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Sunday, November 14, 2004


OH YEAH, ONE MORE THING... I'm still retired, but I wanted to let you know that a friend of mine offered to go into the archives of Redbird Nation, edit them, and bind them into a book. If you're interested in obtaining a copy, drop me an email and let me know (this would not be a commitment to purchase the book, just a reminder to add you to the mailing list). Hopefully we can put together "A Redbird Nation Reader" fairly cheaply, and any money we take in over production and distribution cost would be donated to the March of Dimes. So again, let me know if you're interested. Thanks.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004


HANGING UP MY CLEATS This is the final post at Redbird Nation. My regular readers will notice that my postings have been slim to none lately, and with each passing day it's becoming clear that I'm not on winter hiatus. I'm giving up the baseblog business entirely.

Several things led me to this decision, most of them too boring or personal to detail here. But suffice it to say that I have not at all lost my love for blogging or for Redbird Nation. I do, however, miss the other loves of my life -- spending more time with friends, or watching movies, or getting outside, or working harder on my day job, and all the other things that fell by the wayside during my daily blogathon. As you can guess, keeping Redbird Nation fresh and lively is a huge time and energy commitment, and the sacrifices I'd have to make to come back for a third year are too great.

Some of you may ask, "well, couldn't you just scale back how much work you put into Redbird Nation?" And yes, I toyed with several possibilities. I could do shorter posts, or write less frequently, or only write on weekends, or every other day, or join some bigger blog collective where I had fewer duties, or ask for more co-writers or guest writers, or whatever. But I know myself well enough to know that I'm lousy at doing things halfway. Last winter, for example, I vowed that I'd post less, let things slide more. And yet somehow I ended up posting damn near every day. It's just one of those things where I have to go either cold turkey or whole hog, and it looks like the turkey has finally won.

But I do want to thank everyone for their dedication to this site the last couple years. Not just Flynn, but my family members (Alec, Matt, Judge, and Mark) who wrote pieces or gave technical help along the way. Also the various bloggers who either inspired me or gave me grist for ideas and arguments. And finally, all of you, whose dedication as readers and commenters made Redbird Nation a truly dynamic community. When we first started this thing I was thrilled to get one or two dozen visitors a day. By the end we were getting thousands. But somehow, amazingly, the discussions never got watered down or gave way to a mob mentality (the bane of so many other comment threads and chat rooms). With very few exceptions, your debates and contributions were both passionate and above-board. So I thank you for that.

You know, it's been a dream of mine since I was a kid to be a sportswriter. Ever since that day in Little League when I put down a bat for good (as well as those heavy batting helmets with those spongy linings cold with someone else's sweat), it's been clear that I make a much better baseball spectator than baseball player. They say that those who can't do, teach; but I think it's truer these days to say that those who can't do, write (I mean, have you seen the average teacher's salary lately?). Weblogs -- that do-it-yourself medium that welcomes smart-asses and dumb-asses alike -- gave me the opportunity to play sportswriter for awhile, and it was a real thrill while it lasted.

And as for the Cardinals, well, in our very first post we vowed "to write and think and talk enough about the Cardinals that we help bring a World Championship to St. Louis, where it goddamn belongs." Obviously we didn't do that. Some will say we came close this year; others will say that we were still miles away. Either way our fandom will continue, and there are plenty of other great Cardbloggers out there to carry the torch after RBN is gone. (And if I get the itch and start haunting the Web again, you can most likely find me over at The Hardball Times.)

There's a quote by Lee Strasberg that I love. I'm not even sure what it means exactly, but I keep coming back to it now and again, like a talisman. Strasberg said "there are times when you pick up your shoes and see through them your whole life." That’s sorta how I feel about baseball – you pick it up and through it you see your entire life. Thanks for allowing me to do that publicly and communally. It was a fun little trip around the bases.


HARDBALL, WITHOUT CHRIS MATTHEWS If you're looking for an early Christmas present for yourself or your loved ones, consider The Hardball Times Baseball Annual, which has lots of cool articles and data, including a piece by yours truly.


Thursday, November 04, 2004


CLIP SHOW I wouldn't be surprised if many of you were feeling like Rod Kanehl last week. You know who Rod Kanehl is, don't you? Mets infielder, played in the mid-'60s. Source of one of my favorite quotes of all time. "Baseball," said Kanehl, "is a lot like life. The line drives are caught, the squibbers go for base hits. It’s an unfair game."

The Cardinals, of course, put up what is universally regarded as one of the worst World Series performances of all time -- one of those rare Fall Classics with no silver linings, no small pleasures or nice memories along the way. It was so bad that at times I found myself questioning everything that led up to it, wondering if the rest of the season was even worth it. And every time I asked this question I got the same reply:

Hell yes, it was worth it! Screw Rod Kanehl! Life was awfully good to Cardinal fans in 2004 -- the line drives got down and went to the wall, the squibbers were gobbled up by Scott Rolen and gunned over to Pujols for the out. The game was very fair to us this year, regardless of how things went down in October. Think of it like the movie Cast Away -- lousy ending, but some damn fine stuff along the way.

So as we head into the long winter (well, not that long -- pitchers and catchers report in just 14 weeks), let's take one last look back at the year that was. And no shouldas or couldas or might've beens -- this is only the good stuff...

THE TOP FIFTEEN GAMES OF THE YEAR

1. Rolen Punches Ticket to the Big Dance (10/21). Game 7 of the NLCS. Who knew this would be our last hurrah? But not a bad way to go out -- Jeff Suppan besting the Rocket, Al Pujols with the big game-tying hit, and Mr. Hoosier Daddy himself, Scott Rolen, with the big blow.

What We Said Then: How many of you thought of McGwire's #62 when Rolen's drive landed a couple feet above the wall and a couple feet right of the foul pole? Rolen's blast will go down as one of the biggest homers in franchise history -- up there with Ozzie's and Jack's shots in the '85 NLCS and Kenny Boyer's grand slam in Game 4 of the '64 Series.

2. The Day Before That (10/20). Game 6 of the NLCS. It was only two weeks ago, but already I've forgotten everything about this game except Jim Edmonds' jack and, right afterwards, his crackle of jubiliation at home plate.

What We Said Then: [Y]ou'll be able to run into any St. Louisan in any bar across the country, or sit next to them on any plane ride, and ask them, "where were you when Edmonds hit that homer?" Me, I was watching the game in my living room, and after Edmonds got all of it, I sat there relieved and content, with the calm of a Tibetan monk. About four seconds later I blew out my vocal cords.

3. The Pujols Game (7/20). Payback for The Sandberg Game, 20 years in the making. This game was full of thrills and chills -- a 7-run second by the Cubs, a masterful job by the Cards' pen, a home run by So Taguchi (!), and a 5-for-5, three-homer day from our Big Guy at first.

What We Said Then: [T]here's one giant difference between the Cardinals and the Cubs: they don't have Pujols. I know, that sounds academic, if not a little glib, but I feel like it needs to be said. Because even though I just got done talking about the Cubs wilting in the heat (and yes, Carlos Zambrano and LaTroy Hawkins did flip their lids the last couple days), the Cubs didn't lose because they don't have heart, or because they're quitters, or any of that nonsense. To make that case is practically an insult to the excellence of our team. No, the Cubs lost because they don't have Pujols.

4. Cards Save Best for Last (7/16). This was a wild one. The Cards were listless all night long, one out away from going into the ninth on the wrong end of a 5-4 score, when Marlon Anderson cranked a three-run pinch-hit homer to give us the lead. Jim Edmonds sealed the deal in the bottom of the ninth with an eye-popping backhanded grab to rob Jason LaRue of a surefire home run.

What We Said Then: Marlon Anderson's gigantic three-run pinch-hit bomb might be our hit of the year, and Jimmy Edmond's snag on Jason LaRue's ninth-inning drive is undoubtedly the play of the year. Not only is it, I think, his best catch in a Cardinals uniform, it's the perfect snapshot for our season so far. The look-what-I-found sense of glee on Jed's face as he hit the ground sums up my feelings about the 2004 Cardinals.

5. Clincher (10/10) Game 4 of the NLDS, when we wrapped it up in L.A. It felt like a nail-biter, but it really wasn't -- the Cards jumped out to an early lead and held on thanks to the clinchworthy Jeff Suppan. In retrospect this game seems somewhat bittersweet, first because it was our only road win of the playoffs, and second because of the feel-good postgame handshakes, which might never be repeated.

What We Said Then: Before every postseason series they say a little guy -- someone unexpected, someone like Brian Doyle or Donn Clendenon or Tom Lawless -- will step up and be the hero. And then again, sometimes the hero is the biggest guy with the biggest target on his back. Tonight Pujols played like, well, Albert Pujols. Or, as one Dodger fan behind me muttered in despair, "the guy's a one-man wrecking crew."

6. Zambrano Loses Cool, Game (7/19). This was the one where Scott Rolen hit a game-breaking homer off of Carlos Zambrano and Zambrano retaliated by plunking Edmonds on the very next pitch. His rationale for the tantrum -- he thought Edmonds shouldn't have admired his yard job earlier in the game -- was made all the funnier a few weeks later, when Zambrano hit a home run in Cincinnati and stood at home plate until the ball left the park.

What We Said Then: Last March, while being interviewed by Dan Patrick and Rob Dibble on ESPN Radio, Dusty Baker mentioned the Astros and Reds as the main competition for the Cubs this year. Dibble asked him about anyone else, and Baker said Milwaukee has a really improved ballclub. Well, he was right about Milwaukee -- they're only a game and a half behind Chicago.

7. High Water (9/5). The game itself wasn't much: a Cardinals win that lacked elegance (Izzy gave up 3 in the ninth to send it to extras). But as the high water mark of our season, at 92-44, it's a stand-in for the stunning regularity with which this team brushed aside their opponents. It came at the end of a nine-game winning streak, including back-to-back sweeps of San Diego and L.A., and capped off three months where the Cards won more than three-quarters of their games. Sadly, if you include the playoffs, the Cards would lose more games than they'd win from that point forward.

What We Said Then: It's gotten to the point with the Cards where I'm suffering a form of white liberal guilt -- I'm almost ashamed of all this prosperity. Even today, the Dodgers have a furious rally in the ninth, scoring three with two outs against our ace closer. A dramatic pennant-drive win for the Boys in Blue, right? Oh, no, sorry, someone forget to tell them we win every single damn day. It's honestly getting a little weird. A friend of mine wrote me an email today complimenting me on the Cards' success, and this is how I replied: the cards are 92-44. the best thing: i've never lived through anything like this. the worst thing: i never will again.

8. Back to Our Old Selves (10/5). Game 1 of the NLDS. After waiting weeks and weeks for the playoffs to begin, the Cards unleashed their fury on Odalis Perez and the Los Angeles Dodgers, erupting for 5 runs in the span of ten pitches and reminding everyone that they were a force to be reckoned with.

What We Said Then: Before the game there was widespread speculation that the Cards were flat. They finished the year dropping five of their last seven games, with several of their best players in a serious funk. In fact, one could argue that the Cards hadn't played a truly meaningful game since July 20th in Chicago, making the prelude to the postseason seem like some icky form of tantric sex. Had the Cards peaked too soon? Would they be able to access the "on" switch in time for the playoffs? The Dodgers, on the other hand, were supposedly on all cylinders, full of September magic, able to leap tall ninth-inning deficits in a single bound. But it was the Dodgers who came out looking limp and listless...

9. Interleague Fun (6/17). The Birdinals capped off a sweep of the Oakland A's with three runs in the bottom of the ninth, the last off a Reggie Sanders' walk-off single. This came in the middle of a run in which the Cards would win 11 of 12 against American League foes.

What We Said Then: I confess: somewhere around the 5th inning I had this game written off as a loss. We’d already won the first two games of the series, we were facing Tim Hudson, and as the game went on you got the distinct impression that our best chances had been either booted or thrown away, especially going into the bottom of the ninth down by two and Renteria (fine), McKay (ugh), and Lankford (uninspiring) due up. But sometimes strange things happen...

10. First Blood vs. the Cubs (4/30). Turns out this one was a harbinger of things to come -- the first of several wild 'n' woolly face-offs with the Cubs. The game, which ended on a bases-loaded walk to Mike Matheny, reminded me of my favorite game of all time: the Cards first game against the Mets in 1987, Seat Cushion Night, when they made a statement that they would not be the whipping boys they were the year before.

What We Said Then: Are all the games against the Cubs this year going to be this nerve-wracking? My nails are worn down, there are divots from pacing all over my hardwood floor, and my heart rate is like a hamster's in a Revlon lab... Bottom line: we snuck one from the Cubs, and all the bad mojo we've had at Busch this season came back to us as lucky excess. It was especially sweet because of the playoff atmosphere down at the stadium. It seemed like Duke-North Carolina to me, and we haven't seen much of that this year. Finally something to get excited about.

11. Matheny Guns Down Phils (5/4). One of my favorite endings to any game ever. The frantic last few seconds felt less like a baseball game and more like the Music City Miracle, or the 1972 Munich Clock Controversy, or Kevin Moen running through the Stanford Marching Band. Here's how it happened...

What We Said Then: So Burrell runs the count to 2-2 and fouls of three straight pitches (while I burn about 15,000 calories). The next offering was an explosive fastball, up and over the plate, and somehow Matheny misses it (it almost looked like he got crossed up on the pitch) and the ball ricochets to the backstop. That's when all hell broke loose. Byrd takes off for home, Polanco for third, Thome for second, and Burrell -- who's not the game's fastest customer -- rumbles down the first base line. Matheny races to the backstop and thank God the ball takes a true carom and comes up scoop-ready for Matheny. The fans are going bonkers, screaming and hanging on every milisecond. Matheny fires a cannon-shot down to Pujols at first, who lunges to make the catch, with Burrell's lead foot about three inches over the firstbase bag. Game over.

12. Back-to-Back Jack Attack (10/14). Game 2 of the NLCS. This game, which was played in rain and slop, was in doubt until Pujols and Rolen unloaded off of Dan Miceli in the bottom of the 8th and put the Cards up 2 games to none. It capped a streak in which the Cards won five of their first six playoff games. They'd go only 2-7 thereafter.

What We Said Then: Why in the world Garner let Dan Miceli face Pujols/Rolen/Edmonds in the bottom of the 8th is beyond me. One week ago I was watching Game 2 of the Braves/Astros divisional series, and I saw Garner call on Lidge with one out in the seventh inning. At that moment I knew the Astros were forces to be reckoned with, because the move told me that Garner had learned from Jedi masters Joe Torre and Jack McKeon, that he was willing to bring in his top reliever wherever and whenever he was needed, "by the book" be damned. But perhaps because the Astros ended up losing that game... Garner has completely retreated from that strategy.

13. Renteria's Salami (6/9). For the first two months of the season, the Chicago press played the role of John the Baptist, reminding everyone that Mark Prior would one day ride into Wrigley and save the Cubs' season. But Edgar Renteria's grand slam into the bleachers portended different things for Prior's season.

What We Said Then: Prior is not Mark Prior today. Now he walks Womack (last time ever Taguchi, Womack, and Molina walk in the same inning). 5 BB's, only 1 strikeout, and that was when he K'd Morris. Steve Stone likens this to spring training for Prior.

14. Our First Big Win (4/22). The Cards were a .500 team before this game, and they were a .500 team for a few weeks after. But this was the first game where the 2004 Cardinals found their trademark resiliency. They did a little of everything in this game -- got good starting pitching, good relief pitching, key stolen bases, lots of extra base hits -- before topping the Astros in 12.

What We Said Then: How about La Russa letting Isringhausen pitch two innings for the second time this series? What's more, he brought him into a tie game, on the road, which means that TLR must have looked away from the swirling hypnotic disk that's been telling him to bring in Izzy in save situations only. Folks, this is exactly how you're supposed to use your ace reliever. You use him when the game is tight, when every out actually means something, and you let him pitch a second inning, especially when the opposing hitters are Bagwell, Kent, and Berkman. I hope Tony learned something from the experience.

15. Born-Again Cardinal (9/7). The game itself couldn't have been more ordinary -- a 4-2 win with the NL Central virtually sewn up in early September. But Rick Ankiel's appearance in the 6th inning -- his first in the bigs in over three years -- was one of my favorite moments of the year, the end of a long journey and hopefully the beginning of a new one.

What We Said Then: I'm happy as hell for Rick as a player, but I'm even happier for him as a person. Last July, on the occasion of his 24th birthday, I wrote the following:

In 1999, the Cardinals called up Rick Ankiel for the first time. Tony La Russa said about him at the time, "Everything they've said about him is true. He's the real deal. He's a great talent and he's got good insides and a good head.'' He was 19 years old.

Let's face it -- that sounds less like a birthday greeting and more like an obituary. But you can hardly blame me. Everything I knew about Ankiel and his struggles suggested that his career was effectively dead. Well, tonight we learned that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.


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