Cheap Seats

This winter, 1987 creepily similar for St. Louis sports fans

I know we’re supposed to be all pumped up because of the Winter Warm-Up.

But I can only recall one time when it was more of a bummer to be a St. Louis sports fan. And it was eerily similar to what’s going on these days.

Back in 1987 we were all coming down from the high of the St. Louis Cardinals playing in their third World Series in six years. They lost a hard-fought battle to the Minnesota Twins with slugger Jack Clark and third baseman Terry Pendleton, two key cogs in the Redbirds office, limited by injuries.

Little did we know at the time how far the fall would be for St. Louis fans.

Primed for a run at the World Series again in 1988, the Cardinals chose, instead, to disassemble.

They let cleanup hitter Jack Clark walk away as then owner Anheuser-Busch tightened the purse strings. A team that was 95-67 in 1987 began a streak of mediocrity with a 76-86 mark in 1988. By 1990, manager Whitey Herzog had seen enough and walked away. The Cardinals wouldn’t appear in the World Series again until 2004.

Meanwhile, the football Cardinals played their last game in St. Louis on Dec. 13, 1987 and then packed their bags for Arizona.

It’s not exactly the overhaul the Redbirds faced back in 1988. But there is a similar feeling of the blahs with the Cardinals in combination with the blow of the city losing its NFL team.

St. Louis sports fans now, as they were then, are quick to turn their attention to the teams that remain, the always feisty if rarely imposing Blues and the beloved St. Louis Cardinals.

But there’s not much to there these days to take our minds off the sting of the NFL’s decision.

Despite the promising young players on the roster, it’s still a bummer to see the Cardinals let Jason Heyward and John Lackey slip away into the clutches of the Chicago Cubs while fans sit here helplessly.

Meanwhile, the Birds whiffed on plans to sign arguably the best pitcher in baseball, David Price. It seems most St. Louis fans expected to see the team spend the difference between Price and their lone front line player acquisition, $80 million pitcher Mike Leake, to get some offensive help.

But that’s apparently not the plan.

Cardinals fans are used to getting though the winter by pondering how many homers Albert Pujols is going to hit this year, if anyone would dare to try to steal a base against Yadier Molina and if this will be the year that Micahel Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Shelby Miller or the other player of your choice makes it to the big leagues.

This year the only question St. Louis fans pose to me over and over again is “The Cardinals are going to sign SOMEBODY who can hit, aren’t they?”

Like many of them, I typically spend the winter months excitedly scouring the rumor mills to see if the Cardinals are going to add to their arsenal of hitters and pitchers.

This year, there isn’t even that for entertainment.

As the Winter Warm-Up nears its conclusion Monday, general manager John Mozeliak sticks to his statement that the team is happy with the band of aging and injury-riddled veterans and unproven kids that collapsed on the club in 2015.

Although folks say you should never put much stock into what a general manager says over the winter or at the trade deadline, when it comes to vowing not to spend any money, I tend to take the Cardinals at their word.

Maybe those of us who question the Cardinals’ aging talent base are wrong in our assessment. Maybe Matt Holliday and Matt Adams will shake of injuries to become dominant offensive players next season. Maybe Adam Wainwright, at 34, can recover from missing two of the last five seasons due to major arm and leg problems to be a Cy Young candidate.

But, if so, it’s curious that team leadership mentioned repeatedly last year that the club was actively seeking its next generation of core players -- and then bid almost $400 million on two potential candidates for those jobs -- before declaring themselves, on second thought, happy with the makeup of the roster.

And, if they’re wrong, the Cardinals are going to be in a boat without a paddle because the 2016-17 free agent class stinks. There won’t be many options for taking a second bite at the talent apple.

It really stinks that two of the most attractive players of this free agent season, Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton, sit lingering on the market and the Cardinals won’t even consider taking advantage of an unexpected buyers’ market.

With the Cubs loaded and already heavily-favored to win the National League Central Division race before the first pitch of spring training is thrown, I can’t help but feel disappointed that it doesn’t seem as if the Cardinals are making the moves to put the best team possible on the field.

I’d love to throw myself into baseball and forget about the Rams. But I’d rather have something more concrete to be optimistic about than clinging to the idea that the Cardinals have found ways to pull miracles out of the hat in the past.