UCB Roundtable: Who is the keeper of “The Cardinal Way”?

by on February 29, 2012 · 5 comments

Didn’t we just finish one of these epic United Cardinal Bloggers roundtable projects?  That pesky World Series has just compressed this off-season completely, huh?

With all of the other great discussions going on, I decided to ask a bit about the team’s long-held belief in a “Cardinal Way.” Ask Google about “Cardinal Way” and you’ll know what I’m talking about if you don’t already.

In short, from a piece in the Post-Dispatch by Dan O’Neill:

The “Cardinal way” is an expression that is getting tossed around a lot these days, a label that seems almost ostentatious.

But those who use it insist it has legs. The Cardinal way isn’t a brag, it’s a mantra, a baseball theology, a direction. During a recent World Series news conference, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak did his best to explain.

“I think when you think about the St. Louis Cardinals, there’s obviously just a steep history of success,” Mozeliak said. “I think when players decide they want to play here or look to play in St. Louis, there’s certain expectations that a player wants to see done.

“Our goal as a front office, as coaches and a manager, we’re just trying to make sure that the atmosphere is a winning atmosphere and one that’s catering to what they believe and what they expect from this organization.

“And so when you think about building a business, you want that culture to represent success, and when we look at things and you hear people say, ‘Cardinal way’ it’s about tradition, it’s about respect, and it’s about doing things right. That’s what we try to really impart onto our players.”

So with that introduction out of the way, my question…

With the departure of several long-tenured coaches, including retired manager Tony La Russa – long-time believer in the “Way” – and the unfortunate passing of George Kissell in 2008, what one person or group of people are the current keeper(s) of “The Cardinal Way”?

Is it the group of red sportcoat clad Cards Hall of Famers? The cadre of former Cardinals still involved with the club in some way? The current Cards and manager?

Or is “The Cardinal Way” a bygone relic in today’s era of escalating salaries and trade deadline flips?

Mark Tomasik, Retrosimba

The Cardinal Way remains very much alive, starting with owner Bill DeWitt, who has shown he understands the importance (and business benefits) of supporting and maintaining the franchise traditions, values and approach to fundamentals. From the broadcast booth (Mike Shannon) to the field (Mike Matheny and John Mabry) and in all other ways (including the invitations to guest instructors such as Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith, plus the continuing active presence of Red Schoendienst as a team advisor), The Cardinal Way continues to be part of what elevates the St. Louis franchise above others.

Kevin Reynolds, Cards-N-Stuff

wow…this has the potential to be a REALLY involved discussion…and you all know how much I love opportunities for long-winded answers 😉

The obvious answer is Red Schoendienst as the largely ceremonial keeper – and Grand Poo-bah – of “The Way.” It seems clear the club would like to position Matheny to fans as the driving force and future behind The Way – with their emphasis on continuity and Cardinals history, etc. in his hire and approach to old timers – and it seems just as clear Mozeliak and Dewitt would love to use The Way as a PR sedative for fans as they begin a somewhat dramatic shift to home grown talent and other changes.

In that respect, TLR seemed to use the concept of The Way to, yes, honor Cards history but also to get buy-in from other facets of the fanbase and organization. In other words, he seemed to re-define “The Way” as he needed to in order to lift up his teams. Mo and Dewitt seem to be doing the same (mainly Mo) now. A subtle re-definition effort of just what fans should think “The Way” is appears to be taking place. Organization continuity, respect/tie to the past, hard work and honest competition when applicable, leadership, promote from within, reward loyalty, etc. Now, they seem to be adding to that a preference for home grown talent as opposed to free agent shopping and an All-Inclusive approach to talent evaluation and roster construction.

To put it bluntly, Mo would have us believe Matheny is the keeper of The Way, but I have to believe that “The Way” has become more about PR and smokescreens to get fans to support whatever effort is taking place at the time than it has one enduring philosophy to baseball. It shifts and changes as necessary. Perhaps, in a way, that has become the Cardinal Way – Win regardless of environment, economic climate, baseball trends, etc. In that respect, it would seem Matheny is being asked – and accepting – the future position of Manager of The Way when he consistently says he believes in working with what’s there…with what we have…rather than seeking to fill holes for a specific, rigid roster philosophy.

It would seem the Cardinal Way is simply this – Win with what you have. Work hard to make it work. Don’t whine and fret over what you don’t have or lost. Simply win with what you have.

Ray DeRousse, STLCardinalBaseball.com

This is one of the reasons I’m so supportive of Matheny – he is one of those keepers of The Way and a sound, all-around Cardinal.

Unfortunately, The Way was (in my opinion) harmed by TLR in that he fractured the important links that once bound the organization together. He was not a unifier; it was always about Tony’s Way.

But look at what Matheny is doing! He’s reuniting the organization! He’s bringing in important past players to teach the young! And, in the process, these younger players are learning about the incredible and unbeatable legacy of this organization. They are learning that they are the next stitches in a wondrous baseball tapestry. That is important, not only to raise their level of play, but when it comes time to negotiate contracts – players often give that discount just to stay with us. That is the Cardjnal Way, and Matheny is its keeper.

Thanks for this. I think I have an article to write.

Matt Whitener, Cheap.Seats.Please

The Cardinal Way isn’t a singular asset that one part element; rather it is everything that empasses what makes the club what it is.

It starts with Stan, the amazing person & THEN player that not only sets the standard for play, but lives on to set the example of what players can strive for and a franchise corner with amazing longevity on and off the field can be.

Then there’s Red, who’s instruction has defined the team for decades.

There’s the senior statesmen Gibson & Brock, who although many didn’t see them with their own eyes, they are still relevant because that’s how you came up with the team. War heroes if you will.

Mike Shannon figures in, who both is the voice of the moment and the connection back the greatest of all-time, Mr. Buck.

There’s Ozzie, Whitey, Willie and the rest of the Whiteyballers who are highly influential of the most nostaligic era for perhaps the team’s biggest living fanbase.

Then there’s the earlier members of the current era; Edmonds, Wainwright, Carpenter, Molina; who have linked together a run of success like we haven’t seen since the 60’s….

And then there’s the current heroes such as Freese, Craig and Motte; who make the moments now….

For the REAL keepers of the Cardinal Way: the fans. Fans can’t be traded, lured away by sums of money or get too old to keep producing.
The atmosphere is what makes the team what it is, and the air of that environment, from generation to generation, is the fan base.

So good job, everybody. Pay it back & pay it forward.

Daniel Shoptaw, C70 at the Bat

This really is an intriguing question and I’m not sure I have much to add, but that’s never stopped me before.

As much as the Hall of Famers are a great asset to the club, I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying that they are “keepers of the way”. They are representatives of the way, sure, but they aren’t around the organization every day, drilling the fundamentals into the up and comers, helping them know what it means to be a Cardinal.

I mean, as Nick stated, the main person in charge of there being a Cardinal way was George Kissell, a guy that never got past the Class B level of the minors (back in the day when there WAS a Class B level). Instead, he spent a total of 69 years with the club, drilling one generation, then another. When you got to St. Louis, you knew what to do and how to do it because of that sort of training.

If he’s able to stick around the organization, I think Dave Duncan can be that kind of guy, at least on the pitching side. Duncan’s philosophies flow through the whole organization and it’ll be a long time before those are set aside, I think. He’s helped really revolutionize how the organization goes about their pitching tasks in a similar way as Kissell.

I hesitate to include Mike Matheny as a keeper just yet. There’s no doubt he’ll respect the Cardinal tradition and have expectations that go along with those, which may be enough to qualify him as a keeper. Until we know more about what he’s going to do, though, I hate to use that blank slate to project my own personal thoughts and opinions onto him. That’s a good way to set yourself up for disappointment.

I do want to make one point, though, in response to Ray. It’s possible that TLR wasn’t a “Cardinal Way” guy. I’m not necessarily convinced of that, being that Red and Kissell and all of those were big influencers of him while he was here. That said, if his record of success in Cardinal red isn’t indicative of the Cardinal Way, perhaps we need to rethink whether the Cardinal Way is worth keeping!

Because that’s part of it. It’s not just the ballplayers that respect the game, it’s not just those players that get out there and play hard. The Cardinal Way is also about being a winning franchise, a franchise that is a crown jewel of Major League Baseball. We aren’t the Cubs, where a couple of postseason appearances every decade is enough to inspire the fanbase. That’s a terrible decade from our point of view and as fans we’d want to clean house. We want to keep that part of Cardinal Way burning bright and sometimes, there are different ways to keep that flame.

Bob Netherton, On the Outside Corner

I will respectfully disagree a bit with the implications of [Ray’s] statement.
Ronni Redmond (Garglic Fries and Baseball) wrote about this last year, and it is a great read. She explains it far better than I can 🙂

Make no mistake, “it’s my way” is not limited to Tony La Russa. Johnny Keane was every bit as hard nosed and hard headed as La Russa. He also knew the game of baseball as well because he had been managing or coaching it for about as long as Don Tony. Remember when Whitey Herzog came into town and traded away all but Keith Hernandez, George Hendrick, and Bob Forsch (that is an exaggeration to make a point). The common threads with these three – they honored the game, and were winners.

The Cardinal way is

a) Honor the game and remember that no matter how big you are, the game is much bigger (hey Albert, you forgot this)
b) Do not embarrass the organization and its history by saying stupid things (Prince Fielder interviews make me cringe)
c) Play the game the right way (no human bowling pins at home plate, no standing at home plate admiring your fly ball to the warning track – see above)
d) No excuses
e) Honor the traditions of the franchise
f) When someone fails to do any of the above, run them out of town

There are a lot of teams that do this, so this is not exclusive to the Cardinals. The history and championships, combined with the “brotherhood of the mid-market success” might make it more unique, but not the one and only.

I will agree with Ray about being disappointed with La Russa not embracing the former players, especially during spring training where these former players can have a huge impact on the youngsters. Fortunately, that has changed.

It is the responsibility of the ownership team to preserve the Cardinal Way, and so far, BDW has done that. Not altruistically, but pragmatically. He knows it is good business, and has largely made good business decisions that are consistent with what I want as a fan, expecting the Cardinal Way.

Mike Matheny played the game the right way, and I totally expect him to manage in the same manner.

Tom Knuppel, Cardinals GM

The “way” comes from the long line of championships garnered by the Cardinals as one of, if not the best, franchises in the National League. People have come to understand that St Louis does it right when it comes to baseball more times than they do it wrong.

To keep the “way” going is to constantly have the program hold a close relationship to those were former Cardinals and particularly those that hoisted the banner.

It is the Cardinals heritage that people are proud of and those that help hold the Cardinals up as the envy of the League.

The hire of Matheny and his associates he brought along is another pronouncement that this is the “way” of a successful franchise. Remember your own.

Bob, On the Outside Corner

> I do want to make one point, though, in response to Ray. It’s
> possible that TLR wasn’t a “Cardinal Way” guy.

No it isn’t 🙂

George Kissell is the archetype of “The Cardinal Way”.

That said, Tony La Russa is unambiguously a “Cardinal Way” kind of manager.
Let’s put aside some of the things he did that drove us crazy (the issues with Ozzie, pitching changes), the man understood the game in a way that few in history have. He did everything he could to give the Cardinals a chance of winning, and did more often than anybody else in franchise history (Billy Southworth did have a great run, long before my time).

He wasn’t all that different from Whitey Herzog and Johnny Keane, both of whom are held in high regard.

During La Russa’s tenure, the game was never dishonored, the franchise reputation never questioned, and the winning was never far away.

Matt, Cheap.Seats.Please

It’s impossible to say that Tony didn’t adhere to the Cardinal Way, because it’s basically impossible for him to become the winningest manager in club history and not be a part of it.

Did he adhere to the textbook way that it had been done in the past, by essentially being a long-term member of the organization that cut most of his career’s teeth in some part of the organization? No. But during his reign the team experienced nearly constant success, and it would now be deemed unacceptable for the club to revert back to the way it was before his era.

If there is anything that screams setting the tone for the team, it has to be establishing a new standard. And the fear of not living up to the standard is the ghost that’s already chasing Matheny before he’s sent in one lineup card.

Ray, STLCardinalBaseball

To Bob: The franchise reputation was never questioned? Thanks to TLR, the Cardinals became one of the more hated organizations in the National League. And no, it wasn’t just jealousy about the winning. It involved TLR’s lying, his stupid mind games, and a million other maddening things about him. Many opposing players (and many former Cardinals) have said as much in the past.

Any manager should have an agenda all his own. You mention Herzog – sure, he traded away stars in order to put together his team. But it was a Cardinal team, one that plays hard and is sound defensively, something the star-riddled seventies team were not.

I think you could make the case that TLR built and ran the team for himself- it was his way or the highway. He built an American League styled team in most of his years here. They were largely awful on defense. The pitching has mostly been a grab bag. They won mostly on offense (and, in 2006 especially, and last year partially) on luck. Add to that TLR’s lying and player destruction.

He’s not a Cardinal Way guy.

Christine Coleman, Aaron Miles’ Fastball

Very interesting discussion.

When I first read the question this morning, the first name that came to mind as the current keeper of The Cardinal Way is Red Schoendienst. That’s why he’s still with the team, because of his long history and knowledge that he is still able to share first-hand.

Yet in reading what everyone else has said so far about the tradition of excellence, and winning, from throughout the entire organization, I realized that there are many, many keepers of it — starting at the minor leagues, with names that are not known by most Cardinals fans. Like Johnny Rodriguez, who was the manager of the QC River Bandits for the past couple years. In September, during the Midwest League playoffs, he benched Oscar Taveras — yes, of course, that Oscar Taveras — for not running out a ground ball in a playoff game. I had to go back and look up the details to make sure I was remembering it all correctly, and I was: Oscar’s next game, which was game 1 of the Midwest League Championship series, he hit a two-run homer in the Bandits 4-2 win. And in reading the article from my local paper, I found this intriguing quote from Rodriguez about Oscar: “From start to finish, Oscar played this game the right way. He hit a couple of ground balls earlier and ran hard to first, and then he came up big,” Rodriguez said.
“That’s what we expect and that’s what we need from him.” (The article is here)

Nice choice of words — “the right way.” Rodriguez taught, Oscar learned. Of course “the right way” doesn’t necessarily mean The Cardinal Way, but to me Rodriguez is a great example of someone who works very hard to teach these young Cardinals minor leaguers how to do things properly and carry on that Cardinal tradition of excellence. And he won’t be back in the QCs this season — he’s been moved up to Palm Beach, which is great. One step up, with some of his same players, and still the chance to teach them.

There are quite a few Cardinals minor leaguers who just know winning too, which is great for the big league team’s future. About half of last year’s River Bandits’ championship team also won the Rookie League championship in 2010. Knowing how to win — could anything be more The Cardinal Way?

Daniel, C70 at the Bat

While I don’t want to turn Nick’s excellent question into a TLR referendum [Ed. note – too late], I think it’s a bit disingenuous to say that the team won mostly with offense and luck. It’s difficult to go to the playoffs that often with just offense and luck. The club led the league in ERA in 2009 (I believe–may have the year wrong) and the years that were the weakest in the last decade, 2007 and 2008, were at least in part because Chris Carpenter wasn’t available due to injury.

Tony La Russa is always going to be a debatable topic. I expect that when we are sitting on our virtual rocking chairs in the Cardinal Home For Old Folks in X number of years (fill in the blank–I’m not ratting anyone out!) he’ll still be the most flammable issue. However, he won in the organization and he did it in various manners. He always had respect for the game, he played to win, and he wanted things done right. Sounds like the Cardinal Way to me.

Kevin, Cards-N-Stuff

Perhaps the Cardinal Way is like porn…

It’s hard to define…but I know it when I see it.

(yes…I only wrote this to get a chance to write that first line 🙂

Me, Pitchers Hit Eighth

Just to further fuel the discussion, I found Rob Rains’ latest as particularly interesting in terms of this subject…

Daniel Solzman, Redbird Rants

The fact that Red is still involved with the club keeps the way alive. Anyone that Kissell taught that is still with the club will be keepers of the Cardinal Way.

That said, anyone wanting to read this old SI article, I’ll pass it along: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1068685/index.htm

J.E. Powell, STL Fear the Red

Inside the organization, I would say that it will be up to Mozeliak and Matheny. Whether they will or not, I don’t know, but in my opinion they will ultimately be the responsible parties for the foreseeable future of the “Cardinal Way.”

Having said that, I would say that, to the extent we can, it’s up to the fans as well. Sure, we don’t have any direct influence, but if a Cards player does something that just isn’t the Cardinal Way, I think the fans (and especially us bloggers) have a responsibility to make it known that that particular situation is not the way the Cardinals organization plays ball. As I said, we don’t have direct influence, but I think we can certainly make it known when we think something isn’t part of The Way.

Dathan Brooks, Cards Tied for First

“The Cardinal Way”, to me, is a spirit that’s embodied by person or group. Back in the day, Dizzy Dean‘s cocky attitude was a part of the Cardinal Way, yet Stan Musial‘s attitude was too, though it was anything but cocky. Gussie Busch had his twist on the Cardinal way with such boisterous, attention-seeking antics, but how could anyone say that modesty seen from guys like Willie McGee is anything but the Cardinal Way?

When I first read your question this morning, good ole #2 popped into my mind. But, the more the day wore on, and the more I thought about it, the “better your question became”. To answer your question, though, I think “the current members of the organization” are the current keepers of the Cardinal Way. And I feel like that answer–those words–will always be the right answer, no matter the year, the situation, or any other factors. That means everybody from Kolten Wong to Bill DeWitt, from Stan Musial to whoever is replacing “Tanner” the bat boy this year. It’s a part of what makes this organization so special–“The Cardinal Way” is woven into the fibers of the DNA for everything they do.

I’m not saying it’s the only reason, but why did they not pursue Prince Fielder? Why wouldn’t they ever, in a thousand years, consider Nyjer Morgan? Dude, you or I are more likely to crack the 40-man roster than Morgan, or Marlon Byrd-type players. Why? They don’t fit. They don’t fit into this organization of classy, upstanding men (for the most part), who are respected, even if sometimes hated, across baseball. Only those who truly understand and emulate “The Cardinal Way” need apply.

Also, I love Tony LaRussa.

Chris Reed, Bird-Brained

Some parts of The Cardinal Way are static…success; playing hard no matter what; respect for the game, teammates, and the opposition, etc.
Others will change from year to year: in the 70s and 80s it was more about speed and defense; in the 90s and 00s it was more about offense.
And both “ways” had successes and failures. To borrow from a certain General Manager, The Cardinal Way is and always will be a fluid situation. And that, to me, means not only is Bill DeWitt II a keeper of The Cardinal Way, but so is John Mozeliak, Bill DeWitt III, and anyone who has a hand in constructing the team and the franchise from year to year. The Cardinal Hall of Famers–both the real ones like Ozzie, Gibby, Red; and the emotional ones like Jose Oquendo, Willie McGee and Jim Edmonds–are the teachers of The Cardinal Way. Turnover is a part of life, so naming one or even a handful of “keepers of the flame” so to speak is difficult. I was among the group that supported Tony LaRussa over the years for the most part, and never quite understood the extreme loathing some directed his way. But one TLR thing that always stood out to me as a true Cardinal Value was “Play a Hard 9.” Can you get much more true and fundamental and all that is right about baseball than that? Lo and behold, that philosophy is exactly what gave the Cardinals the 2011 World Series Championship. If they only played a Hard 8 2/3, the Texas Rangers win that World Series in six games. So you bet LaRussa was/is part of it, as much as Whitey was/is and Red was/is. Now Mike Matheny has been given the opportunity to take that sacred baton and run with it. The wheel keeps turning.
Before Albert Pujols left, he was the ultimate member of the core of the St. Louis Cardinals. Do we forget about the previous 11 seasons?
Of course not. But the wheel keeps turning.

Maybe The Cardinal Way isn’t what it was 20, 30, or 50 years ago, but it is still there. I think watching it, and the roster, and the front office, evolve and change is part of the fun. So maybe the true Cardinal Way is success in the face of constant change…rolling with the punches and coming out on top more often than not. If that’s the case, there isn’t a keeper…just a tender, waiting for the next Cardinal hero to take the reigns.


I tend to agree with the many above who think maintaining the Cardinal Way is fluid. I’ll admit to being quite disappointed to see the question turn into a urinating exposition over whether or not Tony La Russa was a “Way Guy” – maybe I invited that with my wording of the question, but I didn’t think that was ever in doubt. Haters gon’ hate.

In any case, perhaps The Cardinal Way is a six degrees sort of phenomenon, in that there will always be a connection to the originators and/or former “keepers”. Kolten Wong never had the chance to work with George Kissell, for instance, but he’s working with several players, former players, coaches, and other personnel who did, so he’s connected. Red Schoendienst will cover a lot of ground for years to come as that theory goes.

Thanks bloggers for answering my question, thanks you loyal four for reading…is it Opening Day yet?

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.
View all posts by Nick
Follow Nick on Twitter


Jermeill Ryan April 17, 2012

The Cardinal way is just that. The history and tradition of this organization. The innovative spirit. The Cardinals were the first organization to use a farm system. The fact that no one player is above the team, and that you do what you have to, day in day out to not only win, but place a team on the field that others do not like playing. The Cardinal way IS its past, present, and future, and is written each day from the season, post season, off-season. How you go about your day, whether it is during practice or the game. Supporting your teammates via observation. Veterans assisting lower tenured players, and the old guard, honored and respected, playing a role in present and future teams. It is honoring how things were done in the past, and adapting to the challenges of the present and future.

PH8 April 17, 2012

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Jermeill. Thanks for reading.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: