There is, however, another reason. Pete Rose as a player and manager was gruff, a little sleazy and linked to disreputable characters from the gambling world. The St. Louis Cardinals, on the other hand, are the best organization in baseball. We know this because the media reminds us of this all the time and because their manager wrote a book called "The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager's Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life." I have not read the book but am looking forward to the chapter on how to successfully lose in the post-season to teams that you had been expected to beat.
If, however, recent, and not so recent World Series history tells us anything, it is that anything can happen this week. The Royals bullpen could blow three leads, Bumgarner could get roughed up in the first inning of game one. The Giants could continue to score runs on wild pitches and errors by the pitchers as they did against the Cardinals. A light hitting middle infielder like Joe Panik or Alcides Escobar could hit a big home run or two to win a game. The kvetching that these are not the best two teams in baseball, whatever that means, notwithstanding, this should be a fun World Series with lots of interesting stories and players, but the way each team got to this point is a reminder that predicting what will happen next is a mug's game.
Cabrera is a very good player, but he is also in danger of being defined by his most well known accomplishment. Cabrera's 2012 triple crown was the first by anybody in an astounding 45 years. The triple crown is perhaps the ultimate old school offensive accomplishment. It consists of leading the league in three categories, home runs, batting average and RBIs, the latter two of which are still taken seriously by some while seen as of secondary import to many more advanced quantitative analysts of the game. In 2012, Cabrera beat out Pujols' teammate Mike Trout for the MVP award despite Trout having a much better year by more contemporary measures. That MVP vote was as much a referendum on methodology for evaluating players as it was a vote about who was the best player, but it elevated Cabrera just as Pujols' decline was becoming most noticeable. That triple crown may also help distinguish Cabrera from Pujols who will probably never win one. In the eyes of many, he will be seen as the superior slugger of the era, but Pujols at his best was a better player, and hitter, than Cabrera ever was.
The Dodgers are a good team that narrowly missed the World Series last year and has a good chance to get at least that far again, but there are no guarantees and much that could go wrong for the team between now and October. They have become a contender through strong international signings, a farm system that has developed one of the very best players in the game, but most significantly an ability to take on contracts like those of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez that other teams do not want, and by signing free agents as needed. This is the model that the Yankees began to use after their 1996-2000 run, with mixed results. The Dodgers are employing that same strategy in a much more difficult context. They could get a few breaks and win it all as the Yankees did in 2009, but those eight years from 2001-2008, when the Yankees missed every year and kept spending more money on free agents could well be a more likely scenario for the Dodgers.
Berkman's Hall of Fame fate is a measure of how the Hall of Fame voters punish both steroid users, for their steroid use, as well as clean players for not being quite as good as their steroid using opponents. The result of this will be a Hall of Fame with the excellent sluggers from previous generations, but only the very best, more accurately only some of the very best, from the last twenty years or so.
The Cardinals are obviously a very good team, but some of the mistakes they make as an organization would draw much more attention if not for the best organization frame. One of the most memorable moments of the last World Series occurred in game four when Kolten Wong got picked off first base for the last out of the game with the tying run, in the person of Carlos Beltran, at the plate. It is not fair to blame that defeat on Wong as the Cardinals were in a very tough position, but if the top prospect for another organization had made such a mistake in a similar situation, it would likely have been viewed as a reflection on that organization. Similarly, failing to address the shortstop situation after 2012 was an organizational mistake.
Peralta's signing also indicates that the Cardinals believe that Peralta not only has served his time, so to speak, but that he is capable of performing at a high level even without the steroids. After all, Peralta will face a 100 game suspension if he tests positive again. If Peralta can perform as he has in his better years, this will be a good signing for the Cardinals, but if he cannot do that without PEDs, it will not. The Cardinals must know this and believe that Peralta does not need PEDs to post an OPS+ in the 110-120 range. The Cardinals almost certainly would not have singed Peralta if they thought his production was dependent on PEDs. If the Cardinals, a team reputed to be one of the smartest run franchises in the game thinks that a proven steroid user, who is generally speaking good but not great, can play well without steroids, perhaps steroids are not the magic slugging pills they have been portrayed to be for well over a decade
Clearly the team that wins the World Series plays the game the right way, but the meaning of this phrase in not always what it might seem. The right way to play baseball at the big league level is to score more runs than the other team. That is all. However, when an announcer or writer describes a team as playing the game the right way, this usually means the team fields well, doesn't hit too many home runs, probably bunts too much and does things like move the runners by hitting to the right side of the infield.
The San Francisco Giants, who have won two of the last three World Series, have been forgotten by most of the media, partially because they had such a poor season and partially because it was such a long time ago. In 2012, to refresh our memories, the US was fighting a war in Afghanistan, Barack Obama was president and Miguel Cabrera was viewed as baseball's best hitter. Many of the things that make the Cardinals a great organization were true of those 2010-2012 Giants as well. They developed a core of great young players like Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They invested wisely in players thought to be washed up such as Aubrey Huff, Ryan Vogelsong and Andres Torres and they had a strong and deep bullpen. The Giants also had a manager who was at his best in the post-season. It is worth remembering that one of the reasons the Giants won in 2012 is because Bruce Bochy ran circles around Cardinal manager Mike Matheny in the NLCS that year.
The basic problem with this cliche, like many cliches, is that it has no meaning. On one level, it states the obvious, that the Yankees would like to win the World Series every year. This, however, is true of most teams. Moreover, while the Yankees remain the most successful team in baseball history, winning the World Series every year, or even most years is simply not a realistic goal. The team has won one World Series in the last decade and even going back to its most successful recent period, has won only five of the last 17 championships. This is, of course, an extraordinary run of success, unless the platitude of winning every year is taken seriously. This cliche also suggests that other teams either only occasionally set out to win, or that when they do win, it is do to some kind of coincidence. However, in recent years teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and even the Boston Red Sox have managed more championships than the Yankees. Fans and management of those teams would probably not agree that those were the result of luck or anything of that nature.
The real reason these men, including my father, became Cardinals fans is simply because of Stan Musial. Musial, who died over the weekend at the age of 92, had not uncoiled his famous swing in a meaningful baseball game in just short of half a century. During that time a legend grew around Stan Musial. Of all the great World War II era stars, Musial was the decent one who rarely sought attention but lived his life honorably, was polite, pleasant and respectful and never had any contact with even the whiff of scandal. Musial's personal story reinforced this. He was a Polish-American who grew up in a coal mining town, was a natural athlete who worked hard to make it in baseball, spent his entire career with one team and was married to the same woman for more than 70 years. Gradually, other stories leaked out. Turns out that in 1947 Musial had without fanfare made it clear that he, as the leader of the reigning World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, had no problem with African American players and expected his teammates to act the same way. Baseball history might have been very different if Musial had given in to the racist pressure coming from some corners of that team. The legend of Stan Musial helps explain why of the thousands of men who have played professional baseball, only one was known as "The Man."
Therefore, a good test for whether a player should be elected to the Hall of Fame is whether or not he was clearly better than Jack Clark. The data suggests that people who were better hitters than Clark probably should be in the Hall of Fame. There have been 47 players who, like Clark, posted an OPS+ of 135 or better over 8,000 or more plate appearances. Of those 26, are in the Hall of Fame. Of the remaining 21 all but four other players, Will Clark, Bob Johnson, Sherry Magee and Reggie Smith are either on the ballot, still active or not yet eligible.
For longtime Giants fans, this means rethinking our identity as fans. We are no longer rooting for a forgotten team searching for a championship, a team that for a period of close to half a century were either mediocre or found a way to lose championships in dramatic, and occasionally strange, ways. Fans of other teams have experienced similar things. Any thoughtful Red Sox fan would have to rethink the narrative of being cursed and long suffering that was part of what being a fan of that team meant for more than eight decades, but after 2004 and 2007 can no longer be taken seriously. Similarly, a fan of the Orioles from 1966-1983 would have thought of that team as always contending, having stellar pitching and usually being in or around the playoffs while occasionally winning a championship, but over the last 30 years, the Orioles have evolved into being a very different, and less successful, franchise.
That rivalry may not be between the Red Sox and Yankees, but between two teams that are gearing up for another division race in the NL West, and who are also playing each other this weekend, the Giants and the Dodgers. Both the Yankee-Red Sox and the Dodger-Giant rivalries have had moments of intense competition, memorable games and pennant races, and genuine rancor between the two teams. However, the degree of competition and balance between the two rivals has been consistently stronger between the two NL rivals.
Jeter’s talent, ability to stay healthy and unique place in modern Yankee history have all contributed to his record of most games at shortstop for any one team, and the third most at any position for any team, but the Yankee management also should get some credit, not for giving in to the pressure from fans and media to keep playing Jeter at shortstop, but for recognizing that this may have been the best way to use this exceptional player, despite his shortcomings
If the expanded wild card system, which will be in place by 2013, had been in place this year, this second story, which may have been the defining baseball story of 2011 would not have occurred. The Red Sox and Braves, as the fifth strongest team in each league, would have won the last wild card spot. The exciting month of September in which four teams played meaningful games every day would have been replaced by five teams jockeying for post-season position. Rather than more than fifty games about which fans of four teams cared, there would be two very brief series at the end of the regular season.
Decisions about where a player signs have impacts the rest of that players career. For example, if Prince Fielder were to sign with the A’s, which is very unlikely, his career batting numbers would be far less impressive than if he signed with the Cubs. These decisions also have an impact on how that player’s career is understood even after that player is retired. While it is likely that debating how good retired players is more interesting to fans than to the players themselves, these questions effect things that players presumably care about such as their chance of getting elected to the Hall of Fame and how marketable they are in retirement.
The Cardinals victory in the World Series has sealed Tony LaRussa’s reputation as one of the most important managers in history and made his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame even stronger. LaRussa has now won more regular season games than any manager other than Connie Mack and John McGraw, and is likely to pass McGraw next year. He is second only to Mack in total games managed. LaRussa is now tied for sixth most pennants won, and is one of only five managers to win six or more pennants for teams other than the Yankees. This Cardinal team was an extremely unlikely World Champion, but it is not clear that winning the 2011 World Series was LaRussa’s most impressive post-season accomplishment. In 2006, he won a World Series with another Cardinal team that had only won 83 regular season games.
This year’s World Series will be the second in a row in which neither the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox nor Philadelphia Phillies will be playing. The 2011 payroll for each of these teams was over $160 million; and in the case of the Yankees, well in excess of that number. No other team spent even $140 million on payroll in 2011. The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals had the 11th and 13th highest payroll, with each spending between $90-$110 million assembling their pennant winning teams.
The Giants have won the World Series bringing the championship to San Francisco for the first time ever! When Buster Posey caught the third strike on Nelson Cruz, a journey which began with my mother dropping off me, my brother and our friend Charles, who back then was known as Tony, on the corner of Clay and Van Ness in San Francisco sometime in the mid 1970s, ended in a hotel room in Tbilisi, Georgia more than 30 years later. Those spring and summer mornings, my mother would give each of us seven dollars-three for a ticket in the upper reserved section of old Candlestick Park, the remainder was for bus fare and food. When the bus driver was in a good mood and only charged fifty cents for the ballpark express, there was plenty left over for hot dogs, soda, popcorn and ice cream, but if the driver charged two dollars or more, it made for a hungry day at the ‘Stick.