Special to the Tribune-Star
I became a fan of the St. Louis Cardinal Baseball team in 1946. That year, they went to the World Series and beat the Boston Red Sox. Stan Musial was back from his tour of military duty and my hero on the Red Sox team was Rudy York. I don’t have any ten-year-old memory of Ted Williams but I suspect he was there. The most valuable player for the Cardinals was a hometown boy who was a catcher, Joe Garagiola, who would later in his life become more famous for being on the Today Show and other sports activities on television.
My dad, who played amateur ball and managed teams often during his lifetime, was a diehard Cardinals fan. He had graduated from high school in 1924, which put him into the world of adults two years before the Cardinals won their first World Series in 1926.
It was in that time the team put the bat across the middle of their uniforms with a red cardinal at either end of the bat. The legend is the general manager, Branch Rickey, was speaking to a ladies’ church group and they gave him an embroidered table cloth that had a bat with two red birds on it with either the words St. Louis, or Cardinals. He thought this was so great he took it back and had it put on the Cardinals’ uniforms and it has been there ever since.
In today’s world, a PR guy would call this community participation. But the love affair for the people in and around St. Louis for their favorite baseball team has been going on for an extremely long time. This year, the Cardinals hosted more than three million people at their games, averaging more than 40,000 every game. It is considered a small market. Based on population percentages, if the New York Yankees or the New York Mets would draw as well, they would have 30 million people per game. Fortunately, for those of us who lived too far away from St. Louis to get there for many games, we could hear them on KMOX Radio (50,000 watts on 1120 AM).
At the beginning of this year the Cardinals lost three of their outstanding pitchers due to injury and/or surgeries. Some of their best position players got hurt, one was out for the year, and it really looked tough for second year manager, Mike Matheny, to get his team back in the playoffs with all of those problems. Well, what happened was a lesson in teamwork. This team pulled together, did not quibble about when somebody played or where they played, but they pitched in and won more games than any other team in the National League.
To make this story even better, they filled the depleted ranks of the pitching staff with young pitchers who were brought up from their minor league system. Most came from Triple-A Memphis, but some came from their Double-A team in Springfield.
Some of the young arms we will hear about for a long time to come … names like Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Kevin Siegrist, Michael Wacha and a Hoosier, Lance Lynn, who is an old 26. Position players were often interchangeable. Matt Carpenter was not only an All-Star, but set records with his hitting. Young Matt Adams came off the bench, with excellent hitting, to play first base when Allen Craig went down. Shane Robinson and Daniel Descalso filled in at outfield and infield positions, respectfully, to relieve regulars when needed. It has been a joy to see the cult of personality that blares at you from the NBA and it never raised its head above the teamwork of the St. Louis Cardinals this year.
It didn’t need proving again, but Mike Matheny, who had never managed at any level, proved that catchers probably make the best managers. He has led his team to winning the Central Division Championship in the National League. More things, we hope, are coming when the Wild Card series begins tonight.
I am sorry my dad, who loved baseball with good pitching, people who could come in and drive people in off the bases, and players who exude a good feeling about this teamwork. Dad isn’t here now, so my wife and I will have to cheer for him, and we will. Go Cardinals!
Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.