“30 Teams, 30 Posts” (2016): Will the Cardinals finally miss the playoffs?

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post (of varying amounts of seriousness) about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2016 season. Earlier installments can be found here. This is the Cardinals’ entry.

In 2010, the St. Louis Cardinals went 86-76, and missed the playoffs.

They have made it every year since then. They are now the playoff constant that the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees once were. And yet, in the tough NL Central, it’s entirely possible that this season may see them finally miss the postseason for the first time since that 2010 team.

It’s not that the Cardinals will be bad, so much as that they are in the NL Central, with the Cubs and the Pirates. They also are, slowly, getting older. Matt Holliday is 36. Adam Wainwright is 34. Yadier Molina is 33 and those catching legs can’t be in the best shape. The Cubs and Pirates are younger, the Brewers are on their way up (although it’s doubtful they will be a threat this season). The window maybe, just maybe, could be closing.

On the other hand, these are the Cardinals. They excel at beating expectations. The “Devil Magic” may never stop.

Or will it?

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(Blogathon ’16) Michael Clair: An (Abbreviated) People’s History of the World Through Baseball Cards

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

In the beginning, there was nothing. Just a swirl of atoms and gasses mixing about in a sort of cosmic stew. Perhaps there were some Lovecraftian elder gods with tentacle faces flitting about but honestly, that’s all just conjecture.

And then, for some unknown reason, everything smashed together. This was the Big Bang.

From there … everything was set into motion, like when you’re playing Mouse Trap and you flip the switch that starts the aforementioned trap. Eventually, single celled organisms had to combine into fish who had to crawl out of the ocean and onto land.

Those things then turned into dinosaurs. I think.

Of course, Carl Everett may disagree with that.

Humanity eventually showed up, evolving from apes. Somehow,like Leo DiCaprio in “The Revenant,” they survived against the cold and the dark and the ancient beasts that wandered the world. After stumbling around, smashing rocks into things, the first farmers showed up about 8,500 years ago to plant crops.

It was at this time that animals were first domesticated, too. Little could these wild and violent creatures have imagined what would one day become of them:

With our faithful Labradoodles by our side, humans were safe to grow and learn. 5,000 years later, the first signs of writing appeared. Some say this was the first thing a homo sapien ever scratched out:

Flash forward to 800 BC and not only do we see the very first Homer, who is busy penning the Odyssey (side note: I can’t believe Topps has never come out with a Homer’s Odyssey line of cards, with dinger gods receiving Grecian-style prints), but, fittingly, that’s also when the Iron Age began.

Jacked bros will tell you that it’s never ended.

A few hundred years later, alchemists got busy looking for the philosopher’s stone that could transmute base metals into gold. They generally dressed like this:

Then in the 5th century King Arthur and his McKnights of the Round Table showed up. If you’re trying to tell me that Lancelot did not look like this, then you clearly haven’t been attending many Ren Fairs.

Soon enough, the Renaissance was upon us, ushering in a new world of emerging thought and, most importantly, art. A new understanding of human physics and how to depict them made humans look almost lifelike. Almost.

But the Renaissance would eventually be swept away under the coal-fueled wheels of the Industrial Revolution. Soon, the repeatable precision that came from factories and cameras forced man to become machine and art to change its very definition.

Soon after, the Wright Brothers would get tired of riding bikes all the time and they discovered flight. Sadly, it left poor Sean Lowe without a purpose any longer.

After some of the worst wars man had ever seen (shockingly, not a whole lot of World War I baseball cards featuring the poetry of Wilfred Owen), man discovered nuclear fusion and the world would be plunged into a new terror.

That fear would force humans to look to the stars. And if you believe the “official story”, we walked upon the moon. Yeah, right. Wake up sheeple.

Not much happened after that until the internet was created. Finally, people could send letters without having to write anything down, while also doing sex stuff without ever leaving their houses.

And cell phones were invented. And people could do more types of sex stuff without leaving their houses.

What will the future bring? Will we soon walk amongst the stars? Will we discover the purpose of existence? Will we be able to order pizza through emoji? Humans may have no idea, but baseball cards do.

(Image sources: Baseball Card Bust, eBay, Trading Card Database, Stunning Purple, This Card is Cool, Garvey Cey Russell Lopes, and probably more.)

Michael Clair writes for MLB.com’s Cut4 and will likely one day suffocate under his baseball card collection. Follow him @clairbearattack.

This guest-post was part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

(Blogathon ’16) Patrick Dubuque: A Ghost Among Cardboard

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Baseball cards are a kind of clumsy yearbook, a collection of forgotten names and awkward photographs. Each bears a moment frozen unnaturally, the cheesy portrait grin followed by the unnatural, bent-back elbow of the pitcher. They demonstrate the historian’s drive to squeeze the eyes tight and remember: not only the championships, not only the highlights and the heroes, but the busted prospects and the utility infielders. All the losing teams and players get their 1/nth share.

GAC1But no set has room for every player, let alone every moment; there are too many minor league callups, too many injury replacements who come and go. Topps neglected to create a Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie card in 1989, his having no major league experience, but picked Mark McGwire out of the Olympic roster two years before anyone else. Rookies are hard to predict, but guessing the right ones, giving kids a whale to hunt, is good salesmanship.

It’s a little strange that, given the parabolic path of the average career, a player’s most valuable card is generally his first one, and always descends from there. Perhaps in our hearts, all rookies are Babe Ruth or Cy Young until time gives them the opportunity to prove otherwise. Perhaps it’s our drive to feel like investors, to get in on the ground floor. But while rookie cards are traded and sold at a premium, the opposite, the last cards, rarely even exist.

There’s no real pattern as to who gets a final stat line. Mantle got a final card in 1969, but Aaron was left off of the 1977 set; Mays got a card in 1974, but not his own, only a World Series highlight, his bat looking heavy in his hands. It’s a common paradox for baseball cards: representing the year before, they’re sold the year after. So many retired players, no longer around to root for on summer afternoons, rarely have their final year’s stats commemorated. Some of it is timing in the print runs; some of it, one assumes, is alchemical.

GAC2There’s a variation in one of the 1988 Topps checklists. You couldn’t be blamed for missing it: one line has been changed, #455, Steve Carlton. The Hall of Famer was cut from the set at the last second, replaced by orange chip prospect Shawn Hillegas.

Lefty was essentially done by 1986; starting the year with the Phillies, he was cut just shy of 4,000 strikeouts, and signed with the Giants to reach the milestone. When they gave up on him as well, he moved on to the White Sox, and pitched just well enough to latch on to a last-place Indians ballclub in the offseason. Topps dutifully gave him three different cards with three different teams: a White Sox regular 1987 issue, an Indians traded issue, and a Giants box-bottom highlight card (his jersey and cap painted on him, since no photographer caught up with him in his six-game San Francisco career). Perhaps it was too much.

Apparently in 1988, Topps had had enough, and even though he put in 150 innings with the Indians and Twins, and refused to retire even then, they decided to ignore his sad final full season. Fleer alone, of the Big Four companies of the time, gave Carlton a final card. It proved a fitting tribute. It’s a strangely tragic still life, an old man in a foreign uniform on an empty bench, staring off camera at the rest of his life. He looks speechless.

GAC3Did Carlton deserve that final card more than Hillegas and his 58 innings of middle relief? It seems strange that an industry couched so deeply in nostalgia flinches at the final sad days of a ballplayer. Maybe Topps didn’t want that last image of Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, throwing slop down the middle of the plate, to burn into our retinas. And maybe it’s a good thing they stop making yearbooks after high school. But sports aren’t about what we want to have happen; they don’t let us choose our memories. Only rain can undo a game.

It’s ironic that Griffey’s own denouement, twenty-some years later, proved just as tragic as Carlton’s. And like Lefty, he too failed to receive that final card when he closed his own career midseason. But while it requires extrapolation to combine that Griffey with the one of our childhood, we all do it; we can appreciate them all as one man. Heroes can be young and old at the same time, even frail and human. Carlton’s weary despair, caught on a single, worthless card, is every bit as much baseball as Griffey’s boyish smile.

Patrick Dubuque co-edited the 2016 BP Annual and serves as jester/editor at Lookout Landing. You can follow him on Twitter @euqubud.

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

“30 Teams, 30 Posts” (2015): So, are the Cardinals the “Best Fans in Baseball”?

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2015 season. Previous installments can be found here.Today, we look at the evidence for and against the claim that St. Louis is home of the “Best Fans in Baseball”.

It is often said that St. Louis is the home of the “Best Fans in Baseball”. But how true is that claim? Let’s look at the evidence for and against such a claim:

FOR:

  • A Wall Street Journal article on what cities get the best TV ratings for each sport (and not just for their home teams, but for nationally televised games in general) had St. Louis as the top location for baseball.
  • The Cardinals were the top-rated (as far as percentage) team in baseball locally/regionally last season.
  • Former Commissioner Bud Selig said so, and no matter what you say about Selig, it can’t be argued that he probably had been to every stadium in the league, probably several times.
  • The Cardinals were second in attendance last season, behind only the Dodgers, who have a larger stadium and a much larger fanbase numerically. They have averaged over 40,000 fans every year except once since 2005 and been in the top four in NL attendance every year except once since 1996.
  • Anecdotal evidence online says that the team leads the league in number of fans who keep score, to the point where the old Busch Stadium apparently showed score-keeping marks for batters so that people who had missed something could fill it in (I’m not 100% sure about this, but I remember reading it somewhere).
  • The Cardinals haven’t been last in the league in attendance since 1916.
  • And, yes, they do show an appreciation for good baseball, even, at times, when it’s an opponent doing it.
  • They count Ellie Kemper and Jon Hamm as members, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is awesome. Not really relevant to this discussion, just sort of throwing it out there.

Against:

  • St. Louis, despite it’s passion for the Cardinals, obviously wasn’t baseball-crazy enough to keep the Browns from moving back in the 1950s. Although, to be fair, the Browns almost perpetually were crummy.
  • The racist, homophobic and generally disgusting people showcased on the “BestFansStLouis”, which I refuse to link to for consideration of human dignity. However, it should be noted that every sports team has plenty of fans who are horrible bigoted a-holes, it’s just that they don’t have Twitter accounts devoted to them.
  • It was Tywin Lannister of Game of Thrones fame that said: “Any man who must say ‘I am King’ is no true king.” With that in mind, one must wonder if any Cardinals fan who calls the Cardinal faithful the “Best Fans in Baseball'” is truly worthy of being called the Best Fans In Baseball.
  • Have overlooked the flaws of many of the team’s great players and managers, such as steroid use, drinking, etc. etc. Although, again, this is true for every single team’s fanbase.
  • It is nearly impossible to truly figure out who the best fans in anything are, since there are so many things to consider and ultimately it is a vague intangible title that can change based on definition, a team’s fortunes, and other factors.

So, the verdict is… Cardinals fans are likely, but not definitely, the Best Fans in Baseball. But as the last “against” proves… it really doesn’t matter.