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Post All-Star Game Musings

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Hegemony for all!

Once again, the American League will have home field advantage for the World Series. Can't say I'm entirely surprised, seeing as how they've had it every other year it's been decided by the All-Star Game. Sigh. It doesn't seem to do any good to complain, as baseball is apparently set on continuing this ridiculous farce on down into the pits of Sheol.

I am rather upset about something that happened, or rather didn't happen, prior to the game, but I've already said my piece on it this morning, so I won't rehash here. As for the game itself, well, the American League was probably the better team, but not in the way they have been for the past however many years now.

For quite some time, the AL has clearly been the better league. More talent, better hitters, pitchers used to working against all nine hitters, rather than strategically using the pitcher's spot to help get out of jams and the like. As of now, though, I don't believe that's any longer the case. The National League talent level is equal to the American League in nearly every facet, with the exception of one.

The closers.

Let's face it, the American League won largely because they were able to throw arguably the three best closers in the game at the NL in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. The NL had no answer, relying instead on Heath Bell, a nice pitcher who looks a whole lot better than he really is due to pitching in baseball's Grand Canyon. Yes, yes, I realise the NL did have Ryan Franklin, whose beard power should have been enough to bring home a National victory, but he was used up early in the proceedings. Even if he had been saved for the end, I'm just not sure that Franklin/ Bell/ Rodriguez is quite equal to Papelbon/ Nathan/ Rivera.

There's a lesson to be learned here, I think, for those of us who follow the Cardinals. Not too very long ago, we saw Chris Perez, at times seen as the team's closer of the future, and a PTBNL, also assumed to likely be a reliever, traded away for Mark DeRosa. Now, I'm not interested in arguing again about whether or not it was a good deal. That territory has been well covered. But what I do find interesting is some of the logic used at the time to justify the move of Perez, a potential shut-down reliever, in the pursuit of DeRosa.

Even among those who believed Perez was, in fact, going to end up being very, very good down the road a bit, there was sentiment that it was alright to give up Perez, because we already had other pitchers who could close games. I wonder, after seeing the AL able to simply shut the game down after the sixth inning due to the presence of such intimidating, overpowering relief pitchers, do we feel the same way?

It has long been an accepted truism that you need a closer and a setup reliever to bridge the gap and get the game from either the starter or various other fill-in type relievers to the closer. But consider a team like the 1990 Cincinnati Reds. The Reds won the World Series that year, and their success was predicated largely on the trio of relievers they had at the back end of their bullpen. Now, please don't think I'm trying to make the case the Reds won solely because of the Nasty Boys; Cincinnati was a very good team that year. But the biggest strength of that club was the fact that they could throw Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble, and Randy Myers at you on any given night, essentially turning any contest into a six inning game. (By the way, all three of those guys were dominant in '90, but Dibble's ERA+ that year was 228. I had forgotten just how terrifying he was for awhile there.)

The lesson here, I think, is that the reasoning of, "We already have a guy to close, so it's alright to move this other guy," is faulty.  You can never have too many shutdown arms late in the game, and to consider one expendable because he isn't necessarily going to close games out is, I think, very short-sighted. Now, I will say this: the sheer depth of right-handed relief pitching the Cardinals have managed to stockpile helps to ease the sting of losing a guy or two like this, but I still think the point is a valid one. (Oh, and before anyone bothers, I am in now way implying that Chris Perez is the equivalent of Mariano Rivera. He also wouldn't be pitching to an All-Star team. The concept is what matters here.)

The other thing on my mind this morning relates to our very own Albert Pujols. There has, of course, been much angst amongst the fans of late over the impending end of Albert's contract. I think we can all agree that Albert packing up and alighting for the territories would be a serious blow to the Cardinals, not only from an on the field standpoint, but also from a public relations angle. The rage which would follow the Cardinals failing to retain the greatest player most of us have ever seen personally play the game would be utterly terrifying to behold. On the field, losing Pujols would create an enormous performance vacuum, one I'm not entirely sure any team would be able to quickly fill.

But after watching Albert the past few weeks in his role as All-Star ambassador, I've been thinking a bit about how I would feel if he left. Bob Nightengale, always a favourite of the people here in St. Louis, implied in a column just prior to the ASG that Albert may be on his way out, and the resulting bitchfest over at CardsTalk was magnificent. Over at Gateway Redbirds, a thread popped up asking the question: how would you feel if Albert left as a free agent?

So that's the question I pose to you all this morning. (Morning if I hurry up and get this done; I was out in downtown quite late last night after the game, and didn't get any sort of early start on any of my various writing commitments for the day.) Say Albert does pull up stakes here and go to another team for the 2012 season. What would that do to your fandom? Would you rage and scream against cheap ownership? Accept that there was really no way to build a competitive team around the financial demands of such a contract? Would you give up on the team entirely as a bad job, and take up knitting sweaters for cats?

We all want Albert Pujols to spend his entire career as a Cardinal, I'm sure. We want all of his MVP award and All-Star appearances to be in Cardinal red. When he is inducted into Cooperstown, we want the interlocked STL right there on his cap. But in this modern age of sport, we also must consider the prospect that none of those things may come to pass. Albert may, in fact, play in another uniform before his time in the game of baseball is done. And if that happens, I wonder how so many of us who love this team will react.

Personally, I would be upset, perhaps incredibly so, but I would never stop following the team. I root for laundry, as the saying goes. The Cardinal jersey is what matters to me; I'm a fan of the team, not Albert Pujols. Actually, let me rephrase that: I'm a fan of Albert Pujols because he's a Cardinal; not a fan of the Cardinals because they have Albert Pujols.

When I was very young, my favourite player was John Tudor. My grandfather and I would sit and watch every game we could that he pitched, even to the point that grandpa bought a VCR just to record games. (Sadly, I have no idea what became of those tapes; when I bought the house my grandparents had left behind when they passed away, I didn't find any of them.) But when John Tudor was traded to the Dodgers, I didn't fall out of love with the Cardinals. I followed Tudor still in the boxscores, but the Cardinals were still my first love. Same with Ray Lankford. And Willie McGee. And Felix Jose. (Yes, that's right. I loved Felix Jose. You wanna fight about it?)

To me, following the Cardinals is simply a part of my life. I fell away from it for awhile in my sad and confused teenage years, but the game, and the team, were still there, just waiting for me to come back. All those memories of games as a child, Jack Buck on the radio, impersonating all the players' batting stances, the feeling you get when you walk into a ballpark, those things are all a part of me. I would never question someone else's fandom, but to me, the love of the game of baseball, and the love of the Cardinals, is much bigger than any one player will ever be, no matter how transcendent that player.

If Albert left, I would mourn, and I would rage, and I would likely become even more bitter and nasty in my rantings. But the Cardinals would remain my team.

Well, either that or the cat sweater thing. That does sound pretty cool.

Oops, almost forgot.

The Baron's Playlist for the 15th of July, 2009

An interesting thing happened to me not too long ago. I went out to dinner with some friends of mine, and after the pizza was consumed, we decided to head over to the snow cone and frozen custard stand nearby. This particular snow cone shop has music, generally in the form of a DJ, on Friday and Saturday nights. Guy comes in, plays the current pop stuff, the 10-16 year old kids there with their mothers eat it up, everybody's happy.

Well, on this particular Friday evening, rather than the typical DJ, there was a young man with a guitar playing. Same crowd of families and large groups of children sitting at the picnic tables, but listening to this guy and his old Hohner. I didn't think too much of it at the time, but as we were standing there, I started to realise that I knew the song he was playing, but couldn't place it. So I actually listened, rather than simply treating it as background noise, and I suddenly realised he was playing Johnny Cash's "Fulsom Prison Blues" to a group of twelve year old kids. Now, far be it from me to criticise, as I love Johnny Cash as I love few things in this world, but there was something rather odd about seeing a large group of tweeners listen to man sing about the man he shot in Reno.

Well, needless to say, I was thrilled by this, and immediately began to mentally put together a set list that this delightful troubadour could play for these children. I shall share it now with you.

Fulsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash

Country Death Song - The Violent Femmes

Where the Wild Roses Grow - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Where Did You Sleep Last Night - Nirvana

Death Letter - Son House

There. That ought to give the little bastards an idea of what the world is like.