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Welcome to Brian Walton's St. Louis Cardinals blog!

News and commentary about the past, present and future state of the St. Louis Cardinals. 
 
Note that all new St. Louis Cardinals-related content will be posted on the new Birdhouse site, stlcardinals.scout.com, rather than here.  An explanatory note is below. 
 
Search the archives, listed by week and month, at the bottom of this page.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Could the Cards play the Cubs or Astros in the NLDS, after all?

Wild Card Wildness

 
What would happen if there is a tie for the wild-card?  How would they determine the playoff game?  Who would the Cardinals end up playing and when?

 

The good news is that folks at MLB have published the possibilities.  The bad news is that they don’t completely make sense.  Read on and I will explain.  For reference, here is the story.

 

http://stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/news/mlb_news.jsp?ymd=20040915&content_id=859158&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp

 

Coin tosses have been held for the two-team Wild Card tiebreakers.  That game would be played on Monday if needed.  They are:

 

Chicago at San Francisco
Houston at San Francisco
San Diego at San Francisco
Chicago at Houston
Chicago at San Diego
Houston at San Diego   

 

That is very straightforward.  If they win the Wild Card, San Francisco or San Diego would come to St. Louis for Game One on Wednesday.  If the Cubs or Astros win the Wild Card, the NL West winning Dodgers would come to St. Louis for Game One on Tuesday. 

 

But, what if the Giants, Astros and Cubs all tie for the Wild Card?

 

In the three-way tie scenario, it gets crazy.  In fact, it is not documented.  I believe that two Wild Card playoff games would be required.  Based on the above coin toss results, San Francisco would be the big winner.  Monday’s game would be the Cubs @ Astros.  The winner would travel to San Francisco for a Tuesday game to decide it. 

 

However, that is where it all falls apart.  Because the Wild Card winner would not be decided until Tuesday’s second wild card elimination game, there is no way for the teams in the other NLDS match-up, also scheduled for Tuesday, to have been decided either.

 

There are only two ways out of this, and both require something to be broken, either the rule that a wild card winner must play an opponent out of division, or the days that the NLDS games are played must be adjusted.  Here are those two options explained further:

 

1)  Decide ahead of time that Tuesday’s Wild Card winner will play in St. Louis on Wednesday, no matter what.  That would allow the NL West winner and Atlanta to play on Tuesday as planned.  That would also mean that the Cubs or Astros could, in fact, end up playing St. Louis in the first round, despite the rules that say it cannot happen.

 

2)  Delay both NLDS Game Ones until at least Wednesday until the Wild Card is decided on Tuesday.  This would wreak havoc on schedules already set, but would protect the wild card not playing in its own division.  However, MLB is insisting that the Games are set – one NLDS game will be held on Tuesday.  They have not yet acknowledged this conflict.

 

Got that?

 

I have been going back and forth all afternoon with the author of the above article from MLB to try to get clarity on which scenario they would follow if there is a three-way tie.  I will update this article as needed.

 

As an aside, to date MLB has assumed that the Dodgers will hold on to defeat the Giants in the NL West.  As a result, they did not yet do the necessary coin tosses to figure the Dodgers into the Wild Card mix if the Giants were to win the division.  It would only get more confusing.

 

I should stop here, but I won’t. 

 

What happens if all four teams are tied – Dodgers, Giants, Astros and Cubs? 

 

This has really, really low odds of happening, but still, it is fun to speculate about.  As far as I can tell, there are plans for a division tie and a wild card tie as noted in the story linked to above, but not for the two of them when connected together. 

 

As I see it, there are two possible scenarios. 

 

1)  On Monday, the Dodgers would play at San Francisco for the NL West.  The Cubs would play at Houston for the Wild Card.  The losers are out.  The Cards would play the NL West winner on Tuesday in the NLDS Game One. 

 

2)  On Monday, the Dodgers would play at San Francisco for the NL West.  The Cubs would play at Houston in the first Wild Card playoff on Monday.  The loser of the NL West playoff game would host the winner of the first Wild Card playoff game on Tuesday to decide the Wild Card. 

 

However, scenario 2 is not doable because it would delay the first Game of the NLDS until Wednesday.  Just like mentioned above, that is because the Wild Card team would not be known until Tuesday’s elimination game was complete.  So, neither NLDS match-up could be defined until too late.   To make this work, either the wild card team would have to play-in division or both NLDS games would have to be delayed to start until at least Wednesday.  And, MLB is saying the latter will not happen, so scenario 1 is the only viable possible situation.  Scenario 1 makes the most sense anyway, since technically, the NL West playoff loser would at that point have a poorer record than the wild card playoff game winner and would no longer be tied.

 

Give up?

 

I will let you know when I can get this sorted out.  In the meantime, enjoy the fact that the Cards are only indirectly involved with the Wild Card.

 

Addendum:  After many exchanges, I got finally got the clarification I needed from Mark Newman from MLB:  Thanks for the persistence. The NLDS would start Wednesday in that case as well.  Any DS would start Wednesday if there is a Tuesday game (heaven forbid) necessary.”

 

This conflicts with his story on MLB.com, but at least it confirms that the Cards will not play the Cubs or Astros in the first round.  Instead, in the case of a three-team tie and two-game Wild Card playoff, the other NLDS game would be delayed until Wednesday.  That makes sense.

 

Wouldn’t it be great to see the other teams burn up their pitchers in two more must-win games?  May never happen, but now we know what would occur if the situation did present itself.

 

 

5:56 pm edt

Monday, September 27, 2004

Predicting the ...

Playoff Roster and Rotation Setting

 

It’s about time again to revisit the forecasted postseason roster, as things seem to be coming into place.   Without further ado, here are my best guesses with reasoning as to why …

 

Infield starters:  Matheny, Pujols, Womack, Rolen, Renteria.

 

Outfield starters:  Sanders, Edmonds, Walker.

 

Bench infielders – Molina, Luna, Mabry, Anderson.

 

Bench outfielders – Cedeno, Taguchi.

 

Watching – Lankford, McKay.

 

Infield/Outfield Commentary

There really isn’t much suspense remaining here.  I refuse to list Marlon Anderson as an outfielder, despite his start in left again this past weekend.  Ray Lankford is clearly on his September farewell tour.  His last official at-bat was on the 11th and his last/only start since returning on September 1st was on the 7th.  In that game, Ray went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

 

Starting pitchers – Morris, Williams, Suppan, Marquis.

 

Relievers – Haren, Calero, Tavarez, King, Eldred, Isringhausen, Kline (or Reyes).

 

Watching – Ankiel, Flores, Cali.

 

Injured – Carpenter.

 

Relief Pitching Commentary

Haren and Calero were on the bubble earlier, but I think they have earned their way in.  Haren also provides starter insurance.  Calero has spun a nice 2.08 ERA this month in nine games. 

 

Recent news is more encouraging about Kline, but until he pitches in a game and gets through it and its aftermath, he remains an unknown.  Al Reyes would be my choice as the final selection if Kline cannot go.  Including his perfect three inning start at Colorado, Reyes has posted an ERA of 1.00 with an opposing batting average of .074 in his nine innings.

 

Carmen Cali has done nothing to earn a spot on the postseason roster, in fact, quite the opposite, giving up six runs in four innings.  Randy Flores has done much better, with a 1.50 ERA and an opposing batting average of .217.  But, six innings is a small sample type and Flores is a 29-year old journeyman.

 

La Russa picked a strange place, Colorado last weekend, to pitch Rick Ankiel.  Ankiel’s apologists quickly pointed out the mile-high-driven lack of the break on the curve was the reason for his poor outing.  Didn’t La Russa know that, too?  Anyway, I was glad to see it in a way.  Now, Ankiel has been recertified as what he is – a very good pitcher recovering from injury and getting ready for 2005.  He’s done nothing but start innings when he has appeared because that is what he is - a starter, hopefully in 2005 for the Cardinals.

 

So, where’s the second bullpen lefty, you ask?  Well, if Kline can’t go, there won’t be one in this scenario.  Now, some people in the Cardinal nation are completely frazzled over this.  Here are a couple of factoids to straighten your curls. 

 

First, the San Diego Padres, currently fighting it out for the Wild Card, have no lefty relievers – none.  They seem to be doing quite well in the National League West, even though there are a number of good lefty hitters out there like Barry Bonds, J.T. Snow, Shawn Green and Steve Finley.  And, we all know that the Padres’ manager isn’t as smart as the Cardinals’.

 

In all seriousness, here are the other bullpen member’s success rates, as measured by opponent batting average against lefties.  Calero .189, Eldred .253, Reyes .083 (small sample size), Tavarez .269 and Haren .176.  Don’t you imagine these guys could get a left-handed hitter or two out if needed?

 

Starting Pitching Commentary

Now, let’s look at the possible playoff rotation.  At this point, we know the Houston series starters are Williams, Haren and Suppan.  Morris may pitch Thursday or Friday.  Jason Marquis is slotted for Saturday.  That much is supposedly “known”.

 

Matthew Leach at MLB.com thinks that either Thursday or Friday, the day Morris doesn’t start, will be another a “bullpen game” like last Saturday’s.  Leach finds it “difficult to envision” Williams not pitching the regular season finale Sunday.  I am not so sure about that at all, as it would line up Suppan for a Game One or Two start, which makes no sense to me (see below).

 

Others seem convinced that Morris and Williams will get the starts in the first two NLDS games.  Certainly the late-week start for Morris would seem to indicate that, but Williams pitching Sunday would not.  Williams would certainly get the call for my team early in the playoffs, rather than a worthless final regular season match.

 

I could easily see Williams starting whichever of Game One or Two is a day game, with Morris being held for the night home contest.  All things equal, I am sure I am not alone in being nervous with the prospect of Morris starting Game One, no matter the time or location.  But it is a possibility with my guess that Game One will be scheduled at night. 

 

Either way, I do find it ironic that the two guys who have been the Cardinals’ longest-running starters and most likely to leave after the season may get the ball in the two most important games of the season.  I am not arguing with the situation; just observing.

 

Suppan and Marquis would be available for Games Three and Four on the road.  Suppan’s ERA is a run-and-a-half better away from Busch this season, so that is simple.  Marquis’ home and road ERA are virtually identical, so he could be the swing man.

 

There you have it; some logic and some educated guesses.  In a week, we’ll know everything but the outcome.  So, stay tuned!

 

5:49 pm edt

Friday, September 24, 2004

Cardinals’ Starters – Lucky or Unlucky?

By Brian Walton and Jerry Modene

 

Baseball Prospectus, primarily a subscription site, is running on their home page a list of the five (actually six) luckiest National League starters.  This is based on looking at these pitchers’ actual win-loss record compared to what BP’s program says their records should be.  Of those six, three Cardinals are included; Chris Carpenter, Jeff Suppan and Matt Morris.  www.baseballprospectus.com

 

Birdhouse columnist Jerry Modene is among those who take exception to that.  First, he looked at a few of the basic stat indicators, which clearly refute BP’s conclusions.  By the numbers, the Cardinals starters have done very well. 


Their ERA is down to 3.92.

They have allowed fewer hits than innings pitched (946 hits in 950 innings).

They have a better than 2-to-1 K/BB ratio (641 K, 316 BB),

They average 6.07 K's per 9 innings.

Some no-name staff!

 

Jerry went on to look at Game Scores as a more direct, quantitative alternate method to answer whether or not the Redbird starters have indeed been "lucky" or "unlucky".  As a reminder, sabermetric pioneer Bill James invented Game Score, a metric for evaluating the quality of a pitcher's outing.  Game Score is commonly thought of a measure for how dominant a pitcher was in the game.


Chris Carpenter is neither lucky nor unlucky:  He’s had 18 starts of 50+, and 10 below 50. So he theoretically could have been 18-10; obviously, there are no-decisions and the like mixed in there, which is why bullpen pitchers get decisions, but the Cards are 20-8 in Carpenter's starts, which implies a little bit of "luck". But in actual fact, Carpenter's luck is mixed - he's had 7 starts of 50 points or greater where he took the no-decision, and 1 start of 50 points or greater where he took the loss, but he's also had 6 starts of below 50 points where he got the win.

Jason Marquis is neither: 17-13 theoretically; Cards 16-14 in actual fact. Marquis has been lucky not so much in his wins, but in avoiding losses; he has 10 no-decisions in his 30 starts, 5 of which he failed to get 50 points - when he had his 11-game winning streak between May 26 and September 16, he had 7 no-decisions, 4 of which involved starts where he had fewer than 50 points and could well have lost.

Matt Morris is neither: 17-14 theoretically; Cards 20-11 in actual fact. In Morris' case, it's been the inconsistency which has hurt him, not bad luck (or good luck) but we've already figured out now that the inconsistency this season appears to be based on the fact that while he's been good in home games at night, and OK in home games in the daytime and road games at night, his record in road games in the daytime is horrendous.

Jeff Suppan is lucky: 12-17 theoretically; Cards 20-9 in actual fact. There's your luckiest pitcher in a Cardinal uniform; he's only had 12 starts where he's posted a GS of 50 or greater. At six no-decisions, he's got the fewest ND's of the five starters (Morris has 7, Carpenter 8, Marquis 10, Williams 11) but has been lucky enough to get the win 7 times when he posted a GS of less than 50 points (although most of those have been around 44-49 points) and the Cards are 11-6 in those 17 games in which Suppan has failed to reach the 50-point mark.

Woody Williams is unlucky: 18-12 theoretically; Cards 21-9 in actual fact. There's your *unluckiest* pitcher in a Cardinal uniform; this is a guy who's had 18 starts of 50 points or greater but who has only actually won 10 of those 18 starts. And it's not a case of his having been outpitched by the other guy, either; he's only lost two of those 18 starts and the Cards are, when Williams gives us 50 points or more, 15-3. It's been the bullpen - as evidenced, too, by the fact that before he won Wednesday night, Williams had had 4 straight 50+ starts but had only won one of them; he got no-decisions in the last three before last night, when Izzy barely held on for the save. Otherwise it would have been four straight.

 

So, there you have it.  Both the basic stats and Game Scores tell a much different story about the Cardinals starting pitching than does Baseball Prospectus.  Decide for yourself, but I am not going to bookmark that BP story on my computer.  I know what I see everyday.

 

9:24 pm edt

Free the Starters and Make Relievers Accountable

 

Alright, I’ve had enough.  Thursday’s game has driven me to vent.  For the second time in the last week and at least the third time this season, something has happened that really, really irritates me and violates my spirit of fairness.

 

I realize that what follows is not an important subject.  It clearly isn’t a team-oriented argument.  And I am not intending to pit the relievers against the starters.  It’s not even a Cardinal-specific issue.  Instead, I am looking for fairness where I think it is missing in the MLB rulebook.

 

Here’s the all-too-familiar scenario.  A reliever comes into the game to protect the lead.  Instead, he coughs up enough runs to cost the starter a well-earned win.  Now, blowing a save is bad enough.

 

However, what happens next makes matters even more unfair; an injustice even.  In their next at-bats, the high-test Cardinals offense storms back to re-take the lead.  As a result, the reliever gets a “vulture” win, having the good fortune to be the right place at the right time for the right team, one good enough to prevail in late-game tie situations and/or come back from late-inning deficits.

 

In my scorebook, if he blows the save, I would rip that win away from the non-deserving reliever and return it to its rightful owner – the starter.  Now, I wouldn’t advocate this action except in the situation where the reliever blows a save and later becomes in line for a cheap win.  I’m not even talking about when the starters’ put runners on base that were inherited by the relievers and score later.  I mean when the starter has gone five or more and leaves the game free and clear, heading toward a win.  No matter what, if his team wins the game, he should get the win.

 

When I subjected my oldest son to this rant, he was totally unimpressed and instead if heaping on hoped-for praise, took the offensive.  He questioned my crossing the line into what he feels is arbitrary territory.  He asked, if I make this change, wouldn’t I also have to give an original runner credit for a run scored even if he is replaced by another runner via a fielders’ choice?  I had to think about it a bit, but my reply was “no”, because that run cannot be assumed to score.  It is unfair; but not a gross injustice like my pitching example.

 

Thursday, this situation occurred, costing Dan Haren a win as Cal Eldred allowed the tying run.  Cal was the pitcher of record when the Cards took the lead for good two innings later.  Yet, perhaps I should cut Cal a bit of slack, as this was his first blown save/win combination of the season.

 

As one might expect, the prime culprit would be the closer, whose job it is to protect late-inning leads.  Izzy got the blown save/win Friday night against Arizona, taking a win away from Woody Williams.  Izzy’s other example was against Houston back on Memorial Day weekend.  In that one, Chris Carpenter lost an eight-inning, two hit shutout.

 

I want to see the rules changed to keep this from happening.  Free the starters and make those relievers accountable!

 

7:25 am edt

Thursday, September 23, 2004

... but he ought to ...

Mike Shannon Doesn’t Read The Birdhouse

 

What am I talking about now, you ask?  No, it isn't some kind of ego-driven commercial.

 

In a conversation earlier this season, long-time Cardinal broadcaster Mike Shannon made it clear to me that he gets all the news he needs from the newspaper and doesn’t go anywhere near the internet.  It’s not all that surprising coming for someone from his generation and I certainly was not offended when he said it.

 

So, the deduction is simple.  No internet, no Birdhouse.  Pretty weak story so far, huh?  Stick with me here and I’ll explain.

 

My colleague Ryan Pastrovich let me know that during Thursday’s game, Shannon recounted to his thousands of listeners a story about how he had the pleasure of talking for 30 minutes prior to that day’s game with someone very special.  Shannon proudly pointed out that he had an audience with no one other than the person who he represented as being the oldest living former major leaguer.

 

I have to admit my natural curiosity was piqued.  Did someone tell Shannon about our successful search for the oldest living former Cardinal?  Wait a minute…  Why would Ray “Lee” Cunningham be at Miller Park in Milwaukee?  Did Shannon call him at his retirement home in Texas?  Maybe the Birdhouse will get a mention on KMOX…

 

My excitement was almost at a fever pitch when Shannon mentioned the former major leaguer’s name was Ray.

 

But, wait just a minute here.  As the rest of the picture was filled in, it wasn’t what I expected at all.  Shannon had been duped.  He had spoken with a pretender, or should I say contender, a veritable youngster.  Shannon’s chat was with a 97-year old former major league catcher and former Chicago White Sox coach named Ray Berres.

 

Ray Berres.  I remembered the name from the research I’d done on Lee Cunningham.  Berres played for eleven years, from 1934 through 1945 for four National League teams.  While he had far more service time than Cunningham, Berres was more than two years younger. 

 

In fact, thanks to a great trivia site called “Who’s Alive and Who’s Dead”, http://www.wa-wd.com/ , I was able to confirm that Berres is only the fifth oldest former major leaguer.  He was never a Cardinal, either!

 

Here is the list:

Rank

Name

DOB

Years of Service

Notes

 

Paul Hopkins

9/25/1904

1927-29

Died on 1/2/2004.

 

Bill Rogell

11/24/1904

1925-40

Died on 8/9/2003.

1

Ray Cunningham

1/17/1905

1931-32

 

 

Gus Suhr

1/3/1906

1930-40

Died on 1/15/2004.

 

Bob Cremins

2/15/1906

1927

Died on 3/27/2004.

2

Rollie Stiles

11/17/1906

1930-33

 

3

Howdie Grosklos

4/9/1907

1930-32

 

4

Bobby Stevens

4/17/1907

1931

 

5

Ray Berres

8/31/1907

1934-45

 

6

Bill Werber

6/20/1908

1930, 1933-42

 

7

AL LOPEZ

8/20/1908

1928-47

 

 

John Stoneham

11/8/1908

1933

Died on 1/1/2004.

8

Sol Carter

12/23/1908

1931

 

9

Ernie Koy

9/17/1909

1938-42

 

10

Tony Malinosky

10/5/1909

1937

 

  

Players who accumulated fewer than 200 at bats and 50 innings pitched are in normal type.  Players with more than 200 at bats or 50 innings pitched are in bold.  Players in the Baseball Hall of Fame are in BOLD CAPS.  Note I included only the top ten here, but the website mentioned above has the top 23.

 

Now, the fact is that I don’t have Mike Shannon’s email address, so I can’t get this to him quickly.  However, I do have his partner Wayne Hagin’s and I will be sending this article along with Bill McCurdy’s and my initial article.  That way, I can promte Lee Cunningham and right a wrong while I am at it.

 

7:45 pm edt

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

In the NLDS

It Can Happen Again

 

Here’s a scenario we can all relate to.  The team had a nice run in recent years, but hadn’t won the division in a couple of seasons after some close calls.  However, this season would be different.  They put together a very solid campaign, reaching 100 wins, and concluded with a easy divisional championship and a surprising bulge of 15-1/2 games over the second place team.  Expectations of a World Series win were being discussed openly.

 

They breezed into the playoffs after an 18-8 September, but had lost three of their last eight as they rested key players to get ready for the postseason.  Their opponent was the Wild Card entry, who had battled until the last week of the season just to reach the playoffs.  The 100-win squad had to feel good coming into the National League Division Series.  After all, they owned the Wild Card team that season, winning five of six, including taking two of three at home just a month before the end of the regular season.

 

They were led by their power-hitting slugger, a leading Most Valuable Player candidate and recognized as one of the top few players in the game.  Their rotation was headlined by a certified ace who had missed time in the second half due to elbow and forearm tightness.  The four other starting pitchers were not particularly highly respected by opponents and experts. 

 

Still, with a home field advantage and the regular season edge, how could they not be confident coming into the short-series NLDS?

 

What happened was quick but no less painful.  After their ace spun a shutout in game one, the team lost the pivotal game two at home.  From there on, it snowballed.  With losses in games three and four on the road, their season again ended in stunned disappointment. 

 

Their slugger was a non-factor, batting just .222 with two RBI in the four NLDS games as the team hit just .235 combined.  As their regular season record indicated, they just may have been the better team.  But, the wild card entry rode strong pitching through the playoffs all the way to a World Series victory.  That regular season 100-win team was left scratching their heads after an early exit.

 

This isn’t some ancient history lesson.  The team profiled above was none other than the 2003 San Francisco Giants.  Twelve months later, essentially this same Giants team could very well get the chance to turn the tables.  They are currently leading in the wild card standings and would no doubt relish the chance to reverse roles in 2004 - starting as the playoff underdog to become this year’s Florida Marlins.  In doing so, they’d begin by facing the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals starting at their place.

 

Let’s hope the Cardinals are studious and will learn from the recent past to avoid repeating it.

 

10:50 pm edt

Monday, September 20, 2004

Point and Counterpoint

Point – La Russa’s Coaching Strategy Questionable

By Pete Khazen

 

Congratulations are due to Tony La Russa and the St. Louis Cardinals.  They clinched the NL Central Division Championship this weekend, running away with the title.  Many fans have been saying that La Russa deserves the Coach of the Year title.  Rarely have fans been so supportive of the Cardinal skipper.  But with a line-up that some critics are calling one of the best ever and a consistent pitching staff, is La Russa going to be the fall guy if this team falters and doesn’t win it all?

 

Although it is not quite over, the Cardinals have played a dream season that nobody predicted.  They sputtered out of the gates at 23-22, but hit their stride on an impressive romp through the next 91 games at a 69-22 clip.

 

However, it is safe to say that things have cooled down.  They are not currently playing their best baseball as the season winds down.  They lost three consecutive series before facing the Diamondbacks this weekend.  The Cards dropped two road series to San Diego and Los Angeles.  They then returned home to drop two of three to Houston before the series against Arizona.  Though they were lucky enough to miss Randy Johnson, they still only took two of three games.  They had an opportunity at Busch Stadium to shrink the Magic Number to zero in front of their faithful fans, but fell to the D-Backs 3-2, leaving that Magic Number at one.  Instead they’ll hunt for champagne on the road.  Does a 5-7 stretch involving three consecutive series losses to playoff contending teams and a lack of drive to clinch at home have fans concerned? 

 

The argument can be made that La Russa has finally adopted a conservative approach to the games in recent weeks.  He knew that the team had plenty of breathing room and started giving players days off to rest, which also opened opportunities for bench players to compete for playoff roster spots.  The likes of John Mabry, Hector Luna, and Cody McKay have been getting plenty of reps while the fielding blunders have been piling up.  Interestingly enough, this strategy is different from how La Russa was managing earlier in the year when he maintained a “win at all cost” attitude.   Why the change now?  Is it the strategy of a mastermind at work preparing his team for the playoffs?

 

The Cardinals are coasting behind La Russa into October while the remaining playoff contending teams are playing highly competitive baseball games down the stretch.   Most teams will be on a high carrying momentum into the playoffs, while the Cardinals figure to take it easy and hope to return to their dominant ways.  But La Russa is managing like the team can just flip a switch and return to that winning, confident level of play.  His coaching tactics seem to be messing with the team chemistry and the everyday routine the players have employed the whole season.  Is he setting this team up for a collapse similar to the likes of the 2001 Seattle Mariners?

 

Flipping that switch is not easy, particularly when the nagging, performance-impacting injuries begin to pile up.  Most concerning could be the most recent injury, Chris Carpenter’s bicep strain.  Just how serious is this injury to the team ace?  Will he be able to pitch down the stretch or in the playoffs?  As time to prepare for the playoffs and build momentum dwindles away more questions are coming to surface than are answers. 

 

Will Steve Kline be able return to his mid-season dominance after a stint on the DL?  Or will he look more like he did the first few weeks of the season?  Will Scott Rolen, whose production was already fading, be able to come back to MVP form? Or will the knee and calf injuries get worse as the cold weather settles in this October?  Will Jeff Suppan figure out his control issues before those walks become amplified in the playoffs?  Will the skipper roll the dice and give away a premium playoff roster spot to a seemingly deserving Rick Ankiel?

 

Time will tell if La Russa is deserving of Coach of the Year honors.  Though the honor should be decided solely on regular season performance, how this team performs in the post-season will be indicative of how La Russa coached them down the stretch.  If this team doesn’t return to its dominance, no one deserves the blame more than La Russa.  I’m sure that Cardinal fans will give La Russa an earful just as quickly as they’ll rescind their lobbies for the Coach of the Year honor.

 

Counterpoint – La Russa’s Playoff Managing, Not Coaching

By Brian Walton

 

Counterpoint to Pete Khazen’s article, “La Russa’s Coaching Strategy Questionable”

 

As a Cubs fan, Pete is to be excused for calling the yearly award “Coach of the Year”, instead of its proper title, “Manager of the Year”.  After all, with the many misfortunes the Wrigley faithful have endured this season, coaching each other through disappointment has become a regular Cubbie pastime. 

 

Or, perhaps, Pete is already getting into the football mindset and has moved on to thinking about the Bears’ season.  Now, that’s a good idea.

 

In addition, his unfamiliarity with the award itself is most understandable.  After all, the last Cubs’ manager to win National League Manager of the Year was Don Zimmer back in 1989.  Before that, it was the “great” Jim Frey in 1984.  Not exactly a golden era in Cubs history.  But then, none of our parents were yet born during that last golden era.

 

Anyway, before I digress into Dusty Baker bashing, which is far too easy and has already been done before, let’s take the high ground and focus on the issue at hand.

 

Tony La Russa is a four-time Manager of the Year winner, having earned the honor most recently in 2002.  He clearly deserves to win it again in 2004.  Although, had Phil Garner been in the Houston driver’s seat all season, he would be worthy of serious consideration, also. 

 

As I write this, the St. Louis Cardinals have earned the best record in baseball while steamrolling to 97 wins through September 19.  They have clinched their division and as a result, have pretty much accomplished every regular season goal they could.  Really, the only tangible benefit remaining on the table is to secure home team advantage for the NLCS and NLDS.  That also looks to be a lock with a nine-game lead in that category with 14 games to go.

 

Still, it is fair to note that given the balance that exists in Major League Baseball today, breaks have to fall the right way for any team to win 100 games over the course of a six-month marathon.  The Cardinals have been the beneficiary of general good player health, something that has eluded key division rivals Houston and Chicago.

 

The Cardinals’ 2004 steamroller season has exceeded everyone’s expectations.  As a result, critics such as Pete Khazen have had to work very hard and dig very deep to come up with points of criticism.  Still, even when totaled together, they seem to lack any real substance.

 

However, some of the questions Pete asked were worthy of clarification.  So, here are nine 2004 Cardinal playoff considerations.  They are listed in my order of priority.  Note that La Russa is at the bottom of the list and his alleged “messing with team chemistry” is nowhere to be found.

 

1)  Scott Rolen’s health.  The recent knee/shin/calf problem that has caused Rolen to miss over a week of play has to be first and foremost in the list of concerns in the minds of the Cardinal nation.  After all, many remember Arizona’s Alex Cintron’s slide into Rolen and his subsequent shoulder injury during 2002’s NLDS Game 2.  Without Rolen, the Cardinals floundered.  While there is even more firepower around him in 2004, does anyone doubt that losing Rolen would be a tremendous blow?

 

2)  Albert Pujols’ health.  At various times, Pujols’ plantar fasciitis seems to cause him more trouble than others.  However, Albert is even more tight-lipped than Rolen.  So, we don’t really know how much he is hurting.  All we can do is gauge his limping and hope he can keep plugging along.  Off-season surgery on his foot remains a definite possibility.  Would Pujols’ loss before then be any less devastating than Rolen’s?  Let’s hope we can avoid this subject completely.

 

3)  Starting pitching health.  The Cards’ starting five has been about as injury-free as any quintuplets in the majors this season.  However, coming off two major shoulder surgeries, Chris Carpenter’s minor maladies, first back spasms and now a biceps strain, are concerning.   While no one will admit if Matt Morris is hiding arm problems as some suspect, there is no debate that his inconsistency has been frustrating.  Let’s just hope that Duncan and La Russa will use him where he has the best chance of success – home games at night.

 

4)  Relief pitching health.  Steve Kline is still on target to return for the final week of the season from his groin injury.  Julian Tavarez had to leave last Thursday’s game with a minor left leg injury and hasn’t pitched since.  Cal Eldred and Ray King remain strong.  All four are needed at full strength for the playoff run. 

 

5)  Edgar Renteria’s mindset.  Whether he is batting second, sixth or even fourth is not the issue.  Edgar is in a deep slump, hitting just .145 this month on eight hits, all singles.  Even after all he has accomplished, Renteria’s importance to the Cardinal offense may be underestimated.  It is worthy to note that the last time he went into a funk like this was when there were trade rumors about him at midseason several years ago.  But, whether it is concern about his impending free agency or something else, Edgar needs to get it out of his head and heat up in October for this team to be running smoothly. 

 

6)  Larry Walker’s health.  The newest Cardinal star is 37 years old and more susceptible to injury at this point in his long career.  So, it is no wonder that the team’s fans held their breath when Walker aggravated his knee and missed almost a week at the beginning of the month.  Still, as with Rolen now and Pujols earlier, perhaps the enforced rest was good for the long run.

 

7)  September record.  So what if the team is 10-7 in September?  La Russa’s strategy to provide selective rest to key members of his team makes all the sense in the world to me.  I have already documented the changes in bullpen usage this month, as the top tier of available relievers, Eldred, King and Tavarez, have seen less work in favor of guys who will not be on the playoff roster such as Randy Flores, Al Reyes and Carmen Cali.

 

8)  The bench.  Getting playing time for valuable reserves like John Mabry and Hector Luna can only help, not hurt.  I’m not sure where Pete is going when he mentions Cody McKay, since he has only five at-bats this month.  Granted, Marlon Anderson, Roger Cedeno and Ray Lankford aren’t adding much.  However, just like most any team, having to get deep into the bench during the playoffs is a very, very bad sign.

 

9)  Tony La Russa.  If La Russa’s squad comes up short in the postseason, he will take a significant share of the blame.  That goes with the territory.  Every manager’s moves become magnified in the playoffs, simply because of the stakes involved.  If you can find him, just ask Grady Little about that.

 

La Russa is not relieving the pressure on the team.  On Sunday, even though the tiebreaker calculations awarded his team the NL Central crown, La Russa refused to acknowledge it.  Whatever champagne celebration the team has will be on the road in Milwaukee and as a result, will be low-key.  They know their job is far from done.

 

Clearly La Russa has personal motivation, too.  With all his awards and honors, La Russa’s teams have taken away just one World Series trophy.  In fact, in the history of the game, no manager has won as many games as La Russa, yet as few World Series.  Don’t you think La Russa is well aware of that?  He’s proven that he can win the marathons, but with apologies to Greg Maddux, La Russa knows that chicks dig sprinters.  And, it's almost time again for the sprint that matters most.

 

In Closing

 

Every team has concerns, and most every one’s list is longer and with more serious questions than are posed in my list of nine above.

 

Yet, anything can happen in the playoffs.  That is what makes it so exciting.  (As an aside, I remain strongly in favor of MLB changing its rules to strengthen home field advantage to give more games to the better-record team, but that is a subject for another column.)  Only time will tell if the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals will ride their regular season success into a victory parade in late October or instead will join the 2001 Mariners on the list of regular season studs and post-season duds.  But, I sure like their chances of having the big party.

 

One thing I do know, is that there isn’t a single sane Cubs fan in the entire world that wouldn’t gladly trade places with the Cardinals.  With a reasonable chance that they will be home watching the playoffs, the Cubs faithful may soon have even more time on their hands to try to spread their gloom and doom to others. 

 

4:04 pm edt

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A happy ending

Our Search for the Oldest Living Cardinal Is Done
By Bill McCurdy

 

The search for the world’s oldest living Cardinal, the one that began with Rob Rains, Brian Walton, and Erv Fischer, is now complete. The ball that Rob caught caroming off the wall of baseball history was hurled through his two cut-off men to me and I finished the play at the plate, quite literally, at the plate of a convalescent home lunch service. I’ve never had a more satisfying day for my part in the resolution of a mystery.

 

When I arrived at his suburban Houston convalescent home, I found 99 year old Lee Cunningham sitting in a wheel chair, way back in the physical therapy room. It was just past 10 o’clock in the morning. Lee had finished his workout and was eagerly awaiting me for our first meeting. “He’s been talking about you coming since breakfast,” one of the nursing home staff whispered. “Mr. Cunningham loves to talk baseball any time of the day.”

Lee Cunningham and Bill McCurdy

 

Lee smiled broadly as I walked in the door. He reached out to shake my hand vigorously when I introduced myself.  He was wearing an older Astros cap when we met, but I gave him a choice of two new caps that I had brought as gifts. One was the Cardinals cap that you see in the picture. The other was a newer version of the current Astros cap. Lee was gleeful, but couldn’t decide which of the new caps to put on. “I have fond memories of my days with the Cardinals,” Lee stated, “but I’m a Houstonian now and I’ve become a big Astros fan over the years. Which one of these caps do you think I should wear?” At my urging, Lee adorned himself with the Cardinals cap. As he again put on the colors and logo of the only big league club he every played for, I had to admit that he looked pretty great.

 

For a man approaching the century mark, Lee Cunningham is very alert, quite funny, and totally likeable. He suffers the general failure of memory that comes with age, but he is still on top of many things that are going on in baseball. For example, Lee is aware that the Astros are still alive in the wild card chase. When I reminded him that Roger Clemens was slated to pitch against the Cardinals that night, his face lit up like the old Christmas tree. “What time is the game?” Lee asked, as he clapped his hands. “I can’t miss that one.”

 

When 99 year old Paul Hopkins died on January 2nd , Ray “Lee” Cunningham became the oldest living former big league baseball player. After also turning 99 on January 17th, Lee received the following message from Commissioner Bud Selig in a letter dated February 9th:

 

“Dear Ray (Lee):

 

“Congratulations on your 99th birthday! Major League Baseball joins with me in extending our best wishes to you for a very special birthday on January 17,

 

“You have been an important part of baseball for many years. Your career with the St. Louis Cardinals helped pave the way to make baseball the great game it is today. Your contributions to Major League Baseball will long be remembered.

 

“Again, I send my congratulations and best wishes to you on this wonderful occasion. I hope you will celebrate many more birthdays in good health and happiness.

 

“Sincerely,

Allan H. Selig

Commissioner of Baseball”

 

“Just my good luck,” said Lee. “Nobody can count on living as long as I have. It either happens or it doesn’t.” Despite his disclaimer and genuine modesty, Lee Cunningham feels pretty good about being the oldest former big leaguer. When I brought out the fact of his current baseball status with nursing home staff and other residents who wandered into the physical therapy room where Lee and I first talked, he couldn’t resist speaking up too. “When Bill says that I’m the world’s oldest living big leaguer, he don’t mean ‘just in the United States,’ he means ‘oldest in the whole world!’”  Lee made a large circling motion with his arms as he clarified his position to anyone who possibly may have misunderstood.

 

Who is Ray “Lee” Cunningham? In service to brevity, here’s a thumbnail sketch of what I learned about this very gentle man during our visit. Lee was born on a small farm near Mesquite, Texas on January 17, 1905. The youngest of five boys, Lee worked the place with his family while he was growing up, going to school, and learning to play the game he loved. The family raised cotton, corn, and “a whole lot of other good stuff,” according to Lee.

 

After achieving a local reputation as a pretty good infielder in high school and town ball, he was scouted and signed by Cardinal scout Charlie Barrett and assigned to Greenville of the East Texas League in 1926. Lee didn’t recall his original salary, but he remembers his family being behind his decision to play professional baseball.

 

“I loved everything about playing baseball,” Lee offered. “It was just a thing I put my whole heart into. The way I figured it, I didn’t want to put my life into anything that my heart was not up to following too. Baseball filled the bill for me.”

 

Based on his performance during the first three years of his career, Lee’s heart was joined by some considerable ability. After hitting .360 with Greenville in 1926, Lee followed up with a .311 mark at Topeka in 1927. A really stellar year came next with Dayton of the Central League in 1928. As a Dayton Aviator, Cunningham collected 183 hits on the season for a .350 average that included 14 home runs. He also was named as the third baseman on the league all-star team.

 

“I was a little guy at 140 pounds in my playing days and not a power threat, but I could hit line drives that found a way of falling in,” Lee exclaimed. “Those 14 homers in 1928 were my all-time high. I’m still not sure how I got that many.”

 

A lot of things were hard for Lee to recall, but he told me how he felt about doing our interview, right off the bat. “My daddy always taught us to just tell the plain truth and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell you what I know and remember without enlarging on it, or trying to make anything sound bigger than it actually was. Things were what they were. Things are what they are. It’s as simple as that.”

 

Lee finally got his call to the big leagues in 1931, making his debut with the Cardinals on September 16th. Lee went hitless in four times at bat. He came back with the Cardinals in 1932, remaining for only 22 times at bat that garnered him three singles and a double. That was it.

 

According to information I have since obtained from Cunningham’s son, Gary, his dad’s trial with the Cardinals was cut short by an unfortunate injury. On the same kind of one-handed bunted ball play to first base that Lee relished making as a third baseman, Cunningham hurt his arm and was no longer able to make the strong throws that are required at the hot corner. The injury even left a knot in his neck that remained for years without proper diagnosis or treatment. The injury spelled the end to Cunningham’s brief big league career. Early in 1932, he was sent down to the Houston Buffs of the Texas League and shifted to playing second base because of his weakened arm, according to the younger Cunningham. Lee was never the same player after the injury, and he would never again see action in the big leagues.

 

After being out of baseball in 1933 because of his arm trouble, Lee came back to play about half a season with Palestine of the West Dixie League. He hit .360 in 1934, but his throwing arm was gone. The comeback effort failed and another promising baseball career had ended early due to injury. At age 29, Lee Cunningham’s professional career had reached the end of the road.

 

“I quit baseball and took a job with the Grand Prize Brewery in Houston,” Lee explains. “As much as I loved baseball, the beer business paid better and I needed the money.” He later married Madaline, his wife of 50 years, and he stayed with Grand Prize until his retirement. He also kept his foot in baseball by playing for the semi-pro club that the brewery sponsored for years. Madaline died about a month prior to their 50th wedding anniversary in 1999. Lee has one son named Gary, plus two grandsons, and two-great grandsons.

 

Lee holds on to fond memories of St. Louis, Sportsman’s Park, and several teammates. Jim Bottomley and Joe Medwick stand out as favorite hitters he saw, along with Mel Ott of the Giants. He also loved the hustle of Pepper Martin, but his favorite player, and the man he named also as the greatest pitcher he ever saw, was the great Dizzy Dean. His favorite hitter of all time came later. It was a fellow named Musial.

 

“Diz and me was roommates for a short time with the Cardinals,” Lee said. “He was a whole lot of fun to be with. He didn’t put on no airs and, heck, he just liked to go out and have some fun. Back in 1932, so did I! – I’ll always be glad to know that I once played ball with one of the greatest pitchers of all time.”

 

The right-handed hitting Cunningham played second base and shortstop too, but his identity and memories are all tied into third base, the position he lost to injury while making the very kind of play he described to me here. “I loved playing third base,” Lee recounted. “You had to react fast, and you had to watch the guys that tried to fool you with a bunt. It felt good to come racing in on a bunt and to grab that ball with a meat hand for the quick throw to first. I’d get ‘em pretty often on that play.” (Check out the photo. Lee Cunningham is a small man, but he has the large hands of a much larger guy. Those hands were made for foiling bunt attempts.)

 

Lee’s fondest memory in baseball is now little more than a sketch. He cannot recall when or where it happened, but he remembers the play in his mind’s eye. “It was a close game in the late innings. I was playing third base and the other team had an important runner there. We had to keep him from scoring. The next thing I knew, the batter hit a hard line smash at me that I managed to knock down with the heel of my glove. The runner had been going for home, but he stopped for a minute to look at me when the ball got hit. Then he took off again when he saw the ball bounce to the ground. That was his mistake. I pounced on that ball with my bare hand and winged it like a bullet to our catcher. That runner slid right into a surefire out. I can’t recall if that play decided the game. I just remember that we kept that runner from scoring when he had to.”

 

We’ve invited Lee Cunningham to be our special guest at the November 12th induction banquet of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in Houston. He was delighted and we are honored. “If I’m still here, I’ll be there!” Lee answered. At age 99, Lee Cunningham knows something that we all need to keep in mind, - never take tomorrow for granted.

 

I’ll never forget our meeting. It was one of those golden moments that we all live for, the chance to connect with someone who is not only a living tie to baseball history, but a really decent human being, as well.

 

One other thing I’ve learned from Lee’s son, Gary, which I want to share with you. It’s the sort of thing that chills the spine. The date we will be honoring Lee Cunningham, November 12th, just happens to also be the wedding anniversary date of Lee and Madaline Cunningham. Had Madaline lived, the couple would’ve been celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary that same night. Draw your own conclusions about whether this sort of thing shows the power and energy of grace - or the simple ubiquity of coincidence. I know what I prefer to believe.

 

Lee does like to get fan mail. For those who care to write him, please direct your requests in care of his son, Gary. Please be aware that requests for long signatures on anything are difficult for him to handle.

 

The mailing address is:

 

Lee Cunningham

c/o Gary Cunningham

3646 Wingtail Way

Pearland, TX 77584

 

11:23 pm edt

Reader Query

Are Puckett's Pitching Gap Worries Justified?

 

Reader Shawn Puckett is worried about the Cardinals’ pitching due to the team’s recent record.  He asked me to either ease his concerns or justify them.  I am up for the challenge. 

 

I think the recent stretch of Cardinal mortality is due as much to the defense and hitting as it is to the pitching.  But, sticking with the question, I think a factor is La Russa’s quietly resting key members of the bullpen, either by bringing them in with less frequency or later in games when they do appear.  As a result, we’ve seen Carmen Cali, Randy Flores, Rick Ankiel, Dan Haren and Al Reyes more often, something that will not happen in the playoffs.

 

When I talk about bullpen rest, take for example, Cal Eldred.  He averaged about 13 innings each month during June, July and August.  He’s pitched just 3-1/3 this month.

 

Julian Tavarez is another.  He appeared in over half the games in August and hurled 13-2/3 innings.  This month, he’s pitched in just four.

 

How about Ray King?  He’s been the busiest Cardinal bullpen arm this season, appearing in 76 games, averaging 14 games a month all season long.  But, this month, he’s pitched just 4-1/3 innings in six games.

 

The innings these three stalwarts would have pitched have gone to the five “new” guys named above.  In total, these newcomers have tossed 16-2/3 innings this month – almost two games in total.

 

I can’t prove this without analyzing each game in detail, but I do have another related theory.  I believe this decision by La Russa to rest the front line relievers could also have led to starters being left in a tad longer at crucial points. 

 

Now, we all know that La Russa is extremely patient with his starters, anyway; some say to a fault.  But, put yourself in La Russa’s shoes.  In the back of his mind, La Russa might decide to let Williams pitch to just one or two more batters that he would have otherwise, knowing that instead of Tavarez and King, the guys he planned to use that night are Cali and Reyes.  Wouldn’t you be tempted to do the same?

 

Let’s test that theory.  Are the starters going deeper into games this month?  The facts say “no’.  Here are the 2004 season to-date compared to September innings pitched per start:

 

Carpenter:  6.2 / 6.1 – fewer innings in September

Marquis:  6.1 / 6.1 – same

Morris:  6.1 / 5.2 – fewer

Suppan:  6.0 / 5.0 – fewer

Williams:  6.1 / 6.1 – same

 

Three of the starters are pitching a fewer number of innings per start in September versus the average, while two are the same.  Therefore, the members of the pen are pitching more innings this month.  And, we already know more of those pen innings are being logged by less-experienced arms.

 

Now, do fewer innings pitched by the starters mean they are pitching more poorly in September?  Again, the facts say “no”.  Here are 2004 season to-date and September 2004 ERAs for each:

 

Carpenter:  3.53 / 2.96 – better ERA in September

Morris:  4.69 / 5.73 – worse

Marquis:  3.58 / 3.46 – better

Suppan:  3.99 / 3.68 – better

Williams:  3.98 / 2.94 – better

 

So, my conclusion is that while the “experts” are suggesting the Cardinals’ starters are wearing down, the ERA results this month say four of the five’s results are actually improving.  Only Matt Morris has a poorer ERA in September.

 

Bottom line:  The starters are pitching fewer innings, but their results are better overall.  The best relievers are being rested, while less-experienced guys fill in.  So, am I worried?  No.

 

9:34 pm edt

Revisiting an ongoing topic

Morris: Not the Final Word
 
I knew that just as soon as I titled the previous article, calling it the “final word” on this subject, that I would regret it.  OK, the apology is over.  Now, let’s get to the story. 

We all know that Matt Morris is pitching Wednesday night.  Despite our statistical analysis, which implies the “good” Morris should appear, no one really knows what will happen against the Astros.

 

However, Jerry Modene has pushed on in his analysis of the stats.  In fact, apparently so has Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch, who in a story Tuesday had some words that looks very familiar to Birdhouse readers.

"Morris is 4-5 with a 5.82 ERA in day starts compared with 11-4 with a 3.97 ERA at night. In seven day starts on the road, Morris is 1-4 with an 11.27 ERA, compared to 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA in five day starts at Busch. Morris is 7-1 with a 3.50 ERA in nine night starts at home."

 

Strauss also said:  Morris will start Wednesday against the Astros after lasting 48 pitches against the Padres. If form holds, his effort will be markedly better at home and at night. The disparity between Morris' daytime and evening numbers is marked enough that Duncan says game time will affect when Morris would pitch in the first round.”

 

Now, Jerry did a very detailed analysis of the likely starters each day for the rest of the season.  He did this with an eye for how one (Duncan) might re-orient the rotation in preparation for the NLDS.  I didn’t include that detail here, mostly for space reasons, as well as because the scenario could completely change as soon as next Monday the 20th or when a spot starter appears.

 

However, I do not want to lose the main point made by all – when and where the games are scheduled should directly affect how to set the pitching rotation for the playoffs.  The problem is that there are too many unknowns to set that plan with any degree of certainty. 

 

I am amused by discussions like the one that occurred between Harold Reynolds and John Kruk on “Baseball Tonight” Tuesday night.  The two engaged in a lively debate over the Cards’ game one starter.  Reynolds voted for Carpenter, while Kruk selected Morris.  I am fine with a discussion of who might be more “deserving”, but that may be very different from who will give the team the best chance to win that and future games.

 

As you all know already, the conclusion of the Wild Card race will likely go into the last week, perhaps even to the last day of the season.  As a result, the opponent, as well as the times and locations of the NLDS games, may not be locked down until the very last minute.

 

In addition, even within the NLDS and to a lesser extent in the NLCS, the initial mix and sequence of day/night games can be adjusted to accommodate television.  Some may remember in past years how “less important” games were moved to afternoon spots to give the Yankees the evening prime time, for example.  Or, starting time shifts are made to accommodate west coast versus east coast time zones.  Finally, if one series concludes before another, then games could be moved from day to night for the same reason – to ensure more TV sets are tuned in.

 

As a result, any grand plans to shift the rotation to take into account Morris’ known strengths (home and night) and away from weaknesses (day and road), while keeping the entire staff on four or five days’ rest, looks to be a crapshoot at best. 

 

In other words, Dave Duncan may well know what he would like to do, but may not be fully able to do it.

 

2:33 pm edt

Monday, September 13, 2004

A new column

Walton's Wanderings
 
As regular Game Notes readers know, I sprinkle in factoids that catch my eye throughout the day.  Since this is an off-day and much of this news is too short-lived to hold until late Tuesday night, I decided to make this a new non-game day column – if I have something to say, that is.

Next step was to select a catchy tag that goes with my first or last name.  “Bits” was already claimed by Bernie Miklasz of the P-D, and while computer folk know there are eight bits in a byte, “Bytes” seemed inappropriate, so I quickly moved on.  My next thought was “Wisdom”.  I quickly realized that was also quite arrogant as well as downright incorrect.  Not wanting to waste any more time on such an insignificant activity, I settled on “Wanderings”.  Seems more fitting, anyway.  Hope someone else doesn’t already use it…

 

Let’s get into the news…

 

Cards Ink Deal with Quad Cities

As expected, the Cardinals signed a four-year deal to make the Quad Cities’ John O’Donnell Stadium the new home for their Midwest League, low-A ball entry, replacing the Peoria Chiefs.  http://www.swingbaseball.com/?entry=1086

 

Ivan Crowns Smokies Champs

Hurricane Ivan led the Southern League to end its season early, canceling their championship series.  As a result, the Tennessee Smokies and Mobile BayBears were crowned League co-champions.  Congrats, Smokies!  http://www.smokiesbaseball.com/topstory/index.htm

 

La Russa Not Candidate for Mets

The Mets’ brass have reportedly decided to eat the $4.6 million Manager Art Howe is owed through 2006.  Tampa Bay’s Lou Piniella is their only obvious alternative and he also is under contract for two more seasons.  When Tony La Russa was suggested as a candidate, one Mets insider doubted he would even consider leaving St. Louis for New York, even though his contract expires at season’s end.  http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/story/231551p-198826c.html

 

Zeile Closing in on Milestone

Former Cardinal Todd Zeile, in his final season before retirement, is five hits short of 2000 in his career.  Over a third of them, 719 to be precise, occurred during his early years with the Cardinals (1989-1995).

 

Stark on Cardinals Pitching History

ESPN’s Jayson Stark has this great observation about the Cardinals starting corps.  The Cardinals are the only team in the big leagues that has had all five starters throw at least 160 innings. And if they all get to 180, it will be the first time that has happened in the history of the franchise.”  Although, Stark sells the bullpen short, especially obviously questionable after they went four scoreless innings on Sunday.  http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=stark_jayson&id=1878019

 

Albert’s Worth the Bucks

Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News noted Todd Helton’s megadeal. His is the longest, but not richest contract.  Only 13 players currently have guarantees through 2008:

 

Player, team, Final year of contract, Guaranteed money

Todd Helton, Rockies 2011 $124.3 million

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees 2010 $158 million

Derek Jeter, Yankees 2010 $118 million

Albert Pujols, Cardinals 2010 $103 million

Miguel Tejada, Orioles 2009 $57 million

Manny Ramirez, Red Sox 2008 $77 million

Jason Giambi, Yankees 2008 $76 million

Vladimir Guerrero, Angels 2008 $65 million

Mike Hampton, Braves 2008 $61.5 million

Jim Thome, Phillies 2008 $55 million

Ken Griffey Jr., Reds 2008 $54 million

Pat Burrell, Phillies 2008 $43.5 million

Hank Blalock, Rangers 2008 $8.55 million

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/sports_columnists/article/0,1299,DRMN_83_3171800,00.html

 

Kline on Schedule

Sporting News’ Ken Rosenthal reports that Steve Kline is on track to return the final week of the season.  As a result, he says that Rick Ankiel will not be needed in the postseason.  The close is a very complimentary report on Carmen Cali.  http://msn.foxsports.com/story/3006374

 

Wainwright Also Progressing

Putting injury behind him and getting ready to report to the Arizona Fall League later this month.  http://www.thebrunswicknews.com/front/281409573819000.php

 

Ankiel to Start Next Monday?

Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll wonders if Ankiel will continue to always pitch from the stretch “when he starts Monday”.  Since there is no game today, I assume he means the 20th in Milwaukee.  Though there is no official announcement; that would make sense based on the schedule and the fact that it is the first game of the next road trip.  A home start might be viewed as too risky and besides, if Ankiel can’t beat the Brew Crew, who can he beat?  (subscription required) http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=3451

 

5:36 pm edt

Friday, September 10, 2004

Splits Tell a Story

Matty Mo to the Extreme

 

A colleague asked me if I thought Matt Morris’ recent inconsistency is a sign that he’s figuring things out or does it instead signal that he’s getting worse. 

 

No, I don’t think Morris is getting better, and I am unconvinced he is starting to figure things out, but I am starting to.  No, I have not turned into an amateur pitch tipping detector, nor an advisor on how aggressively or passively to pitch to hitters, nor an amateur psychologist, nor the person in charge of the timing of pre-game activities, nor frankly, can I address any of the other previous other explanations for Morris’ performances this season.

 

So, what have I figured out, then?  Let me explain.

 

Recently, Morris’ swings between goodness and badness are more extreme.   His three worst games of the season in terms of runs allowed, eight and seven runs twice, have occurred since July 20.  Of course, those were also his three shortest outings, having not gotten an out in the third inning in any of them.  On the other hand, during that same period, Morris pitched two of his three 2004 shutouts and allowed just two runs three other times.  See what I mean regarding extremes?  

 

However, these extremes tend to get lost when looking at averages.  On the bigger picture, during this time, Morris posted a 5-3 record with two no-decisions.   His ERA has remained steady in the 4.60-4.70 range.  So, on the average, he has been average or perhaps slightly better.

 

Still, there must be some explanation for these swings.  While I cannot get to the bottom of the cause, I can at least look for the effect.  As Jerry Modene already pointed out, Morris should not be pitched away from Busch.   I looked at his splits some more.  There is another very obvious factor other than home/road.  Look at Morris’ day/night numbers.

 

 

 

G

GS

W

L

SV

CG

SHO

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

K

ERA

WHIP

BAA

 

 Day

 

12

12

4

5

0

1

1

72.2

81

53

47

13

28

48

5.82

1.50

.291

 

 Night

 

17

17

11

4

0

2

1

113.1

108

53

50

19

24

71

3.97

1.16

.252

 

 

For reference, here are his home and away splits:

 

 

 

G

GS

W

L

SV

CG

SHO

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

K

ERA

WHIP

BAA

 

 Home

 

14

14

9

3

0

2

2

101.1

86

40

38

15

28

71

3.38

1.13

.234

 

 Away

 

15

15

6

6

0

1

0

84.2

103

66

59

17

24

48

6.27

1.50

.304

 


It seems crystal clear that there is some as-of-yet unexplainable reason that Morris is superb at home and superb at night but stinks during the day and on the road. 

 

While the differences in his career numbers are not as pronounced as this season, it is still worthy to note that Morris has a one-run difference in both home vs. away ERA and night vs. day ERA over his entire career.

BTW, Morris’ Wednesday San Diego start was a day road game - his worst combination of all.  Tony La Russa surely knows this, too.  The open question is whether or not he will act on it when it matters most.

 

8:04 am edt

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

With more to come...

The Search for the Oldest Living Cardinal

 

Well-known author and Birdhouse contributor Rob Rains always has a number of projects underway at any given point in time.  One of these is another “Where are they now?” book, focused on former Cardinals players, of course, which is scheduled to be published in the spring.  Rains previously penned a most entertaining one about the 1982 World Championship team. 

 

As we were discussing the project recently, Rob mentioned his desire to include an interview with the oldest living former Cardinal player among his up to 50 subjects in the book.  That is assuming the player was someone older than Stan Musial, to whom he already had access.   On first blush, I had to admit that I was unaware of any former Cards players older than Musial.  But, I wanted to know the real answer.

 

For me, getting involved provided an intriguing challenge; a way to do some amateur detective work (sorry, Ray), work on another interesting Cardinal project and relive aspects of a very enriching family genealogy project from a few years back.

 

To get started, I knew there was no better person to ask than Official Cardinals Historian Erv Fischer.  After he spoke with Cardinal long-timer Marty Marion, they came up with the following list: Don Gutteridge, now 92, who lives in Kansas.  Next in the pecking order was Marion, who will be 87 in December, Musial, who will be 84 in November and Red Schoendienst at 81.

 

Rains had another idea, however.  One of his publishers recalled a former player named Ray Cunningham, seemingly lost in the sands of time.  A quick check of the record books verified that Raymond Lee Cunningham, born in January, 1905, had indeed appeared during the 1931 and 1932 Cardinal seasons.  In fact, that was entire major league career.

 

“Lee” Cunningham played third base during three games in 1931 and 11 games at second and third the following season.   He hit .154, going 4-for-26.  Cunningham collected a double, an RBI, walked three times.   In the field, he was error-free in 31 chances, registering 11 put-outs, 20 assists and participated in a single double play.

 

The 1931 team, under Gabby Street, swept through the regular season as the first Cardinals squad to win over 100 games, finishing the regular season at 101-59.  They took the World Championship, besting Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in seven games.  The 1932 squad won 29 fewer games and settled in sixth place.  Cunningham did not appear in either post-season.

 

 

 

Returning to our dime-store detective novel, I was able to confirm with the National Baseball Hall of Fame that Cunningham is recognized as the oldest living former major league player.   So, as it turned out, Cunningham is both the previously-unknown oldest living Cardinal, as well as the oldest former major leaguer at 99 years old.

 

The previous oldest player, Paul Hopkins, pitched in a total of 11 major league games from 1927 to 1929 with the Washington Senators and St. Louis Browns.  His claim to fame was on September 29, 1927 when he allowed Babe Ruth's record-tying 59th home run that season.  Hopkins passed away January 2 in Deep River, CT at the age of 99.

 

An interesting sidelight is that neither Hopkins was nor Cunningham is the oldest former player.   That honor belongs to former Negro Leagues catcher Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, who is still living at age 102.  The charismatic ex-barnstormer was born on July 7, 1902 in Mobile, Alabama. 

 

Continuing our attempt to locate Cunningham, Fischer got a lead from Bill McCurdy of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame.  McCurdy recalled seeing the Texas native Cunningham at the Houston Winter Baseball Dinner a few years back and set off to work on locating information.  Checking his archives, Bill provided the photo and stats that are included. 

 

Being the neophyte Lee Cunningham expert that I am, I happened to notice that on his “baseball card”, he is calling himself 101 years old, not the 99 that all the other record sources state.  I wonder if this is an early example of age doctoring.  It’s not a new invention, after all.  Then again, what is?

 

In parallel, Rains headed for the Sporting News archives and came back with an address for Cunningham, not knowing if is current.  With that, I was able to quickly locate a corresponding phone number.  Though it is now attached to a different address in the same town, it is for none other than one R.L. Cunningham. 

 

Once he is contacted, we’ll share what we learn from the oldest living Cardinal.  I can’t wait!

 

8:18 pm edt

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

The Case is Presented

St. Louis: Best Baseball City

By Brian Walton with Rod Howe

 

We’ve heard it and even repeated it ourselves many times – St. Louis is the best city in baseball with the best and most knowledgeable fans anywhere.  We accept it without hard facts, much as we did when we were youngsters when Mom told us our eyes would get stuck if we crossed them. 

 

Well, here’s a case that proves the contention about St. Louis that comes from a most unlikely source.  In one of my (too) many fantasy baseball leagues this season, the league forum has been ablaze with a very spirited debate between one man, an Expos fan and Yankee hater named Rod Howe and two other owners, including a fervent Yankee supporter.  The brouhaha seemed to begin as a disagreement over the reasons for the Yankee success over time and has raged for about 60 individual posts over the past month plus.

 

While I noted the long, detailed and impassioned postings with only a mild passing interest, Rod’s ultimate conclusion did catch my eye: “St. Louis is the best baseball town in America”.  To prove his point, Howe developed an index which factors payroll, fan attendance and metropolitan area size.  In refining his formula, Howe enlisted his sister, who has her Doctorate with an emphasis in statistics.  As a former mathematics major myself some years ago, I can almost understand the logic.  However, you are excused if you want to skip the two middle sections and get straight to the point.

 

The Rankings

 

Here’s Howe’s list of baseball cities/teams from best to worst, as determined by population and payroll as factors of attendance:

 

  1. St. Louis
  2. Denver
  3. Phoenix
  4. Cleveland
  5. Atlanta
  6. Seattle
  7. Cincinnati
  8. San Francisco
  9. Boston
  10. Dallas
  11. Chicago Cubs
  12. Milwaukee
  13. Toronto
  14. Los Angeles
  15. San Diego
  16. New York Yankees
  17. Kansas City
  18. Houston
  19. Pittsburgh
  20. Baltimore
  21. Tampa
  22. Miami
  23. Chicago White Sox
  24. Oakland
  25. New York Mets
  26. Philadelphia
  27. Minneapolis
  28. Anaheim
  29. Detroit
  30. Montreal

 

The Explanation

 

The assumption tested was that in order to get people to the ballpark, a team would need to sign All-Star names; therefore payroll should be a dominant factor in fan attendance.  That is clearly not the case.

 

A standard deviation was prepared to analyze the results of the data set.  The following teams had above “average” fan support: St. Louis, Denver, Phoenix, Cleveland and Atlanta.  Conversely, the following teams experienced below “average” fan support: Detroit and Montreal.

 

The remainder of the teams all fell with the “norms” of the data set.  A team such as the Atlanta Braves spends similar amounts on payroll, and draws the same amount of fans to the ballpark as St. Louis.  However, Atlanta has approximately 1.5 million more people than St. Louis to draw from.  A team such as the New York Yankees spends well more that the “average” team on salary and has the population base to draw from, but generates “average” results when it comes to fans coming to the ballpark.  A team such as Kansas City is comparable to New York.  Despite Kansas City having a payroll that is well below the median, having a population to draw from which is approximately half of the median, they enjoy a comparable number of fans to the Yankees. 

 

The largest payrolls over the past years have been the Yankees, Boston, Dodgers and the Mets, and three of the four teams come from the two largest cities in North America.  The teams that have appeared in the World Series for the past ten years (from both leagues) can be divided into primarily two categories, 1) Large Payroll/Large Town, or 2) Good Fan Support.  The only “exception” to the rule was Miami, which ranked lower in payroll and fan attendance. 

 

In the final tabulation, St. Louis edges out Denver by .6 of one percent, so statistically speaking the two teams are identical, but St. Louisans can still be crowned the best major league baseball fans.

 

The Formula (don’t try this at home)

 

Here is the formula developed to determine which major league baseball team has the greatest fan support using fan attendance, payroll, and the size of the city in which the team is located as factors.  No other factors were utilized, (i.e. natural, social, community involvement, new stadium, etc.).  A city’s population was divided equally among teams in which two teams are located in the same metropolitan area (i.e. Chicago).   The definition of the terms is as follows:

 

Team attendance=            Ballpark attendance from 1994-2003

Avg. Team payroll=         Teams average Payroll for the previous 5 yrs.

Avg. Attendance=           Major League Baseball Average Attendance 1994-2003

Avg. Salary=                     "         "            "           "       Salary 1999-2003

Pop. Baseball City=          Population provided by the U.S. Census Bureau

Fan Base Denominator=  Median Population/City population

 

(City Population/Fan Base Denominator)(Team Attendance* Team Salaries)

Median Population (Median Attendance*Median Salary)

 

The Conclusion

 

As noted, factors such as community involvement don't come into play here.  If included, it would only make the Cardinals’ case stronger.  The team is very active in maintaining support throughout Missouri, Illinois and surrounding states.  Players travel to schools in a multi-state area and participate in a number of charity events including community fundraisers, school functions and church events.   

 

Is this list entirely accurate?  No, but it's based on the "all things being equal" theory.  And with all things being equal, it's better to have a team in a large town vs. a small town.  And if you're in a small(er) town, you have to do a great job of getting the fans to come out and support your team if you want to compete. 

 

I’ll leave you with the reminder that this work originated with an Expos fan, not a Redbird ally.  In fact, it sincerely pained Howe to see his own baseball city (at least temporarily) come in last.  However, as a Cardinal fan, I’ll take it, because it proves what we have known all along.  When it’s all put together, St. Louis comes out on top!

 

6:30 pm edt

La Russa Offering Collectibles for ARF Members

Join Tony’s 2000 Wins Team

 

If you were like me when I received an email from the Cardinals today, you were puzzled.  First you have get past the caricature that looks like Abe Lincoln wearing a red Astros cap and determine who it is supposed to be.  Once you learn it is Tony La Russa and see that he is offering baseball-related collectibles in return for membership in his Animal Rescue Foundation, ARF, it begins to make sense.

 

Tony is offering up an impressive list of goodies for those who ante up $250, $2500 or $25,000 to help retire the debt on ARF’s facility in California.  For more details, click on this link.  http://www.arf.net/Tony_2000/lp_mvp.htm

 

4:01 pm edt

Sunday, September 5, 2004

Roger Dean Ravaged by Frances
Television reports coming out of West Palm Beach show Roger Dean Stadium, the Cardinals' Spring Training home at Jupiter, Florida, has been partially destroyed by Hurricane Frances.  Seven of eight light fixtures have blown down onto the stadium.  One pole hit the left field wall and one hit the Cardinals' clubhouse.  
 
The final games of Florida State League play had already been canceled in anticipation of the storm, so it is not expected that personnel would have been on-site.  This could have an impact on fall Instructional League play, but it is too early to know for sure.
7:40 am edt

Crowley on ESPN Ankiel Report Sunday

Dr, Richard Crowley, sports psychologist and Birdhouse friend will be a guest on ESPN tomorrow, Sunday, September 5th. The show is called “Outside the Lines” hosted by Bob Lee and will deal with Rick Ankiel and his comeback.   Other guests include retired ballplayer Bill Blass and Rick Hummel from the Post-Dispatch.
 

It will air twice: first live on the regular ESPN channel at 6:30 a.m. Pacific Coast Time, 7:30 a.m. Mountain Time, 8:30 a.m. Central Time and 9:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

 

The second showing will be on also on Sunday beginning at 10:00 p.m. Pacific Coast Time, 11:00 Mountain Time, 12:00 midnight Central Time and 1:00 a.m. Monday morning Eastern Standard Time.

 

For my initial exclusive interview series with Dr. Crowley, click on this link.  http://thestlcardinals.homestead.com/TheFurthestThingfromSportsPsychology.html

 

I will speak with Richard after the show and share any additional insight here.  (see the "Interviews" tab above for newest details.)

7:39 am edt

Friday, September 3, 2004

Lay Cubs' Blame at Top

I agree 100% with Rex Duncan's article, "Is Baseball’s Best Rivalry Becoming the Worst?".  However, I think Rex stopped just short.  I don't mean to make this personal, but the current problems are fueled by people.  So, it is appropriate and necessary to point fingers.  The Cubs have become thugs and it is not due to their roster, agreeably a collection of unlikable characters.  It is due to their manager and general manager. 

 
GM Jim Hendry put the 2004 Cubs team together and has to take credit for the bad chemistry experiment that is in evidence every time the Cubs take the field.  Heck, when Chris Carpenter had to quietly warn the Cubs (like a pro, with words, not with a 90 MPH pitch or a bat in-hand), he probably had trouble finding a leader on the Cubs to speak with.  He ended up with Sammy Sosa, about a moody and self-absorbed superstar as one can find anywhere.   
 
However, I lay most of the blame for the recurrence of the Cubs' problems on their manager.  For years, Johnnie B. Baker has properly gotten his props for his teams' results on the field.  However, his loud and belligerent public defense of his own and his players' boorish behavior predictably occurs after each and every incident just like clockwork.
 
Don't get me wrong.  A manager gains and maintains respect publicly defending his players.  However, the good managers deliver the bluster in front of the cameras, but then deal with the problems behind closed doors so they don't happen again.  Sure, an "us" versus "them" attitude can be a motivator, but the Cubs consistently cross the line with seemingly no one with the ability to stand above the fray to bring them back to reality. 
 
Baker's Cubbies just blame the problems on their opponent or the umpires or the full moon, move on to the next series with the next team and then the next set of meltdowns magically occur.  Suppose the Astros would disagree with this assessment?  They've had even more problems with the 2004 Cubs than the Cardinals have.
 
I really have mixed feelings about a potential Cubs-Cards postseason match up.  As a baseball fan, I'd like to see it.  But, I am really worried that there will be more problems fueled by a team that is seemingly always on the edge of an altercation.  That is not good baseball, nor is it good for baseball.
9:11 am edt

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Picking Up the Good Fight

Baseball Propsectus’ Will Carroll is accepted as the leading “medhed” in the industry and delivers his baseball injury-related insight via his popular “Under the Knife” column.  Will also happens to be a Cub fan.  While that is not usually held against him, an anti-Cardinal bias has been perceived by some in Carroll’s recent commentary.

 

Recently, one of the prominent Cardinal bloggers took Carroll to task.  Will was kind enough to reply in his Tuesday UTK column, available to BP subscribers.  However, the Cardinal compliments were backhanded at best. 


Among Carroll’s assertions, “Jocketty gave
Duncan what he works with best: older pitchers with talent who have had mechanical and injury problems.”

 

Until I read that comment, I was not particularly motivated to join the fight.  That changed in a hurry.  Here is an excerpt from my email to Carroll today:

 

Will,

 

Your comment about the Cardinals' "older" pitchers was most curious.  The example selected was 29 year-old Chris Carpenter.  The Redbird rotation averages 30.

 

Overall, the current 12-man Cardinal staff averages just under 30 years of age, while the 12-man Cubs staffs' average age is just a hair under 32 years old.  Most interesting, indeed... 

 

Apparently, you assert that the "mechanical and injury problems" on the Cardinals are with their older pitchers.  Keeping Rick Ankiel aside, I guess that implies it is better to have injury problems with younger pitchers such as Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano?

 

While your reply may have been fully appreciated by some Cardinaldom BP subscribers, it still smacked of Cub bias to one reader.

 

Respectfully,

Brian Walton

 

Footnote:  In Wednesday’s UTK, Carroll added this close to the exciting news of the Cubs’ additions of Mike DiFelice and Ben Grieve. “It remains to be seen how they (the Cubs) will structure their playoff roster.”  Hey, Will; instead, how about “It remains to be seen if the Cubs will need to structure a playoff roster?”

 

With that, I rest my case as to the impartiality of the source, not to mention his presumptuousness.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  After all, Carroll’s personal email address is “cubfan33”.   Doesn’t that say it all?

 

9:47 pm edt

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