It has been a popular couple months to publish books on the St. Louis Cardinals as Howard Megdal's The Cardinals Way: How One Team Embraced Tradition and Moneyball at the Same Time was released in late February, and soon thereafter, Rob Rains' Taking Flight: The St. Louis Cardinals and the Building of Baseball's Best Franchise became available to the public as well. As you may recall, our managing editor, Craig Edwards, already covered The Cardinals Way through a podcast and Q&A with Megdal. Today, I plan on providing a few thoughts on Rains' book, which is, in short, a book that I truly believe is an enjoyable and informative read for just about every Cardinals fan, especially those interested in the routes minor leaguers take in their respective treks to the big leagues.
Rains sets the scene with a foreword by Whitey Herzog (National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2010) and a prologue on how the Cardinals minor league system came into existence. While both sections were interesting (and I definitely learned a great deal in the prologue), this book's gold came in the 29 chapters that followed. In total, Rains provides readers with insight from three executives (including general manager John Mozeliak in the opening chapter), four coaches, two scouts, and twenty players (ranging from a top prospect in Alex Reyes to a non-prospect, yet undervalued contributor in Travis Tartamella).
Now, I don't want to provide too much information to the point where you, a prospective reader, will no longer feel the need to buy (or rent) the book, but there are two stories from the book I feel compelled to include because they do a nice job at stimulating the interest of those who may be on the fence of whether or not they should check out the book.
Mike Shildt -- Manager, Memphis Redbirds
Back in December 2003, Shildt received two phone calls from Mozeliak, the second in which he was formally offered a position as team scout. What happened during Shildt's first trip to St. Louis elicits a chuckle:
"While [Shildt] was in the team's offices, he was left alone for a few minutes and casually walked into the office of Bruce Manno, the director of player development at the time.
'I told him I was taking a scouting job but part of the deal was that I was going to get to coach and that Mo was going to talk to him about it,' Shildt said. 'He was like, 'Who are you again?'"
Dirk Kinney -- Area Scout
When planning one of his pre-draft scouting trips last April, Kinney dealt with a unique situation I was naive enough to believe did not happen in baseball:
"[Kinney] heard the ding of his computer, meaning there was a new e-mail in his inbox. He clicked on the message, which was directed to the group of Midwest scouts:
MSU v DBU TONIGHT HAS BEEN CANCELED DH STARTING AT NOON SATURDAY. JON HARRIS WILL START THE FIRST GAME KG.
It wasn't but a few minutes later, however, when Kinney learned something was amiss. The e-mail, reportedly from Keith Guttin, the longtime coach at Missouri State, was a fake. The game had not been canceled.
'It was probably the most bizarre thing I have ever seen.' Kinney said."
These are just two of the countless stories included in Rains' book. A chapter I wanted to include quotes from, but refrained, was Rowan Wick's. He was surprisingly candid about his thoughts on the transition from the outfield to the pitcher's mound in the middle of last season. The final chapter, on Tartamella (pictured above), who has caught Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Tim Cooney, Marco Gonzales, and Tyler Lyons in the minor leagues, provides a heart-warming ending to the book—something that is actually very important to me as a reader.
While I consider myself an avid follower of the farm system, there were players included in this book that I had either forgotten about over the years or didn't even know in the first place. Now that I have stories and personal insight attached to their names, I look forward to tracking their progress in 2016 and beyond. Admittedly, this is one of the main reasons I like to host Q&A's with current Cardinals prospects. We can all easily access their most up-to-date statistics, but being able to learn the story of a player, especially one that is tirelessly competing to one day don the MLB Birds on the Bat, provides a deeper meaning. Two names to keep an eye on are Trey Nielsen (pitcher) and Collin Radack (outfielder), with both likely headed to Double-A Springfield to open the season.
If you choose to purchase Rains' new book, as I strongly recommend, please do so through this link, as Amazon has a program, called AmazonSmile, set up where a portion (while very small) of the purchase goes to author's charity of choice. Also, if interested, I can try to reach out to Rains and see if he would be interested in answering some of our questions about the book and the organization as whole. I personally have a few questions in mind (i.e. Chris Correa-related) if there indeed is interest, but feel free to email yours to stlcupofjoe (at) gmail (dot) com.