Avid followers of my ramblings over the past 35 years are well aware of my undying loyalty for the St. Louis Cardinals.
I make it no secret, even here in the heart of Royals country — which sometimes elicits some backlash. My Grandpa Zurek, an old coal miner during his day, introduced me to the Cardinals 50 years ago.
Because of my hero worship of him, his favorite team became my favorite team. We would listen to the games out at his farm, hanging on every word uttered by Harry and Jack, the best 1-2 announcing duo in baseball history, or sports history for that matter. Never mind that he didn’t have air conditioning at his house, which was common in those days, though I’ll never forget those cool summer breezes as well as the stunning peace and quiet of country life.
Nobody lived and died with the Cardinals more than me in 1967 and 1968 when they won the World Series against the miracle Red Sox in ’67 and then blew a 3-1 lead to the Tigers in the ’68 Fall Classic when roly poly lefty Mickey Lolich beat them three times. It took me years to recover from that one.
I really wasn’t a fan at all of the old Kansas City A’s in the 1960s (except for Campy Campaneris) and shed nary a tear when Charlie O. Finley packed up his mule, his vaudeville act and 40-foot screen in right field at old Municipal Stadium and headed to dark, dank and dismal Oakland. Of course after being an also-ran in Kansas City, it didn’t take long for the A’s to go back-to-back-to-back for the World Series hat trick when they became the “Swinging A’s.” Finley, though, penny-pinched the team into oblivion when it was built to win for a decade.
When the A’s left KC, the new-fangled Royals emerged. It happened about the time my beloved Cardinals were going through one of the few rough patches in their existence. Despite pleas to join the dark side, I stayed with the Cardinals because I knew that’s what PaPa wanted. He was all about loyalty and always said you had to take the bad with the good.
When the Royals cast aside the White Rat, manager Whitey Herzog, he went across the state and that’s when the Cardinals became relevant again. Like his Kansas City teams, the Cardinals had speed to burn. I’m surprised their relay team of Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Lonnie Smith and whoever was the flavor of the month (Terry Pendleton or Tom Herr) in their blazing lineup didn’t show up at the Olympic trials. The Cardinals were thinclads impersonating as baseball players.
Of course, along came the 1985 World Series when the Cardinals were jobbed in Game 6 by an infamous blown call and then basically rolled over in Game 7, allowing intra-state Kansas City to win its only Series. I’m happy the Royals won that year, but not happy it came at the expense of my Cardinals.
For the most part, St. Louis has been baseball’s model franchise. It does it “The Cardinal Way,” which doesn’t include throwing wads of cash at every fashionable free agent. The Cardinals do it with hard work and developing home-grown talent, with a shrewd key trade here and there. How could any other team other than St. Louis let Albert Pujols walk after he had been the best player on the planet for 10 years and still survive?
I love watching games from Busch Stadium III. There’s seldom an empty seat and the fans are true students of the game, unlike those rabid fans of New York and Boston. They appreciate good baseball, even if it comes from the opponent. They cheer a great play no matter what.
A Cardinals fan’s loyalty was tested this year. All season, we Bird Lovers kept waiting for our team to emerge from its offensive malaise to run off massive chunks of wins and overtake Milwaukee, the early season phenom.
It almost never happened. Milwaukee held first place some 150 days and St. Louis was left to fend off Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
But the Brewers collapsed and the Cardinals were there to pounce. While they never brought their true A-game to the table, their B-plus game was enough.
I wasn’t sure if they could get past the Clayton Kershaw-led Dodgers in the NLDS, yet they beat him twice in four games after he had lost only three games all year. They beat him both at his best (3-2 in the deciding game) and at his worst (10-9 in the opener). Kershaw had been immortal all season and St. Louis made him merely mortal.
Now the Cardinals face the San Francisco Giants with the World Series berth on the line and perhaps a replay of 1985.
This isn’t a good matchup for the Cardinals. They have struggled in the past with the Giants and remember, this an even year. The Giants have won the World Series in each of the last two even-numbered years.
The Giants had to win a wild-card game on the road, then took out the underachieving Washington Nationals in four games. They have the pitching to shut down the Cardinals, whose lineup has been spotty at best.
It doesn’t matter, though. These are the Cardinals. They’re my team. They will remain my team whether they win or lose.