A Treatise on Patience

With the help of several big names from the past, Rex Duncan weighs in on this Winter of Cardinals Discontent.

In this the annual season of our discontent within and among the denizens of Cardinal Nation, it becomes readily apparent that those who forget history are indeed doomed to repeat it.  With the cries of agony and organizational bedlam imbedded in their woeful plaints against Cardinal ownership and GM Walt Jocketty, the critics continue to foretell disaster in 2006 given that the Cardinals have made few free agent signings or trades. 


I prefer the wisdom of 17th century poet George Herbert in considering the Cardinals' participation (or lack thereof) in the 2005-2006 Hot Stove League.  "Be Patient, my soul: Thou has suffered worse than this." I've not been able to uncover evidence yet that Herbert was a Cardinal fan, even though his life predates the franchise by about 200 years he would have been a good one. 


His perspective on the merit of patience should cause Cardinal fans to reflect on the early to mid-1990's, when wins were relatively scarce and playoff appearances non-existent.  When one laments the position of the current ownership on personnel matters, one should also reflect on all that has come our way as a result of the new ownership and what a difference ten years can make in the competitive level of a franchise.


Are you one of those who believes that the Cardinals were foolish not to have been more aggressive in the pursuit of Brian Giles and A. J. Burnett?  Let Plato's Phaedrus salve your frustrated psyche.  "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."  Phaedrus clearly learned after last year's HSL that good things indeed come to those who wait. 


As Brian Walton has observed, the Cardinals as of this time last year had not signed a single player.  In the run-up to spring training, Jocketty's patience brought us people like David Eckstein, Mark Mulder, Mark Grudzielanek, and Abraham Nunez.  These late signees were instrumental in the push to another 100-win season and the post-season.  Walt's.  In this "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" world, Jocketty's philosophy of patience and reason remains sound and crucial to the successful operation of a mid-market franchise.


The Cardinals frequently find themselves in a Catch-22 situation in regard to their annual hunt for high-value, low-cost free agents.  The value of free agents like Burnett, he of a sub-.500 career performance, are dictated annually by the sum of the entrants to the market, in other word that Burnett was arguably the best pitcher in this year's market.  Does that make him another Roger Clemens, for example?  No, and in the entirety of baseball, few would argue that Burnett, the putative savior of the Blue Jays, is now one of the most overpaid players in the game based both on salary and longevity of the five-year contract. 


If the Cardinals were to engage as well in these fiscal shenanigans, they are far more likely to find themselves stuck with long-term disappointment, i.e., Edgar Renteria.  If the cacophony of angst from those who regret that players like Giles and Burnett weren't signed is heeded, the outcry would be greater in about three years when, like Toronto will be, the Cardinal would be feverishly looking for ways to unload Burnett.


Let the venerable Benjamin Franklin have the last say on the virtue of Patience.  "He that can have patience can have what he will."  And so the Cardinals, and we of Cardinal Nation, have had.  With Jocketty's patience and restraint in these matters, the St. Louis Cardinals have been and remain one of the most competitive teams in baseball.  For as difficult as it is to watch others spend freely and with little regard to their futures, the Cardinals are playing the game right, and just as Tony La Russa's motto of "Play nine" encourages his players to compete until the end, Walt Jocketty's best and proven practice will still be to work his magic after other teams have overpaid and then, "have what he will."


Rex Duncan





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