As Matt Holliday’s time with the Cardinals heads to its conclusion, let’s take a moment to appreciate what he’s meant to the franchise.
Unless a few things go their way, the St. Louis Cardinals will be eliminated today. For the first time in six years, they will not play at least 163 meaningful games. With that reality comes the reality that dusk is upon our Redbirds. The five-year run that began with an improbable 2011 World Series championship, followed by three more National League Championship Series appearances and a 100-win campaign, is about to come to a close. That is not to say the Cardinals are now bad; an 85-win season that comes down to the final Sunday is, in the grand scheme of things, the type of “down” season many teams would kill for.
At the forefront of the run has been Matt Holliday. Holliday arrived in St. Louis in a trade with the Oakland Athletics in July 2009, but his real tenure as a Cardinal began that offseason. An impending free agent, the Cardinals had to go into uncharted waters to retain Holliday. Holliday was by far the top free agent on the market at that time, and the Cardinals don’t usually play in that sandbox. This time, though, they did, signing Holliday to a 7-year, $120 million deal, the biggest in franchise history, surpassing the 7-year, $100 million deal of Albert Pujols.
It’s hard to do much better than Holliday as a big-ticket free agent signing.
To say the contract has been a bargain would be a massive understatement. According to FanGraphs, he’s been worth roughly $169.8 million over the life of the deal–not an infallible quantification of his value, of course, but certainly in the right ballpark. As any Dos Equis commercial would have you know, John Mozeliak doesn’t always sign big-money free agents, but when he does, they’re studs.
As they say, however, all good things must come to an end, and for Holliday, that time is imminent. His contract expires this year, and after two injury-plagued campaigns, it would not be financially responsible for the Cardinals to pick up his $17 million option for next season. That doesn’t mean there are any hard feelings, though, and the Cardinals have been sure to appreciate what Holliday has done for the organization.
In his final games in St. Louis, Holliday gave Cardinals fans moments they won’t soon forget.
Friday night, the silent warrior became the showman. After an emotionally-charged afternoon in which Mozeliak admitted the Cardinals would likely decline Holliday’s 2017 option, the Cardinals activated Holliday from the disabled list to give him the opportunity for a final send-off in St. Louis. And boy, did he make the most of it.
After a week featuring tear-jerking home runs from Dee Gordon and Aledmys Diaz, Holliday again reminded us why baseball is so awesome. The imagery is overwhelming: the strong, stoic slugger so moved by emotion that he had to fight back tears the entire time around the bases. And the Cardinals faithful let him hear loud and clear their admiration for what he brought to their team and their city.
On Saturday, he did it again, this time punching out a pinch-hit single to bring the score to 3-2 in a game the Cardinals would eventually win, 4-3. It was a reminder that even as they get older, get hurt more, and are generally less productive, the greats always find a way to deliver when it’s needed.
Holliday was a special player, even if you never noticed.
He played his first two seasons in St. Louis on the same roster as Pujols. He seemed to blend in among the likes of Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran. He was never the postseason hero; that was David Freese, or Matt Adams, or Oscar Taveras, or Kolten Wong. But Cardinals fans embraced Holliday because he was everything they are about. Holliday exemplified the Cardinal Way, the quiet excellence that often goes unnoticed until it is too apparent to ignore.
Holliday hit 20 home runs every season in St. Louis other than the injury-riddled 2015. He backed the power up with a near-.300 batting average, high-.300s on-base percentage, and was consistently among the Cardinals’ leaders in wins above replacement. He made four All-Star teams with the Cardinals, and got Most Valuable Player votes four times.
But most importantly, he was the glue of this team, the unwavering force in the middle of the lineup, the gritty, gutty reflection of the Cardinal brand. Soon, though, he will be gone, so if today is it, Cardinals fans, go out and give the man one last standing ovation for everything. Number 7, you will be missed.
Image Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports