2014 St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinal Way


Al Jackson

“Little Al” Jackson was the winningest pitcher for the New York Mets in the early days of the franchise, even though he lost almost twice as often as he won. Jackson was 43-80 in two tours with the Mets, but one of the 43 was a 1-0 shutout win over the pennant-winning Cardinals in the final weekend of the 1964 pennant race. Jackson’s five-hitter bested Bob Gibson and delayed the Cards’ clinching. Jackson told Newsday he had to walk past the Cards’ locker room to appear on the star of the game show, according to his bio at sabr.org: “Oh, did they call me a bunch of names. They said, ‘You guys are 59 games out of first place and you’ve got to pitch a game like this?’ Man, did they rip me.” After Jackson’s second 20-loss season (he was 8-20 for the ’62 and ’65 Mets, 13-17 and 11-16 in between), the Cardinals traded for Jackson and Charley Smith, dealing ’64 MVP Ken Boyer. Jackson had his best year for the ’66 Cards, going 13-15 with a 2.51 ERA in 232.2 innings. In ’67 he was 9-4 with a 3.95 ERA for the pennant-winning Cardinals, but did not appear in the World Series. As a Pirate, Jackson missed their Series win in 60, sandwiching cameos in ’59 and ’61 around it. The Cards sent Jackson back to the Mets and he was a member of the Miracle Mets before it became a miracle; he was released in June. He was picked up by the Reds, pitched half a season for them and was released in April 1970 for good. Jackson’s Met-record 43 wins and 10 shutouts were broken in quick order by Tom Seaver. Jackson’s final numbers: 67-99, 3.98 ERA (4.26 with the Mets), 14 shutouts (two by 1-0 over Gibson), 1389.1 innings, 738 strikeouts, .719 OPS against, 5.5 WAR (4.0 of it in ’66).

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Once more for Oscar Taveras, whose 2013 season was slow start, injury, rehab, injury and then surgery. Instead of ending his season as projected with the big-league team, Taveras ended it with a limp. He was just starting to hit when he was hurt for the final time, finishing at .306 with an .803 OPS after a 321/380/572 2012. He started 2014 with hamstring problems, and at some point you have to wonder if Taveras is a great talent with bad legs. The Cardinals insured themselves by acquiring Peter Bourjos but a platoon of Bourjos/John Jay combines for about four of Taveras’ five tools. Taveras will start the season in AAA, but that’s not where he or the Cardinals want him to end it.

Trivia: The Cardinals have won four Triple Crowns, twice by the same player. Name them. Answer below.

What he said: Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright on welcoming new shortstop Jhonny Peralta, suspended 50 games for PED use last year: “What I told him, and what (Yadier Molina) told him, and what Matt Holliday told him, was ‘You’re here now. I don’t care what happened in the past. I don’t care about anything except what’s going to happen going forward. And that’s what I meant.” What he meant: “I don’t care about anything but Daniel Descalso or Peter Kozma not playing shortstop any more.”

Outlook: There might be a lot to pick on in the hypocrisy of the Cardinal way, but not so much in the way the Cardinals play.

The Cardinals market themselves in a virtuous Middle American fashion: fans that don’t boo, playing the right way as Larry Brown is fond of saying about another sport, polite down to the opponents’ last out. But when forced to choose between Daniel Descalso and rightesouness, they chose Peralta. Given that the other option was Peter Kozma, who can blame them?

If you don’t see what’s wrong with this whole Cardinal Way, check out the NCAA tourney, where seemingly every team from top seeds to Mercer has warmups proclaiming their way. Is it really the Kansas way to be eliminated in the second round?

The Cardinal way now includes a shortstop who used PEDs and a reliever whose Twitter account was linked to porn sites. You can see where this whole image thing is capable of backfiring. And when it does, there’s a whole lot of folks impolitely cheering your descent. Ain’t that America?

But that’s about all the satisfaction Cardinal-haters are going to get this season, at least until October. They won the NL pennant last year and they could do even better this one.

The Cardinals are not only good but they’re young — nine of the projected 25-man roster are 25 years old or younger. The had the top-rated farm system last year but fell to 13th in Keith Law’s ESPN ranking this year, but only because they’ve graduated most of their top talent. Except for Taveras, who’ll be available for a midseason pick-me-up

The Cardinals are most improved in the middle infield where Peralta takes over at short and Kolten Wong, who can now be remembered for something more than getting picked off to end a World Series game, at second.

The bullpen could be a hostel, given the youth of the pitching staff — the top three relievers are closer Trevor Rosenthal, 23, lefty setup man Kevin Siegrist, 24, and righty Carlos Martinez, 22, which might explain his browsing the web. Three starters — Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly, are 25 or younger.

But talent doesn’t discriminate by age. And youth is cheap. The Cards will have payroll decisions to make and an image to uphold, but in 2014, they’ll be coming in loud and clear.

Trivia answer: The Cardinals Triple Crown winners are: Rogers Hornsby twice (1922: .401, 42 homers, 152 RBIs) and 1925 (.403, 39 and 153), Joe Medwick (1937: .374, 31 and 154) and Tip O’Neill when the franchise was known as the St. Louis Browns: (1887: .435, 14 ,123). Stan Musial never led the NL in home runs; he came closest to the Triple Crown in 1948 when he led in average (.376) and RBI (131) but fell one home run behind co-leaders Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize (40-39). Albert Pujols led the NL in homers (42) and RBIs (118) in 2010 but his .312 average — his career low to that point — finished 24 points behind Carlos Gonzalez. The Browns became the Perfectos in 1899 and the Cardinals in 1900. The American Leagues St. Louis Browns began play in 1903 and became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954).

Team song: Cat Stevens: Oh Very Young

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