I grew up in St. Louis as a young boy that played every sport he could (barring swimming — for some reason I hated the pool), be it football, basketball, baseball, golf, you name it. As such, I was also a huge fan of my local teams. I was a die hard fan of the Cardinals, Rams, Blues, and even the defunct as of 2000 Ambush of the NPSL (the also defunct National Professional Soccer League). I went to an Ambush game for my birthday in 1998, a Blues-Sabres game in 1999 for which I still have the stub, the Super Bowl for my birthday in 2000, Game 5 of the World Series in 2006, and so on an so forth. Unfortunately I wasn’t in St. Louis for the World Series this past year, although I did lose my voice screaming at the TV during Game 6. I cried after Adam Vinatieri broke my heart in 2002 and I cried after a different Adam (Wainwright that is) closed out Brandon Inge on a pitch I will never forget. In short, I love St. Louis sports.
So whats the point? The point is, I always grew up hoping my teams would be like others. For the Rams, I always wanted them to be more like the Pittsburgh Steelers: a gritty team with a gritty culture that doesn’t take crap from anyone. The Rams were a finesse team, even in their greatest years, and I was maybe the only 12 year old that predicted a short life expectancy at the top of the NFL food chain. I was right — the Rams have won roughly as many games as there have been head coaches over the past six years. The culture just wasn’t there. I don’t even think Jeff Fisher can change it, but that is a completely separate discussion.
With my Blues, I always wanted them to be like the Red Wings for the same reason I wanted the Rams to be like the Steelers. The Wings were a downright nasty team that just beat you, even if they weren’t the better team. You never wanted to face the Red Wings in the playoffs.
With the Ambush I don’t even know; that was a soccer league had three pointers on goals scored outside a ring so let’s leave them out of the discussion.
My dearly beloved Cardinals, always my priority #1 team, were different. The Cardinals are the team that I think other teams want to be like. Year in and year out, the Cards compete. Fans think it’s because we have this great franchise that brings in talent players year in and year out. Yes, we had a fellow named Albert Pujols in the prime of his career, we’ve had McGwire, Beltran, Berkman, Holliday, Molina, Carpenter, Wainwright, and others that I am surely missing over the past decade and a half. But we’ve also had the likes of Matt Carpenter, So Taguchi, David Freese, Rick Ankiel, Juan Encarnacion, Jason Motte and Allen Craig that have played huge roles in the success of the organization. My point is, the Cardinals are not some star driven All-Star team ala the Yankees or Miami Heat of the NBA. Yet, every single year, the Cardinals find themselves in the playoff hunt. So why is it? It’s the culture. What it means to be a St. Louis Cardinal is so different than what it means to be on any other team in the MLB, and that is something that is truly unique. It’s why Beltran wanted to be a Cardinal after having faced them for years. It’s why Berkman, Oswalt, and many others want to be a Cardinal (unfortunately Oswalt isn’t one, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he wanted to be). It’s why Mark Buerhle has said that he always has wanted to be a Cardinal.
It started a long time ago, before Tony La Russa ever even came to town, but for a while, it disappeared. Then Tony came around and brought it back. The culture that is. It’s not a tangible thing, nor an explainable one. It’s like an atmosphere almost that surrounds this ball club and follows it where ever it may go. Tony re-instilled in this team the grit and determination that fans of other clubs wish they had in their team. Watch any interview with any Cardinals player from mid-August of last year. Nobody was saying, “We have to regroup in the offseason and go for it again next year.” There was no quit. The Cardinals stormed back as everyone knows to take a World Series that I will never forget.
Let’s look at the three series that they played last post-season. They beat the Phillies in 5, winning Game 5 1-0. I conveniently “had to go to the bathroom” in the middle of my Yom Kippur service to catch the end of that one. The Phillies, unquestionably, were the better team in that series. It’s undeniable statistically. They won more games, scored more runs, allowed fewer runs, everything. But the Cardinals simply willed themselves to win that series. Culture.
Series two: the Brewers. The two teams battled all year long, but look who had more W’s in the standings. The Brewers! They had one of the most potent offenses in baseball, yet the Cardinals found a way to beat them. They didn’t out pitch them, and didn’t out hit them — they out maneuvered them. The Cardinals beat the Brewers at managing baseball. Finally, there were the Rangers. No way, the Cards were beating them, right? Wrong! The Cardinals beat the Rangers because as a culture that was what they were taught to do: beat the other team. Not out-pitch, out-hit, or out-run; they are taught to get wins. No other team would have beat the Rangers in that series, but the Cardinals are no other team.
So let’s fast-forward to today. The Cardinals just won in a very Cardinals-y way. Huge win. Four losses would have been crushing, especially after Lynn only gave up one run. Ending the streak like they did gives huge confidence, and erases the negative feeling that a sweep brings. It also gave me hope for this team. I loved the Matheny hire, and I knew it would come because the Cardinals know why they are so good: The Culture! Matheny played as a Cardinal, and then worked for them; he knows all about it. And this game showed me that the Redbirds still have it. This isn’t a positive sign for the season, it’s a positive sign for the next decade. The Cardinals will always be a factor, especially with the second Wild Card team added to the mix.
There is a new wave of players that is ushering in the new culture. Craig, Freese, Motte, Lynn, Carpenter (Matt), Holliday, Jay, and others. It really is an exciting time to be a Cardinals fan. The change had already begun, but the departure of El Hombre (more like El Mujer, right?) made the change complete. In three years, this will be a different, yet equally successful team. There won’t be many years the Cardinals win 105 games, but I think there will be even fewer years that the Cardinals miss the newly added Wild Card spot. So buckle up, Cardinals Fans, and cheers to a culture that everyone else wants, one that will provide us success for the indefinite future.
For questions or comments, feel free to contact Jake Siwak at [email protected]