Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Next time, give me Old Yeller

I took last week off from writing, as I didn't really want to spew emotion all over the page.  I try to maintain some sense of decorum, albeit weakly at times.

The Cardinals were eliminated from the NLCS last Monday night, in spectacular fashion, at the hands of the (now World Champion) San Francisco Giants.  It reminded me of the '96 team that lost to the Braves, that I referenced a couple weeks ago.


Up 3 games to 1, at home, facing Barry Zito, and the Cards couldn't pull it off?  It seems taking either of the next two would be just as tough (read: impossible) as well.  I guess the baseball gods had plans that were different from mine for the 2012 redbirds.

For what it's worth, it was hard to watch.  I mean, really hard to watch.  Knowing the ability that this team has, and the way they've never given up & continued to fight for everything they'd done over the past couple of years, made it that much harder to sit there and watch those last few grueling games.  A big part of me didn't want to watch, but a lot of people gave up on this team a few times last year, and will kick themselves forever.  I spoke to one guy last year who was at the Trop for the Rays/Yankees game (#162) last year, and left in the 7th when it was 7-0 Yankees.  He'll never forget doing that.  Hundreds (or thousands) of people left game 6 of the World Series early last year, though something tells me you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who openly admits doing so today.  So, I couldn't not watch, but man it sucked doing so.

I've described it to a few people as being like watching your puppy take 4 days to die.  It was gut-wrenching, and in all honesty, you'd rather just take Old Yeller out behind the barn with a shotgun, and...well, put everyone out of their misery.  Though at least "12 in '12" died too.  Then "12 in '13" popped up almost immediately.  Ugh.

Either way, congratulations to the Giants--I sincerely mean that.  And not in the "at least the team that beat us won it all" kind of way.  That's what people say when their team loses, but often its something that's forgotten by game 3 of the next series.

Oh, well.  On to the off-season, which, I've said numerous times, I find just as exciting as the regular season, only in different ways.  I guess we'll just count down the 16 weeks until pitchers & catchers report to spring training, then count down until April 5th, 2013.  You see, that's when the Cards will be in San Francisco to take on the Giants, and watch* them get their rings...just like they did in April of 2011.

*If you've not read this, you should.  I love garlic fries.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Uphill both ways in the snow

I'm concerned about the future of the nation.

Cardinal nation.

I've got four kids: two boys and two girls.  The boys are 11 and 6; The girls are 7 & 8, and we are, without a doubt, a "baseball family".  Those of you who keep up with me via social media have seen evidence of this from time to time.  The kids are all Cardinals fans, and even at six, the youngest includes, "Well, you like the cubs!" in his modest arsenal of insults for his siblings.

But these kids today don't know how good they have it.  They've seen their Cardinals get to the World Series in '04, '06, and '11, including winning it twice.  When I was a kid  you didn't win the World Series every few years.  Getting there in '82, '85, and '87 was a rarity...and we were taught to show respect and reverence for that.

In my day, if you were down to your last strike ONCE, you didn't come back and tie the game, let alone win.  And you sure didn't come back if you had gotten down to your last strike twice.  You lost those kinds of games when I was their age.  But today's kids don't know any better.  With their new-fangled At-Bat apps, and their pitch trax.

When I was growing up, we had to suffer through those 1990's teams.  Those were lean years, only making the playoffs in the '96 season, and the way that one ended against the Braves would leave the worst of bad tastes in our collective mouths for years.  If you don't remember it, you can google it or just take this summary to heart--The Cards were up 3 games to 1 on the Braves, and lost the NLCS by being outscored 3,100 to 2 over the last 3 games.

From the time the Cardinals walked dejectedly off the field in Minneapolis, after having lost game 7 of the World Series to the Twins to the time they made the 2000 playoffs, that 1996 postseason appearance was all we had as Cardinals fans.  And we might not have been happy about it, but that's the way it was.

Kids today have grown up seeing the Cards make the postseason in 2000, '01, '02, '04, '05, '06, '09, '11, and now '12.  That's 9 playoff appearances.  Counting backwards, starting before this run, you don't get to the 9th playoff appearance until 1943.  Now, I realize there are more rounds, more divisions, more opportunities...etc.  But that doesn't change my point.

My dad was lucky enough to see the '64, '67, and '68 teams get there.  But, as I understand it, he had to save his nickels and get a ride to see a game at Sportsman's Park.  His alternative was to listen on the radio, or maybe watch it on television, though he'd do so on a black-and-white set, and be glad to have it that way.  Color TV wasn't nearly as common in households, and this may come as a surprise, but HD wasn't even a thought yet.   His dad before him saw Cardinals teams in '42, '44, and '46 win the World Series, but only after walking up hill in the snow both ways.

Of course, dad had to suffer through those sucky 70's teams, which never made a single postseason appearance.  Which, incidentally, was the first time the team went an entire decade without advancing beyond the regular season since...well, since grandpa endured the lousy decade of the 1950's.

So, Grandpa saw the teams of the 1940's win over and over, then had to watch those 50's teams get stomped on a regular basis.  Dad saw the franchise turn it around, and go on an absolute tear in the 60's and win multiple times again, before suffering through the lousy teams of the 70's.  I grew up enjoying the success of the 80's teams that Whitey ran, but endured the painful 1990s.  Kids today have seen the teams of the 2000's get off to a great start, and I'm hopeful their passion & loyalty to the team is being built strong enough today to stick with them, in the event of some down years ahead.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Please help me understand

I'm as lost as Ryan Theriot in Cooperstown, NY.

Look, it's election season, and a lot of people tend to get a bit testy this time of year when it comes to politics. 99% (by my non-scientific conservative estimates) of us are biased in these conversations. Let's say a candidate sticks his or her foot in their mouth and says something stupid. (Not the usual stupid stuff, but the stuff they meant or thought was legit.)

When my guy says it, it's excusable for this reason or that. When your guy makes the exact same mistake, I light him up for being a huge imbecile. Your guy breaks an egg, and he's making a huge mess; my guy breaks an egg, and he's feeding homeless children. THIS candidate's Facebook page has this many likes, and posted a *really* clever picture that's actually a saying. THAT candidate just tweeted some pretty amazing stuff in less than 140 characters. Huge double-standard. Drives me nuts, but that's life in politics.

And in sports.

Like baseball...like Cardinals baseball. And their manager.

It's no secret, I'm a fan of TLR. Hell, this blog's name was inspired by one of his many LaRussa-isms. I like what he did for this franchise, and while I didn't always agree with his decisions, I like the two flags that are flying over right field at Busch right now that weren't there before he came to town.

Lefty-righty match ups, late-inning defensive substitutions, "overmanaging", being curt at times with the media...etc, etc. All true. Also true? Tony LaRussa won. He pissed a lot of fans off along the way, but the number of complaining fans dwindled quickly with each passing October win each time it happened. But TLR spent his fair share of time being crucified, there's no denying that.

Enter Mike Matheny. Now, let me just say, I like Mike Matheny, and think he was a good choice to manage this Cardinals team. (Uh-oh, he started by saying he likes him...here it comes)

Where's the "overmanaging" outrage today? I've not heard one person talk about how MM just *has* to put his fingerprints on every game. Not a single talking head on ESPN, MLBNetwork, Fox, or any national outlet calling him out for lefty/righty match ups late in the game. No local radio stations (and there are plenty), newspapers or television channels really ripping Matheny for late defensive substitutions. The saturation of bunting lately? Ok, I'll give ya that one-he's had (earned) his share of criticism for that from plenty of people, myself included.

But, dude. Other than that? This guy can do no wrong. What's up with that?Again, I like the guy, but come on.

What really got me tonight was the decision in the 7th for Carlos Beltran to try to steal third base. I didn't see Matheny get in his ear about it upon his return to the dugout, nor did Oquendo seem to make much of the matter when Beltran was CS. For those reasons, I believe this was not something that Beltran decided to do on his own.

You guys ever heard of Allen Craig? Yeah, he's pretty good. Put a duck or two on the pond, and the guy's sick. Here's a guy who missed all of April, and when he did come back, Matheny put him right into the cleanup spot for 2 weeks. Then, unfortunately, Craig went back to the DL and missed another 14 games. In spite of that, he came into Monday night's night game batting .405 w RISP, 92 RBI (ranking 14th in the NL, 26th in all of MLB), and he ranked 4th in some other RBI/RISP typed stat that I heard earlier, but forgot, so whatever that was...throw that in the mix, and remember he missed six weeks.

Now, file all of it under "Reasons why you would not want to tell Carlos Beltran to attempt a steal of third base in the bottom of the 7th, in a 4-2 October game, with playoff implications, when Allen friggin' Craig is standing in the batters box with one out and runners at first & second". Or just abbreviate to save space. (#RWYWNWTTCBTAASOTBITBOT7IA42OGWPIWAFCISITBBWOOARAFAS)

I watched the post game "Mic'ed up" segment on FSMW after the game. Then, I rewound it, and watched it a second time, just to be sure that's didn't miss one of the reporters asking him about that play. Aaaaaand it would seem that I didn't. No one even asked him about it. (Unless I totally missed it)

Whatever. Like I said, I like the guy, and am not saying he isn't a good manager. I'm just saying that it sure is hard to imagine TLR doing the same thing, and not (at the VERY LEAST) being asked about it. Can't you just hear it?

Some reporter not named Calvin May:
"Tony, what about sending Beltran there in the 7th?"
Tony LaRussa: "What do you...?"
NCM: "In the 7th inning. You had Allen Craig up with one out and two on. He absolutely kills it with runners on, and Beltran gets gunned down trying to steal third, effectively taking you guys out of that inning."
TLR: *scoffs* "I mean...you've gotta watch the game."
NCM: "It just seemed like..."
TLR: Goes off on a diatribe for 6 minutes about all the things he was thinking, and the scenarios he'd played out in his mind.

Instead, we got:
NCM: "Nice win tonight, Mike."
MM: "Thanks."

I know that's just how it goes, and be it sports or politics or whatever, it's not going anywhere. Just saying, I'd like to see the same set of rules applied across the board.  I'm openly a fan of LaRussa, and while I appreciate what he accomplished in his time here, I never gave him a blank check.  If I thought he did something out of line, I'd say something about it.

My point is that Matheny doesn't get a blank check either, or at least he shouldn't.  First year manager, I get it.  What I don't get is why that seems to be an acceptable reason not to question bonehead decisions, whether real or perceived.  I don't pretend to know everything he does, or have access to data/insight that he does, but man oh man, it sure did seem egregious.  I guess if the Cards weren't at least guaranteed a shot at a game 163 at this point as a worst-case scenario, things would be different.  Maybe.

Or maybe he's "your guy" and can do no wrong in your eyes. 

...and don't even get me started on the bullpen & the number of appearances some of those guys have racked up. That's a topic for another day.