This probably isn't going to catch on as a Rite of Spring unless everybody else in the world suddenly spends most of his time in the SB Nation CMS, but now that weird Spring Training shots are populating the photo browser I feel like we have truly reached the edges of baseball season, where I don't have to look at the same pictures of Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols at Winter Warmup, and some lost, lonely member of the Arizona Cardinals any more. Things are happening! Koyie Hill is gesturing in fear of the Glorious Sun King Aten to Yadier Molina and Bryan Anderson!
It strikes me as the right time for an Official Narrative Update, since none of the stragglers is strong enough to support a post on its own. Onward:
1. The Albert Pujols Billboard Thing is hopefully over, now that he's reiterated his discomfort with the name in the wake of the billboards that popped up around Los Angeles. I hope this signals the end of the Pujols The Jerk era, but for a while now I've noticed the frustrating tendency of some Cardinals fans to view everything he does, now, within the rapidly constructed framework of Albert Pujols being a Secret Jerk who, freed from his role as the new Stan Musial, is now showing his true colors as a disrespectful, two-faced mercenary, and I'm not sure the refutation of the clearest evidence for that point of view is enough to knock it out entirely. Come May I'm sure talk radio will be filled with people convinced that Pujols's tendency to ground into double plays is a sign of his incredble selfishness.
In our defense this isn't as coordinated a campaign, so far as I can tell, as the one, say, that turned Manny Ramirez from a lovable ditz into an oblivious jackass within minutes of his exit from Boston. But I guess this is just the trailing edge of an impulse I've indulged as much as anyone else—the one that allows us to read personal virtues for the corresponding, figurative baseball ones. A player who pitches smartly, like Greg Maddux, has to be smart; a guy who looks like he's working hard must work harder than a player who doesn't; a player who does everything right, like Albert Pujols, does everything right.
Probably there's some truth to the new depiction of Albert Pujols as a prickly, unpleasant over-competitor, but I don't want to blame him for our old hagiographic portrait or overcompensate on reporting his flaws in its absence, because we were responsible for it in the first place, and the entertainment we derived from it was real and valuable, even if it's gone now.
2. Here and at SB Nation St. Louis we've unwittingly carpet-bombed the internet with backup catcher coverage, and though I wrote neither piece I feel like my own weird compulsion to overthink a race for the least important spot on the 25-man roster is somehow to blame. Speaking of which: Let's overthink Jenifer Langosch's mothership post about veterans and prospects mingling more frequently in the Mike Matheny Era as it relates to backup catchers!
This idea of pairing the most experienced with the youngsters was proposed by Matheny and immediately embraced by the veterans.
"Not every organization has guys that want to buy into that," Matheny said. "I think they see the bigger picture that we have the opportunity to influence this organization for years to come. And if we put some of these kids out there on Field Z near Egypt, there's not going to be much of a chance to see how these guys go about things on a daily basis."
If Matheny's truly pushing for a more egalitarian mixture—in spring and, presumably, summer—it might augur well for Bryan Anderson's chances. His (and Langosch's) formulation of the new routines reminded me immediately of Rick Hummel's great Anderson profile from last week, in which Anderson's biggest problem seemed to be his ability to earn the trust of veteran management and players.
Meanwhile, it seems as though Koyie Hill is going to at least be talked up as an actual contender in the Cardinals' backup catcher derby—which, okay, I guess. Sometimes it's hard to remember that, before he was a terrible hitter for several years as the Cubs' backup, he was a borderline Ken Phelps All-Star in the minors, hitting well in a way that has stubbornly resisted major league relevance.
3. If any Spring Training storyline is equipped to compete with The Best Shape Of Your Life for sheer ubiquity it has to be the idea that this is the year in which the Cardinals will go speeding around the bases and manufacturing runs instead of, I don't know, playing beer-league softball with their shirts untucked.
Since the Cardinals' base-thieving imports are also their most injury-prone starters, the onus for providing Whiteyball flashbacks to fans who never really cottoned to Tony La Russa over the 16 years he was in town would appear to fall almost entirely on Tyler Greene. I don't discount the potential for a team-wide baserunning renaissance entirely, just because of those years in which everybody on the Phillies suddenly became Carlos Beltran, but it's hard to see this as a Spring Training storyline, or a matter of more and better instruction from Cardinals alums, considering how much access to Lou Brock the team has had over the last 20 immobile years.