WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Mater Dei graduate Jay Voss arrived at his first Cardinals spring training this year in Jupiter, Fla., and learned why the St. Louis organization is considered by many to be the model franchise in Major League Baseball.
He was given a players' handbook that laid out the ground rules for handling himself as a ballplayer off the field, standard practice for most teams. But as he dug deeper, the pitcher assigned to the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals found more in his new team's manual than he'd ever seen as a member of two other organizations.
"It was more about a way of playing the game," said Voss, a lifelong Cardinals fan who grew up in Breese. "I didn't know it was so in-depth."
The Cardinal Way has brought 11 World Series to the Gateway to the West, a city so enamored with its baseball team that red seems to be the only color that exists in St. Louis and its suburbs.
Longtime front office man George Kissell, who spend 69 years with the organization and earned the nickname, "The Professor," hand-wrote in the late 1960s the specific instructions that set the Cardinals apart, though the unwritten instructions existed years before that. He diagrammed each possible game situation a player might encounter and explained exactly how the Cardinals want their players to handle them.
Each player from the lowliest minor-leaguer to the brightest star on the big-league club receives a handbook. There are sections on how players should position themselves defensively on certain plays, how to make and take cutoff throws and relays, hitting philosophies, bunting techniques.
The team built on Kissell's initial project, eventually making a digital version to distribute to players and staff. There is even a version in Spanish. Most players receive their manual immediately after they've gone through a physical examination and signed their minor-league contract.
As players work through the minors, they receive instruction based on the book. By the time they reach the big-league club, the franchise's philosophy is so ingrained in their mind that the player can focus on adjusting to the higher level of play, already familiar with how the team performs fundamentals.
"Everyone has their way of doing things," said John Vuch, the Cardinals' director of minor league operations who's been with the organization since high school. "This way works for us."
Sometime after Tony La Russa became the Cardinals' manager in 1996, St. Louis streamlined its manual and created a new edition for coaches and managers. But having the same guidebook for everyone in the organization doesn't automatically put them all on the same page.
Players still have to learn the system through practice, and they certainly have to buy in to what St. Louis is doing.
That's why the Cardinals trot out Hall of Famers every spring training. Veteran Cardinals are more than used to bumping into Hall of Famers and former players in each nook and cranny of Roger Dean Stadium.
"Lou Brock, Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith, Jim Edmonds, Bruce Sutter -- guys like that," Voss said. "Usually every day will lead off with one of them talking for five, 10, 15 minutes about what it means to be a Cardinal and how to play the game the right way.
"When guys like that are willing to come down and talk to us and spend their time with us, it really makes us feel like what we're doing is worth it."
A recent Sports Illustrated article put the Cardinals' starting pitchers on its cover with big, white letters spelling out "THE CARDINAL WAY" banner style across the top. The article described a program that's produced enough championships that "no son or daughter of St. Louis born since 1902 has reached the age of 25 without having lived through at least one victory parade."
They're back in contention this season.
The Cardinals' farm system is rated the best in baseball and the big-league team has added a few prospects without missing a beat. They fit right in.
Pitchers like 24-year-old Shane Maness, who has thrown in 27 games and had a 4-1 record with a 2.70 earned-run average since arriving in early May.
Or 21-year-old Michael Wacha, who came up in May and threw seven innings of one-run ball in his debut.
"It's a rewarding experience when they come up and it's easy," said Vuch.
That's the Cardinal Way.