Fissures or foolishness?

How should we react to the start of the 2005 Cardinals' season?

One has to walk a fine line between reporting and overreacting, especially at two series and five games into the season.

However, there have been two recent warning signals that I feel I must comment on, neither of which are related to poor pitching, untimely hitting or shaky defense.

First, it has been reported that Tony La Russa called the official scorer in the Busch Stadium Press Box to disagree with a scoring decision on a meaningless play in the ninth inning of a 10-4 blowout on Saturday. It revolved around a Chase Utley fielding error or what would have been an Abraham Nunez pinch-hit single.

Second, both Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker were quoted in Sunday's Post-Dispatch expressing concern over team fatigue due to the interim stops in Oklahoma City and Springfield in between breaking camp in Florida and arriving in Houston to open the regular season. Needless to say, the Manager was reportedly unhappy over the remarks.

What does this mean? Are they significant fissures of dissension, just small cracks in the pavement of a gigantic runway or simply irrelevant points that are only coming to light and being magnified to a point far greater than their importance because the Cardinals are 2-3 and playing what looks to be uninspired baseball?

I honestly don't know.

But, what I do know is that every year is a new year. Players come and players go. As a result, time is required for routines to be established and for reputations to be reinforced.

Take our first example. Was La Russa complaining because he actually cared about a scoring call in the final inning of a blowout loss? Or, was he trying to demonstrate to one of his newest players, Nunez, that his manager is behind him?

I really prefer to give La Russa the benefit of the doubt here and can only hope upon hope that the official scorer does not become the 2005 Cardinals' version of Chip and Stoney.

The 2004 Cubs targeted their since-departed television broadcasters as a key factor in the team's demise, as apparently all mirrors in Chi-town had previously been broken. A scapegoat was needed to draw attention away from the real problem – a team with horrible chemistry and a misguided "us against the world" attitude from the manager on down that may have been rooted in the pressure from unmet championship expectations.

In the case of Nunez and Utley Saturday, only Tony knows the answer as to why he did what he did in pointing at the scorer, though I doubt he would tell the truth to anyone - other than author Buzz Bissinger, perhaps.

Given La Russa's and Dave Duncan's past complaining over scorer's calls, the second case is even more surprising to me. Sure, it is a hassle to have three two-game road series in a row and have to deal with the resultant travel headaches. Heck, I've had jobs when I've had to travel a lot, too, and I agree it can be a real mental and physical grind. But, for seasoned veterans like Walker and Edmonds to be grumbling publicly is disconcerting.

This spring, we read a glowing report about the council that La Russa has with his key players, where they hash out issues and concerns behind closed doors. Didn't anyone look at the schedule ahead of time? Or, did this come as a surprise to the players? Bringing it up after the fact smacks of excuse-making.

But, in stepping back from the fray, chances are good that these situations are the kinds of things that happen all season long as 25 players and the coaching staff swim around their highly-public fishbowl. Issues occur, are dealt with, and the team continues on its way.

Think back to last season. Steve Kline's "Flippergate" could have been turned into a major disruption, but it wasn't. But, why was that? Primarily, it was because the Cardinals kept right on winning.

And, those victories on the field are the ultimate tonic for whatever currently ails the 2005 Cardinals, as well. The players have no serious injuries, nor do there appear to be problems that cannot be easily overcome, if they are addressed in a timely manner.

After all, since 2000, the Cardinals have played under .500 in April, 51-52 to be exact. Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting accepting complacency as a result. Improving on that record would be preferred, especially given the weight of high expectations that are squarely on the shoulders of this team.

However, neither am I advocating undue concern over the actions of the first week. Let's play ball, get a few more wins and move on!

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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