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Thrice Upon A Cardinal Christmas Carol

Posted on December 18, 2012 at 1:15 PM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Mozeliak!"

John Mozeliak, general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, looked up from his desk at the well-wisher that had just poked her head into his office.

"Merry Christmas to you as well, Lindsey.  Everything going well down in PR?"

Lindsey smiled.  "Well, since I just turned off the lights and everyone's headed home early, I guess you could say that.  Are you about to leave as well?"

Mozeliak looked around.  "I have some paperwork to do, but it'll keep.  However, I've got a feeling I'll be having some visitors soon, so I'll stick around.  Have a wonderful Christmas Eve and we'll see you back here later in the week."

Lindsey returned the sentiment and headed on her way.  Mozeliak kept pushing papers around and checking his watch.  The last two Christmas Eves had been so memorable.  Were they done with him?

"Not in the least, big boy.  You know we are going to stick to you like a pig caught under a barnyard gate."

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"Mike!  Good to see you!"

The glowing visage of a young Mike Shannon sat across the desk from him.  Two years ago, Mike had shown him Stan Musial's tremendous doubleheader and the wizardry of Ozzie Smith before setting the scene last year for other visits.

"Happy to see you as well, man.  Weren't sure we were going to make it this year since you seem to have a handle on things, but we thought there was one situation you might like a little perspective on."

Mozeliak grimaced.  "I've got a feeling I know what you are going to say.  Mike, you have to know....."

Shannon put up his hand.  "Whoa, now.  We're not coming to tell you what to do or what you should do.  Just providing the information, as it were.  I'm sure you'll make the right call."

Mozeliak looked down at his desk, searching for the right piece of paper.  "Still, I want to show you our analysis....."

He looked up and Shannon was gone.  Blasted ghosts, thought Mozeliak.  You never hear them enter or leave.

"No, you don't."

Startled, Mozeliak turned and saw Bob Gibson sitting on the windowsill.  This was a younger Gibby than Mo was used to dealing with, dressed in his 1967 uniform and giving him the characteristic Gibson glare.  Something told Mo this wasn't going to be all fun and games.

"Good evening, Bob.  How are you?"

"I'd be better if you'd shut your yapping and get over here.  I've got a game to play in Iowa tonight and I won't be late.  If it'd been anyone but Shannon, I'd have put a fastball in their ear.  All right, you know the drill I see.  Hang on!"

Quickly, the two were transported back to a familiar circular arena.

"Busch II, is it?" said Mozeliak.  "Who are we coming to see?"

Gibson sighed.  "You'll quickly discover, John, the theme that runs through these visits.  Of course, there's always a theme.  They don't send me out to give you a birthday present of a trip through time.  And if that Moonman asks me to do that, he's getting a fastball in the ribs.  Anyway, keep your eyes on the middle of the field and you'll see what we are getting at."

As Mozeliak watched, the home team took the field.  Striding along with them was the day's starting pitcher, who began taking his warmup tosses left-handed.

"Ah, Steve Carlton!  You don't see much of him in a Cardinal uniform these days.  Nice to get a chance to see him in action.  I met him once a few years ago at a baseball function.  A bit different, but he is a left-hander, so that goes with the territory."

Gibson nodded.  "We're in 1971, his last season with the club.  A twenty-win season for Lefty, a sign of things to come.  And yet....."

Mozeliak understood.  "And yet because of a contract dispute, he was traded to Philadelphia.  His Cardinal legacy now is almost nonexistent--if you say Steve Carlton, people think of the Phillies mainly.  How would history have changed if Gussie Busch had been more patient, more free with the purse strings?"

A growl came from his host.  "I'm not the Ghost of Cardinal Possible Past, I'm the Ghost of Cardinal Past.  Hypotheticals don't interest me that much.  Now, come on, one more stop before I'm done and I've still got to have time to get to Iowa for my warmup tosses."

The scene shifted quickly to an entirely new location.  It was a cold evening, but the stands were packed with fans swirling rally towels and screaming deliriously.  The blue and orange motif was obviously not standard Cardinal issue, but Mozeliak had little problem realizing where they were.

"We're here?  This moment?  Can't say I'm going to complain about that."

"Look, we're here for context, to give you perspective and all that malarkey," said Gibson.  "Don't get too absorbed in the moment, but do remember it."

Remember it?  How could John Mozeliak forget it?  It was as dramatic a moment as the Cardinals have had in their history, which is saying a lot given what this organization has done in the past.  Bases full of Mets, two outs, the Cardinals up by two and needing just one more out--one more strike, even--to go to the World Series.

With a rookie closer on the mound.

Mozeliak took a moment to really look at Adam Wainwright.  He'd gotten to know the pitcher well over the years, especially through the Tommy John surgery of 2011, but those recent connections tended to blur out those original memories.  He had known Waino then, but not as well.

Wainwright didn't show any visible signs of anxiety, even though he had to be feeling them.  He was in a make-or-break situation (one of his own design, even) and the stakes could only barely be higher.  However, he had the confidence in his stuff and in his catcher and made the one pitch that could stifle the rally.

There was no sound in the stadium after that curveball hit Yadier Molina's glove.  None save the celebrating Cardinals, at least.  Mets fans around Mozeliak sat stunned or slowly got up to go, wondering what went wrong.

"A moment like that should be remembered forever," Mozeliak remarked out loud, though mainly to himself.

"Kinda the point, John.  Now, let's get going."

"Right, right, your game.  Hey, I thought you had to be dead to play in those games?"

Mozeliak withered as Gibson turned that legendary look on him full-force.  "You want to go there?  You think I don't know what I'm doing here?  The Gibson that played is dead, John.  Players die after a fashion when their career is over.  That's what I told them when I showed up, at least, and none of them questioned me.  I suggest you don't either."

"Wouldn't dream of it."

Faster than Gibson could send a ball to the plate, Mozeliak was back behind his desk, spinning a bit in his chair.  He had a much better idea of the stories that the old timers had passed along about Gibson now and he had a much higher level of respect for them for dealing with it.

However, he couldn't spend too much time dwelling on it because his second visitor was already waiting for him when he returned.

"I'm guessing by the glow that you are the Ghost of Christmas Present Chris Carpenter and not the actual hurler?" Mozeliak asked.

"Mo, you are a smart man.  I have a couple of games for us to see, so if you don't mind, we'll get to it."

"Of course."

Mozeliak touched the proffered glove and instantaneously was in the current Busch Stadium on a warm night in May.  A good crowd was on hand and, at the moment, were on their feet clapping and cheering on the pitcher of record.

"Which game is this?  Let's see, we're playing the Padres and, given what these evening seems to be about.....yep, there he is."

As with the last game he saw, again Mozeliak spied Adam Wainwright on the pitcher's mound.  This was an older Wainwright, of course, one that had matured into one of the best starting pitchers in the National League.  Now, with runners on first and second, he looked in, got his sign, and fired his last delivery.  Jesus Guzman hit the ball to Rafael Furcal, who flipped it to Tyler Greene and the ballgame was over.  No runs allowed for Waino--his first shutout of the year.

"I wasn't sure what we'd have in him after the surgery," said Mozeliak as the players exchanged hugs with the tall righthander.  "I knew the success rates, I was confident he'd work hard, but all of that is meaningless until he comes out on the field.  He rebounded so quickly, even with his struggles.  It was an amazing story."

Carpenter nodded.  "I was there--well, kinda.  There's little dispute about how important that man is to the organization."

Mozeliak flushed.  "I'm not saying he's not.  I'm just saying I've been down this road, I know that vital cogs don't always return.  And we can move on from that."

"You can, but will you? That...I can't answer, but I'm Cardinal Present man.  Anyway, one more game before I head back to New Hampshire."

Again the scene shifted and again, the Cardinals were not at home.  Judging by the sky and the sunlight, it was a fall afternoon and baseball was being played.  The Washington skyline was seen past the outfield walls as the Nationals and Redbirds did battle.

It was Game 1 of the most recent National League Divisional Series.  And, once again, Adam Wainwright stood in the center of the diamond.

"This one was a work of art," said Mozeliak, watching Wainwright carve up one Washington batter after another.  "It's too bad we didn't get the win."

"Wasn't his fault.  Couldn't ask for more out of a starting pitcher, especially with the injury history," stated Carpenter.

"Not saying it was.  But I notice you brought me here, not to Game 5.  It took a miracle rally to get a win in that game after Wainwright put us in a hole.  Does that not get to factor into any decisions and judgments we make relating to contract talks?"

Carpenter held up his hands.  "I'm not saying one way or another.  You are the one that has to factor everything in, to make sure you do your job.  It's obvious you know that after the whole Pujols thing, but you've got to remember all facets of things when making those decisions."

Mozeliak grimaced.  "I am.  I do thank you and your spirit brethren for letting me get involved with some of the positive memories, though.  They are much more fun to contemplate."

"The fun may be over now, though.  It's time for Cardinal Future to show up at your desk."

Sure enough, Mo was back in his chair, but another glowing specter stood before him.

"Trevor?  Trevor Rosenthal?  They've got you in this gig as well?"

The young pitcher blushed a bit.  "Well, Shelby said that after last year, he'd done the rookie hazing and it was my turn.  Really, though, how bad could it be?"

The general manager pondered that, then agreed.  "It's never been a huge problem on my end and there were a lot of new faces last year.  Shall we go?"

"Sounds great, Mo.  Hang on!"

It was a hot summer day in St. Louis.  The crowd was large, though, and there was a buzz about the ballpark that was a little strange for this time of year.  A large bit of anticipation was built up, even though the visitors had already batted.

"What are we seeing here, Trevor?"

"You are a smart man, Mo.  I don't think it'll take you long to figure it out."

It didn't.  As the Mets took the field, the crowd stood and cheered the pitcher making his way to the mound.

"Let me guess. This is Wainwright's first time back in Busch after he signs elsewhere?" Mozeliak queried.

"Right on the money, boss.  The Mets were able to finally free up some money and be players in the 2013 offseason.  Figuring that if Carlos Beltran could play for the Cards, the Met killer could become a Met savior, they threw a contract at him that he couldn't resist."

Mo continued to watch Wainwright as he acknowledged the crowd.  "That uniform looks wrong on him."

Rosenthal snapped his fingers and the vision changed.  "Maybe you think that he looks more natural in Dodger blue?"  Another snap.  "Or Yankee pinstripes?"  Snap.  "Or maybe that tomahawk on his chest looks right for the Georgia boy."

Irritated, Mozeliak grabbed Rosenthal's fingers to keep them from snapping.  "You know what I mean.  He doesn't look right in anything but the birds on the bat.  But this is a business!  Pujols didn't look right with a halo on his shirt, but that didn't stop him from heading west.  We have to make sacrifices at times!"

Rosenthal gently disengaged his hand from Mozeliak's tightening grip.  "I'm not saying you don't.  I'm not saying that you have to sign Wainwright or things will go down the tubes.  You survived the defection of Pujols and I know you learned something from that.  Realize also, though, that one of the reasons you didn't break the bank for Pujols was so that you could sign players like Wainwright.  You applied that lesson to Molina this spring.  Keep that in mind this winter as well.

"Beyond that, there are other repercussions.  With Wainwright leaving after '13, Carpenter decides it's time to hang them up.  With Jake Westbrook's contract up as well and his dugout dancing partner gone, he moves on to Kansas City.  Meaning that the 2013 rotation has Jaime Garcia as the veteran leadership.  Sure, you go out and get a back of the rotation vet, but they don't have the ties to the organization to make them extremely effective.  It's a talented, but young, rotation.  Is that what you want to see?  Just something to consider..."

Startled, Mozeliak found himself again at his desk.  There seemed to be no other activity in the offices, with everyone else heading home to celebrate Christmas Eve.  Mozeliak sat down to think, grateful for the silence.

He puzzled and puzzled until his puzzler was sore, then grabbed his cell phone and made a call.

"Waino, it's Mo.  Merry Christmas to you as well.  After the turn of the year, why don't you and your agent come in and we can have a serious discussion about your extension.  I don't know if we'll come to agreement, but I'd like to think so.  I'll email you a day and time and you can let me know if it works for your schedule.  No, I'm the one that should be saying that I appreciate you.  You've done a lot for this organization and I'm hoping you can do a lot more."

He didn't know what the new year would bring, but John Mozeliak knew that he'd do all he could to make it a good one.  And he couldn't wait to see what next Christmas Eve would bring.

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