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Pitchers and Catchers report! Pitchers and Catchers report! Pitchers and Catchers report!

It might not even be spring training proper, but it is grown men getting paid millions to throw around a white spherical object, while others talk about them. Baseball season is increasingly close to being upon us. How long before Albert shows up early? I give it about half of a week. And then he'll say something absurd about "just trying to make the team."

I'd like to remind everyone of my Spring Training Challenge. Entries will close at the end of the first spring training game, so get those posts up before that happens.

As for now, I think that I'd like to take a moment to talk about Ray Lankford. In aruzavatar's elimination thread, there seemed to be quite a bit of negative feeling about Ray that I simply can't at all understand. Yes, he never won a championship, but since when did we have that sort of standard that I've only really heard from Yankee fans? He suffered from having the highest profile team that he played on be the 1998 Cardinals, where he was both slightly past his prime, and way, way, way overshadowed (literally and figuratively) by Mark McGwire. That year, he was in a situation where swinging for the fences made a lot more sense, with McGwire usually on base when he came up, and a very poor pitching staff that usually left effort on the team to hit a bunch of big home runs to even have a chance of coming back.

But all of that misses the big picture regarding Lankford. He is fourth on the Cardinal's all-time list of games played at center (only fifty behind Willie). He hit the more home runs at the real Busch Stadium than any other player. His career OPS+ was 123*. And, with runners in scoring position, Lankford was actually a better player than he was overall in his career, despite the incessant claim that he crumbled in big game situations. Really, the only complaint about Lankford that I can really identify was that he was drafted during the era where Whiteyball crumbled, and wasn't Pujols-like enough to just carry the team on his shoulders. He never won any gold gloves, but was considered by all to be a solid defensive center fielder.

The presence of Kenny Boyer and Mark McGwire keeps me from saying that Ray is the best eligible Cardinal not in the Hall of Fame, but he is pretty damn close. I just wanted to take this chance to defend Mr. Lankford from the constant barrage of criticism that he has received. He and Ozzie almost singlehandedly kept me interested in the team during the dark ages.

*by comparison, Willie McGee, who only stole eighty more bases (though willie stole at a much better rate), had a career OPS+ of 100