Cheap Seats

St. Louis will miss Matt Holliday more than many Cardinals fans know

It’s a tough era to be a professional athlete.

I don’t know if I could turn on the computer knowing that every strikeout, weak grounder and pop up was going to be examined to death by the peanut gallery.

But that’s the price of fame in the days of the internet or, more specifically, social media. As the highest-paid player in St. Louis Cardinals history, Matt Holliday was a magnet for amateur critics during his time wearing the Birds on the Bat.

Fans agonized over every out he made at the plate, debated whether the average wheel-chair bound grandmother could have caught every ball he didn’t get to and acted as if he was the only person in the history of the planet who had the gall to turn 36 years old.

I fear that, in such a critical atmosphere, a lot of Redbirds rooters were too bogged down in the minutia to realize what a special player – and even better person – Holliday has been in St. Louis.

Holliday hit .293 with a .380 on base percentage and 156 home runs in 7 ½ seasons with the Cardinals. Those numbers rank right up there with the elite sluggers who played over the same period of time. He earned four All-Star berths and was in the top 14 in National League Most Valuable Player balloting during his stay here and he helped the Birds to two pennants and a World Series championship.

If all you got out of Holiday was those production numbers, he’d be worth his hefty contract (at least by major league baseball player standards.) But he was so much more.

Holliday was a leader by example who never sought attention or accolades. He spent his own money to fly freshly-drafted Cardinals prospects to St. Louis to show them around Busch Stadium and give them a talking to about what it means to play here. It was impossible to question his dedication when you saw his physique. Holliday wasn’t the sort who went home and drank beer when he wasn’t on the field. He obviously spent hours upon hours keeping himself in peak condition to be the best player he could be.

Then there was all the work he did with local charities. He was honored this week for raising $3.7 million for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital during his stay in St. Louis and couldn’t contain his tears. The money went to renovate a wing at the hospital, which was renamed in honor of Holliday and his wife, Leslee. He cried real tears, showing how deeply the slugger cares about his adopted home.

I get why Holliday wasn’t able to finish his career with the Cardinals. He gave the team his best years, got paid handsomely for it, and now that he’s topped the hill, St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak cut the star slugger lose to be over-paid for his twilight years by other team.

But players – and people -- like Holliday don’t grow on trees. The Cardinals can’t go out and pluck another guy as classy as Holliday who just happens to be able to hit the living daylights out of a baseball, too.

It was something of a shock when the Cardinals, who are known for passing on the opportunity to spend big bucks on free agents, made an exception and signed the best player on the market over the winter of 2007-08. While no one merits a nine-figure contract for playing a child’s game, Holliday seemed to come as close as possible to that.

He may never join Albert Pujols, Stan Musial, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson on the Mount Rushmore of Cardinals players. But we were very lucky to have him here for the bulk of his career all the same.

Thanks for the memories, Matt. Don’t be a stranger.