Why I Like The St. Louis Cardinals
I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the St. Louis Cardinals since 1962. The years come and go and the eras change, yet somehow the Cardinals always seem to be at or near the top of their division. It’s always nice to follow a winner, but that’s not the only reason why it’s easy to pull for them. The reasons are many.
For starters, they have amazing fans who love and support their Cardinals, but these same fans are selfless in their appreciation of good baseball and are willing to applaud a ballplayer from the opposition when he makes a great play. They don’t boo their own players if they make a miscue. Another reason is their downtown stadiums, well designed and always close to the Gateway Arch. Their classic uniforms are high up on my list of reasons as well. Although tweaked from time to time, the image of two birds perched on a baseball bat has been a consistent element of the team’s uniforms since 1934, the season the look was introduced. It’s a classic, and is one of the team uniforms that should never be changed. Delving into baseball history, another reason is that the highly respected baseball executive, Branch Rickey, developed the minor-league farm system when he was with the Cardinals. The team has had some amazing characters on its roster through the years as well, including Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean and the charged up reliever Al Hrabosky. Several iconic players made their mark as Cardinals, such as Ozzie Smith, who was my favorite ball player for a very long time, fire baller Bob Gibson and Albert Pujols.
But I had other favorites long before the Wizard of Oz. For me, it started with Stan Musial. I had come to baseball awareness during the 1961 season, and by 1962, I was fully on board. I grew up in the New York Metropolitan area, and for me, there really wasn’t any National League baseball until 1962 when the Mets started play. Some of the opposing teams were very good, including the Cardinals. That was when I discovered Stan Musial. My folks knew that I liked him and they bought me the book you see here. It helped me learn about him and pick up information on his career, which I divided into three periods.
The Early Years: These are the six years from 1942 to 1947 (Musial missed the 1945 season while serving in the Navy). I never saw this Stan Musial play. During these years he was the young, line drive machine who helped spark the St. Louis Cardinals to World Series appearances in 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1946. He led the National League in hitting doubles in three of those six years as well. The power numbers were low compared to what was to follow, as he averaged fourteen homers per season during this time. His batting averages went .315, .357, .347, .365 and .312.
Stan the Man: This middle period ran from 1948 to 1957. I didn’t see this Stan Musial, either, which I truly regret. Starting with the 1948 season, his power numbers surged, and during this ten-year period he averaged 31 home runs a year. He knocked in over 100 runs a year in all of those seasons but one. The doubles kept coming and in 1948, 1949, 1952, 1953 and 1954 he again was the league leader in that category. The batting averages remained high. This was Stan Musial in his prime, when he was universally regarded as one of the best players in the game.
A Great Career Winds Down: The years from 1958 to 1963 saw decreased production as Musial’s skills faded due to the aging process. He still had his moments, however, including the 1962 season, when at the age of 41, he hit .330. That’s the Stan Musial I saw. He wasn’t the same player, but he could still hit. His was a dominating presence that cast a large shadow. He retired from the game, but somehow his spirit stayed with the team, and he remains in the hearts of Cardinals fans to this very day.
Solid Credentials: Many baseball guys like me already know Stan Musial won three National League Most Valuable Player Awards (1943, 1946 & 1948). What they may not know, and I didn’t, is that he came in second in the MVP balloting an additional four seasons (1949, 1950, 1951 & 1957). He was a National League All-Star in twenty seasons. He offered the St. Louis Cardinals great flexibility in the field, too, playing left field, center field, right field and first base. Stan Musial was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. On February 15, 2011, Stan Musial was awarded the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Ken Boyer. After Musial’s retirement, I was better able to come to appreciate the team’s other stars. One of them, third baseman Ken Boyer, immediately became my next favorite Cardinal. He was awesome, a combined defensive prowess with a potent bat. He easily deserved the Most Valuable Player Award that he won in 1964, the year the Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in a thrilling seven-game Fall Classic. He was a seven-time All Star and won five Gold Glove awards for his excellence in the field.
Runnin’ Redbirds. The years unfolded and in time a whole new cast of Cardinals captured my attention. Managed by Whitey Herzog, these Red Birds teams were built to take advantage of their ballpark, and they did. Willie McGee, Tommy Herr, Lonnie Smith, Vince Coleman and Ozzie Smith were fast players who covered lots of ground on defense, making it difficult for their opponents to score. On offense, this crew stole bases, hit the ball into the gaps and took the extra base whenever possible. Mix in power from Jack Clark, good pitching, and the formula worked. These Cardinals teams went to the World Series three times during the 1980’s, winning the whole thing in 1980.
Ozzie Smith was at the heart of these teams. Ozzie Smith was and always will be my favorite position player. He was a striking example of what happens when a person combines his natural ability with a dedication and commitment to his craft. He was the finest fielding shortstop I have ever seen, and I am in my sixth decade of watching them. He was an intelligent player who made any infield he played in better. As with the other speed merchants on these teams, he was a fast runner who could steal bases. His throws were both strong and accurate. Any ball hit near him was an out. He was a Gold Glove winner thirteen times. Quickness was a huge part of his game. He could instantly break to his left or right with ease. He was a model of agility and grace, an acrobat on the diamond. His nickname, “the Wizard of Oz,” was perfect. It was almost impossible not to be drawn in by his remarkable play. When I saw the Cardinals, my eyes were often riveted on him. I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to go to your home ballpark and see Ozzie Smith every day. Wow!
Good Will Ambassador: In addition to his play, I admired Ozzie Smith for his demeanor and gentlemanly ways. I know he got into a scrap or two during his career, but that is an accepted part of competitive athletics. He was as fine an ambassador for the game of baseball as there has ever been, and he still is. What I especially liked was his willingness to talk to the press and fans alike. I know because I was one of those fans who was touched by his generosity. I saved a meaningful piece of memorabilia that he signed for me almost twenty-five years ago, and am still inspired by the words he wrote at that time.
World Champions: The years unfolded and again the Cardinals were World Champions, this time taking the Texas Rangers down in the exciting 2011 World Series. That team was relentless. In a very tense Game 6, the Cardinals were down to their last strike on two occasions and came back both times, winning the game in extra innings on a walk-off home run by David Freese.
Yadier Molina is now the team’s unquestioned leader. He’s the team’s catcher, calls a great game, is a master pitcher framer and is superb defensively, as evidenced by his eight Gold Glove Awards. The Cardinals recently signed the 34-year old to a three-year, $60 million contract extension that recognizes Molina for what he does on the field as well as in the clubhouse, where his leadership has proven invaluable. Maybe he’ll manage the Cardinals one day. Either way, yes or no, I’m certain the St. Louis Cardinals will continue to field contending teams and to win their fair share of championships. It’s the Cardinals way.