Saturday, August 21, 2010

Don't bother to turn in your Cy Young ballot...

So, can we assume Lincecum just locked up another NL Cy Young?

I mean, it's not anything like last year, is it?

Funny, I was just about to tamp down the dirt on the Cardinals grave today.

(Thanks to TUCK! for another great baseball cartoon. Go see all his toons at

Thursday, August 12, 2010

That Terry Pendleton Moment

Some of you may have noticed that I've not written about the Cardinals-Reds series that concluded yesterday. I wanted to wait until the whole thing was over and take it all in. It's too easy to look at just one game and read more significance into it than is warranted, and that's true of this series as well. After a dispiriting extra-inning loss in Florida and the Cardinals dismal road record of late, I wasn't optimistic about our chances. Before the series started, I was hoping for that Terry Pendleton moment.

Back in 1987, the Cardinals spent much of the season in front of the old NL East (there were only two divisions then), but the hated NY Mets (Pond Scum) were close on our heels, and we were going in different directions. The Cardinals were struggling and inconsistent, while the Mets (Pond Scum) were ripping off winning streaks and closing the gap day by day. The Cardinals traveled to Shea Stadium (garbage landfill) for a pivotal three-game series.

Essentially, if the Mets (Pond Scum) won the series, they most likely would have taken the division. The Cardinals were down or tied late in the game (I don't remember if it was the first or second game of the series) when third baseman Terry Pendleton came to the plate and hit a home run right into that stupid top hat out in center field. The Cardinals won the game, pulled away from the Mets (Pond Scum) and eventually won the NL pennant in 1987.

Not only did this series provide us with a Terry Pendleton moment, it gave us no less than three: 1) Skip Shumaker's grand slam in game one; 2) Yadier Molina's line in the sand to boneheaded loudmouth Brandon Phillips in game two; 3) Colby Rasmus's grand slam in game three. Three unlikely and pivotal actions that could, when we look back on the season, mark the turning point when the Cardinals separated themselves from the Reds.

It's easy to put the blame on Phillips for instigating this uprising, but one thing is certain: the Cardinals have been inconsistent to the point of baffling, especially in key games and big moments. We knew that the Cardinals had the talent to rise to the occasion, but they had already failed in moments like these previously this season. So what was the difference?

Here's what I think: Tony LaRussa hates Dusty Baker, and Dusty hates Tony. I don't think Phillips said what he said out of turn. I even think Baker approved of him calling the Cardinals "little bitches." Tony's an animal lover, so this was a shot directly at the Cards manager, as well as questioning the manhood of the Cardinals players. Have we seen three games in a row where almost every player (except Brendan Ryan, who's a putz) was so intense and focused? Does anyone else fear meeting Chris Carpenter in a dark alley (other than Brendan Ryan, who's a putz)? Is anyone else reminded of a mafia don when LaRussa gives off that dark scowl he does so well? Why on earth would the Reds have gone down this particular dark alley?

Here's why: When you haven't done anything before, you talk. When you're champions, you don't talk, you play. The Reds did all the talking, but the Cardinals hit, pitched, fielded and fought harder. This whole series revealed the character of each team. The sprint to the finish will reveal whether this series truly was this year's Terry Pendleton moment.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Tiger Woods needs to go away

For now, Tiger Woods' golf career, as it once was, is over. Scores that would inspire me to gold-plate at frame my card (under 80!) are the same that put Tiger at 78th place after the third round at the Bridgestone tournament. Despite what you might have thought about today's headline, I still like Tiger. As a husband, he acted like a complete turd, and it's going to cost him hundreds of millions of dollars. But the stress of having his personal life turned inside out for the whole world to see (also deserved) has destroyed his golf game, so I'm offering my friendly advice: Go away.

Politely tell the PGA that you're taking the rest of this year (including the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup) as well as next year off. You're not playing any more golf at a professional level until 2011.

Tell Nike (your only sponsor left) that you're not doing any more commercials this year or next year. Tell them to give the money from your endorsed products to your kids. Just do it: go away.

Tell Elin she can have whatever she wants—money, houses, etc., then sign the papers and give her a private cell phone number that only she and the kids can use, then pack a small suitcase and head to the airport.

Finish growing that beard and shave your head bald and put on some sunglasses and take a plane to somewhere in Africa or Asia where they don't have televisions, internet or golf courses and figure out who Eldrick Woods, Jr. is before you try to come back and be Tiger again.

Go away and go to spend some time with monks in ancient Buddhist temples. Go serve with relief workers in Africa and help deliver food and water to desperate villages. Walk along the Great Wall of China. Go fishing in Thailand. Go walk around Ayers Rock in Australia. Get away from the tabloids, the sports reporters, the gossip, the girlfriends, and most especially, get the hell away from the golf course. Go away and don't come back until you have to come back.

Don't come back for the expectations, or the money, or the all-time records, or even because you think you owe it to the fans or the game. Don't come back until you just have to come back because the desire to be the best golfer the world has ever seen burns inside you like an unquenchable flame.

If that never happens, then don't come back, because we just can't stand seeing you like this.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

My Favorite Baseball Movies

The Cardinals have a day off, there's no new Brett Favre news, and it's still too hot to get seriously excited about football just yet. So here's the first in a series of posts about sports movies: My starting lineup of my nine favorite baseball movies.

9. "The Final Season"—Most people have never heard about this movie, but it's about a championship Iowa high school baseball team who plays their last season before their school in consolidated into a larger district. It's cheesy and predictable, but it also starts Sean Astin, a.k.a. Rudy Ruettiger, so you know it's going to be inspirational. It is!

8. "The Rookie"—There's just something really believable about Dennis Quaid playing this role. Bonus points for the fact that it's a true story, which makes it even cooler. And yeah, the little kid is Jake from "Two-and-a-Half Men."

7. "The Bad News Bears"—What a classic cast: Walter Matthau as the drunken grouch, Tatum O'Neal as the awesome girl pitcher, Jackie Earle Haley as Kelly Leak, and of course, the immortal Tanner Boyle, played by Chris Barnes, the most memorably foul-mouthed kid you've ever known. All the sequels and the remake were just pale imitations of this classic.

6. "A League of Their Own"—This one is best watched on DVD so you can skip the beginning and get right to the scenes with Tom Hanks and Geena Davis. They have a genuine chemistry as the washed-up drunken coach and the star catcher that most real baseball teams wish they had. Plus, if you don't get a little choked up at the end, you have a grinchy heart.

5. "The Sandlot"—My favorite scene is the one where the rich kids challenge the Sandlot team to a game on their fancy field, and the Sandlot kids just beat their brains in. That just warms my socialist heart all the way down to the red part.

4. "The Natural"—I don't care about the rest of the movie; I just want to watch the last scene when Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) comes to bat with the game on the line, breaks his "Wonderboy" bat, then hits one into the lights. The music and the drama of that final scene always brings tears to my eyes.

3. "Major League"—The most quotable of all baseball movies..."JUUUUST a bit outside." "Hats for bats." "You may run like Mays, but you hit like s***." "Nice catch Mays. Don't ever freakin' do it again." "Too high! Too high!" "Swing, and Heywood hits one toward South America; Tomlinson's gonna need a visa to catch this one." "Heywood's a convicted felon, isn't he, Monty?" "Up your butt, Jobu!" Bob Uecker should have been nominated for an Oscar for this one.

2. "Bull Durham." I'm gonna let Crash Davis speak for me on this one: "Well, I believe in the soul, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days."

1. "Field of Dreams" I've actually been to the real-life field in Iowa, thanks to my good friend Wags. It's an amazing experience to see it for real. As far as the movie goes, I completely agree with ESPN's Bill Simmons: "There are two kinds of people: those who love 'Field of Dreams,' and those who have no heart."

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Vikings After Favre

So, is Brett Favre really retiring? Even if he says he is, he's gone so far beyond "the boy who cried wolf" that no one will seriously believe him until he watches an entire season from his sofa in Mississippi. I've already considered that there's no way he has the kind of season he had last year, so even if he does return, it's hard to believe he can take the Vikes back to the NFC Championship. But what if this news is real? What can the Vikings look forward to?

Scenario A: Tarvaris Jackson grows up
This, I think, is the most unlikely scenario. Vikings fans remember two years ago, when the Eagles were practically giving a playoff game away, and all T-Jack could do is throw the ball into the carpet like a toddler pitching lawn darts. But who knows? Maybe a year watching Favre and getting hungry for not only that kind of success on the field but the kind of "hooray, our savior has arrived" reception that Purple Nation gave Favre will enable him to take his game to a new level. He certainly has enough weapons at his disposal—but can he lead, and more important, can he make the big throws?

Scenario B: Vikings play smashmouth football
Last year, many experts thought Favre would be a play-it-safe game manager whose main job was to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Without Favre, that may be T-Jack's main role as QB. With middle linebacker E.J. Henderson coming back from injury, the defense gets tougher up the middle, freeing up Jared Allen to cause more havoc in the backfield. Combined with a running game consisting of AP, rookie Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart, and even T-Jack's speed, the Vikings could look a lot like the Baltimore Ravens. Hey, they won a Superbowl with Trent freaking Dilfer at QB.

Scenario C: Rookie QB Joe Webb gets thrown into the fire
I'm not saying Webb, who was drafted as a WR even though he set QB records at Alabama-Birmingham, will start the season. But if T-Jack starts the season 1-5 and Sage Rosenfels is still Sage Rosenfels, then why not see what the kid can do. Evidently he's shown the Vikings coaching staff enough in camp that they have him playing QB exclusively; he's not even working out as a WR anymore. Say what you want about Brad Childress, but he was Donovan McNabb's QB coach to start in Philadelphia, so I trust his least in that area. On the other hand, he voted to draft T-Jack, so...

Scenario D: Vikings trade for an established veteran
The main problem with this scenario is that most of the QB shifting is done, and anyone who might be available—such as Brady Quinn, for instance—aren't really better options than what the Vikings already have. Michael Vick might be a possibility, but Zygi Wilf is big on player character, so that's unlikely, and that's about everyone. Crazy dream suggestion: lure Kurt Warner out of retirement.

So what's the most likely scenario? Probably a remarkable improvement in Favre's ankle followed by him starting his 20th NFL season wearing purple...I hope.

Farve to Retire (and he really, really, really means it this time!)

Breaking news from multiple sources: Brett Favre has informed the Vikings that he will not return this season. My comments tonight after this news is confirmed by Favre and the Vikings. Reports indicate some type of press conference and/or statement this afternoon.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Real Reason Ryan Ludwick was Traded

Most of the "experts" who get paid to do what I'm doing for fun have widely panned the Ryan Ludwick for Jake Westbrook trade. Some of the reasons include: 1) Cardinals need hitting more than pitching; 2) Ludwick has more value to the team than Westbrook's pitching skills; 3) Mozeliak overpaid for Westbrook; 4) the trade could mess up team chemistry. Let me address these individually before I give the true answer, the real reason why Mozeliak made this trade.

Myth: Cardinals need hitting more than pitching.
Fact: Pitching wins championships.
Does anyone really believe that the Cardinals can stay ahead or pull away from the Reds if they only win 60% of their remaining games at most? Because what we faced before the trade was Blake Hawksworth and Jeff Suppan pitching every 4th and 5th game. That puts added pressure on the big three in the rotation, Carpenter, Wainwright and Garcia, to win every game. With Westbrook in the rotation and a healthy Kyle Lohse returning soon, the chances of extending winning streaks past 5-6 games increases greatly. In addition, now you put Suppan and Hawksworth into the bullpen, which reduces the load on Boggs, Motte and McClellan. In other words, LaRussa and Duncan have about a dozen more options for their pitching staff each game. Most of all, they can reduce the pressure on the Big Three and get them fine-tuned for the playoffs—if we make it there.

Myth: Ludwick was a integral part of the team.
Fact: Ludwick's age and injury made him tradeable.
No one denies that Ryan Ludwick is a quality ballplayer and a great asset to the ballclub. Unfortunately for him, he got hurt this year and spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list. During that time, the Cardinals went on an eight-game winning streak and retook first place from the Reds. The Cardinals needed a No. 4 starter a lot more than they needed to plug Ludwick back into an already crowded outfield rotation. And at age 32, there's no guarantee that Ludwick could put up All-Star numbers again. Much of the angst over the trade has to do with how much fans and media really liked Luddy. Hey, I did too, but I'd much rather be watching Cardinal baseball deep into October.

Myth: The Cardinals overpaid for Westbrook.
Fact: This trade was our only real option for starting pitching.
Whiners complained that Houston and Arizona just "gave away" Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren for marginable prospects. Reality check: Oswalt and Haren are both carrying big contracts that would have put more strain on the Cardinals payroll even this year, so they didn't make the same kind of financial sense that the Westbrook deal did. Plus, Houston had no intention of trading Oswalt within the division, and especially not to the Cardinals, unless we gave them Shelby Miller. Not. Gonna. Happen. On the down side, since we did wait until the trading deadline, we pretty much had to make the deal we could. Every other team knew we wanted a pitcher, so Mozeliak was smart to resist the urge to trade away a top prospect.

Myth: This deal could wreck team chemistry.
Fact: Cardinals management is building through the farm system.
The reason Walt Jocketty is in Cincinnati is because Cardinals ownership decided to side with Jeff Luhnow and build through the farm system instead of trading pieces for veterans each season. With the emergence of Jon Jay, Allen Craig, David Freese and Tyler Greene, it is clear that the youth movement is a permanent fixture for the time being. With all these young players contributing, it made Ludwick expendable.

Albert Pujols.

Simply put, the Cardinals have to figure out how to pay Albert between $27-$30 million a year. He makes $15 million now. Ludwick would have cost $7-$8 million next year. Do the math. It also explains why we took Westbrook, who's only costing us a few million for the rest of the year, instead of Oswalt, Haren, or another more expensive pitcher. It also justifies going with the kids from Memphis in three or four lineup spots instead of more expensive veterans. Owner Bill DeWitt is not going to expand the payroll to cover Pujols' pay raise, and Pujols won't settle for anything other than becoming the highest-paid player in baseball. Ludwick's salary makes the math a lot easier. As fond as we were of Ludwick, does anyone in Cardinal nation really want to see Albert in Bronx pinstripes in 2012? That really would be the end of the world.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

It's Good to be Back!

Hello again, Sandlot fans. It's been a long time. The day job devoured all of my time since last year's football season, but the job situation changed this summer, and I am rededicating myself to posting about the sports we all care about on a more regular basis. If this is your first time visiting, welcome! For readers both old and new, you can expect honest opinions from a fan's point of view about what's going on in Missouri and midwest professional and college sports. Just to give you a sample and to wade back into the waters, I'm offering short takes on a variety of topics to give you an idea of what to expect in the future.

Why is the offense underachieving and inconsistent? What effect will the Ludwick-for-Westbrook trade have on team chemistry and performance? Can the Cardinals pull away from the Reds, or will the race go down to the wire? We'll talk about these issues and more, including the future of Albert Pujols.

The $78 million question is simply, "Is Sam Bradford worth that much money?" The quick answer is, "Not until he proves that he's worth it." This team is not going back to the Superbowl any time soon, but in terms of fan priorities, I'll list a few: 1) More competitive in games, even when they lose; 2) Bradford shows potential, makes some great throws, gives fans hope; 3) Defense gets tougher, harder, more physical, more punishing, even when they lose; 4) Coaching staff makes smarter game plans and game day decisions. Even if they only win five or six games, if these things can happen, they'll at least be worth watching.

Last year was a "pass" year, with the loss of significant talent and Blake Gabbert's first year as the starting QB. No more excuses this year, but even bigger challenges ahead with back-to-back games against Oklahoma at home and then on the road against Nebraska. Until we beat the big boys, we're nothing more than a second-tier program, and that's just not good enough for a program of this size. Key issue: defense, which gave up way too many points last year.

Yes, of course Brett Favre is coming back, but the odds of him having the kind of season he had last year are unlikely. The window of opportunity is far slimmer this year than last, and with a labor lockout stoppage likely for next season, this may be the last chance for Purple Reign this decade. Key goal: win home field advantage for entire NFC playoffs.

I'll be tackling these topics and many more in the days and weeks ahead. If you're a Facebook friend, I'll update new posts there, or you can subscribe to free RSS feeds and notices. However you get here, I hope you have a good time!