Ownership – it amazes me that with the success the St. Louis Cardinals have enjoyed since the Bill DeWitt ownership group took over the then, struggling franchise in 1996, that there are those detractors, who would still like to see new owners for the ballclub. Personally, I'm thankful, we have an owner, who is huge baseball fan, who is hands on, active with the club and surrounds himself with a great supporting cast in the front office with; Mark Lamping, John Mozeliak, and Jeff Luhnow. DeWitt and his team has kept the Cardinals competitive, year in and year out, without flying to Washington D.C. in a private jet, seeking a handout in the form of a government bailout.
Manager – I didn't start out being a Tony La Russa fan, but over the years I've come to respect his dedication to the game and perhaps even more, his respect for the game. During his time with the Cardinals, La Russa has led the team to seven division titles, two National League Pennants and a 10th World Championship title in 2006. The club's all-time leader in managerial wins, if I had had the opportunity to play professional baseball, La Russa would be the type of manager I would have wanted to play for, there is no one more dedicated or prepared, come game day.
Ballpark – I jumped on the new ballpark band wagon early on, for one reason it was going to come either way, so you might as well been for it. The Cardinals ownership may have dropped the ball by the way they tried to sell the ballpark to the public. The public funding issue, the "if we don't get the new ballpark, we won't get the All-Star game." I never cared for these arguments, but I supported the construction of the new stadium. The ballpark opened in 2006 and after some minor cosmetic and structural changes following the inaugural season, we've got a nice ballpark to enjoy our national pastime and by the way, the 2009 All-Star game.
Pitching coach – If the Baseball Hall of Fame ever opens a wing for baseball coaches, after George Kissell is enshrined, the next St. Louis Cardinal's coach that deserves that recognition in Cooperstown is Dave Duncan. Duncan, will be serving in his 14th season as the Cardinals' pitching coach after being appointed to the post on October 23, 1995. This upcoming season will mark his 29th as a pitching coach - the most all-time in the majors, passing Galen Cisco (28 years).
Duncan is the best in the business and I wouldn't want to manage at the major league level without Dunc setting to my right. He's not a miracle worker as some would suggest, but he can get the most out of any pitcher, if that pitcher uses Duncan's game plan and approach to each batter and the game.
Stan Musial - turned 88 this week, despite his legendary status in St. Louis, I maintain that Stan Musial is one of the most underrated superstars in the history of the game.
Musial played his entire 22-year career as an outfielder and first baseman in St. Louis. He is the franchise's career leader in virtually every batting category: games (3,026), at-bats (10,972), runs (1,949), hits (3,630), doubles (725), triples (177), home runs (475), RBI (1,951), walks (1,599) and total bases (6,134). His .331 average is fifth behind Rogers Hornsby (.359), Johnny Mize (.336) Joe Medwick (.335) and Albert Pujols (.332). And, despite being an everyday player most of his career, Musial ranks seventh with 35 pinch-hits.
He doesn't get around as much as he used to, but what a pleasure it is to know that "The Man" is still with us. Stan is a living symbol of what it means to be a St. Louis Cardinal, to be a great ballplayer, and even more important, a great man.
Albert Pujols – Years from now we will be telling our children, grandchildren and great-grand children that we got to see the great Albert Pujols play baseball in St. Louis.
Pujols is coming off another great season, finishing the 2008 campaign with 37 home runs, 116 RBIs and a .357 batting average. The Cardinals missed the postseason, but Albert racked up the post season awards including; the Sporting News Player of the Year, the Players Choice NL and MLB Player of the Year, and the Roberto Clemente Award, topping it all off recently with his second National League MVP Award!
Sometimes, I have to tell myself to stop looking at a game through a reporter or scout's eyes and just sit back and enjoy one of the greatest players in the history of the game, just play the game.
John Mozeliak – The Birdhouse was an early supporter for the naming of John Mozeliak as the Cardinals new general manager following the departure of Walt Jocketty. Prior to taking over as the GM, Mozeliak had significant involvement in the turning around of the Cardinals farm system. He's not the type of GM that is out there looking for headlines, promoting himself, etc., he's an organizational man and I mean that as a compliment. The Cardinals can look forward to another decade of sustained success with Mozeliak at the helm.
Jeff Luhnow – The Vice-President of Player Development has turned the St. Louis Cardinals farm system around in his short tenure with the organization. Under Luhnow's guidance the Cardinals have players like Colby Rasmus, Jaime Garcia, Chris Perez, Pete Kozma, Brett Wallace and others waiting in the wings to play for the St. Louis. I don't always understand the stats and formulas that are used in making a decision about a particular player. I still scratch my head and admit to being still confused about the taking of shortstop Pete Kozma as the Cardinals first round pick in 2007 and Luhnow's proclamation that Amuary Marti is the best prospect he has ever seen, but you can't argue with Jeff's success.
Mike Shannon & John Rooney – With the advent of cable television, internet broadband and the television deal with Fox Sports Midwest, radio may not be as important, heck let me say, isn't as important to a team's bottom line and the fan based, as it once was in its heyday with Harry Caray and Jack Buck at the mic. That said, there is something comforting by having Mike Shannon at the ballpark and hearing his voice on the radio. Mike will be broadcasting his 38th season for the Cardinals network next year. His sidekick, John Rooney, entering just his fourth season with along side of Mike, and Cardinals, but he's been a great addition to the broadcast booth.
Local Media – I've travelled a lot around this country and I can say this without any reservations, Cardinals fans are blessed with the best coverage of their favorite baseball team, than anywhere else. FOX Sports Midwest, with a little support from KSDK 5, makes sure you don't miss any games throughout the season. FSMW also offers the most in-depth coverage in their pre & post game coverage than you will find anywhere. Add the quality, in-depth coverage provided by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, with beat reporter Joe Strauss, columnists Rick Hummel, Bernie Miklasz & Jeff Gordon, along with Birdland blogger Derrick Goold, then of course, there is the award winning Birdhouse, what more could you ask for?
NOTES AND QUOTES
---The Cardinals' apparent two-year agreement with free agent left-handed reliever Trever Miller is not a done deal yet. The 35-year-old Miller, a key figure in the bullpen for the American League champions Rays, held left-handed batters to a .209 average and fanned 30 of 91. He was not so successful against right-handers, who averaged .286 against him.
Miller who was in St. Louis this week, did complete the required physical and the word is, there is a framework completed for a two year deal.
---Former Cardinals star Edgar Renteria remains prominent on the Cardinals' radar as they look for a replacement for shortstop Cesar Izturis. Renteria left St. Louis under a cloud if you will, because of what he perceived to be a lack of respect shown to him in negotiations. Renteria is apparently in talks with the San Francisco Giants. I would suggest if the Cardinals are going to bring Renteria back, in a sign of respect, the deal should be done, sooner than later, or before the Giants ink him to a deal. No matter what, I wouldn't wait and let the signing of Renteria is the last thing I would do before spring training.
---RHP Russ Springer, recorded the final out of the Cardinals final out of the 2008 season and was asked by the Cardinals to return in 2009. Springer appeared in 70 games, posting a record of 2-1 with a 2.32 ERA. The 40-year-old right hander is drawing interest from some other clubs this winter. My take is, if Russ returns for another season, he'll likely sign somewhere else for more money than the Cardinals will be willing to offer.
---LHP Ian Ostlund was signed to a minor league contract. Ostlund, 30, was 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA for Detroit's Toledo AAA farm team last season, fanning 77 in 69 2/3 innings. The Ostlund deal isn't the big offseason deal fans are looking for, but accept it for what it is, a minor league contract for a journeyman who could contribute for the Cardinals at some point in the 2009 season.
---RHP Chris Carpenter is expected to have another nerve exam of his right shoulder by the end of the month. Pending the results, the Cardinals have been cautious in their bid to add starting pitching help. My take is, I would take any results with a grain of salt, the Cardinals need to find at least one more starter outside the organization before the season opens.
---LHP Joe Beimel's time with the Dodgers is apparently over according to numerous published reports. Joe pitched in 216 games over his three seasons with the Dodgers and posted a 3.04 earned-run average. Left-handers hit only .188 against him in 2007, but .278 this past season. The Cardinals are probably looking for at least one more lefty and Beimel could be an option they might consider.
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