Posted on December 15, 2011 at 11:45 PM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Mozeliak."
John Mozeliak, the current general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, turned toward his door. He'd been standing at his window, staring out and thinking. Seems like he'd been doing a lot of that this week.
"Merry Christmas, Terry. Everything looking good?"
Terry nodded. "We've been working on some of the dynamic pricing promotions for next year."
"Well, stop it. Send everyone home--it is the day before Christmas Eve, after all. Might as well knock off a bit early."
"Will do, sir. Hope you have a great holiday," Terry said as he left the office.
A great holiday. Mozeliak snorted. He was pretty sure that was out of the question.
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Two weeks ago, he'd watched as the what had been the Cardinals' franchise player sat down at a table wearing a different hat and jersey. That picture still gnawed at him.
"Now, big boy, you know you did your best on that."
Startled, Mozeliak turned around and saw Mike Shannon
sitting at his desk. However, this wasn't the experienced broadcaster that was currently doing color duties for the Cardinals Radio Network. This was the image of the young ballplayer he'd been, and along with the glow of light around him, triggered Mozeliak's memory.
"Wait, you're the Ghost of Cardinal Past. We've been down that road--why are you back?"
"Actually, Mo-Man, I've been bumped up. They let me set the scene now, so you'll get some new ghost buddies this year."
Mozeliak was puzzled. "But why? The future the spirit showed me last year is going to now come to pass. What's the use?"
Shannon put his ghostly feet up on the desk. "Well, for one thing, ya didn't listen. Traded off Brendan Ryan
and then Pujols---"
"Don't talk to me about Albert Pujols
," Mozeliak interrupted angrily. "I did all I could do. I wanted him back as much as anyone. Don't tell me that I didn't!"
"Whoa there, big fella!" Shannon put his hands up. "I ain't arguin' with any of that. I'm just saying that you seem a bit down in the dumps and we can't be havin' that. I mean, depressed is being a Cub fan! Heh, heh, heh."
In spite of himself, Mozeliak smiled. "All right, Mike. Do I get any sort of info on who and when?"
"Nope. Just saddle up and be ready for ol' Abner to do it again. See ya next time, my man."
And with that, Shannon disappeared.
Shaking his head, Mozeliak reclaimed his desk and tried to work, but his mind wasn't up for it, continuing to race with thoughts of what was coming and what what had been.
"John Mozeliak, rise--am I doing this right?"
Mozeliak looked up to see another uniform-clad specter in his office, but this one was a bit less self-assured.
"Sorry, Mo, it's my first time at this and they didn't give me much training."
"Quite all right, Ray." Mozeliak knew that this was Ray Lankford
, a former center fielder for the club. "I suppose you're the Ghost of Cardinal Past?"
Lankford nodded. "Got the gig when Mike got promoted. Sweet deal, huh?"
"Congratulations, I guess. So where are we going?"
"C'mon, John, you know by now it's not where, but when. Grab on to my glove."
Mozeliak did and suddenly was looking at a rickety old stadium with a small number of fans watching a slightly familiar team.
"Ray, just how far back did we go? I recognize those Cardinal uniforms, but I can't quite place them."
Lankford grinned. "1924."
"1924?" Mozeliak furrowed his brow. "Why here?"
"Watch the game and we'll talk."
Mozeliak watched as the players went through their prescribed motions. A little different game than he was used to, as balls didn't often approach the wall, but a gapper would be a triple or perhaps an inside-the-parker. The Cardinal team wasn't that good, but there was a diamond amid the rough.
"There's the Rajah," said Mozeliak, pointing out Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby
. "Gotta say I don't recognize many of the others."
"That's because there's nothing special about most of them," Lankford replied. "This team is still two years from its first title. Baseball still really hasn't taken hold in St. Louis, at least not like we know it today. 'Course, that might have something to do with the fact that this place could go up in smoke with one cigar ash or strike of lightning."
"Cherry," Mozeliak said. "So why....."
"And yet," Lankford continued, "even in this rough situation, there's still a gem out there in Hornsby. No matter how bleak, there is always something to come to the ballpark for."
"I've had that thought some recently," Mozeliak said, "but without---"
"Oops, look at the time. OK, so time means nothing, but still, we've got another stop to make. Grab the glove, will ya?"
Instantly the two were transported to a familiar, bowl-shaped structure. Mozeliak smiled. The Astroturf. The arches. As with last year, he was back in Busch Stadium II.
"So which year is this, Ray? 1982? '85"
Lankford shook his head. "1993."
"'93? There was nothing special about that year."
Lankford glared. "Hey man, I was on that team. I hit third on that team. What are you trying to say?"
As Mozeliak stammered out his apologies, Lankford's visage eased into a grin.
"Nah, man, just messin' with you. The early '90s weren't much. Which is the point, really. You may be down, but situations could be much worse. If nothing else, at least you have good ownership."
Mozeliak quickly agreed. No matter what you thought of Bill DeWitt, there was no doubt that he was much better at fielding a competitive team than those post-Augie Brewery years.
For a few minutes, the two silently watched the game. Mozeliak occasionally stole glances at his compatriot. Were there more lessons to be learned here?
"Um, Ray, don't I need to get back?"
"Yeah, man, just wait--"
The crack of the bat drew Mozeliak's attention back to the field. A long drive to center drove the 1993 version of Lankford back to the wall, but he leaped up and made an outstanding catch.
"That's what I'm talking about!" spirit Lankford exclaimed. "I love seeing me do that! OK, back we go...."
Mozeliak started. He was back in his office, sitting at his desk. He thought about how much better St. Louis baseball was now than what he'd just seen and smiled. The funk from the last couple of weeks had lifted some, but not entirely.
A few minutes later, Mozeliak heard, "Knock, knock." He looked up to see Mike Matheny
standing in his doorway.
"Mike! So you are the Ghost of Cardinal Present!"
Matheny frowned. "Umm, not sure what you are talking about, Mo."
Mozeliak looked closer. "Oh, I should have known. You aren't in uniform and don't have a glowing aura. So, what's up?"
Matheny eyed his boss warily. "You got into that eggnog out there, didn't you?"
Mozeliak chuckled. "I wish. So what can I do for you?"
The new Cardinal manager wasn't convinced, but he let it pass and sat down across from Mozeliak.
"I just stopped by to thank you again for naming me manager of this team. I know you've taken some heat for it
and I appreciate you standing up for me. I'm really excited to see what this team can do next year."
Mozeliak waved him off. "Not an issues. I know you'll do great in the role. I'm just sorry...." His voice trailed off, but Matheny understood where he was going.
"Don't worry, we can win without him."
He shook Mozeliak's hand, wished him a merry Christmas, and left.
"Great guy there, Mo. Looking forward to him next season."
Mozeliak quickly turned and saw a glowing, uniformed Lance Berkman
perched on the window sill.
"So you are Cardinal Present this year. What happened to Matthew Leach?"
"Vacation. Said I'd fill in. Always trying to help out the team, you know. Now, realize that we're going to stretch the term 'present' just a smidgen. Here, let me put this game on you..."
Mozeliak stumbled as they came to rest in a very different place. He looked up and saw a retractable roof. Around him were no red-clad fans, but those with blue and gold in their attire.
"Milwaukee?" Mozeliak exclaimed.
Sure enough, they were standing in the aisle behind the visitor's dugout in Miller Park. They quickly took their seats, just in time to see Edwin Jackson
allow another run.
"Berkman, there better be a good reason for coming to this August 3rd game
," Mozeliak said sternly.
"You think I'm having a barrel of laughs over here?" Berkman retorted. "I'd have much rather picked Game 6, but that didn't help the lesson."
"And just what is that lesson," said Mozeliak as another Brewer reached base.
"Look, remember this month? We fell apart and things looked grim. You made a huge trade to win now and we weren't. One of those pieces is out there giving up ten runs in a game that we needed. How were you feeling back then?"
Mozeliak considered. He had, now that he thought of it, spent much of August in a low-level panic. He knew that the big trade with Toronto should have bolstered this team, so why wasn't it? He had a few sleepless nights in that stretch, wondering just what he'd overlooked and if he'd missed something.
"Pretty bummed, right? But look where we were just three months later. I've got the DVD set
if you want to see it."
"That's not necessary," Mozeliak replied. "I look at the trophy every day at work. So you are saying that it's darkest before the dawn?"
"Something like that," Berkman allowed. "Plus, the fact is that your moves, your instincts, were right. Without that trade, we aren't playing in October. Just keep that in mind." Berkman reached up and again put the cap on Mozeliak's brow.
Mozeliak blinked. It was a bright, sunny, warm day. There were a number of fans wearing white and cheering.
And yet, something seemed wrong. It was too warm for a World Series pep rally, and besides, that red didn't look quite right.
Mozeliak looked up at the stadium and sucked in his breath. He spun angrily and confronted Berkman.
"HERE? You brought me HERE?"
Suddenly, over the loudspeaker, came words that chilled Mozeliak's blood.
"Give a warm welcome to the news Angels, pitcher C.J. Wilson
and first baseman ALBERT PU-JOLS!"
The crowd erupted as Mozeliak pushed his way away from the stage. He was not surprised to find Berkman waiting for him when he reached the fringe of the mob. Hurrying up to him, Mozeliak poked his finger at the chest of the apparition.
"I thought we were trying to get me to cheer up! This isn't helping!"
Berkman leaned back against the light pole. "Already forgotten those lessons, huh?"
Mozeliak took a deep breath. "Darkest before the dawn. My moves worked. But how do they apply here?"
"C'mon, Mo, this isn't your first rodeo. Has there been a darker day recently for the Redbirds than the day Albert split town?"
"No, there hasn't been. Thanks for the reminder."
"So it's going to get better. We rallied from August's shadow, we'll rally from this. Plus, this is your move. Not that you pushed him to Anaheim, but you didn't go overboard. There's a strong likelihood that it'll work out too."
Mozeliak took a glance back at the crowd, those wearing the familiar name and number on the back but a very unfamiliar one on the front. He exhaled.
"I honestly thought he was returning, you know. I didn't see that we had much competition. I thought I'd run all the numbers, considered all the variables
. That's why the phone call from him stung so much
. How could I have missed it?
"Yes, yes it is."
Mozeliak was back in his office again, but it was a different Texan speaking to him. Instead of Berkman, top prospect Shelby Miller
stood before the GM, with the now-standard glow and uniform.
"Shelby, is that a St. Louis outfit? Not Springfield or Memphis? You must be the Ghost of Cardinal Future."
Miller checked his scouting report and nodded. "That's what it says. Honestly, I was at home just hanging out when I got this call, so I'm going to have to go by my cheat sheet."
Mozeliak nodded. "I understand, but you better have just been at home. Remember our talk."
"I was, I was! Now, grab my arm. Not the right one!"
The view quickly resolved into the current Cardinal stadium. It was a scorching hot day, but the stands were filled to almost capacity.
"Next August," said Miller.
Mozeliak looked around. There were the regulars--Yadier Molina
catching, Berkman now at first, David Freese
playing third. Then he glanced at the outfield.
"Who's that out there in center?" he inquired.
Miller checked the report. "Oh, yeah, that's this year's Berkman. You signed Carlos Beltran
and he's been the talk of baseball."
Relief flooded Mozeliak. He had been talking with Beltran's camp--which meant dealing with Dan Lozano again--and seeing that move pay off, even in a possible future, was validating.
Then he heard the umpire exclaim, "Strike three!" As the team left the field, he glanced at the starting pitcher. There was no doubting that lanky build and the bearded face.
Sure enough, it was Adam Wainwright
, looking like the surgery had never happened.
"Wainwright struggled early in the year, but now he's in a groove. You'll take 14-6, 3.51 this time next year, won't you, Mo?" Miller grinned as he saw Mozeliak's eyes light up with that news.
Mozeliak looked around the park, then glanced at the current standings. The Cards were comfortably on their way to another postseason berth.
"Tell me, do we get 12 in '12?" he queried.
"Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future....who wrote this report
?" Miller wondered. "Playoffs are a crap shoot. But look down in the pen."
Mozeliak followed his pointing finger. There, flicking sunflower seeds in uniform, sat the actual Shelby Miller.
As the GM marveled, the spirit version read from the report.
"You called him up right after the trade deadline. He's thrown a few innings out of the pen but will get a couple of starts before the season ends."
Suddenly, Mozeliak got his own vision.
"He joins Chris Carpenter
, Waino and Jaime Garcia
to start 2013 and they are joined by Carlos Martinez later that season. A team built on pitching with an above-average offense. This could work!"
"So if the future is so bright, why should you be so dark?"
Miller's words reverberated as Mozeliak returned to his office. Sitting at his desk, he pondered everything he'd seen and heard.
Glancing down, he realized that it was time for him to take the advice he'd given Terry and pack it in for the day. Just one last thing to do. Looking at his desk calendar, he flipped it to the blank canvas that indicated the next week.
"It's time to turn the page."