Sunday, October 23, 2011
I was born and lived the first 10 1/2 years of my life in an area that loves baseball. But the area loves two teams. When you are born in Decatur, Illinois, you have two choices; you can love the Cardinals or the Cubs. I am not really sure how people choose the team they love. If it was really a rational choice, I don't know why anyone would choose the Cubs. They haven't won a World Series in forever. Generally, they are irrelevant. Why would anyone choose the Cubs when they can be a Cardinal fan. As of today, the Cardinals have won the National League a record 18 times, have won the World Series 10 times (the most for any NL team), and are working on their 11th World Series win.
There are many towns like Decatur, where the population is divided between Cardinal and Cub fans. Buzz Bissinger, in "Three Nights in August", described the Cardinal/Cub rivalry and explained that, for many years, the Cardinals and Cubs were the two teams farthest west and they had strong radio signals. So, most people in the midwest became fans of these teams. When he listed a town as having a typical Cardinal/Cub division, he listed Decatur, Illinois.
While I don't know how people choose between the Cardinals and Cubs, I know that I am a Cardinal fan, not by choice, but by birthright, or genetics, or some similar reason. My father was (and still is) a Cardinal fan. My grandparents were Cardinal fans. So, I became a Cardinal fan. Being a good parent, I have made sure that my children are Cardinal fans, even though they live in a Philadelphia suburb. I am even teaching my foster children to root for the Cardinals.
Some of my earliest memories are going to the grandparent's house on Sunday afternoons and watching the Cardinals on t.v. Long before cable t.v. and long before every game was broadcast, Sundays were usually the only days that we could watch the Cardinals. My grandmother was a big Cardinal fan and always had the game on.
Since t.v. was rare, I have many memories of listening to the Cardinals on the radio. Jack Buck is a legendary broadcaster and I listened to him for many years. As a teenager, I lived near Philadelphia, where it was hard to follow the Cardinals (again, before cable t.v. and the internet). I remember lying in bed with a radio tuned to KMOX out of St. Louis. The signal was weak and faded in and out, but at night, if I listened closely, I could still hear Jack Buck and Mike Shannon describing the game.
The first MLB game I ever attended was a Cardinal game in St. Louis. I was nine or ten years old. We took a friend of mine and made a Sunday trip to St. Louis. I remember entering the city on an Interstate and being amazed at the number and size of large highway ramps and bridges entering the city. This was the first time I had ever been to a large city. I was in awe. Going into the stadium was amazing. It was so large. How could anyone hit a ball that far? The crowd was huge. I had never seen so many people before. It was jacket day and I loved the red plastic jacket that I was given. The Cardinals were playing the Pirates. Ted Simmons hit a home run to right-center field and the Cardinals won.
1982 was a fun year because I lived near Philadelphia and the Cardinals and Phillies were battling for the NL East title. In September, my Dad got tickets for us to go to a game. The Phillie Fanatic was making fun of the Cardinals and Lonnie Smith, in particular. Lonnie Smith, the Cardinal left fielder, used to play for the Phillies, was fast, stole a lot of bases, but had a habit of tripping over his own feet. During warm-ups, the Phanatic was running around in front of him and kept falling down. At one point, the Phanatic was running across the field and Lonnie Smith ran up behind him, dove at him, and tackled him at his ankles. The crowd booed loudly. The Phanatic actually sprained his ankle during the mishap. Steve Carlton pitched for the Phillies and they won the game. I believe this put them 1/2 a game ahead of the Cardinals for first place. If my memory is correct, Carlton became the all time leader in career strikeouts during the game. I think the Cardinals won the next two games and took first place. The Cardinals won the East that year. They played the Braves in the NLCS and won. Then, they played the Brewers and won the World Series in 7 games. I bought a World Series coffee cup that has the scores of each playoff game. I still use the cup today.
I enjoy the great history and tradition of the Cardinals. I don't remember the '60s, but in the time that I remember, the Cardinals have been in the World Series 6 times. I loved the Whitey Herzog Cardinals. It always felt like they were the underdogs because they had no power. Instead, they won games by playing to the strength of their ballpark; it was large and had fast astroturf, so the Cardinals had fast players who hit the ball in the gaps for doubles and triples and they stole a lot of bases. It was very exciting baseball. In the 1982 World Series, they had two players score on one sacrifice fly; that is a lot of speed. They won the World Series in 1982, but lost in 1985 and 1987. Then they hit a dry spell until they hired Tony LaRussa. In 16 years as manager, they have made the playoffs 9 times. They had great teams in 2004 and 2005, winning 205 regular season games, but lost the 2004 World Series and losing in the 2005 NLCS. The 2006 regular season was very disappointing. After two 100 win seasons, the 2006 Cardinals only won 83 games, but still won the division. Without high expectations, the team won the World Series for the 1oth time. Now, they are ahead 2-1 in the 2011 World Series.
I have great memories of their great players like Lou Brock, Keith Hernandez, Bob Forsch, Ted Simmons, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee. I have grown up hearing about other great players like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and others. It is a great tradition to have. Now, new players are making memories for my children and me. Carpenter leading the pitching staff during the LaRussa years. Big Mac hitting many home runs (we did not know they were tainted then). Adam Wainwright, as a rookie, closing out the 2006 World Series. And, Albert Pujols hitting the ball like crazy.
I enjoy these memories and hope to have many more. In a few days, I hope to update this post by saying the Cardinals have won their 11th World Series. Now, I need to go so that I can watch game 4. When the game is over, I hope I hear the words, "That's a winner" in my head.
Posted by Bryan at 4:10 PM