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busch nostalgia 3: templeton returns

i never have been a huge fan of interleague play. well, let me rephrase that: i have always considered interleague play a cheap gimmick the owners foisted upon their fans in the wake of the strike. it pollutes the playoff races, and it introduces a misplaced "big-game" mentality into the regular season. we're supposed to place great emphasis on this week's series against the boxos and yanks, as if winning them somehow means more than winning a series against, say, the dodgers or the braves. the only "big games" i care about this year are the ones against the cubs; and the next of those is still six weeks off.

there is only one interesting thing about this week's irregular matchups: edgar renteria's return to busch stadium. it's a big enough event that this morning's p-d had not just one but two articles on the subject -- both of them urging open arms and a show of appreciation toward a player whose departure injured many feelings in cardinal nation. all spring that chat rooms and sportstalk airwaves, edgar's struggles in boston have been discussed in tones of smirking satisfaction; his pain is bringing a lot of cardinal fans pleasure. even TLR has voiced opinions on the subject, drawing return fire from herr von schilling.

a petty spectacle all around, and one that does not reflect well on the so-called best fans in baseball. unfortunately, we've seen this before -- long ago, in 1982, when ex-card ss garry templeton first appeared at busch in a road uniform. templeton spent five and a half seasons (1976-1981) as the stl shortstop and was arguably the most exciting one in franchise history up to that point. debuting with the cardinals at the age of 20, he .305 over the next 5-plus seasons, stole 138 bases, led the league in hits once and triples three times, and appeared on two all-star teams. he had extraordinary range and a rocket arm and phenomenal speed; at the time he left the cardinals he was very well positioned to reach 3,000 career hits -- 911 on the books already at the age of 25.

the kid was a potential hall-of-famer, in other words. but he was dumb and immature, and an obscene gesture directed toward the box seats in late 1981 sealed his doom in st louis. whitey herzog literally banished him from the team for nearly a month, then traded him in the offseason to the padres for ozzie smith. a lot of st louisans hated the trade; smith was a career .231 hitter with absolutely no extra-base pop. but he got off to a fast start in 1982, and so did the cardinals -- by the end of may they were 12 games over .500 and 2.5 games ahead of the field in the nl east. this was heady territory for a city that hadn't whiffed the postseason in fourteen years; our honeymoon with "whiteyball" was in full flower, and particularly with its signature practitioner, osborne earl smith. and we'd thought our old shortstop was a great player? hah! how cheap and unhealthy and childish that old infatuation now seemed. that was mere puppy love; this was the real thing. garry was a boy; ozzie a real man.

we let them both know it when templeton and the padres came to busch on friday night, may 28, 1982. when templeton came up in the top of the first, batting third (and hitting just .246), we flung ugly boos at him like peasants at a stoning -- likewise our malignant cheers when templeton flied out to right to end a 1-2-3 first. ozzie was the very next hitter, leading off the bottom of the first (and hitting .279), and on him we showered glowing cheers of unconditional embrace. there was a flash of anticipation when he bounced it to templeton -- maybe he'll boot it! -- then another ovation for ozzie as he trotted back to the dugout. we punished templeton with more boo-bombs when he led off the fourth inning; he smashed one up the middle of the infield, but ozzie laid himself out to his left and gloved the ball, popped up from his belly and threw templeton out by a step. when the ump punched him out, you'd have thought the cards had just won the world series, so delirious and loud and long did we roar our approval. the ovation lasted into the next at-bat and eventually morphed into a chant i had never heard before -- for all i know it was born that very night: oz-zie! oz-zie! oz-zie! the game itself (which the cards led 1-0 at the time) was completely forgotten; things had gotten personal, and we were reveling in it. oz-zie! oz-zie! oz-zie! -- take that, templeton!

the cards won the game 5-2; both shortstops went 0 for 4. the next night templeton reached on a force in the top of the first, stole a base, and scored on a single; he later doubled home a run, and the padres won 4-2. on sunday the padres took a 1-0 lead and held it when lonnie smith drew a walk with one out in the bottom of the fifth. the san diego pitcher, tim lollar, caught him leaning and threw it to first baseman gene richards, who wheeled and fired it to templeton as lonnie bore down on second base. ball and baserunner converged, and something went amiss; the throw struck templeton flush in the face and bounced away into the outfield. smith ended up on 3d base, templeton prone at his position; he left the game and was replaced by mario ramirez.

i wasn't there, so i don't know how the stadium felt. i would imagine there was some initial glee over the misplay and the humiliation of the now-despised templeton; then a hush as it dawned on the crowd that the injury might be serious; and then, i would guess, relieved applause as he walked off the field. must have been a chastening moment for those in attendance -- one moment wishing every ill upon templeton, the next moment horrified to see the wish come true. and to see their petty hatreds so starkly exposed.

this turned out to be a memorable game for other reasons: the cards tied it at 3-3 with three runs in the 9th, fell behind 5-3 in the top of the 10th, opened the bottom half with a couple of outs, then proceeded to win the game by going single-double-single-hbp-single. a second straight three-run rally and a series win. templeton's hurt proved not to be serious; he started the next day at wrigley and went 3 for 5 with 2 doubles. but he never fulfilled the promise of his stl youth; he regressed as a hitter and batted just .250 in the last ten years of his career. if you had asked me on may 28, 1982, if such would be a fitting trajectory for garry templeton's career, i would have said it was too good for the son of a bitch . . . . . but if you ask me today, i say it's a shame things didn't work out better for him. and a shame, too, that i and the other fans at busch on may 28, 1982, couldn't have welcomed him back with a little more class.

tonight's crowd will have a chance to show edgar that st louis fans really are the best in baseball.