i’m probably in the minority here, but i think it’d be cool if bobby cox went out a winner. the guy managed his ass off this year, as always -- had to change starters at four positions (3b, ss, cf, and 1b), lost the back half of his rotation for significant portions of the season, and didn’t get much help from the F.O. (whose "impact" off-season additions included eric hinske and troy glaus). rather than bitch about his burdens nonstop, as a crabby old skipper might be tempted to do, cox solved all those problems and kept his team afloat. they’re in the tournament for the first time since ’05; i don’t like their offense much, but the frontline pitching is strong enough to give the braves a shot. (and not that anyone asked, but i hope they don’t hire hitting coach terry pendleton to replace cox, because i’d love to see TP managing in st louis someday soon.)
in the AL i’m rooting for the twins, who also refused to be deterred by adversity -- they lost their closer in ST and their cleanup hitter (and MVP candidate) at midseason, lived with make-do options at 3b and rf, and still left two higher-payroll rivals (det and chi) in the dust. i don’t like their frontline pitching after liriano, but i admire the hell out of that franchise, which is in the postseason for the 6th time in ron gardenhire’s 10 seasons as manager -- but, alas, still looking to win its first postseason series under his leadership.
anyway, i’m not really here to talk about the tournament. i’m here to say that although you can’t watch the cardinals play this month, you can still read about them. earlier this year post-dispatch scribe derrick goold came out with his first book, 100 Things Cardinals Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die. some of it covers familiar ground, but there’s a lot of fresh material in there with which to while away an idle october.
for instance, i’d never heard the one about team owner chris von der ahe getting arrested in the second inning of an 1887 game and charged with conducting business on a sunday (von der ahe got a baseball-only exemption some weeks later), nor the one about the st louis baserunner who later that season was charged with assault and fined $4.50 (!!) after upending a defender on a hard slide into second. i didn’t know that only 10 cardinals in history have hit walkoff grand-slams (and that three of them are david eckstein, aaron miles, and gary bennett), that flint rhem was kidnapped (so he said) and force-fed raw whiskey at gunpoint during a critical 1930 series vs the dodgers, or that billy southworth and his family were homeless throughout the 1944 world series. (the southworths time-shared an apartment all season with the family of stl browns manager luke sewell, trading off occupancy as the two teams came and went during the season; the two families were never in town simultaneously until october.) until i read this book, the agonizing debate about the color of a cardinal’s beak had completely escaped me. and i never really thought about it, but you can make a good case (and goold does) that the first pitch in cardinals history was thrown by none other than cy young, back in 1899.
a couple weeks ago i did a quick Q+A with derrick about the book, the franchise, and the fan base; it follows after the jump. you can order the book direct from the publisher at this here link
What was the rationale for doing the book?
Most fans are pretty well versed in the last 30+ years of Cardinal history, just because the team has been so successful. Even if you go back to the Brock and Gibson teams, the big names and events are pretty familiar. One of my goals was to dig deeper into the history and offer up some anecdotes, events, interesting performances, and things from the past that tie together the entire picture of what the Cardinals mean -- not just what they mean in baseball but what they mean to the area. I wanted to offer up some historical sites that people could go to visit -- for example, all of the many former sites here in town where professional baseball was played. When you really explore the landscape of professional baseball in St Louis, I think you have a sense of how deeply rooted this place is as a baseball town. But how it got there -- the little instances and events and locations that got it there -- that’s what I was looking for. And that’s what I was most delighted about finding.
In some ways you find history repeating itself. As I was digging into the farm system, I found that a lot of Branch Rickey’s ideas and his theories behind it are still applicable to what the Cardinals are trying to do now. Rickey knew the Cardinals could never have a payroll to compete with big-market teams like Chicago and New York -- and they were almost all big-market teams in those days -- so he thought the way to address that was to get talent at a cost-controlled level, and get lots of it. How is that any different from what the Cardinals are trying to do on the most basic level today?
The last 15 years have been an unusual period. There’s almost a whole generation of Cardinal fans who have grown up with the expectation that the team will reach the postseason every year, and if they don’t then something is seriously wrong. Did that have any effect on how you put the book together?
This has been such a prosperous decade-plus for the Cardinals, and certainly coverage of the Cardinals has gone up exponentially; you get to a point where all this stuff has been covered and it’s all well remembered, so you’d better have something different to tell readers about. I knew when I outlined the book that a trap I could fall into was to make 90 percent of it about things from recent years and 10 percent things from the past. There’s just so much more information about what’s happened in the last four decades than what happened in the previous six or seven decades. So I could have gone where the most abundant research and most accessible anecdotes existed, but I didn’t want that. I fought that urge.
For some franchises, if you were doing a book like this you’d do an entry for every time they’ve ever reached the playoffs, because there just aren’t that many instances. But I made a conscious decision not to do that, because it would gobble up a whole lot of the book. I didn’t do that across the board; you can’t ignore Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS against the Mets. You just can’t ignore it. But I didn’t need to give a whole entry to the 2001 divisional series against the Diamondbacks. Great series, but in the end does it add more to the lore of this franchise than, let’s say, Trinket City [the museum-like set of collectibles amassed by former club VP Marty Hendin]? I tried to mix it up so that the high points of the playoff history are included, but they don’t dominate the book.
You mentioned that you had a hard time deciding what to keep in and what to cut out -- what are some of the things that missed the cut?
I didn’t have a separate entry for Willie McGee; he makes appearances here and there, but he didn’t end up with his own entry. I waffled on that until the very end, whether to write a profile of him or to just have references sprinkled throughout the book. But for the most part I was able to cram in everything I wanted to. The book has sidebars, and I used those liberally.
God bless the sidebar.
I just didn’t want anything important to slip through the cracks, and if there was something that didn’t really fit anywhere else I could always make it into a short item of its own, even if it’s only one paragraph.
What kind of feedback have you gotten? Have you gotten any angry letters from fans of, I dunno, Joe McEwing or Bob Tewksbury, complaining that their man got short shrift? Or conversely have you gotten responses that say, hey thanks for including that story, I never realized this was part of Cardinal lore?
Mostly the latter. When you write for a newspaper, you get a lot of e-mails from people who want to tell you how dumb you are. But the responses to the book have been along the lines of, "Thanks for reminding me of something I had forgotten," or "I thought I knew that story, but you still showed me something new about it." I haven’t received any e-mails -- though now that I say this, I probably will -- complaining, "Why aren’t the gritty gutty infielders in there like Stubby Clapp or Bo Hart?" Most of the response has been very positive, and it’s been pleasant in that regard.
I think people have bought into the approach of the book. I wanted to avoid just rehashing history. I was trying to take a new look at things and expand the focus, treat the Cardinals as not just a baseball club but also a cultural resource.
There aren’t many franchises that you could take that kind of approach with.
In a lot of ways the book is really about geography -- the geography of Cardinal Nation. The book is set up as a virtual road map. It starts where so many people start -- at the Stan the Man statue -- and then I tried to organize it that way all the way through.
For a good part of their history, the Cardinals were the furthest team west and the furthest team south, and KMOX helped to push the boundaries of the fan base outward. I can remember as a kid listening to Cardinal games on KMOX at my grandparents’ place in the Wisconsin dells. And out in Colorado, where I grew up, there were people who knew which high points you could drive to to get a clear signal from KMOX. When I was a kid and Denver was still trying to get a major-league franchise, the Denver Post decided to "adopt" a major-league team and cover them as a regular beat. They held a poll and the Cardinals won, and I remember being so baffled by that. I thought the Cubs would win, and I thought the Yankees had a chance to win because they’d had a Triple A team in Denver for many years. But out of nowhere -- to me, anyway -- the Cardinals won that poll. That’s the kind of reach they had.
Then when I got my first job in sportswriting down in New Orleans, sure enough there was a big group of Cardinal fans there, for the same reasons.
St. Louis had a triple A team down there for a little while.
That’s right, the Pelicans. That’s where Tony La Russa’s playing career ended, you know. George Kissell told him, maybe you’d better think about managing, because I don’t think the playing thing is going to work out. [That was in 1977 --- La Russa, then 32 years old and playing his 10th season of AAA ball, hit .188 / .297 / .305 for the Pelicans in 50 games. Within two years he was managing the Chicago White Sox.]
Let me go back to Musial for a second, because you just mentioned him. Joe Posnanski wrote a great cover story about Musial for Sports Illustrated this summer, but it was almost as if he had to reintroduce this great player to America’s sports fans. How can a player who was that great be so far under the radar? Why is he only sort of hazily remembered, while Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio and other stars of his era still have very sharply defined identities? Is it just another manifestation of the dreaded "East Coast bias"?
That’s a hard question to answer. I always wrestle with the thought that if Stan Musial played on the coast, he’d be more widely appreciated as a player. Maybe he would have -- maybe. But would he be as appreciated as a person? One reason he’s such an inspiration even after all these years is because of who he is -- the person he is. He personifies not just what it means to be a Cardinal but what it means to be a Midwesterner. That can’t be ignored as part of his greatness.
There hasn’t been a meaty biography of Musial the way there has been for Yogi Berra or Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. There hasn’t been that. But I wouldn’t say that it’s East Coast bias. The Cardinals are very well represented in baseball literature. There might not be any literati like there might be for, say, the Red Sox -- there’s not a John Updike or Roger Angell or even a Stephen King out there writing about the Cardinals. But you can’t do a history of baseball, or any of the major eras of baseball, without part of the story being about the Cardinals. Even if you’re writing about breaking the color barrier, Branch Rickey is front and center in that story. If you’re writing about steroids, there’s Mark McGwire. The Cardinals are a constant, high-profile presence in baseball history. They’re not the Yankees, but I can’t find any evidence that they’re overlooked. You could say that any team is overlooked compared to the Yankees. If you compare the Cardinals to the 28 clubs who aren’t the Yankees, they actually do pretty well in terms of national recognition.
Even if you’re focusing on the Yankees’ dominance, the Cardinals are the team that provides context to that dominance. When you talk about 27 championships, the Cardinals set the bar for how truly large that number is -- they are the best of the rest. That’s not the same as being the Yankees, but it’s a pretty good place to be. You’re not an anonymous franchise when you’re the primary control group. Both in a literal, geographic sense and in a figurative sense, the Cardinals are at the center of major-league baseball.