I Made the Bet Again

Backing up optimism in the 2005 Cardinals with cash

Just like last year at this time, I found myself in sunny Las Vegas prior to Spring Training game action getting underway. My years of watching baseball have told me that there is no time when expectations are higher all over the game, from top to bottom, than right now.

However, for some, hopes are even higher. Among those from whom lofty feats are expected include the 2005 St. Louis Cardinals, of course. Yet, just twelve months ago, the Cardinals were trying to put behind them a September collapse that had led them to a disappointing third-place finish behind both the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros.

What a difference one year makes. Now, the Cardinals are defending Central Division and National League Champions. With that, comes that weight of increased expectations.

Here is Las Vegas, one can place a wager on anything that moves and even some things that don't. While one could argue that betting odds have little to do with reality, I disagree.

It is one thing to write columns or post anonymous predictions on internet message boards. It is another thing entirely when one decides whether or not to lay their cash on the line.

While the initial odds for any sporting event may have been subjectively established, the odds float based on the willingness of people to lay down their green in one direction or another.

Let me make it clear that I do not condone gambling, nor do I recommend that readers partake in such sordid behavior. But, I do view sports book odds as one indicator of how others view the upcoming season may progress.

One year ago, I have to admit that I was not optimistic about the Cardinals' chances to win the World Series. I felt that winning the National League was about the level to which I thought that team could overachieve.

To that end, early last March, I placed a bet on the Cardinals to win the National League at 10:1 odds. Needless to say, I was quite pleased when that is exactly what transpired over the ensuing seven months. It wouldn't have hurt if the Cards had taken it all, but my lack of confidence in that back in March mattered not one tiny bit on the field in October.

Well, 2004 success breeds 2005 familiarity. Currently, the 2005 Cardinals are right behind the Chicago Cubs as the favorite to win the National League. In a clear nod to the importance of a healthy roster on the forecasted outcome of the season, the Cubs are 5:2, while the Cardinals are 3:1.

Following the Cubs and Cards in the NL pre-race picks are the Atlanta Braves at 4:1, then the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers at 5:1. The Houston Astros are 6:1.

Over on the American League side, the New York Yankees are at even money and the Boston Red Sox are 5:2. Trailing them are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (what a ludicrous name) at 3:1, the Minnesota Twins at 5:1 and the Oakland A's at 6:1.

As you might expect from that, the Yanks are favorites to win the World Series at 2:1, with the Red Sox and Cubs at 5:1 and the Cardinals and Angels at 6:1.

With that as a backdrop, I felt like that I should place another bet on the Cardinals in 2005. I also decided it should be sooner, rather than later, while I still had money in my pocket. Before I sat down for my first hand of blackjack, I made a beeline for the Sports Book at the Luxor Hotel to make my wager.

Even though my 2004 winnings are long gone, having been spent at least three times over on various rationalizations, it felt like it was the right thing to do.

Given the weight of those increased expectations on the 2005 Cardinals and the resulting low odds, I decided to go for the gold. So, I placed my bet on the Cardinals to win it all this season. On top of it, I doubled the amount of my wager over last year.

Perhaps I bet with my heart and not my head, but I am just fine with my decision. Every team needs a number of things to fall into place to become World Champions. The Cardinals are no exception.

As a footnote, I want to note again that I am not condoning gambling. To be totally honest, my $10 wager in 2004 might be considered more symbolic than anything. Yet, I was more than pleased to see it turned into $100.

To secure a return in 2005, the bar has been set higher, not by me, but instead by the expectations of others. Yet, I wouldn't have made the bet if I didn't believe it could come to pass.

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