busch

On Opening Day, I went to church…

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I’ve lived in St. Louis since 1996 and have spent 20 or so days and nights at Cardinals games each season since I moved here. But I had never been to the Cardinals’ home opener until yesterday.

I don’t love the new Busch Stadium. There are too many gaudy ads and the decision to switch from a manual to electronic out-of-town scoreboard in the move from the old place still bothers me. A development the Cardinals termed “Ballpark Village” was supposed to be built just after the construction of the new stadium in 2006 but remains in planning mode five years later. There’s a rarely used softball field out in the lot where that project was meant to take shape. We, the residents of St. Louis and loyal followers of all things red, were promised a large residential space and all sorts of bars and restaurants. It hasn’t happened yet and things don’t look promising with the economy landing blow after blow on most Midwest cities.

Nobody in St. Louis really talks about the problems with Busch or that joke of a softball field. Maybe because it’s a bit embarrassing, or maybe it’s because … well … the game just started. And Carp is pitching.

I’ve never been to Opening Day in other towns. I’ve seen Camden Yards, Fenway Park, the old Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and Great American Ballpark, but all during mid-season games. I can’t speak to the way the start of the baseball season is celebrated in other cities, so I won’t. I’m sure Boston is nuts, and I can hear the kegs being tapped and untapped in Wrigleyville as I type this 300 or so miles away.

In St. Louis, the Redbirds have a college football-like following. And me? I like a good tailgate.

My four buddies drove down to my house just south of Busch around 10:00am. Through some act of the supernatural, we had acquired tickets in an all-you-can-consume luxury box for the 3:15pm game. We hung out for a bit, then joked about ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume picking the Astros to win the Central as we headed out the door around noon and entered the sun-drenched sea of red.

My friend Kevin had a cousin with a nice tailgate spot, so we stopped there for a short while and then moved on to the patio outside Kilroy’s — a busy place about two blocks from the ballpark. Kevin had a buddy doing promotional stuff for Budweiser, so we sucked down some of the local stuff (ha!) as a girl not far from us flashed her Cardinals panties to strangers in the bathroom line. What a peach.

Around 2:00pm we headed toward the gate and waited in a mass of fans who held the same desire to catch all of the pre-game festivities. People always say the Yankees “know how to throw a party.” I think the Cardinals are the same way. Hall of Famers and all sorts of other favorites are introduced and take big looping laps around the stadium in the back of Ford trucks. Brock, Schoendienst, Whitey, Gibson.

Then comes Stan Musial, trailing the pack in a golf cart. Former MLB commissioner Ford Frick called him “baseball’s perfect knight” and he’s waving to his kingdom as the public address announcer offers his career stats. “1,815 hits at home. 1,815 hits on the road. 20 consecutive All-Star teams.” He’s The Man, and he’s ours.

The announcer wraps up the intro noting that Stan was a “recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the greatest honor this country can bestow on a civilian,” and it puts a charge into the crowd. Musial won that medal through the hard work of a lot of local people who organized a successful petitioning movement called Stand for Stan. Musial breaks down, he can’t make it out of the cart because the emotion is overwhelming. You can tell how much this all means to him. And the moment rewards us with the confirmation that baseball is far from trivial.

We get a first pitch from Jim Edmonds and a flyover of two big military cargo planes. The weather is great, the fans are into every pitch, and a first-inning RBI single from Holliday brings optimism for a season thrown into an odd spiral by the failed Albert Pujols contract talks and Adam Wainwright’s spring Tommy John surgery.

Then we start seeing the holes. The middle infield defense proves its shoddiness, Ryan Franklin serves up beach balls in the ninth inning, Albert Pujols grounds into three double plays for the first time in his career and flies out to the warning track. Baseball is back, and it brings heartache right alongside joy.

We leave the stadium after the 11-inning loss to San Diego and stop in around a few bars to see friends. It’s a long season and the world’s biggest brewery is down the street. There’s no sense in letting a hanging curve and a Cameron Maybin fist pump ruin an otherwise beautiful day. Concerns about a baseball team are best served in a cold frosty mug. 161-1 is still well within reach.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.