In a year where everything is “unprecedented,” it was comforting to see the St. Louis Cardinals sit on their hands and do absolutely nothing at the trade deadline.
Maybe it’s because my family’s cardboard cutouts managed to get behind home plate for Waino’s complete game over the weekend, but the Cardinals 2020 game plan reminds me of a thrifty move I’m sure many of us have tried before.
Imagine two fans attending the same game. The first fan, we’ll call them The Dodgers, shell out big bucks for seats right behind the dugout. The other fan, we’ll call them The St. Louis Cardinals, buy a Standing Room Only ticket for half face-value on the curb outside Gate 5. They get in early and load up on those cheap beers in the Budweiser Terrace before first pitch. But the game’s not well attended, the ushers are a little lax, and by the 3rd inning, the St. Louis Cardinals are sitting right next to the Dodgers for a fraction of the price.
That’s the Cardinals plan for 2020, and this season more than any other - it’s the right move.
Don’t get me wrong, it might not work. Sometimes when you’re sitting there with your feat up on the dugout, an usher asks to see your ticket. Then you’ve got to take a fake look at your GA ticket, glance a section over and pretend like you just went to the wrong seat.
But this season is not a weekend series vs. the Cubs. This season is a Thursday game at noon that was rescheduled because of an earlier rainout. In 2020, half the stadium can sneak into the good seats.
One week ago, Fangraphs pegged the Cardinals with a 75% chance to make the playoffs. After a 4-game skid vs. the Pirates and Cleveland, that dipped to 48%. After three wins in a row, it’s up to 77%.
That’s not the Dodgers 99.99999% odds, but LA paid absolute top dollar for that seat in the playoffs. The Cardinals waited until a few minutes before game time, paid like $6 on the StubHub app (including fees), and are sitting in almost exactly the same seat.
Not only will MORE THAN HALF the teams in MLB make the playoffs this year, every one of them will begin with the same 3-game series in the first round. “Sure,” you might say, “but the better teams will have Home Field Advantage for all three of those games.” First, it appears there is no home team advantage while playing in front of cardboard cutouts. Second, MLB now appears to be moving towards a postseason bubble, where there will literally be no home field whatsoever.
It doesn’t matter who paid upfront for their playoff seats and who snuck in during the National Anthem when the ushers really don’t want to make a scene: Every team that’s there starts at zero on October 1.
This is not to say I’m commending ownership for their frugality. The DeWitts will only have put enough into the Cardinals when they drive themselves to bankruptcy. It is a privilege to own a baseball team - especially this one. I care 0% for their immense wealth and 100% for the product on the field.
At the same time... not spending to upgrade (whether in dollars or prospects) is a deeply, deeply Cardinals move. It’s not just a DeWitt thing. It goes back to Steve Carlton and Yogi Berra and Johnny Mize and Rogers Hornsby and on and on. So while I’ll never excuse ownership for enriching themselves while not doing absolutely everything to improve My Favorite Baseball Team, I recognize that I’m wading against the current.
That’s never been more true than in 2020 - a season that was nearly cancelled, and you know what, could still be cancelled. I’m just happy to be at the ballpark. And if we get to sneak down into the good seats: All the better.