MIKE MURPHY: We have our resident St. Louis Cardinals expert Ray Mileur in the house with us; the Cardinals are off to a quick 4-1 start, are you a little surprised by this?
RAY MILEUR: Actually I'm not; I think the fans as a whole have underestimated this team. I think this ballclub will be competitive and will only get better. I've actually projected them to finish second, just behind the Chicago Cubs. I think that when most people look at the Cardinals, they are focusing on the losses of David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen. Granted those are significant losses, but they were major underachievers in 2007 and I think we have a group of young players on the team this year that have the potential to be overachievers.
On a personal level, I am really more excited about the start of this season and the potential of this team, more than any other team in recent memory.
MIKE MURPHY: That is the beauty of baseball, because when a team with young players starts to do well and it's not expected, that is a different situation than we are used to, let's face it the last few years the Cardinals have been expected to be at the top and the chance to win 100 games.
RAY MILEUR: One factor here is that you can't take the game of baseball for granted. We have a lot of young players who are fighting for their careers and hoping to stay with the Major League club for the entire season. I think some players run into problems when they just expect they are going to win, based on talent alone.
SCOTT HUDSON: I think guys like Skip Schumaker who is given the opportunity to play in the outfield everyday and bat leadoff that has got to be a little bit of a load off his shoulder, knowing that there is really not a veteran looking over his shoulder saying "Hey kid if you screw up, I'm back in." And Kyle McClellan what a feel good story so far, he's pitched very well, a St. Louis native so right now it seems like, oh and I like this Brian Barton.
RAY MILEUR: Barton is a very exciting player that will get a lot of playing time this season. I think this is a team in transition, not only with the makeup of this roster to start the season, but the Cardinals are giving players like a Kyle McClellan and Brian Barton an opportunity to play and that bodes well with the organization. It can be frustrating being a minor leaguer in the Cardinals system in recent years, because we've got players who want the opportunity to be a St. Louis Cardinal but when they look at who has been in St. Louis, they know their chances of just get a chance to play is very limited.
The Cardinals have traditionally used the farm system to go out and trade for a proven veteran. It's good to see these young players getting the opportunity to play, because the excitement can be felt in the ballpark as well as in the farm system, when you have a player at Triple-A Memphis or Double-A Springfield, knowing that if they play well, there very well could be a spot for them on the Major League roster.
This is what is so exciting about the new direction the organization has taken in the past three or four years, that is, focusing on the development of the farm system. We have players in the farm system today in the pipeline who could come up and play and contribute, who are just chomping at the bit wanting to get to their opportunity.
It may not be this season, and again this club will play better than the experts have projected, but the St. Louis Cardinals have positioned themselves to have another decade of great success.
MIKE MURPHY: Isn't it strange that some people at first thought, why would La Russa come back for a season like this, but maybe old Tony is smarter than what we give him credit for, because he knows if he comes back here, everybody is saying the Cardinals are going to fail, everybody is saying that the Cardinals are going to just barely be ahead of the Pirates, if he wins with this group, just think how his legacy is going to grow even more.
RAY MILEUR: I think you have a very valid point. The knock on La Russa has always been his reluctance to play rookies or younger players. He's being forced to play them now and at least in the first week of the season, guys like McClellan, Barton, Washington and Schumaker are getting the job done. I've expressed my concern in the past about what is perceived as a lack of communication between Tony and the players, but when you look at this roster, he's going to have to spend more time with these kids and it can only add to the legacy of his Hall of Fame career.
MIKE MURPHY: And this Ankiel story just, I mean that home run he hit Friday night just jumped off the bat, to think that this guy has made this transition in modern day baseball, I think is one of the biggest stories in baseball in the last 10 to 15 years. How a kid that was a pitcher and got up to the big leagues at a very tender young age and his psyche destroyed, to come back and reinvent himself and to do what he is doing at the Major League level is astounding.
RAY MILEUR: I'm supposed to be the resident expert, but I'll be honest with you, I never expected him to make it this far and to being playing as well as he is at this level.
SCOTT HUDSON: That makes two of us, I never thought he would either, he was a very good hitter in college, but when you leave one realm of the ballgame and then have to concentrate on the other, I mean you see it's easier for an everyday player to become a pitcher, be it a reliever or maybe even a starter, but you don't see in this day and age, a pitcher going from pitching to be an everyday player. It's an amazing story and then when you consider that the Cardinals don't have Scott Rolen or Jim Edmonds, Ankiel has got to take on that added pressure to protect Albert Pujols along with Troy Glaus.
RAY MILEUR: It is an amazing story, how good is Ankiel; he's keeping the St. Louis Cardinals top prospect Colby Rasmus at Triple A Memphis, at least for the start of the season.
MIKE MURPHY: How good is this guy, Ray?
RAY MILEUR: Guys, Rasmus is a great prospect. He is a legit five tool player and if he was playing for almost any other Major League organization, he would be in the Majors today.
The decision to keep Rasmus may be more of a business decision than a baseball decision, because of contracts, when he'll be eligible for arbitration and things like that, but with the early play of Rick Ankiel, Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick and Brian Barton it was easier for the Cardinals to make that decision to keep Rasmus in Memphis. It's actually what I would have done as well, there are still some aspects of his game that Colby needs to work on, and you want him to play everyday. Whenever he comes to St. Louis, trust me he can go ahead and buy a house, because when he gets here he'll be the Cardinals everyday center fielder and Rick Ankiel who has the best arm in the outfield will move to right.
MIKE MURPHY: Well we could talk about this for the next hour, but the real reason we have Ray Mileur in today is to talk about an event coming up, involving former Cardinals Manager Billy Southworth. We have talked about it privately, it's a pretty exciting situation, Billy Southworth is finally going into the Baseball Hall of Fame something that you have campaigned for long and hard.
RAY MILEUR: Billy Southworth is perhaps the greatest manager in St. Louis Cardinals history.
He inherited a sub-.500 St. Louis team with a 16-29 record, when he took the helm they won 69 of 109 games and jumped from seventh to third place in 1940. The following season they won 97 games and yet still finished second, behind the Dodgers.
Then, from 1942-44, the Cardinals won 106, 105 and 105 games, to include three National League pennants and two World Series titles.
The 106 wins in 1942 represented the most wins by any team in 39 years. At that time, it was the youngest team ever to win a championship. Only one player, Terry Moore was even 30 years old. Stan Musial, who was only 23 at the time, said it was the best team he ever played for.
When it was over, said and done, Southworth had presided over one of the most dominant three-year stretches in National League history.
Amazing considering his team won 97 games before and 95 games after that three-year stretch and went onto win a World Championship for the Boston Braves, who had not won one in 34 years.
As a Cardinal Manager, he won 620 games while losing only 346 for a won-loss percentage of .642 – compare that to legendary Whitey Herzog 822-728 record and a won-loss percentage of .530 makes it even more remarkable.
MIKE MURPHY: Well this is a part of Cardinal history, I don't know about Scott, but you have always heard of Whitey Herzog, heard of Red Schoendienst but it's a part of Cardinal history, Scott back me up on this, but this is pretty eye opening.
SCOTT HUDSON: A little bit before my time, when he died in 1969 I was only 10 years old. I don't know how you feel about this Ray but maybe one of the reasons Southworth has been overlooked is because he's kind of gotten lost in the shuffle with the success that the Cardinals have had as an organization. All the teams that have won a World Series, how good the teams have been, guys like Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst and those type of players. Did he kind of get lost in the shuffle because it was so long ago?
RAY MILEUR: Southworth made his case on the field in the 1940s, it's too bad he didn't live to see this moment come to pass, but for his family and to see that he is finally recognized by the Hall of Fame, I'm just glad it's finally happened.
MIKE MURPHY: So as I understand it, you have been asked by the Southworth family to accept Hall of Fame Plaque, in Cooperstown on July the 27th, what an honor. What are your plans?
RAY MILEUR: We will be in Cooperstown to accept the award and make a short acceptance speech, from there we will be going to Ohio to meet the Southworth family and spend some time there and share some memories and meet with fans. From there we will return to St. Louis and present the Hall of Flame Plaque to the St. Louis Cardinals in a pre-game ceremony, probably on the first weekend in August, we are still working out the details.
Billy Southworth loved the St. Louis Cardinals, and it is only fitting that his Plaque be displayed in the Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum.
MIKE MURPHY: Thanks Ray, what a story.
SCOTT HUDSON: Thanks Ray, this is exciting.
RAY MILEUR: No, thank you guys for helping to get the Billy Southworth story out to the fans.
Ray Mileur can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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