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January 2010

UCB Project: All-2000s Cardinals Team

Posted on January 29, 2010 at 11:30 AM
As I sit with the winter weather falling around me, it seems an appropriate time to do some reminiscing.  The United Cardinal Bloggers are coming together today to look back at the last decade and pick out their All-Star team from the 2000s.  Lots of similar names, of course, but it's always good to remember.

These picks of mine aren't necessarily the strongest statistically (though I think they'd hold their own), but more of the players that I think represent the last decade.  Of course, the danger in doing this is that you may overvalue those that are more recent, because they are fresh in your mind, but the early part of those ten years was pretty strong as well.

So, let's get cracking.....
  Continue Reading

Cardinals Prepare For Spring

Posted on January 27, 2010 at 9:36 AM
In one of the surest signs that the winter is thawing and the greatest game on earth is getting close to returning, the Cardinals have announced their spring training non-roster invitees.

The most intriguing name on the list, of course, is Rich Hill.  A former Cubs prospect who turned in a good season with them a few years back, he's bounced around a little bit and never quite grasped that success again.  The Cardinals think that, one, he's healthy (which sounds familiar) and that, two, pairing him with Dave Duncan will help the command issues that he's had in the past.

It's worth the gamble, of course.  Right now the Cardinals still have a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation and you have to think Jaime Garcia wasn't thrilled about hearing this news, while Kyle McClellan really wonders why the club keeps making him think about starting and then put more obstacles in his path.  Hill would have to be the front-runner right now, with his major league experience and obvious talent.

He's got some strikeout potential--he seems to average a little under one per inning--and, save last year when he was hurt and in the American League, he keeps opponent's batting average low.  However, he's been more of a flyball pitcher in the past, so you have to think Duncan is going to rework that mindset somewhat.  It'll be interesting to see if it can be done.

Besides, exactly how much fun would it be to have a resurgent year from a former Cub in a Cardinal uniform?  Just another thing to drive those baby bear fans nuts.

There were some other interesting names that got invites from within the system.  Pete Kozma is going to get some face time, along with Lance Lynn, who was pitcher of the year in the system last year, and Robert Stock, who just was drafted last year.

Kozma is always going to have that "not Rick Porcello" cloud hanging over him, but we'll see what he gets to do in spring training.  He won't make the team--middle infield appears to be the place that the Cards are stocked the most--but maybe he can make an impression.

I'd think Lynn would have had more of a chance to snag that #5 slot if it weren't for the signing of Hill.  I can't imagine they'd move him up from Springfield to the bigs without a dominating spring and a lackluster one from Hill and Garcia.  He's a longshot, but longshots sometimes pay off.

As for Stock, just getting an invite this early in his career is saying something.  You'll remember that he wasn't even the top pick last year--Shelby Miller was--but Stock made an impression in his limited playing time last year.  Plus he's a catcher, and catchers always have work to do in spring training.  I hope he'll get to play in a few games and we can get a feel for what he can do.

Just wonderful to see names and to really start thinking about Jupiter.  There will be lots to discuss then!

Parting note: Personally, I have little use for football.  It's a tolerable game, but I rarely ever watch and think that it gets way too much coverage.  My personal opinion is that the best thing about the Super Bowl is that when it's over, there are only two weeks until spring training.  That said, I have always appreciated Peyton Manning.  I figured it was partly due to his likable presence in commercials and partly because of his cerebral nature of the game.  I didn't realize it's because he's Albert Pujols, but that makes so much sense and completely worth rooting for the Colts in a couple of weeks.

Officially Ending An Era

Posted on January 22, 2010 at 9:35 AM
I don't have much time today, but I couldn't let it pass without note.  Rick Ankiel will be playing for a team other than the Cardinals for the first time this coming season, signing a one-year deal with the Royals.  The Cardinals visit over there June 25-27, so mark your calendars accordingly.

I've always been a big fan of Ankiel.  Maybe not to the level of Will Leitch, of course, but I've followed him since he was coming up in the organization back in the late '90s.  Watching him pitch was a delight, and he was completely robbed of the Rookie of the Year in 2000, in my opinion.

Which made the '00 playoffs, and the resulting spring training in 2001, so painful to watch.  You knew the talent was still there.  He could still marshall enough control to show that.  It just wasn't regular enough, and nothing that the team or anyone else could do seemed to make that control return.

It's said that Mike Matheny still wishes he'd been behind the plate for that fateful game against the Braves, when everything started to unravel.  Would it have made a difference?  Could anything have been done to keep that electric arm in sync and on a path for ace status?  We'll never know.  Likely not, but it makes you wonder.

We watched him go through surgeries and setbacks before finally returning to the bigs in 2004.  He was coming out of the pen then, still feeling his way somewhat, but he was able to chalk up another big league win.  While the Cardinals weren't getting an ace, it looked like they'd at least have a servicable pitcher.

Then the twist.  The 2005 spring training when things started off bad and, instead of retiring, the team suggested he become an outfielder.  An outfielder?  Really?  Who is he, Smokey Joe Wood?

Back to the minors to adjust to his new position.  What surprised everyone, I think, was the amount of power that he had.  A 30-HR season?  Really?

The scene in 2007, when he was called up and hit a home run in his first game, was remarkable.  This was one of those "you can't make this up" moments.  Redemption appeared to be at hand, or at least until the HGH news broke.

The first half of 2008 showed what Ankiel could do when healthy.  He had a very strong start to the season, leading Cardinal fans to wonder if the team would sign him long-term and play him with Colby Rasmus to anchor the outfield.  His numbers tailed off during the second half, as he battled a sports hernia and, perhaps, as pitchers began to figure out he had some trouble hitting offspeed stuff.

Last year was pretty much a lost season for Rick, at least after his head-first dive into the Busch Stadium outfield wall.  He never seemed to recover from that, and even though his agent (Scott Boras, of course) wanted a three-year deal with big money, the best they could do was a one-year deal with an option in Kansas City.

While just Wednesday I was considering, if not advocating, his return as a fourth outfielder, it's not a bad thing to see Ankiel move on.  He will always be one of my favorites, but there just isn't a spot for him now and I'm not convinced he'll ever be that big hitter he flashed at the beginning of '08.

But as Ilsa says at the end of Casablanca, "Good luck, Rick.  God bless you."

Along the same vein, Joel Pineiro signed with the Angels earlier this week.  Pineiro's another one that we appreciate what he did for the club, but really didn't fit into the plans for the future.  Hopefully he does well in LA, though it'll be interesting to see if he can keep the ground ball rate that he had this year.  If not, it could get ugly fast.

Pujols Speaks

Posted on January 19, 2010 at 9:50 AM
Anytime Number 5 makes an appearance, it's news.  Even when he doesn't say much of anything.

Albert Pujols met the media yesterday on the closing day of the Winter Warm-Up and talked about his contract, his hitting coach, and his health.

Albert seems fine with Mark McGwire, saying that the big redhead will have to answer to a higher power someday but that basically we should move on.  I think there's something to that--continuing to hound on it won't resolve the issue or wipe it away, but it could hurt the focus of the '10 team.

(That said, the hallway press conference of Sunday didn't do anyone any favors.  The media is likely never to be satisfied with answers, of course, but making the appearance that you are hiding something or aren't being completely open can cause a lot of problems down the road.)

Pujols spent more time talking about his contract situation, of course.  He left hints that he wanted to stay, but it wasn't a guarantee, but that he might take less than market to remain and keep the team competitive.  In other words, something for every position--he's going or he's staying.

Probably the biggest news was that he wasn't giong to negotiate during the season, which is not a surprise knowing AP's legendary focus and preparation.  I still think they'll get a deal done in spring training or right before, but it could be next winter before it's finalized.  I think most would agree that, from our perspective, the sooner the better.

Pujols says he's healthy and ready to go, so with that and a full season of Matt Holliday in the lineup, it could be a career year for him--which is saying a lot.

On another front, Jim Edmonds says he's quite serious about rejoining the team.  Tony LaRussa said that the idea will get serious consideration, mainly because of the respect they have for Edmonds, but it's not anything that's been in the works and there are no guarantees.  There are a lot of benefits of having Edmonds around, if he can still swing the bat some.  That's a big if, though.

The Baseball Writers dinner was last night.  Awards were handed out, verbal shots were taken, and a good time was had by all.  Well, maybe not all.

Apparently Bob Costas made some verbal jabs at McGwire's recent admission, according to John Marecek's Twittering, and that didn't go over well with LaRussa.  The two of them were actually sitting together, but didn't say much after Costas's routine.  Not surprising, given Tony's relationship and loyalty to McGwire.

So now, we wait.  A month from yesterday was the first day pitchers and catchers could report to spring training.  One more month of speculating on the remaining holes and eagerly anticipating the pictures and reports from Florida.  One more month.  Can we make it?

Some Winter Heat

Posted on January 18, 2010 at 9:21 AM
The Winter Warm-Up got underway this weekend (and continues today) which means that there is usually quite a bit of news generated, even if it's just what the players say.  This year was no exception.

Of course, you knew that was going to happen when Mark McGwire was added to the appearance list.  Mac didn't stick around long, and his post-appearance press conference didn't win him any fans with the local scribes, but the fan base appears to have accepted his apology and are glad to have him back in uniform.  I know it's going to be a while, but I do hope that some of this steroid stuff will start to recede in the coming weeks.  Let's see how he does as a hitting coach, OK?  That's the important thing now.

But Mac wasn't the only former Cardinal slugger in the news.  Jim Edmonds showed up at the Animal Rescue Foundation dinner on Sunday and challenged Tony LaRussa from the stage to let him return to the Cardinals.  While it's a long shot to happen, it'd definitely be interesting.  How much rust would be on him after a year off?  Could he play just once or twice a week and be happy and productive?  I'd give him a spring training invite to find out, especially if he's serious about playing for the minimum.

Matt Holliday made his first appearance at a WWU and was a crowd favorite as well.  Of course, he said all the right things about enjoying St. Louis and the fans, which helps a lot!  It'll be fun to watch him on a regular basis this year and hopefully the offense won't sputter as often with another bat like his in the mix.

Other players made appearances, of course, including a fairly tame and routine discussion by Yadier Molina.  Today's closing day will be big, as Albert Pujols is on the docket.  It'll be interesting to hear what the big guy has to say.

I've got some assorted links and news piling up in my e-mail box, so let me take this time to clear them out:

  • Have you ever wondered just how good (or, more likely, bad) Charlie Brown and his team actually were?  Larry at Wezen-Ball has taken on a project he terms "Retrosheet: The Peanuts Chronicles" and gone through the strips tabulating.
  • Stalking Steve Phillips has an post about returning the home run record to Roger Maris in light of McGwire's admission.  While I understand and sympathize with the sentiment, if it happened on the field, it has to stand.  Put any kind of explaining mark next to it as you wish, but it still happened and without a verifiable way of reducing the number or replaying the games, it has to be on the books.
  • MLB contributed $1 million to the Haitian earthquake relief effort through UNICEF, according to a press release I received.  MLB also plans to air PSAs, have editorial coverage and comment, and encourage the fan base to donate and help as well.
  • January 30 will be SABR Day in America.  Numerous local chapters will have events going on, which will be open to members and non-members alike.  If you want to see if there is a chapter in your area, check out the official site.
  • Five O'Clock Blogger is back active, with a new URL.  Check out Jeff and change your bookmarks if you haven't already!

Book Review: Heading For Home

Posted on January 17, 2010 at 9:12 PM
A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a man named Kent Stock.  He asked if he could send along his book about a historic high school baseball season and the movie it inspired.  Now, one of the major benefits of this blog thing is getting free baseball books.  I love reading them, so I quickly responded with my address.

What I received was Heading For Home: My Journey from Little League to Hollywood.  The movie in question was called The Final Season and it starred Sean Astin.  While I vaguely recalled hearing that title, I thought, I was a little surprised it wasn't clearer in my head, something that was clarified as I read the book.

The main situation that this autobiography is based around is the 1991 Norway (Iowa) high school baseball team.  As happens sometimes in states, Norway was a small town but it kept churning out state titles in its classification and would play up in class during the season with great success as well.  However, with cutbacks going on all over the country, Norway was forced to consolidate with a nearby school. The legendary coach of the team quit over the whole thing, leaving assistant coach Stock, who had never coached baseball at that level, to be the "lame duck" for the last season.

Stock, the kids, everyone involved wanted to go out with Norway's 20th state title, and even though the talent level wasn't as high as it had been in past years, they kept pushing on until they reached the title game.  After taking a lead, they found themselves in the top of the seventh, their final inning, down a run with two outs and no one on base.

Now, being that there likely wouldn't have been a book about the season, much less a movie, if Norway didn't win the game, there's not a lot of suspense there now.  However, it was a remarkable thing and a wonderful way for a place like that to finish up.

Stock also writes about his background, how he grew up and his love of baseball, especially the Cardinals (one of the reasons he selected this blog to communicate with!).  He then gets into his post-Norway life, including the eventual development of the movie.  It was a home-grown effort, not a "major motion picture", so the advertising and other related monies just weren't there, but it's out on DVD now and, after reading this book, I'm thinking about renting it  to see the story unfold.  It was pretty good on paper!

It's Time To Talk About The Past

Posted on January 12, 2010 at 9:13 AM
Usually, the good thing about blogs is that you don't have to wait until the next day for reaction.  News happens and within moments, analysis and commentary is waiting for your eyes, ready to fill the gap that comes after a big story.

Yesterday, I was out of the office when the story broke.  I've talked in this space many times after his hiring as hitting coach about how Mark McGwire needed to have a press conference before spring training, that I would have liked to see it before Thanksgiving, at least before Christmas.  However, after seeing the explosion of reaction, waiting until after the holidays, after the Hall of Fame selections, makes a lot more sense.  This story was going to suck all the oxygen out of the baseball world.

As admissions go, I will say it appears that it's a sincere and complete one.  There's no "I only used once" or any other excuses.  He admits when he used them, including '98.  Which is, of course, the biggest reason anyone is even worried about this.  He also addressed his congressional testimony and the development of the phrase that hangs around his legacy, or did until yesterday.

How might the last few years have been different if he'd been given immunity from prosecution?  What if he'd been able to sit up there and say, yes, I took them, this is why, and I hate that I did it?  Would that have changed the atmosphere of the last half of the decade, pushed more players to the forefront?  Would McGwire be seen as a pioneer, a trend-setter of some sort?  We'll never know.

McGwire does say that he doesn't believe steroids helped him hit home runs.  It's hard to swallow that, though there could be something to the hand-eye coordination claim that Mac says.  It's pretty fair to say, though, that the added strength helped a few fly balls find the stands that might have otherwise found outfielders' gloves.  How much, though?  That's what's hard to quantify.  I doubt he'd have hit the famous shot that tagged the Post-Dispatch sign 545 feet away, necessitating a band-aid for the ad.  But take 10% off that shot and it's still a home run.

That's one of the most frustrating things about steroid use.  Even if you know a player is taking them, how much is due to the steroids and how much to their natural talent?  McGwire hit 49 home runs as a rookie, years before he took any steroids.  So obviously the talent is there.  How much was it augmented by steroids?  If we knew a rate that we could go back and discount stats by, I think there'd be less of a general angst about the whole thing.  But we don't and we can't.

The current squad of Cardinals seem supportive and it doesn't appear that these disclosures are going to affect his hitting coach job at all.  If nothing else, Albert Pujols seems to be behind him.  You can go a long way in St. Louis if you have El Hombre in your corner.

The apologies weren't enough for some, though as Bernie notes, it really should be.  It's fairly easy to be judgemental at times, but McGwire was as open as he possibly could be on this.  He didn't just read a statement of apology and take off.  He did lots of press, answering all questions that came his way.  Maybe some don't like the answers.  That's not the way it goes, though, when you are telling the truth, or at least the truth as you see it.

As for me, it really boils down to this headline.  I'm disappointed, but in no way could I really be surprised.  I was actually a little surprised how hard the news hit me when I checked my e-mails yesterday and had the text of McGwire's comments and management's reactions.  It's not that we haven't known this was likely coming, but still, having no way to deny it any longer, or if not deny at least give the benefit of the doubt, made for an uncomfortable afternoon.

1998 was a magical year, and even if the memories are tainted by the news of yesterday, they are still wonderful memories.  The drama, the back and forth, the constant following of the chase.  Those memories are still there and something I'll still share with following generations, even if there is that footnote that goes along with them.

I recorded an interview with Joe of Motor City Bengals for his podcast This Week in Detroit Tigers Baseball and he asked me how fans would have their perceptions changed by the news.  I told him I think most everyone had this built in to how they viewed McGwire.  Some may be more willing to forgive now that he's come clean.  I think maybe a few will feel more harshly toward him, but not many.  It's not like he's fallen off a tall pedestal.  That happened long ago.

I also don't think it helps him with the Hall of Fame.  McGwire's biggest claim was power.  If that is affected, I think people look at him and say, "He couldn't do it without help, he doesn't need in."  Like Pete Rose, people clamored for an apology for years.  Once it came, the cause was gone and the player had no shot at the Hall.

That's fine, though.  While I might, as a Cardinal fan, like to see the redhead in the Hall, I can understand keeping him out.  I do think that this cleansing will help his job performance this season, because reporters have less reason to talk to him about that.  He's put it out there, he's answered the questions.  At least from the baseball point of view, it's time to move on.

Cardinals (Finally) Get Their Man

Posted on January 6, 2010 at 9:12 AM
After a sometimes tortuous off-season, when it seemed like there were no other option for each side and would they just make it final already, the Cardinals signed Matt Holliday to a seven-year deal yesterday.

(Mindboggling stat of the day: only three teams in baseball have two $100 million players.  The New York Yankees, the New York Mets....and the Cardinals?  I hope never to hear the "Bill DeWitt is cheap" refrain again.)

There are plenty of interesting and informative articles in both the Post-Dispatch and the Globe-Democrat.  You've got the main news story in both, of course, but lots of opinion and analysis as well.

Jeff Gordon points out that there are a lot of things we can learn about this signing, starting with the commitment of ownership but also that John Mozeliak is a worthy successor to Walt Jocketty, as if we hadn't already figured that out this summer.  Brian Burwell gives all credit in this to Mo.

This is an expensive contract, no doubt about it, but the numbers still work, at least for 2010.  While there are still a few holes to fill, the team and the fans are excited about the return of Holliday and there's a lot to look forward to.  In my opinion, this team has to be considered, along with Philadelphia, the favorites to represent the NL in the World Series next year.  The Phillies have a stronger offense, but the rotation and bullpen edge would seem to go to St. Louis.

This is a situation basically unprecedented in St. Louis.  When was the last time the Cardinals got the big free agent on the market?  They were able to resign players like Jim Edmonds, Mark McGwire, and Scott Rolen before they hit the FA scene.

How are fans going to react?  Are they going to love Holliday because he picked the Cardinals?  Are they going to consider him a "money guy" and "not a true Cardinal" because he took so long to sign and got so much to do so?  If Albert Pujols leaves after 2011, will there be venom directed at Holliday because the contract kept us from keeping AP?  If Holliday struggles, will he become the new whipping boy?  I've always held that Tino Martinez wasn't so bad, it was that he was getting paid way too much to produce the way he was.  However, you saw the fan reaction to him during his tenure here.

I think things will be fine with Holliday, honestly.  I look forward to seeing him patrol the outfield for years to come.  I've not been one that has been completely enamored with him, but he definitely proved that he could hit during his time in St. Louis and I'm hoping that this means we'll have a lot less of those low-hitting games this season.  Whether we will or not, we'll have to wait and see.

Talk about Holliday, what it all means, and where the Cards go from there on tonight's UCB Radio Hour!  Listen or call in!





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Carlos Beltran (6)
Yadier Molina (5)
Matt Holliday (4)
Jon Jay (4)
Matt Carpenter (3)
Daniel Descalso (3)
Jaime Garcia (3)
Pete Kozma (3)
Shelby Miller (3)
Adam Wainwright (3)
Allen Craig (2)
Lance Lynn (2)
Tyler Lyons (2)
Edward Mujica (2)
Jake Westbrook (2)
David Freese (1)
Joe Kelly (1)
Seth Maness (1)
Trevor Rosenthal (1)
Michael Wacha (1)
Ty Wigginton (1)

2012 Top Hero: Matt Holliday (17)
2011 Top Hero: Lance Berkman (24)
2010 Top Heroes: Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols (24)
2009 Top Hero: Albert Pujols (28)
2008 Top Hero: Albert Pujols (25)

Jon Jay (6)
David Freese (5)
Mitchell Boggs (4)
Joe Kelly (4)
Pete Kozma (4)
Matt Carpenter (3)
Allen Craig (3)
Daniel Descalso (3)
Jaime Garcia (3)
Yadier Molina (3)
Matt Adams (2)
Carlos Beltran (2)
Matt Carpenter (2)
Matt Holliday (2)
Lance Lynn (2)
Seth Maness (1)
Shane Robinson (1)
Fernando Salas (1)
Adam Wainwright (1)
Jake Westbrook (1)

2012 Top Goat: Rafael Furcal (11)
2011 Top Goat: Ryan Theriot (12)
2010 Top Goat: Brendan Ryan (14)
2009 Top Goats: Rick Ankiel and Todd Wellemeyer (13)
2008 Top Goat: Troy Glaus (13)

Cardinal Nation Approval Ratings (March 2013)
Yadier Molina 96.2% (up 8.8%)
Chris Carpenter 89.8% (down 0.3%)
Derrick Goold 89.1% (up 6.3%)
Matt Holliday 88.4% (up 0.9%)
Allen Craig 88.3%
Adam Wainwright 88.2% (down 3.7%)
Jose Oquendo 87.1% (up 2.4%)
Jason Motte 86.9%
John Mozeliak 86.5% (up 1.1%)
United Cardinal Bloggers 85.2% (up 6.3%)
Bill DeWitt 85.1% (up 5.3%)
Mike Shannon 85.1% (down 0.2%)
John Rooney 84.5% (up 3.0%)
Mike Matheny 84.4% (up 3.3%)
David Freese 82.9% (down 2.6%)
Jon Jay 81.8% (up 10.7%)
Lance Berkman 80.6% (down 8.0%)
Jenifer Langosch 79.5%
Lance Lynn 79.5%
Dan McLaughlin 76.0% (up 8.0%)
Jim Hayes 73.0% (up 1.1%)
Ricky Horton 65.5% (down 2.0%)
Jaime Garcia 64.1%
Albert Pujols 59.2% (up 4.3%)
Ballpark Village 58.3%
Joe Strauss 54.3% (down 13.4%)

Tony La Russa 88.2% (up 17.4%)
Mark McGwire 82.6% (up 20.1%)
Skip Schumaker 73.3% (up 9.2%)
B.J. Rains 69.5% (down 0.9%)
Kyle Lohse 68.9% (up 13.8%)
Al Hrabosky 66.4% (up 3.2%)
Colby Rasmus 46.5% (down 35.3%)

Dave Duncan 87.9% (up 0.9%)
Matthew Leach 85.5%
Pop Warner 76.7%
Ryan Franklin 72.8% (up 3.1%)
John Vuch 68.9%
Jeff Luhnow 66.4%
Dan Lozano 58.7%

Rick Ankiel 83.9%
Chris Duncan 69.1%

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