn’t be better…I guess you had a satisfactory for yourself last night…you feel pretty good about your performance yesterday?
Ankiel: I think last night was probably my worst performance of the year.
StLSO: In what way was it not as good as you would like?
Ankiel: In every way…in five innings I threw 92 pitches. As a starter, you’re not going to be able to stay in the game and help your team. As a starter, you just can’t pitch like that.
StLSO: We cover 40 or 50 games with the Cardinals every year…and you can hardly do a post-game interview with Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan without either of them using words like ‘adversity’ and people being able to come back from adversity…was yesterday as adverse a set of conditions that you’ve faced as a minor leaguer?
Ankiel: I don’t know as a minor leaguer…but definitely this year. It just wasn’t a good outing…I couldn’t really find a zone and things just didn’t really go too well.
StLSO: Rick, what is it that you like best about minor league baseball at this point…your teammates, the traveling…or not?
Ankiel: Everything…I mean…you’re playing something that you love to do and you’re playing in a dream when you’re doing things like that.
StLSO: So things are in a real positive sense for you…you’re happy where you’re at, biding your time, and looking to make good pitches…
Ankiel: I guess so.
StLSO: I’m wondering if there’s something I can ask you outside of baseball…that you’d be interested in talking about…high school…favorite classes…something you were interested in or not?
Ankiel: No man…baseball…that’s it.
StLSO: When you were eight, when you were ten, when you were twelve…you wrote on a paper somewhere that you wanted to be a baseball player…how long has this been a dream of yours?
Ankiel: I think, like, most kids in America, just growing up…it’s always a dream…for me, I don’t know. I guess ever since I’ve been little…right now, I’m trying to fulfill that and just keep focused on baseball.
StLSO: Do you have any sense of the anticipation that the folks in the city by the Arch, St. Louis, have for you?
Ankiel: I don’t pay attention to that…I leave that up to you guys…I just try to stay focused on pitching…and not worry about media…and other outside influences.
StLSO: Frankly, we’re interested, in the media, as well as the fans, in seeing that, that can happen for you, Rick Ankiel…good luck the rest of the year.
Ankiel: Thank you.
Out on a Limb?
posted August 27. 1998A look at the way the St. Louis media handled the publicity surrounding Mark McGwire’s use of androstenedione
DATE: August 27, 1998
....on KMOX radio, Hall-of-Fame sportscaster Jack Buck said it was a “non-story”, and pledged not to talk about the Mark McGwire androstenedione controversy.
Ex-St. Louis Sports Online contributor Randy Karraker, ably working the KMOX mike alongside Buck, agreed.
KTRS’ Kevin Slaten pitched in with his own bombastic opinion, saying that the original AP account of the story, and the front page androstenedione follow-up by the Post-Dispatch, only confirmed his own view that print journalists, and sportswriters in particular, are the lowest form of life on this planet.
In essence, Slaten completely agreed with the stated Buck-Karraker on-air opinion, saying that the whole Mac-andro affair was a “non-story”.
On KFNS AM-590, host Frank Cusumano expressed his view that “it’s legal, and therefore I don’t have a problem with it”.
St. Louis media veteran Scott Simon, another former St. Louis Sports Online contributor who now plies his trade at Kansas City’s CBS AM outlet, KMBZ, informed yours truly that the story was overblown...that he himself suffers from asthma, and the medication that he takes to control his condition renders him ineligible for the Olympics.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m thinking of the Jamaican bobsled team...Mr. Simon.)
Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, a recent guest of the Saturday Sports Review, chimed in with a rather balanced view of the McGwire andro connection, noting that (1) the Olympic ban of andro can’t be taken too seriously in light of the IOC’s banning of various over-the-counter medications (such as Sudafed); and (2) the NBA ban of andro is ridiculous, too, since pot is not on the league’s list of banned substances.
But Miklasz covered all bases by espousing the view that androstenedione is legal, considered to be a nutritional supplement, and not banned by baseball’s establishment.
In other words, it’s OK to take andro because it’s not against the rules to do so.
KFNS’ Brian Stull, yet another former St. Louis Sports Online contributor, noted that the current media attention to Mac’s andro usage is, in his view, overblown, since Stull claims that McGwire openly discussed his use of supplements on at least two occasions in the weeks prior to the AP “scoop”.
And in their initial comments on the McGwire story, which were apparently based on early media accounts of the controversy, St. Louis Sports Online columnist (and WGNU sportscaster) Mike Huss, and St. Louis Sports Online photographer Eric Niederhoffer both leaned toward the view that the story was overblown...and that a possible driving force for the story was the media’s incessant desire to tear down the heroes that they themselves elevate.
So, despite all those opinions, all which sound logical in one way or another...
…why does McGwire’s use of andro leave a funny feeling in the pit of the stomach of this observer?
I don’t know.
Well, maybe I do.
Maybe it’s because all of Mac’s defenders sound, to my ears, a lot like President Clinton’s defenders.
Literally straining to defend their man.
Parsing their words.
And sounding like lawyers.
The Clinton defenders...and the McGwire defenders...their statements sound OK...they just don’t sound right.
Complicating issues include the fact that yours truly voted for Clinton.
And McGwire’s mammoth home runs have lit up summer for this particular sports consumer like no other recent time in sports.
But one thing seems certain.
In the 1998 baseball season, there is almost nothing connected with Mark McGwire that can be referred to as a non-story.
And the McGwire-androstenedione connection is, in fact, a huge story.
And, to this observer, it seems wrong to blame the media for publishing a story that, in more than one aspect, defines sports in the ‘90s.
We haven’t heard the last of Big Mac and androstenedione.
It does seem unfortunate, though, that in this one-in-a-lifetime baseball season, that Mark McGwire’s historic chase has been tarnished.
One more thing, though.
Recall that longtime St. Louis baseball observers--guys like Bob Broeg, Red Schoendienst, George Kissell, and the aforementioned Buck (that’s about two centuries worth of baseball there, folks)--all grin and utter more or less the same line, when asked about McGwire.
“I’ve never seen anything like him.”