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Not Your Father's Cardinals

In the summer of 1961, if it was daylight, I was playing ball. Most nights, I pretended to be asleep while listening to broadcasts on the earphone of my transistor radio and reading by flashlight about the Pastime and its history. I was a good reader for an eight-year-old, and there weren't enough books in the local library to satisfy my curiosity about Ruth, Cobb and DiMaggio. I liked aggressive players and "characters," so the Gashouse Gang had special appeal.

On Saturday afternoons, the TV Game of the Week broke up the neighbourhood game. As Gerry McDonald recalled in The Good Old Days last week, it was "your only chance to see other teams and players," so I never missed it. Back then, some parents and most teachers were up in arms at the way Dizzy Dean, the most colourful of colour men, mangled the language. There were official complaints to the network, but when Ol' Diz said somebody "slud" into base or "swang" at a pitch, he didn't think he was hurtin' the kids.

"I ain't never met anybody that didn't know what 'ain't' means," he reckoned. You learn 'em English and I'll learn 'em baseball."

Diz learned us good; it was a significant part of my baseball education. Once a week, Jay Hanna Dean, ace of the famous Gashouse Gang, rambled on with his "podner" Harold Henry Reese, captain of the Boys of Summer. Always a Cardinal and a Dodger at heart, Diz and Pee Wee were a direct connection to those storied times. Their weekly history lesson was far more important to me than any class in school.

All of us old enough to have lived through it will never forget what happened in the American League that year. The M & M Boys chased Babe Ruth's ghost, and Roger Maris did the impossible. Mantle was a larger-than-life hero; it was almost required of every kid to be a Yankee fan. When they easily defeated Frank Robinson and the Reds in the Series, that seemed to atone for the colossal upset by Pirates the year before.

The following season, a more astute observer at age nine, I realized that the National League wasn't merely cannon fodder for the all-powerful Yankees. (The more things change...) Partial to the Giants, mostly because of the amazing Willie Mays, I was stunned and sad when Richardson snared McCovey's line drive to end that great 1962 Series. Earlier that year, St. Louis had become "my" team. The classic birds-on-the-bat uniforms were part of the attraction, I admit, but what really hooked me was The Man, peeking around the corner, ripping doubles down both lines one Saturday, while Diz and Pee Wee celebrated his greatness.

Stan Musial's stance was fascinating; his exploits, which I never tired of reading on a baseball card, were incredible. As a rookie in 1940, a kid playing with legends like Johnny Mize, he hit .426 in a 12-game callup. Twenty-two years later, an oldtimer of 41 in the "modern" game, there was Musial, still hitting .330, with power. My devotion to the living legend led me to pay closer attention to his teammates. Seeing them on TV a couple of times and listening to many of their games on the radio (KMOX came in loud and clear in Belleville that summer) I began to appreciate that Ken Boyer and Bill White were terrific at the corners, and young guys like Curt Flood, Ray Sadecki and Bob Gibson were coming along fast.

By 1963, when Musial finally passed the torch to the next generation, I followed the box scores faithfully and believed I'd picked a winner. The Cards finished second to the Dodgers -- a 25-5 season by Sandy Koufax was too much to overcome. When L.A. promptly dispatched the Yankees in four straight, it made the NL look stronger than ever to my eyes. In 1964, Stan's first year of retirement, the Cardinals were energized by the midseason trade of Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock. They went on to win an incredibly exciting pennant race by a single game over the Phillies and Reds. As the only kid on my block rooting for them against the mighty Yankees, I was thrilled when Gibson won Game Five, ecstatic when he came back to take Game Seven.

Three years later, in the 1967 World Series, this fan couldn't lose. The miracle Red Sox had won the AL pennant with a bunch of young players I had cheered the year before as Toronto Maple Leafs. They were plucky underdogs against my Cardinals, extending them to a seventh game in which Bob Gibson again sealed MVP honours. The following October, I was devastated when Mickey Lolich beat Gibby in the seventh game; part of growing up is learning that you can't win 'em all.

Even devotees of the three-run-homer philosophy admit the 1980's Herzog teams were tremendous fun to watch. Whitey had been my favourite AL manager with the Royals, and he never let me down in St. Louis. His first season, the strike year, they were robbed by the split-season playoff format. The Cards won their division by two games in the overall standings, but finished second to the Phillies in the "first half" and second to the Expos in the "second half." The White Rat got his ring the following season, but he believes they were a Don Denkinger blown call from winning two World Series, and blames the Homerdome in Minneapolis for another one slipping away.

Those Runnin' Redbirds were marvelously entertaining for a decade, but all eras come to an end, and after some wheel-spinning years -- apparently Joe Torre wasn't a Hall of Fame manager yet -- the Cards have won four division titles in eight tries for La Russa. Despite his detractors, Tony gets so close, so often, that you always have to respect his club.

These aren't your father's Cardinals, from the Swinging 60's, or your grandfather's -- the Gashouse Gang. Not even your big brother's from the 1980's. They are your 2004 Cardinals: Tony La Russa's team, perhaps for the final time.

Our mission is to help you decide if they are better or worse than the 2003 model, and if they can compete with the formidable Astros and Cubs. Let's start with the clarity of hindsight.

What went wrong in 2003?

In a lot of towns, 85-77 is a fine year, but expectations were high in St. Louis, and the final month's swoon was catastrophic. If one game can summarize a season, it was September 3, when Danny Haren was cruising along through five innings with a 6-0 lead. Sosa led off the sixth with a double, Alou singled him home, and the skipper's thumb twitched -- after just 63 pitches, the rookie's night was over. Cards fans grimaced as Jeff Fassero came in; opening himself up to the second-guessers, La Russa returned to the guy who had surrendered a two-run homer in the fifteenth inning the previous day. Fassero (again) didn't do the job, nor did Russ Springer or Steve Kline. Finally, in desperation, Tony called on Woody Williams, who had been knocked out in the fifth from his start two days earlier. In the unfamiliar closer role, Woody gave up the final two runs in a devastating 8-7 loss. The Cubs would win again the following day, taking four of the five games in that pivotal series.

Later in the month, when the Cardinals were swept in Houston, their pennant hopes never recovered. It wasn't only the wheels falling off near the end that made it such a disappointing season. The bullpen, perhaps because of the constant micromanaging of La Russa, most likely despite it, combined to blow 30 of 70 save opportunities. The one pleasant surprise among the relievers, Kiko Calero, suffered a fluke, season-ending injury. Jason Isringhausen took much longer than anticipated to recover from shoulder surgery, missing the first 63 games. Esteban Yan came over at the end of May and made 39 mostly horrible appearances. Mike DeJean arrived in August, as the patchwork attempts continued, to no avail. If this sounds anything like the recurring Tam-Creek-Sturtze-Acevedo-Service-Reichert-Politte nightmare that plagued Jays fans last summer, it should. In fact, it was much worse in St. Louis.

Michael Wolverton's 2003 reliever rankings on Baseball Prospectus rate the teams according to ARP, or Adjusted Runs Prevented. That's the number of runs a reliever prevents over an average pitcher, given the bases/outs situation when he entered and left each game, adjusted for league and park. For the uninitiated, ARA is Adjusted Runs Allowed, the number of runs charged to a reliever per nine innings pitched, adjusted for league and park.

PHI468.32084.440 11.6
CHC426 2114.810-2.9

Did the bullpens decide the NL Central? You make the call. The Houston 'pen prevented 87 runs above average, keeping them in the race. The Cubs relievers, finishing up for those "animal" starters, got the job done. The Cardinals bullpen, instead of picking up for the depleted rotation, was abysmal, ranking 29th of 30 teams with an ARP of -55.3, over 140 runs worse than the Astros. Even with that disparity, the clubs finished within three games of each other. As bad as it was for Toronto fans to suffer through their team's bullpen woes, this should help put the St. Louis debacle -- almost 40 runs worse -- into perspective.

Not only the relievers stumbled in 2003. Injuries limited ace Matt Morris to just 27 starts; he was less than 100% effective in many of them. After notching 39 wins in 2001-2002, the 6' 5" righty settled for an 11-8 record, with his ERA up, and his K rate down. Bothered by a sore shoulder for much of the season, Morris also suffered a broken right index finger in July when hit by a Mark Kotsay line drive; he didn't pitch for more than a month. That unscheduled rest for his shoulder may have helped him finish strong, but it was too little, too late.

There were no problems with the 2003 offence, which scored 876 runs, second in the league, even though J.D. Drew was limited to just 70 starts in 100 games with knee, back, hip and ankle problems. That was the finale of his disappointing Cardinals career, but Reggie Sanders is an adequate replacement, and the other studs all return, so it's reasonable to assume they will keep hitting.

Though the Drew trade was the only move that grabbed headlines, this has been a very busy offseason. Fifteen of the 34 players who played for St. Louis last season are no longer in the organization. Twelve of the 25 players on last year's Opening Day roster are gone. With 16 free agents, more than any other team in the majors, the Cardinals re-signed only four. Scorecard sales should be booming in April.

Revolving Door

Incoming Outgoing
RHP Jeff Suppan (FA) RF J.D. Drew (trade)
OF Reggie Sanders (FA) C/OF Eli Marrero (trade)
RHP Jason Marquis (trade) 1B Tino Martinez (trade)
RHP Adam Wainwright (trade) 2B Fernando Vina (FA)
LHP Ray King (trade) RHP Mike DeJean (FA)
2B Marlon Anderson (FA) LHP Jeff Fassero (FA)
RHP Julian Tavarez (FA) LHP Sterling Hitchcock (FA)
RHP Mike Lincoln (FA) RHP Brett Tomko (FA)
IF Brent Butler (FA)RHP Garrett Stephenson (FA)
1B/LF Steve Cox (FA)RHP Esteban Yan (FA)
RHP Evan Rust (trade) RHP Gene Stechschulte (FA)
OF Ray Lankford (NRI) INF/OF Miguel Cairo (FA)
OF John F. Mabry (NRI) OF Eduardo Perez (FA)
OF Greg Vaughn (NRI)RP Lance Painter (retired)
OF Emil Brown (NRI) 
OF Mark Quinn (NRI) 
OF Chris Prieto (NRI) 
IF Kevin Witt (NRI) 
IF Hector Luna (Rule 5) 
P Alan Benes (NRI) 

With so much money tied up in their current superstars, the Cardinals haven't chased any of the big name free agents. They hoped that someone like Greg Maddux would have taken a discount to play there, but couldn't get involved in a bidding war. Instead, they traded Drew for pitching help, while a horde of possibilities were signed to minor-league deals and invited to spring training to compete for the second base and left field jobs. The competition seems wide open; I'm just guessing when it comes to the last few spots on the 25-man roster. Because the Cards are heavily right-handed, I assume that anyone who bats left has a built-in advantage. Given La Russa's highly developed sense of loyalty, you might think someone who has played for him before would get the edge over those who haven't, and anyone already on the 40-man roster is assumed to have a slightly better chance than a non-roster invitee.

Some observers claim that there has been an element of addition-by-subtraction where Tino Martinez and Fernando Vina are concerned. Whether the blame lies with the players or the manager, it's no secret that they weren't getting along, which could have had a negative impact throughout the clubhouse. Certainly, the flammable Jeff Fassero and Esteban Yan won't be missed. The newcomers, including Ray King, Julian Tavarez and Mike Lincoln, bring experience to the bullpen, and Jason Isringhausen says he's 100% again. Having to "replace" starters like Brett Tomko and Garrett Stephenson isn't exactly a hardship. In other words, the offseason roster overhaul looks like a positive thing, so far.

Front Office

When GM Walt Jocketty brought Mark McGwire to St. Louis, the fans were treated to indelible memories, and the owners watched the turnstiles spin -- attendance jumped by more than half a million in Big Mac's first full season. A fellow could rest on those laurels, but he's also traded for stars like Jim Edmonds, Darryl Kile, Edgar Renteria and Scott Rolen and made other fine deals over the years, like turning a disgruntled Ray Lankford into Woody Williams. He's used their now-depleted farm system primarily to supply prospects for those trades, but it also produced Albert Pujols.

Jocketty, named Executive of the Year in 2000 by Baseball America and The Sporting News, has invested a huge percentage of his payroll in locking up Rolen and Pujols through 2010, and has Edmonds in the fold through 2006. Renteria and Morris are his next concerns; their contracts expire this season. Whether enough room can be found in an $80 or $85 million payroll to retain both is uncertain.

Though he may be old-school when it comes to sabermetrics, Jocketty has taken a few steps in a new direction of late. Ron Shandler of and the Baseball Forecaster was hired as part of an advisory board, to provide statistical analysis. After a 2003 draft that raised some eyebrows, former scouting director Marty Maier was reassigned to special-assignment scout; assistant GM and director of baseball operations John Mozeliak now runs the scouting department. The Cardinals also hired Jeff Luhnow as assistant VP of baseball development, which means, according to Baseball America, "to compile databases and try to improve the team's efficiency with the draft." On his fine Go Cardinals blog, Josh Schulz interviewed Luhnow, who admitted the Cardinals' farm system doesn't rank highly.

"We are working hard to improve it. The reality is that when you compete for the division every year and win many years, you don't get high draft picks, so it's harder to 'reload' in the first round with can't-miss prospects."

Without providing specifics of proprietary methods of data collecting and analysis, he cited the book Curve Ball, by Jim Albert and Jay Bennett, as an influence.

"That book eloquently points out how much random noise exists in traditional baseball statistics, and how easy it is to get misled by a small data set. This also applies to player evaluation. Two players who each hit 30 home runs and batted .280 last year may look the same at first glance, but in reality one may be worth two or three times more than the other, once you do the proper analysis."

He's absolutely right. By happy coincidence, I've been reading Curve Ball, recommended to me by Robert Dudek, and while it doesn't make me any more eager to do the math myself, it has been a fascinating learning experience.

Luhnow says everything from linear weights to Win Shares will influence their evaluations, "in conjunction with our scouting reports, to make the best decisions we can make for the Cardinals."

So there's a perceptible change of direction, and not a moment too soon. Jocketty, especially if he is unable to keep Morris in the fold, must come up with more young, affordable pitching if his team is to stay in contention. A few highly-touted arms remain in the relatively barren organization, with recently-acquired Adam Wainwright the prize, but keeping the TANSTAAPP maxim in mind, it's also possible that the cupboard is bare. In that case, they may soon be paying top dollar for a high-scoring club that hovers around the .500 mark. I doubt that would go over well with the self-styled "Best Baseball Fans In America."

Walt's future isn't the subject of as much speculation as his manager's, but yesterday on, Phil Rogers claimed, "Jocketty is such a La Russa loyalist it's hard to see him staying while La Russa goes." If that's true, both men have a lot at stake this season.


How time flies. We're about to begin Year Nine of the Tony La Russa era, the third-longest tenure of any current manager. With the Cardinals, he's 689-606, a .532 percentage. He's won four NL Central crowns in St. Louis, but no pennants, with three NLCS defeats and a 16-15 postseason record. The deserving NL Manager of the Year in 2002, when the grieving Cards won the division and the first playoff round for their fallen teammate Darryl Kile, Tony leads all active managers with 2,007 wins, seventh on the all-time list. Right after the season, he turns 60, which might feel old if they finish third, and it's the final year of his contract. If the Cardinals miss the playoffs, this really could be La Russa's Last Stand.

"Does Tony La Russa suck?"

That's how Brian Gunn, whose Redbird Nation blog is a must-read for Cardinals fans, began his terrific five part profile of TLR in October. Tony lasted 16 years in the minors on true grit. As a manager, Gunn believes he "tends to favor younger versions of himself: multi-positional middle infielders, hangers-on, and hard-workers with immense drive and stick-to-it-iveness."

Tony said, not so long ago, "I believe if you had really good pitching and 13 Placido Polancos, you'd win 100 games," which Brian cites as evidence of "La Russa's dream of an ever-shifting, mix-and-match, tinkertoy ballclub."

Alas, he has no Polancos. Tony must make do with one Scott Rolen, one Jim Edmonds, one Edgar Renteria and the one-and-only Albert Pujols. That still leaves plenty of room for La Russa to tinker. He loves to push buttons, both in the psychological sense of "motivating" players, and in the tactical sense. Inexplicably, he depends on the most unlikely athletes. Kerry Robinson, a good bunter with speed, is an example of a type Tony appreciates, perhaps too much. There has actually been talk, by manager and player, of the career .301 OBP man leading off.

"It's the responsibility of players to be versatile enough to adjust to the game," said La Russa. "A guy like Kerry Robinson could be more valuable to a team than a guy who hits 20 home runs. It's to their advantage to be as complete as possible."

TLR likes the sacrifice bunt and the hit-and-run, often playing for one run as if he didn't notice all the sluggers in his dugout. Bill James once said that if he had 30 players, La Russa would use them all. He's been one of the main causes of the trend to over-specialization in the bullpen, using pinch-hitters and double-switches as much as anyone.

Sometimes you think he's grandstanding. La Russa famously batted the pitcher eighth back in 1998, claiming it would let Mark McGwire hit with more men on base. He employs some radical defensive alignments and is constantly playing mind games. Brian Gunn says Tony will use any strategy to obtain an edge.

This is the one area where La Russa most reminds me of Herzog -- they're both instigators, with a taste for wild tactics, men in motion, clever fielding alignments, shuffled lineups, and very high standards for their players. In general this relentlessness rubs off on their personnel, although this year was La Russa's first in St. Louis where certain players (Vina, Tino) seem to have given up as the team faded down the stretch.

Having witnessed his shouting matches with Dusty Baker in the 2002 NLCS, we know how intense La Russa can be. He's been known to have run-ins with players, and once you've landed in his doghouse, it's not easy to escape. Did TLR actually "lose" his club last September? Has his style worn out its welcome?

We'll see. If the Cards fall out of the race early, everyone may agree that it's time for a change. If he manipulates this underdog group into a playoff spot, La Russa can continue for as long as he wants.


Many thanks to my colleagues who figured out the formatting tricks I've copied below, to distract you from the relative lack of content. Unless otherwise specified, ESPN three-year platoon splits are used, from the major leagues only; AB in parentheses.

1 Edgar Renteria SS Age: 28 Bats: R v R .292/.340/.411 (1286) v L .334/.429/.518 (338)

Leadoff? Wishful thinking on my part; it won't happen. Edgar could also be one of the better 2-hitters in the game, but sees himself as an RBI man, so he might convince the manager to bat him fifth, with some frightening alternatives being considered in the first two spots.

In the final year of his contract, he'll earn a fraction of what his peers make. Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra are in a different salary bracket, but Miguel Tejada's six-year, $72 million deal with the Orioles seems a reasonable standard.

"I compare with my numbers,'' Renteria says. "I deserve what I deserve."

Last year was a high-water mark for the Colombian, with career bests in almost every offensive statistic that matters. Though it was his Age 27 season, that doesn't automatically mean it's his peak, and until he signs an extension, Edgar will be paying extra attention to his numbers, which could be a boon to his fantasy owners.

Whether he plays several more years in St. Louis, or ends up with a new team next year, Renteria is already in elite company. I'm not referring only to his 2003 OPS+ of 131, which compares quite favourably to Nomar (121), Jeter (127) and Tejada (117). Thanks to the invaluable, I noticed his Most Similar By Age for six straight years (22-27) has been the great Alan Trammell.

2 Jim Edmonds CF Age: 34 Bats: L v R .315/.426/.615 (1060) v L 245/.345/.477 (363)

Two sore shoulders were responsible for Edmonds' dramatic second-half decline in 2003. His batting average fell 89 points, OBP dropped 41 points and SLG a whopping 161 points. With 28 homers before the break, on his way to his greatest season yet, he added just 11 more, hitting an anemic .214 while playing in only 49 of 68 games after the break. Don't expect spring training heroics or a particularly fast start in 2004; he's still rehabbing his throwing arm from a December operation, in which bone that was causing chronic irritation was shaved away from his collarbone. Team medical people estimated he wouldn't play before the second week of the regular season, but Edmonds, who got ready very quickly last spring after being sidelined with a calf strain, remains optimistic that he can answer the opening bell.

Edmonds had fashioned a pretty good career in Anaheim, but his peak came late. In four years as a Cardinal, his OPS+ has been 148, 150, 163 and 161 -- and in addition to that production, he provides all-out, spectacular defence in a demanding position. He's a six-time Gold Glove winner (has never lost it in the NL) but some of us think he likes to show off a little, by making difficult catches look almost impossible.

For a guy who turns 34 in June, some decline seems inevitable, both at the plate and in center field, but Edmonds remains a force. He's halfway through a six-year, $57 million contract, and has certainly earned his money so far, but he could seem much more expensive in the final two years of the deal, with almost $22 million guaranteed in 2005 and 2006, and either a $4 MM buyout or $10 MM option for 2007. One way the Cards could free up enough money to re-sign Renteria and Morris would be to trade Edmonds, though it's unlikely that anyone but the Yankees would be interested unless the Cards kicked in some cash.

3 Albert Pujols 1B Age: 24 Bats: R v R .336/.412/.609 (1355) v L .327/.412/.625 (416)

The Cards locked him up with a seven-year, $100 million deal. I wish the age "issue" would just go away, but even if
he's 27, that's a very good investment. They bought out his arbitration years and made a very fair offer for what should be his prime, although it's hard to imagine room for improvement. At $7 million this year, Pujols becomes the highest-salaried fourth-year player, breaking Derek Jeter's record. He's earned it, with the best start to a career since Joe DiMaggio, if not ever. His "Most Similar Through Age 23" list includes DiMaggio, Williams, Musial, Foxx, Aaron, Frank Robinson and Vladimir Guerrero. Wow.

The only man with 30 homers, 100 RBI and 100 runs in each of his first three seasons, Pujols equalled Ralph Kiner's fastest-start record of 114 home runs, and joins Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco as the only players to hit 30 in their first three years. In addition to the prodigious power -- remember his display in the Home Run Derby? -- Albert already owns a batting crown, a 30-game hit streak and has never finished worse than fourth (his rookie year) in MVP voting. Some people believe he's supplanted Barry Bonds as the best hitter in the game; if not quite yet, that does seem inevitable. Sometimes "traditional" numbers speak with eloquence:


Pujols has been anointed the club's everyday first baseman. I haven't seen him play there enough to have a personal opinion, but he's already made the spring training highlight reel with a nice leaping stab of a line drive, and common sense dictates that he's far more likely to become a top-notch defender there than he ever was at third or the outfield. Not surprisingly, his manager thinks he can win a Gold Glove at first. Obviously, the Cards will enjoy vastly improved 1B production compared to last season, when Tino Martinez manned the position, but considering the candidates to replace Albert in left field, that may not guarantee a net gain for the team. If it keeps his tender throwing elbow healthy, this is a great move, which should result in his first MVP award.

ESPN's Peter Gammons devoted an entire column to Pujols just yesterday:

"There's going to come a time when we all look back and say, 'Wow, we got to see this man play early in his career,'" says Tony La Russa. "I often tell him, 'I'd like to meet the person who taught you how to play.' Because he does everything so well. He's not only a great hitter, but he's a situational hitter. He's a great baserunner. It's amazing."

4Scott Rolen 3BAge: 28Bats: Rv R .279/.355/.511 (1349)v L .285/.433/.503(344)

All Rolen does is contend for both the Gold Glove and the Silver Slugger every year. Unbelievably consistent; his career OPS+ is 128, and he's had seven straight seasons between 121 and 139. Scott was a productive regular at an ealy age, much like Hank Blalock or Eric Chavez, and has matured into a perennial all-star.

That kind of talent doesn't grow on trees, so the $90 million, eight year extension he signed shortly after being acquired by the Cardinals may prove to be a great deal for both sides. Rolen might have earned even more if he stayed in Philadelphia, but was unhappy there, clashing with manager Larry Bowa (what else is new?) and hearing the notorious boo-birds on occasion. He's much happier now. Born in nearby Jasper, Indiana, Scott was bitten by the same Cardinals bug that got me from afar at an early age.

"I fell in love with St. Louis probably when I was seven years old," he said after the trade. "Mom and Dad brought us here to a ballgame and I got to watch Tommy Herr and Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee and everybody like that.''

Now, parents bring their kids to the park to see Rolen. Injuries bit out large chunks of his 1999 and 2000 campaigns, but he's played over 150 games in each of the last three seasons. If he stays healthy for another seven or eight years, we might be calling him the best third baseman since George Brett and the immortal Mike Schmidt.

5 Reggie Sanders RF Age: 36 Bats: R v R .259/.326/.487 (1013) v L .282/.359/.611 (386)

Reggie Sanders strikes out a lot (1320 short turns in 5102 career AB) and has landed on the disabled list 17 different times since being drafted in 1987 by Cincinnati. However, a .567 SLG is nothing to sneeze at, and in the relative obscurity of Pittsburgh, 2003 may have been his best year since 1995, when he was an all-star with the Reds.

The last guy this good to move around this often -- the Cardinals will be his seventh team in as many years -- might have been Bobby Bonds. Sanders, despite missing time with one ailment or another, has hit 87 HR the last three years. He's never played more than 140 games in a season, but he's taking over for a guy (J.D. Drew) whose inability to avoid injury was even more frustrating.

At 36, Reggie is still an adequate right fielder, with decent range (though he's lost a step) and an arm that's more reliable than spectacular. He should earn his $6 million, two-year deal on the field, and he's already allowed the Cards to trade for three new pitchers. Sanders was a late arrival in camp, staying home to be with his wife for the birth of their fourth child, so his spring campaign is just beginning.

6 Marlon Anderson 2B Age: 30 Bats: L v R .272/.328/.396/(1246) v L .279/.320/.377(297)

Everyone keeps saying the second base job is up for grabs, but Marlon Anderson has one big advantage over Bo Hart and Brent Butler -- he hits from the left side, and the Cards lean heavily to the right.

"He also has good speed, which makes him a candidate for the leadoff spot in the lineup," La Russa says.

Fantasy owners, take note. While purists cringe at Marlon's .316 career OBP, if he is leading off in front of the big five listed above, he is virtually guaranteed to reach a career high in runs, with 20 or more steals, and that will make him a bargain in most leagues. Of course, he has to win the job first, but I'm expecting that if Anderson doesn't play every day -- he's no worse vs. lefties than against righties -- he'll get the lion's share of a platoon.

7 Kerry Robinson LF Age: 30 Bats: L v R .266/.307/.334 (530) v L .244/.261/.422 (45)

Don't laugh; Kerry might be the starter. You don't always know if he's serious, but La Russa is constantly infuriating. There's actually a huge battle for left field among several veterans, and the job could go to the hot bat in camp. See the Bench and Longshots sections below for more on the competition.

Robinson told Matthew Leach, at the Official Site, not to worry about his OBP, which was better in the minors.

Mostly, though, he points to the way he has been utilized. Robinson feels he must be much more aggressive as a pinch-hitter. He said that given the chance to lead off and play regularly, he would take more pitches and see more favorable counts.

"I'm gonna have to get on base more," he said. "People always say that my on-base percentage is not that good, but it's because of the way I've been used. You go out there and pinch-hit, instead of seeing good pitches, Tony wants you hacking at the first strike."

I've listed him here as a regular to illustrate the absence of a "real" left fielder. It's more likely that Robinson will be a part-time player who backs up all three outfield positions, and you hope that he bats no higher than seventh, but youneverknow.

8 Mike Matheny C Age: 33 Bats: R v R .230/.296/.307 (893) v L .270/.332/.406 (244)

A Gold Glove winner who does nothing to help the offence; last year's OPS+ of 80 was the best of his career. Matheny's second most similar batter is Buck Martinez, if that helps. Don't forget that the hole in Mike's bat didn't stop the Cards from scoring more runs than the Rockies in 2003, and he is considered extremely valuable in other ways.

From Matthew Leach's Cardinals Team Report on

Mike Matheny could hit below .200, and the Cardinals wouldn't care. Manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan, who was a catcher, believe a catcher's top priority is defense. And Matheny has no holes in his defensive game. Pitchers love working with him. Matheny takes the blame when something goes wrong, regardless of who is at fault. He is superb at blocking the plate, and he is outstanding at coming up with pitches in the dirt.

He could be talking about Kevin Cash; it's uncanny. Maybe because my heart overrules my head from time to time when it comes to both clubs, I see a lot of similarities between the Jays and the Cards this season.


1 Matt Morris RH Age: 28 v RHB .265/.305/.387 (1277) v LHB .253/.313/.375 (1003)

With his three-year contract expiring after the season, Matt Morris sounds like someone contemplating free agency. "I think maybe it's time for me to judge myself against everybody," he said recently.

Even with the anticipated revenue from a new ballpark in 2006, the Cardinals may not be able to afford Morris, who makes $12.5 million this year. He turned down a reported two-year, $15.5 million offer, which sounds like either an opening gambit or a team that's decided to let him leave.

After dominant seasons in 2001 and 2002, last year Murphy's Law kicked in for Morris. Mechanical problems led to shoulder woes, which he gamely tried to pitch through. The shoulder only got the rest it needed when he went on the DL with a broken finger, and he also battled a tender ankle. With anything resembling normal luck this season, improvement is expected, and even if he's unhappy with the team's offer, he's motivated to put up solid numbers and prove 2003 was a fluke, not a trend.

Update: In his first start of the spring, Morris was hammered by the Mets for nine runs in 1 2/3 innings; he still has a few things to work on, including that 48.60 ERA.

2 Woody Williams RH Age: 37 v RHB .262/.305/.421 (1142) v LHB .245/.297/.396 (935)

Since being acquired for prodigal son Ray Lankford, the ex-Jay has flourished; he's 34-14 as a Cardinal. As with Morris, they are counting on Williams to take the ball every fifth day and keep them close; something like the 220.2 innings and 3.87 ERA he compiled in 2003 will be helpful. However, he's going to be 38 in August, and has been nursing a tender shoulder on the sidelines so far in Florida, so he's another question mark.

The latest word from coach Duncan is that Williams will pitch a few batting practice sessions before making his Grapefruit League debut next week. Woody has suggested going just an inning at a time for a while, but everyone is still hoping he will be ready for a start in the first week of the regular season.

One of the many things I like about Woody is that he's a really good hitter, one of the few pitchers in the NL who could probably be pinch-hitters on their days off. His .371 SLG last year included four doubles, a triple and a homer. Perhaps he could play left field between starts.

3 Chris Carpenter RH Age: 29 v RHB .265/.331/.418 (562) v LHB .300/.369/.495 (564)

Here's another reason to worry about the Cardinals' chances this season. This is a very ambitious slot for the one-time Toronto prospect, who hasn't pitched in a big-league game since August of 2002. That year, the New England native was so obsessed with making the Opening Day start at Fenway Park, that he neglected to mention his shoulder was killing him.

Chris told Dan O'Neill of the Post-Dispatch that the strength and conditioning work he has done the past two years might go beyond bringing him back -- it might propel him to another level.

"Unfortunately, I had to have something like this happen to make me realize you have to work to stay healthy, to keep something like this from happening," Carpenter said. "I've never done as many shoulder exercises, I've never worked out as hard as I have for the past two years. All I've been able to do is work out and get my arm strong. Plus, being as mentally low as you can be, committing to work as hard as you can work to get back to where we're at, makes you mentally tougher. It matures you 1,000 times. Now, I'm going to make sure I'm going to get all my work done, no matter how long it takes. I don't cut myself short of anything I have to do."

Sorry, but when I hear this "new commitment" stuff, isn't it an implicit admission that you lacked intensity or dedication before? Carpenter was a study in high expectations and frustrations for Toronto fans. If Chris is indeed a new man, and the long rehab process has also made his shoulder better than ever, the Cards really have something. He can show the National League that 12-to-6 curve and with decent run support, win some games. However, there's no guarantee that he's 100% physically, or will remain that way, and it's not like he's ever been a big winner.

4 Jeff Suppan RH Age: 29 v RHB .274/.327/.457 (1210) v LHB .271/.327/.430 (1258)

Suppan seems so much older than Carpenter, yet there's only three months difference in their ages. It's probably because Jeff has become an "old reliable," making over 30 starts and pitching at least 200 innings five years in a row. Signed for $6 million to keep his team in games for the next two seasons, he might benefit from a little Dave Duncan magic and have a career year. Suppan may have made a positive impression on the Cardinals brass when he came into Busch Stadium with the Pirates last July 28 and fired a complete-game 7-hit shutout, walking one and fanning five. I know, I know, that's a very small sample size.

5 Jason Marquis RH Age: 25 v RHB .262/.323/.426 (622) v LHB .257/.352/.418 (467)

Walt Jocketty and his scouts must believe Marquis can take the next step and become a useful starter. Jason will get an opportunity to prove that he was worth the gamble, though he hasn't been effective in the big leagues since the first half of 2002, when he went 6-4 with a 3.95 ERA. Whatever happened after the All-Star break that year, he regressed to 2-5, 6.97, then spent much of 2003 back in Triple-A Richmond, where his numbers weren't bad: 8-4, 3.35 in 15 starts, with 75 strikeouts and 34 walks in 94 IP.

Marquis could be another reclamation project for Duncan; according to Jim Callis of BA, he didn't take a demotion to the Atlanta bullpen well and didn't get along with pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

6 Dan Haren RH Age: 23 v RHB .304/.346/.416 (161) v LHB .278/.348/.540 (126)

After completely dominating AA (6-1 with an 0.82 ERA) Haren had made just eight AAA starts when he was rushed to the Show last summer. Under difficult circumstances, he performed as well as could reasonably be expected. This spring, he might be sent back down for more seasoning, or could pitch his way onto the big club. In 345 minor-league innings, the former second-rounder has struck out 312 while walking only 53. The Cards have a prospect or two with higher ceilings, but Haren is probably closest to being ready.


C Chris Widger Age: 32 Bats: R v R .260/.301/.339 (127) v L .256/.302/.359 (39)

Widger missed all of 2001 after rotator cuff surgery, and has suffered a power shortage since. Hasn't homered since 2000, when he hit 13 -- his third straight year in double figures. Appeared in 44 games last year for 102 AB; a similar workload is expected.

2B Bo Hart Age: 27 Bats: R v R .267/.306/.379 (206) v L .300/.344/.433 (90)

Hart hit lefties well enough last year to be considered a platoon partner for Anderson. Bo came up full of enthusiasm and hit .368/.407/.509 in his first 106 AB, then after the break, he plummeted to .226/.267/.332 in 190 AB, striking out 46 times and drawing just 6 walks.

The Cards are off to an 0-6 start in the Grapefruit League, with some players absent and others not really hitting yet, but Hart had five singles in his first 12 spring training AB to help his cause.

IF Brent Butler Age: 26 Bats: R v R .260/.295/.403 (412) v L .213/.255/.312 (141)

Expected to be one of TLR's favourites because of his versatility, Butler doesn't hit enough to deserve a starting job, but can play anywhere. Not entirely out of the mix at second base; in La Russa Land, where intangibles are king, anything is possible.

LF/1B Steve Cox Age: 28 Bats: R v R .270/.344/.439 (681) v L .208/.277/.312 (221)

Cox wasn't a tremendous hitter back in 2002, his only full season in Tampa Bay. He went to Japan last year where he injured a knee in a sliding drill and became homesick during his rehab. When that dragged on for months, the Yokohama Bay Stars allowed him to return to California, then they released him -- with full pay -- from the second year of his deal. Cox has a chance at a platoon job, especially if he proves he can play left field, and he could be another of Tony's favourites as a pinch-hitter and part-time role player.

OF So Taguchi Age: 35 Bats: R v R .250/.294/.500 (32) v L .324/.390/.486 (37)

The Japanese import might play more than usual this spring because Edmonds isn't ready. Primarily considered a defensive replacement, but even at a slight 5'10" and 163 pounds, Taguchi has shown surprising pop in his limited opportunities at the plate, slugging .493 in a mere 69 AB over the last two seasons.


Closer Jason Isringhausen RH Age: 31 v RHB .159/.217/.237 (334) v LHB .321/.417/.441 (664)

Izzy contributed just 42 innings for his $7.25 million last year, missing the first 63 games recovering from shoulder surgery. He's a Proven Closer with excellent stuff when he's not hurt, adding a new changeup to his impressive arsenal -- 96-97 mph heat, a sharp-breaking curve and an effective cutter.

A recent story by David Lennon in the Stamford Advocate suggests it has taken the former wild man, a highly-touted member of the Mets' "Generation K," a long time to grow up.

Isringhausen nearly killed himself during spring training in 1993 when he was climbing up the side of an apartment building - drunk - and fell three stories, landing on his head. He needed 22 stitches to close the gash in his head, and he also cracked his sternum and broke both of his big toes. Doctors told him he was lucky to have been so intoxicated because it helped relax his body. Otherwise, he might have been killed.

After shoulder and elbow surgery, he punched a trash can with his pitching hand during his first rehab start, breaking his wrist. He contracted tuberculosis and stabbed himself in the thigh with a large knife while trying to open a package containing an anti-theft device for his car. Isringhausen also infuriated the Mets when they discovered he had been playing slow-pitch softball for a local strip joint during one of his rehab stints in Port St. Lucie.

As with a few other Cardinals pitchers, he'll be an asset if he stays healthy. More than most, Izzy is likely to be offered as trade bait if they fall out of the race.

Swing Man Julian Tavarez RH Age: 31 v RHB .254/.310/.379 (874)
2004 St. Louis Cardinals Preview | 20 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Craig B - Tuesday, March 09 2004 @ 10:29 AM EST (#47943) #
The definitive word. Wow. Thanks, Coach.
Mike Green - Tuesday, March 09 2004 @ 10:49 AM EST (#47944) #
Great summary, Coach. I too have the Cardinals marked off for 90 wins. I don't think they can keep up with the 'Stros, but both the Cubs and Cardinals have pitching arm health issues that will be key in who makes it.

What goes around, comes around. With Pujols, Edmonds and Rolen, the Cardinals remind me most of the old Yankees. That's OK, as long as they don't end up with a Yankee-sized payroll in 2050.
_coliver - Tuesday, March 09 2004 @ 12:20 PM EST (#47945) #
Now, that was outstanding, Coach!

You do not get your due by simply calling your piece a summary, thesis is more like it! I always like it when there is a historical section--one's golden age of baseball is always during his childhood. We all can relate to those transistor radio stories!
_A - Tuesday, March 09 2004 @ 01:45 PM EST (#47946) #
I feel like I'm a well informed Cardinals' fan now. Considering I've never payed any specific attention to the club that speaks volumes about this piece.

thesis is more like it!
I curiously pasted it into a word processor: 25 pages, 11,000+ words - a thesis indeed. I hope you didn't do that all in one sitting, Coach :-)
robertdudek - Tuesday, March 09 2004 @ 02:42 PM EST (#47947) #
Unbelievably great essay, Coach. I just don't know what I can do with the Indians preview that can touch this (and that's not meant to be an allusion to MC Hammer).

One thing I've been saying about the Cardinals: they have the best front line talent in the NL. Thus, they're excellent candidates to surprise if they get good performances from the bench and the bullpen. In that regard, La Russa is his own worst enemy.
_Young - Tuesday, March 09 2004 @ 03:17 PM EST (#47948) #
Great stuff.

Coach, would you grade the Cardinals' farm system any higher than rock bottom this year? They were at or near the bottom last year, with Wainwright on board, do you think that the Cards' have a better chance of producing someone in the near future?
Gitz - Tuesday, March 09 2004 @ 03:29 PM EST (#47949) #
Um, can I re-do my Giants preview? (The A's one doesn't count, that was just a rant.) This is outstanding, Coach. Once again, you have made us feel a bit smaller, a bit less capable, by your words and deeds. Bravo.

The Cardinals are a joy to watch. Scott Rolen is worth the ticket all by himself, but when you consider Pujols, Edmonds, and Matt Morris (when he's on) also play the game hard, it's that much better. And, as Robert astutely points out, the experience would be even more sublime without Tony LaRussa's meddling.
Coach - Tuesday, March 09 2004 @ 04:10 PM EST (#47950) #
Thanks, everyone. Labour of love. I expect the Jays preview will be similar, with less red.

Young, I don't claim to be an expert on anyone's farm system, though I pay close attention to Toronto's. As a fan, I'm trying to be optimistic about the Cards' pitching prospects, but I'm not confident there's a lot there. If Wainwright and Hawksworth are both in the rotation by 2006, the system will have produced what they need, so it's not completely barren. After that, the quality is dubious and the quantity is badly in need of immediate restocking, a la Beane or Ricciardi. There isn't the luxury of waiting for 18-year-old catchers to develop.

First and last? I don't know for sure, but I consider the Jays and Cardinals to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. It's still not clear how much influence the new advisors will have, but it's safe to assume St. Louis will be turning 180 degrees in this year's draft.

the experience would be even more sublime without Tony LaRussa's meddling

Maybe next year, Gitz. I think it's win-or-else for Tony, so he'll be pulling every string within reach. I'm concerned about his batting order -- he'll want a fast guy at the top, and he just might bat the LF committee second, with his best hitters three through seven. Then of course, you want the pitcher eighth, to get Albert more AB with men on base. Unless it's Woody. It's genius stuff; all way over my head.
Gerry - Wednesday, March 10 2004 @ 08:58 AM EST (#47951) #
I had to save this to read at home last night. Great job Coach.
_salvomania - Wednesday, March 10 2004 @ 09:59 AM EST (#47952) #
I have to take exception to the following statement from you regarding Ray Lankford:

...and in response, the player walked out on his team, effectively forcing the trade.

More accurate is the comment from Dan Szymborski that you also provided:

...I'd be pretty reluctant to rejoin a team that orchestrated a smear campaign against me and completely ignored a decade of excellent service.

At the time of the "dump" of Lankord to the Padres he had an OPS of .841, which was far better than any of the others who began garnering more playing time as articles began appearing in the Post about Lankford's strikeouts and his "attitude."

The only direct quote I ever read from Lankford had him wondering why LaRussa never tried to talk to him face to face about his role, as he was in his 12th year with the team and felt that the comments through the media displayed a lack of "respect"---a word thrown around carelessly these days, but I believe it is relevant here.
Coach - Wednesday, March 10 2004 @ 10:46 AM EST (#47953) #
I'd be disinclined to believe either Lankford or La Russa on their spat. If memory serves, Ray even made allegations that Tony is racist, so the smear campaign, like the entire issue, had two sides. Considering La Russa speaks Spanish with his Latin players and has had many equal-opportunity run-ins, I think the common denominator is intolerance of what he considers laziness.

I wasn't trying to take sides, though I could have presented both of them back-to-back. My earlier comment about how hard it is to escape Tony's doghouse applies to Lankford and many others, not only in St. Louis. The manager's inflexibility isn't without blame, and Ray's behaviour may have been justified, but he did walk out and force the trade. Under those circumstances -- this all came after the deadline, so both players had to clear waivers -- Jocketty did extremely well to get Woody Williams.

The amazing thing, which is all I tried to point out, is that they have patched their differences enough for this tryout to occur. I agree completely with the rest of the Szymborski quote -- Ray must *really* want to play ball again.
_Jabonoso - Wednesday, March 10 2004 @ 12:04 PM EST (#47954) #
During my chilhood i used to follow, with great passion, the SF Giants and was a huge fan of Willie Mays and Juan Marichal. I'm still very impressed by the kind of games Gibson and Koufax pitched in their world series heroics.
How many Placidos did the Dodgers had last year? Obviously they were short in Placidos as their pitching was awesome...
Do you believe Pujols age at 24? he has the looks of a 27, 28 young man. Still the very cream in the game...
Coach, may you confirm the name of Kiko Calero as Nomar, please?
Ive heard somewhere that Nomar's Garciaparra made up this name by going backwards on his own name ( Ramon ) and Nomar does not exists in Spanish ( altough Omar and Roman are close ). By the way Mr Ramon Garciaparra is a poet.
_Rob H - Wednesday, March 10 2004 @ 12:47 PM EST (#47955) #
"If memory serves, Ray even made allegations that Tony is racist"

I think that was Ron Gant, or maybe Chris Kahrl.

"but he did walk out and force the trade"

Not really. The Cardinals planned on trading him anyway, and they made it abundantly clear they were not going to use Lankford. LaRussa's and Jocketty's comments at the time suggested they and the Padres were waiting for Woody to clear waivers, and that Ray's walkout was more a matter of jumping the gun than anything else.
Coach - Wednesday, March 10 2004 @ 01:39 PM EST (#47956) #
My apologies to Mr. Lankford if I have incorrectly portrayed his exit from St. Louis or attributed anything to him that was said by others, and thanks to salvomania and Rob H for the clarifications.

Jabonoso, both ESPN and Baseball-Reference list Kiko as Enrique Nomar. I've heard the same story about Garciaparra's name, but have no idea where Calero's originated.

I completely agree that the Mays/Marichal/McCovey Giants were a wonderful team. So were the Dodgers. Geography played a big role in anyone's choice of favourite teams; all you got from the west coast back then was two-day-old box scores. It was probably those radio broadcasts, when Harry Caray and Jack Buck worked together, that made me a St. Louis fan. I'm pretty sure it was KMOX -- some station on the Cardinals network came in loud and clear across the lake. It was magical; a channel with nothing but static all day and baseball almost every night, unless a storm affected reception or my mom took the "transistor" away. When we moved to Toronto the next year, I couldn't get any games on the radio, but I was old enough to ride the TTC and became a huge fan of the AAA Leafs, the best team I had ever seen live.

Though it may be hard to believe that I cut anything from this piece, there was a part about kids playing ball. I wasn't on an organized team in '62, yet I played between 40 and 50 hours a week. If there were just two or three of us, it was "500" or "running bases," when we had four or more, the game was "workups" with ghost runners. Most days, there were several hours with at least a dozen kids, ranging from 9-15 in age, playing hardball. I still resent the older kids for not letting me pitch, but I did learn how to hit and play every other position. If it rained hard enough, we traded baseball cards. So much has changed in 40 years, not all of it good for children.

Pujols 24? Sure, I believe it, until proven otherwise, and there have been enough people looking for evidence these last three years that I doubt it exists. If he has an "early" decline phase a decade from now, that may confirm some people's suspicions, but I accept that Albert is who he says he is. Why detract from our enjoyment of his tremendous talent?
Mike Green - Wednesday, March 10 2004 @ 02:10 PM EST (#47957) #
Coach, if the kids can talk about their Talking Heads (hey I like 'em too), there is a shared bond among the fogeys. Sneaking in the transistor radio to school to listen to the '67 World Series (all day games back then of course) was a fond memory for me.

As for unorganized baseball, it was the same for me. Dawn to dusk in the summer time and every free moment during school from April to October. I was the one standing on the painted-on third base in our asphalt schoolyard diamond in late March when the snow had melted and there were only a few patches of thin ice. I'd be there with my glove, wondering why no one else had brought theirs.

But it was a different time. Many (most?) mothers would walk their kids to school on the 1st day of kindergarten, and from then on the kids would walk to and from school on their own. Kids started taking public transit on their own anywhere from age 7 to 9, although everybody had heard rumours about "molesters". "Organization" and "Supervision" were not words that we heard so often.

Cue schmaltzy music-maybe "Rust never sleeps".
_Malcolm - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 03:45 PM EST (#47958) #
Hey Coach. I can't believe how you could remember and keep track of all this b-ball. Your essay is a Grand Slam HOMER. Mal
Craig B - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 04:17 PM EST (#47959) #
I'm pretty sure it was KMOX -- some station on the Cardinals network came in loud and clear across the lake. It was magical; a channel with nothing but static all day and baseball almost every night, unless a storm affected reception or my mom took the "transistor" away.

The reason AM stations are clearer at night has to do with the way radio signals are propagated. At any rate, shortwave and AM reception is terrible during the day compared to nighttime.

When I was a kid in Ottawa, and even in Halifax, I used to spin the "good radio" (for which I had built a decent antenna) collecting stations. I always used to love it when I happened on a ballgame. Best moment - finding a Vin Scully Dodgers broadcast around 1985 or 1986, all the way from Arizona.
robertdudek - Thursday, March 11 2004 @ 05:37 PM EST (#47960) #
I got WWWE Cleveland (I listened to Pete Franklin pre- and post-game a lot), KMOX and occasionally the Red Sox station (which was nearly the same frequency as CHUM AM so it was tough to get). I loved listening to Buck call Cardinals games.
_TOLAXOR - Sunday, March 14 2004 @ 08:06 PM EST (#47961) #

_John - Thursday, March 18 2004 @ 03:35 AM EST (#47962) #
It is KMOX, The Voice of St. Louis, that has broadcast the Cards games for who knows how many years. The station has been credited with making Cards fans out of many who grew up in the midwest as well as spots like Arkansas, Tennesee, Kentucky, etc. One of the reasons for what Cards fans call Cardinal Nation.
2004 St. Louis Cardinals Preview | 20 comments | Create New Account
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