StL and NYY: Two Proud Franchises in Distress

Two Major League organizations accustomed to winning are finding the 2007 season a tremendous challenge. Joe Torre's New York Yankees and Tony La Russa's St. Louis Cardinals carry identical losing records.

As I scanned the Major League Baseball standings here on Saturday evening, it struck me that two of baseball's proudest franchises are in a very similar and unfamiliar situation. 53 games into the 2007 season, the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals are limping along with identical 23-30 (.434) records.

This weekend, both clubs are on the road playing their top rival – the Yanks are in Boston, taking on the Red Sox, while the Cards are visiting Houston. The New York – Boston rivalry is legendary, but for those who question the other, be advised that either St. Louis or Houston own ten of the last 13 National League Central Division championships.

Despite a seven-year drought, the Yankees have earned the most World Championships of any team in the history of the game, 26. The defending Champion Cardinals have ten, the most ever in the National League. Next closest to either club is the Red Sox with six.

As fortune would have it, both teams' Saturday games were aired simultaneously on the FOX Network. Though 86% of the US was scheduled to receive the American League contest, a long rain delay in Beantown plugged the entire nation into the NL Central match-up for several innings.

After the Cardinals coughed up the lead twice on Saturday before losing, they find themselves 6.5 games behind the leader in a division that is still anyone's to win – simply because none of the teams are very good. The Yanks managed to better the Cards by blowing their lead to the Sox three times before crashing on Saturday. Their primary competition is sporting the best record in baseball, threatening to bury the Bombers before the break.

One major difference between the two clubs is the size of their respective player payrolls. The aggregate opening day salaries for the New Yorkers totaled over $189 million, which is actually their second consecutive year in decline. Yet, it still dwarfs the 29 other clubs, including the $90 million Cardinals.

The average ages of players on the two veteran-laden teams are quite similar. The Yankees pitchers average 30.4 years of age, while the Cards are at 29.4. The relative youthfulness of the AL pitching staffs come to light when one realizes the New Yorkers' staff is second oldest in the league. On the other hand, the Cardinals are only ninth-oldest in the more-senior Senior Circuit.

Looking at the position players, the Yankees average 31.2 years of age, second oldest in the AL after Detroit. St. Louis' hitters come in at 30.5 years old, tied for fifth most elderly in the NL.

Managerial ties between the two organizations are strong, especially in the case of the Yankees' Joe Torre, who is approaching his 2000th career managerial win. While his four World Championships and six AL pennants were all with New York, almost 900 of Torre's wins were garnered in the NL, including 351 at the helm of the Cardinals from 1990 to 1995. As a player, Torre had been a Cardinal for five seasons. He compiled his greatest season while wearing the Birds on the Bat in 1971, when he hit .363, drove in 137 runs and was named NL Most Valuable Player.

When teams are embattled like these two are here in 2007, so are their managers. Both skippers are in their 12th season with their current clubs and in addition to being under severe pressure, they are working in the final season of multi-year contracts, their futures somewhat murky.

Torre hasn't been to the Series since 2003 and hasn't won it all since 2000, a lifetime in the "what have you done for me today?" pressure-cooker New York environment. La Russa should be on cloud nine after his club's unexpected World Championship last season, but instead has since had to deal with an embarrassing DUI arrest and the death of one of his players, Josh Hancock, in an alcohol-related automobile accident.

Moving on to the players themselves, one has to start with first base. While Jason Giambi has become more of a designated hitter in recent years, it has been due to his health concerns. In fact, the slugger is currently on the disabled list due to plantar fasciitis, a malady Albert Pujols has suffered from in recent years, too.

One doesn't need the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to connect the two in another area. As a youngster on the Oakland A's, Giambi was befriended by Mark McGwire. When Big Mac was traded to the Cards in 1997, Giambi took over his job at first base. Upon Pujols joining the Cardinals in 2001, McGwire was there to help him with the transition. Within a few years of Mac's retirement, Pujols assumed Mac's former spot at first base at Busch Stadium.

Giambi's history, including steroid use, is well-documented. Pujols, while having never failed any tests for banned substances, has dealt with accusations which have likely played a part in booing he has received in visiting parks. Last season, an ugly article from the internet site Deadspin irresponsibly smeared Albert through his personal trainer, who was accused by Dead(wrong)spin as being a steroids supplier. Though they did have to issue a retraction regarding the trainer, the damage caused to Pujols remained.

The shortstops on the two clubs are squeaky-clean, down-home American boys. Yankee captain Derek Jeter's four World Championships were earned right along with Torre. David Eckstein's resume' is not as impressive as Jeter's, yet he owns World Series championships in both leagues and has two in six seasons in the Majors. Both players have been the World Series Most Valuable Player, Jeter in 2000 and Eckstein in 2006.

At third base, Alex Rodriguez has two Most Valuable Player Awards, a pair of Gold Glove Awards, ten All-Star appearances, but having joined the Yanks after their golden years, no World Championships. Scott Rolen has one of the latter to go along with seven Gold Gloves.

Each club has a former Japanese star in their outfield. Hideki Matsui was arguably the top player in Japan as the slugging star for the Yomiuri Giants for ten seasons before joining the Yankees in 2003. The year before, So Taguchi had signed with the Cardinals after having played for ten seasons with the Orix Blue Wave. While not having the stature of Matsui, Taguchi is a former All-Star and multiple Gold Glove Award winner with Orix.

In centerfield, both teams feature cover boys, extremely popular with the fans, but on the downside of their careers. Nagged by injuries, neither Johnny Damon (.259) nor Jim Edmonds (.240) is currently playing up to lofty career standards previously set.

The teams' right fielders are Hispanic players who have been celebrated at times but scorned at others for apparent apathetic defensive play. The Yankees' Bobby Abreu hails from Venezuela and is struggling in 2007 with a .233 bating average and just two home runs. The Cardinals' Juan Encarnacion, from the Dominican Republic, is hitting .227 with a single home run, though he missed over a month due to injury.

The closers on each club are veterans, nearing the end of very successful careers. For twelve seasons, the Yankees' Mariano Rivera has been the gold standard of ninth-inning specialists. Coming into the season, his 413 career saves were fourth-best all-time. Eleven-year veteran Jason Isringhausen is the Cardinals' career leader in saves, which puts him ahead of some very impressive company, including Hall-of-Famer Bruce Sutter. While not a future Hall inductee like Rivera, Izzy ranks in the top 25 on the all-time saves list.

Switching to the starting pitching staffs, both have been hit hard by injury, forcing the managers to try just about anything, including having to rely on unproven and less-effective starters. The Yanks have called upon 11 different starting pitchers so far this season, with each getting at least two turns. They include such non-household names as Jeff Karstens, Chase Wright, Tyler Clippard, Matt DeSalvo and Darrell Rasner. However, some hope is right around the corner, with the return of ace Roger Clemens expected any day now.

La Russa cannot rely on the imminent arrival of a pitching savior. With ace Chris Carpenter plus number two starter Mark Mulder both firmly parked on the disabled list for an extended period, La Russa has moved relievers to starters, such as Braden Looper, Adam Wainwright and Brad Thompson, and been forced to try well-traveled commodities like Randy Keisler and Todd Wellemeyer.

Speaking of hard-throwing right-handed relievers, Wellemeyer and Yankees fireballer Kyle Farnsworth were bullpen mates in 2003 and 2004 for Dusty Baker's Chicago Cubs.

Hmmm. Perhaps it is the "ex-Cub factor" that is doing both these clubs in!

Seriously, with the number of professionals present on the field and in the dugouts of these two clubs, better times are certainly ahead. And, at least in New York's case, if not, heads will surely roll. After all, one other thing the Yankees have that the Cardinals do not is George Steinbrenner!

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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