New Directions

by on January 30, 2009 · 17 comments

The following guest post is brought to you by today’s UCB blog swap project.  We’re all swapping blogs, and seeing if you can figure out who is writing where!  Make your guesses down in the comments section, and be sure to check out the other UCB blogs to see where my post wound up!  It could be at any of these…C70 at the Bat, Cards Diaspora, Fungoes, Play a Hard Nine, la BeisbolistaOn to today’s guest post:

For the first time in a long time, the Cardinals have an image problem, unfamiliar territory for the current regime who swept in like heroes the AB days dwindled to an unceremonious end. Following two-straight seasons of 100 or more wins that ended with an embarrassment at the hands of destiny in 2004 and a heartbreaking NLCS loss one year later, a mediocre Cardinals team got hot at just the right time to reward fans with an improbable championship.

It might have been the worst thing that could have happened to the team.

In the wake of a World Series dominated by unlikely heroes like Jeff Weaver, Anthony Reyes, and the always scrappy David Eckstein, expectations reached the stratosphere, while the nasty curse of regression to the mean caught up with a bunch of overachieving no-names. But the mold was there, and assumptions that any broken down arm that at one time had a prodigious OPS or a good sinker stymied by a bum shoulder quickly turned Championship euphoria into disappointment that grew to disillusionment with each of 2007’s 84 wins.

The next season brought a new GM, a promotion from within, who quickly flipped a couple of the aging malcontents once so essential to the team’s mid-decade successes for a talented prospect and a run-producing 3B. And the overachievement continued, as more and more of those over-performing heroes carried the Cardinals to a hot start. Then that nasty thing called reality caught up to them again. And now, after tantalizing hungry fans with publicly discussed efforts to upgrade the team with marquee talents, like Matt Holiday and Brian Fuentes, the Cards second year GM can’t even command respect on in an internet chat.

It’s hard to blame Cardinals GM John Mozeliak. He seems to be legitimately trying, and despite the PR foibles – never promise a Brahma bull to hungry lions, only to throw them a pound of ground beef – I think he’s legitimately stuck between the conflicted forces of a declining regime. On one end, you’ve got the salty old manager, once the game’s premier innovator whose deference to squeezing 110% of “experience” has since been replaced by a new paradigm. Young, cheap talent is the fan infatuation, the new superstars with the rosy-cheeked innocence of youth. All over the country the last generation has been pushed aside by the new; it’s no coincidence, whether you like him or not, that the nation elected its first post-Boomer President in a landslide.

The forces of youth within the Cardinals organization have built an impressive farm system once gutted in favor of those more experience vets, since claimed by the statistical mean and the team’s incompetence in dealing with injuries. Unfortunately, La Russa, now the traditionalist, prefers not to use the prodigious youth awaiting their chance, if he can at all help it.

The manager is at time assisted by the other force making Mozeliak’s job that much harder, unsure ownership. DeWitt’s shown more than enough deference to La Russa, but has worked hard to have it both ways, letting his front office people deftly acquire that next generation of Cardinals. Without a doubt, profits motivate this waffling. One the one hand, winning teams sell tickets, and he’s got a proven winner hiding behind a pair of dark sunglasses, reminiscent of the fascist shades worn by the cruel camp guard of “Cool Hand Luke.” DeWitt tasked his GM with a simple goal build a winner, but has left him in the to mediate the team’s two conflicting paradigms, an impossible request when both sides continue to court and carry the owner’s divided loyalties, something only complicated by DeWitt’s other, unwritten mandate to maximize profit margins. That profit mandate has only been made more difficult by the giant wound in the earth next to new stadium and a shrinking economy that won’t help fill another Metro area strip mall.

I feel for Mozeliak, really. He’s got an impossible task. However, I also understand the frustration fans are feeling; though, it is pretty tough to excuse their descent into sophomoric name calling in that now infamous chat at the Post-Dispatch. There’s just not really anything poor guy can do. The Cardinals just don’t have the team to compete in their division this season, and so many prospects that might – might – help matters are blocked by fairly compensated fourth and fifth starters and all but one questionable, inconsistent hitter. I won’t even touch the ridiculous sacred cow that is Tony La Russa’s closer spot.

There’s no easy solution. Throwing money at free agents won’t solve the problems of an organization in decline. Ownership needs to commit to one or the other paradigm. Parting ways with La Russa after this season would seem like a start, but as much as I support that move, I don’t know that it will ultimately fix things.

Look at the Rams. Still red-headed stepchild in a baseball town, since Chip Rosenbloom took over the franchise, he’s cleaned house and brought in new, committed leadership on the field and in the front office, mandating only that they work together to rebuild the team. Sure, the two sports a lot different, but running a winning team isn’t. Maybe it’s time for a new owner.

Let me suggest one. The great city of St. Louis, a place my family called home since its colonial past through the urban flight of the 1960s (sorry about fair city, you deserved better), stands on the precipice of crisis. Our city figures to see unemployment rates even higher than the national average, which will surely make the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression even worse for the Gateway City. Morale is low; civic pride is hurting and will only get worse with the inevitable impacts of the recession. Rubbing salt into the wound was last year’s sale of AB, as much a part of the city’s identity as that big metal arch, to a foreign company, InBev.

What better way to inject a little emotional capital into the city than for the Busch family to buy the Cardinals? We know they’ve got the time to run a team now, and I can’t imagine they couldn’t come up with enough scratch to buy a majority stake in the Cardinals (after all, cheap beer has proven to be fairly recession proof, and they still even hold some interest in the new company, I think). Busch Stadium really would be Busch Stadium again. Give La Russa a gold watch and a hearty handshake, and make Joe Oquendo the manager, making for a double dose of iconography recalling the team’s glory days. New (old) owners and a managerial icon in place, the team could then turn the operations of the franchise over to the new paradigm, as the Secret Weapon coaxing each ounce of potential out the cost-controlled youngsters filling out key spots on his roster.

And while they’re at it, how about a discount beer day? I know recession-plagued fans would embrace that.

Crazy? Is it any crazier than watching the Cardinals battle it out with the Pirates and Reds for third place?

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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