You know, I've been thinking a lot lately about a word. Just one word, kind of a big one. Three syllables. Very fraught with a whole bunch of stuff.
The word I've been thinking of lately is Dynasty.
No, not because my own personal hubris has grown to the point I would tempt the gods of baseball by bringing up such a term as my team embarks on a quest to win a World Series, but because I've been thinking of something said by one of the players on said team.
It was Adam Wainwright, in fact, the man who will start Game One of the 2013 World Series tonight, who spoke of a dynasty. At the end of the NLDS, Wainwright said he wanted to build a dynasty here in St. Louis, to make this one of the great golden eras of Cardinal baseball.
I read that, and it went into my brain, and it sort of lodged there. I started to think about dynasties, about the kind of sustained excellence that makes up one, and exactly what constitutes a dynasty. Of course, championships are the first thing that come to mind; what could be more dynastic than a team which sits atop the mountain year after year?
If that's the only definition that counts, then the Cardinals probably fall a little bit short, sadly. After all, while two World Series championships since 2006 is certainly impressive, it doesn't quite match up with the Yankees' run of four in five seasons in the late 90s/early 2000s. Another ring this year might change that a bit, but that's putting the cart a bit ahead of the horse, don't you think?
But, then again, I'm not sure that is the only definition that counts, nor am I at all sure it should be the only definition that counts. In fact, depending on just how you wanted to define things, you might make the case the Cardinals are already, in a way, a dynastic team.
Consider: since the year 2000, the Cardinals have appeared in eight out of fourteen National League Championship Series. They've been to the World Series four times. Seven divisional titles, eleven playoff appearances.
It's hard to really compare eras, considering how different the postseason structure is now; for instance, if I wanted to compare this group to the great Cardinal teams of the Gashouse Gang era, it would come up wanting. The Gashouse Cards won four World Series titles between 1926 and 1934, with a fifth appearance (a defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Athletics), thrown in for good measure. Four championships in nine years? Definite dynastic territory. Or the Stan Musial Cards of the early to mid-40s, with three titles and a fourth trip to the Series from '42-'46; that would probably be a dynasty as well, though it didn't last for nearly as long as you might hope.
So the championships, this most recent iteration of Cardinal baseball doesn't quite have. But then, championships are much harder to win now, also. When Dizzy Dean and Frankie Frisch were leading the Cardinals to a World Series win, there was literally just the World Series to play. Thunderdome rules: two teams enter, on team leaves. Then, later, the other team leaves after receiving a trophy. And, frankly, as much as we might like to romanticize the old days of baseball (I'm plenty guilty of it myself, after all), let's not forget that the game was just...different then. Dynasties could be built in a way they just can't now.
So how about we back away from strict championships, huh? And how about we just disavow the really old days, on the grounds things were just different enough then that direct comparisons are kind of tough. Let's go back to the beginning of the divisional era in baseball, from 1969 to the present. And since the playoffs have expanded in recentish seasons, let's look at the NLCS.
In the first eleven years of the divisional era, the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared in the NLCS six times. Ditto for the Cincinnati Reds. Neither team could carry that success into the 80s, though, failing to make the Championship Series again until 1990. The Phillies had a very nice run of five NLCS appearances from 1976-'83, but then failed to return until the 1993 season.
From 1991-2001, the Atlanta Braves made it to the NLCS nine times, which is kind of amazing. Of course, it was the first round of the playoffs for some of those years, but still. It's an accomplishment I feel we should really be more in awe of than we are.
And then there's the Cardinals current run of eight NLCS appearances in fourteen years. all of which came since the Wild Card was implemented. Since this run began, no other National League team has been to the NLCS more than three times, with the Dodgers, Giants, and Phillies all tied. So, since the turn of the century, the Cardinals have more than doubled the number of NLCS appearances of any other team in the senior circuit, and have actually won more series than any other NL team has appeared in. That is fairly dominant, I would say.
So is this current team a dynasty? I don't know. I suppose it really does depend on how you want to define dynasty. Does it have to be championships, or is sustained excellence and dominance of your league enough? This run of success the Cardinals are on doesn't compare with, say, the Yankees of the 50s or anything, but still, there's really no question they are the 800 pound gorillas of the National League. And as far as sustained success in the history of this particular franchise, it's tough to find a stretch much better. There have been peaks at least as high, and maybe higher, but very few with the kind of longevity as this.
The Cardinals may win this World Series. They may not. Personally, I think they have a really good chance. But whatever the outcome, Adam Wainwright should rest easily at night.
I'm not sure I'm ready to call this team a dynasty. But I can say, with utter certainty, that this is already a golden age.
Oh, and one last thing: can we please, please, please get a new celebratory song than Kool and the Gang's "Celebration"? This isn't 1985; we're all smart enough to know that song sucks. We don't need to bring it back. I would like to nominate David Bowie's "Heroes" as the Cardinals' new celebratory song. It's thematically appropriate(ish), it feels incredibly majestic, and it is not that other effing song. So three for three. If you've got a better suggestion, I'll listen, but until I hear one I'm beating this drum.