If there is one blessing disguised in the St. Louis Cardinals’ disappointing off-season it is the re-affirmation that baseball is more than “business.”
I doubt the team’s front office anticipated the backlash it would receive when it failed to sign a significant free agent including outsider ace David Price and incumbent right fielder Jason Heyward.
Around these parts, its almost sacrilege to criticize Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak or ownership for failing to spend money to address needs. The team will find a way. It’s almost like the Birds are playing by different rules: It’s not enough to win. The Cardinals have to win with the smallest budget possible. It’s their badge of honor.
But the sacred cow of not criticizing the front office (the hitting coach and the manager are always fair game, but not the owner and the executives) seems to have been slaughtered live on social media.
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There is a great deal of discontent right now in Cardinals Nation and I hope the team hears the grumbles.
Although I didn’t agree with it, I was growing used to folks chastising me any time I criticized the Redbirds for not addressing a need with “It’s easy to spend other people’s money, isn’t it?” Nevermind that I have been a season ticket holder for two decades with all the expenses that go along with it. It may be a small percentage. Almost microscopic by Major League Baseball standards. But it’s a big deal to me to fork over a pile of cash this time of the year for the privilege of watching grown men in fancy pajamas play a children’s game.
That brings me around to my point: If this was all “business” the MLB clubs would certainly all be in a lot of trouble.
It makes no sense, on paper, for me to invest in the Cardinals. The only place it makes sense is in my heart where I have an irrational passion for the home team.
Once, when I was talking to former Cardinals skipper Whitey Herzog, I asked a question about the strategy of a particular game and he grimaced. I quickly apologized for bringing up what was obviously a sore spot and he responded that people who asked similar questions used to drive him nuts when he was a younger manager. But he realized that it was the passion of fans who picked at every scab who put food on his family’s table and Budweiser in his fridge.
Passion doesn’t know anything about budgets, profit margin or equity. It wants to see the Cardinals win every. single. game. It may not be realistic to win every contest. But when you lose more of them than you win, teams sure find it a lot more difficult to fill the stands.
Just look at the difference in the support of the Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams who draw on the exact same fan base.
It wants all my favorite players to remain here, regardless of the price. Why? Because they’re our boys. The old sports cliche is that the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back of the jersey.
That’s true in many ways. But the fans care about specific players, too. Stars have the ability to put fans in the seats and interchangeable parts don’t have the same connection with fans.
Have you ever seen anyone wearing a Randy Choate jersey?
It’s going to make me a little sick, to be honest, to see Jason Heyward in a Chicago Cubs uniform. But the bottom line is that I want the Cardinals to win. And that passion, shared by 3.5 million people, is what makes the Cardinals go financially.
So, maybe in the short term it makes sense for the club not to pay retail prices for MLB star power.
But I hope the Cardinals realize still what they did in 1995 when the current ownership group did when it bought the team: You have to spend money to make money.
They love to tell us that we’re the Best Fans in Baseball as long as we’re passing over the cash. But as soon as we complain that they don’t reciprocate by investing in players who give the team the best chance to win we’re fools who don’t know what we’re talking about.
The Cardinals have a lot of good young talent in Randal Grichuk, Kolten Wong, Stephen Piscotty, Michael Wacha and others. But this team has allowed its core of star players to get very old by baseball standards. Matt Holliday will be 36, Adam Wainwright will be 34 and Yadier Molina will be 33 during the 2016 season.
That’s scary stuff.
I sure hope Bill DeWitt Jr. remembers his comments about being committed to finding the next generation of core players. Because it’s not going to be very much fun -- or very profitable -- over the next several years if he doesn’t.