Coming up in October will be the 10-year anniversary of the St. Louis Cardinals team that (somehow) won the 2011 World Series. Everyone who watched that club, either as a player, fan, or member of the media has memories that will likely never fade. Benjamin Hochman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch knows just how special the 2011 Cardinals were. Looking back a decade later, Benjamin recalled the title run as if it happened last week. Benjamin found some time in his busy schedule to answer some questions relating to his new book and the 2011 club.
VEB: Looking back at the 2011 club, 10 years later, who is the player that you feel was the most underappreciated during that championship run?
Benjamin: This is a really good question, because I think there are different levels of underappreciation. Like, you’ve got someone such as reliever Octavio Dotel, who had a 2.61 ERA in the postseason and succeeded in some running-out-of-finger-nails high-leverage situations.
Then there’s someone such as Kyle Lohse, who was reliable starting pitcher who just did his job, over and over.
Allen Craig is kind of like the Forrest Gump of the 2011 team – he just keeps showing up in all the historic moments. He had some huge postseason hits, scored some memorable runs and, of course, caught the final out, so he’s forever in the highlight.
But, I think the most-underappreciated person (and follow me on this) is … Lance Berkman. Because while he is surely appreciated, I don’t think people truly remember or realize HOW important he was that season. He finished fourth in OPS – not on the Cardinals, in the WHOLE National League. He led the Cardinals with his .959 OPS. He hit .374 in September (and as we know, they needed every one of those hits). And I knew he was a likable guy, but only after writing “11 in ‘11” did I get a true appreciation for how vital Berkman was to the clubhouse. So many players brought him up when discussing the team’s chemistry and closeness. And, side note, the book allowed me the chance to tell one of my favorite baseball stories ever – the time Lance Berkman dressed up as the mascot while in Triple-A.
VEB: Ah, the loveable Rally Squirrel. Did anyone mention him (or her) in all of your many interviews for this book? It seems like when any animal walks on to an MLB field these days, the squirrel and the magic of 2011 is reminisced.
Benjamin: Oh my goodness, so many people brought up the Rally Squirrel in interviews for “11 in ’11.” Everyone from Skip Schumaker, who was the batter, to numerous fans, who spoke about how the Rally Squirrel was just another sign that this was the Cardinals’ year. That 2011 season was filled with so many fun little quirky things, from the Rally Squirrel to Torty the Tortoise to “Happy Flight” to The Shredder to Gerald Laird’s leap after the Freese homer.
VEB: Albert Pujols is now a member of the Dodgers, chasing his 700th home run. Regardless of any more milestones he reaches (potentially as a Dodger), do you think Albert will don a Cardinals cap in Cooperstown?
Benjamin: I’m sure in Albert’s heart, he’ll want to wear a Cardinals hat on his plaque. But it’s possible he might go with no logo on his plaque hat, as a way to honor both the Cardinals and the Angels (though he didn’t like the way it all ended with the Angels). In the years after his retirement, he’ll be inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame first – red jacket, the whole thing. The longer he’s away from his time with the Angels, and the more post-retirement stuff he does in St. Louis, the stronger the sentiment will be for him to wear the STL in Cooperstown.
And look at it this way. If, after 2011, Pujols decided to retire instead of sign with the Angels, he would’ve already done enough to make it into the Hall of Fame. He had 445 homers (that alone is good for 41st-most all-time and right behind the career totals of Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski, Vladimir Guererro and Jeff Bagwell), 2,073 hits (which is near the career hit totals of HOFers Mike Piazza, Harmon Killebrew and Duke Snider) and a 1.037 OPS in 11 seasons. He literally played a Hall of Fame career just with St. Louis.
VEB: The energy that you felt rock Busch Stadium during Game 6 of the 2011 World Series probably brings you goosebumps to this day. Can you imagine another Cardinals game being as thrilling as that was — or did the make-up of that team specifically and the roller coaster of a summer add an unmatchable flair?
Benjamin: I believe Game 6 is unmatchable. Game 6 is now a connector in our town. The previous generations would ask “where were you when JFK was shot?” In St. Louis today, we ask “where were you for Game 6?” Game 6 was so mind-boggling that if you wrote it in a script for Hollywood, they’d say, “Come on, that’s a little over the top. Down to the last strike AND the guy’s from St. Louis? … AND he homers in extra innings, too? I wrote the following in “11 in ‘11”:
Since you, the St Louis fans, got to feel the feelings, you’re in a club that no one else can join. You experienced the Freese triple and the Freese homer, something that no money can buy nor any drug recreate. And it’s a shared experience with all your friends from St. Louis—and, really, all of St. Louis.
And what’s cool about the David Freese feelings is that it can never be taken from you. You experienced it, you can always think back, it happened. It’s like a first kiss, graduating from school, seeing your spouse walk down the aisle, or the birth of your first child. This feeling is right up there—if not in its own unique aura orbit—because unlike graduating or getting married, not everyone can or gets to experience this. A fellow parent can relate to the birth of a baby, but most sports fans can’t relate to what Cardinals fans went through the night of Game 6.
Big thank you to Benjamin for answering a few questions for us! Be sure to check out his new book, if you haven’t already..