I was originally going to title this, Rethinking Lance Berkman, to be consistent with a few of my earlier postings. Then it struck me that we haven’t really had time to think about it, so rethinking it seemed terribly premature. Instead, I’d rather look back into history to see if I can find any parallels to set my mind at ease.
Some time ago the Cardinals made a similar December deal that left many players and fans scratching their heads. As we cue up the The Twilight Zone theme song, let’s take a closer look at this deal and how it played out.
(1) The Cardinals were just a few years removed from a Championship season, but had largely disappointed fans since then. There was far too much talent on this team not be playing in post-season.
(2) Their manager was a fan favorite, a former infielder and would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame (ok, perhaps that’s giving it away, but keep playing and pretend to be surprised at the end).
(3) A new General Manager had taken over from one of the best in the game.
(4) The departing GM would soon surface at a rival and start building his new dynasty.
(5) The new GM would start making all sorts of changes, including sending away a fan favorite third baseman. The Cardinals had subsequently struggled to find an adequate placement for the former star, and were still looking when this deal was made.
(6) The catcher was considered a leader on the club, but there wasn’t an obvious backup in case he went down to an injury or needed some time off. There was help coming in the farm system with a (7) most promising youngster that looked like he could swing the bat like a lumberjack, but he was still a few years away.
Does any of this sound familiar ?
The rotation was anchored by a couple of right handed studs. The (8) veteran had already won 20 games and was considered one of the most competitive pitchers of his day. If you made a mistake, he would not hesitate to call you out, either on the field or in the dugout – and he generally scared the goobers out of everybody. The (9) younger pitcher, who had spent some time in the bullpen, was similar in body stature, but didn’t have the outward intensity as his mentor. He would soon flirt with a 20 win season of his own.
(10) Another right hander in the rotation had been suffering from recurring arm troubles and each off-season brought the hope that he would return to his earlier winning form, but as of yet, that hadn’t happened.
(11) The surprise in the rotation was a young lefty that had started turning heads around the league. This youngster was going to be very good some day.
(12) The bullpen featured a most unusual and reluctant closer. He was a pitch to contact type with a relatively low strikeout rate. He was a veteran, and a former starter for another team. He took over the role of closer when the heir-apparent failed to hold onto the job.
(13) The shortstop was considered one of the best defensive players in the league, and many teams coveted his glove. Unfortunately he couldn’t hit worth a lick – but man, could he flash some leather and did he ever have a cannon of an arm. We would never be invited to an All Star Game, but would soon win a Gold Glove.
(14) This trade caused a right handed hitting platoon outfielder to move to third base.
Have you guessed it yet ???? If not, just a few more clues.
(15) The player coming to the Cardinals in the trade had bad legs and couldn’t run terribly well. His bat was formidable, but because of the injuries was nowhere near the force he once was. As a younger player, he absolutely tore up the Cardinals in the post-season, but as a veteran near the end of his career, didn’t hit lefties particularly well. Great, another Cardinal that was going to have trouble with lefties – blah!
Prior to the deal, the Cardinals clubhouse was somewhat fractured. (16) One player oozed personality and frequently stirred things up in the clubhouse. He was flamboyant and somewhat of a clown, but he always seemed to be having fun. (17) The moody and aloof star of the team, considered one of the best players of his era, stayed away from all of those shenanigans – in fact, the clowning around probably irritated him. Young players were lacking role models to teach them how to play Cardinals baseball. (18) A group of young and exciting outfielders would soon be getting splinters as they rode the bench, and all of them would find success in the future with new teams.
OK, you must have this one figured out by now. I am talking about December of 1966 and the acquisition of Roger Maris from the Yankees. The parallels between the Maris and Berkman deals are just spooky.
Here’s what Roger Maris did when he came to St. Louis.
- He brought a ton of experience and professionalism, and younger players looked up to the newcomer
- Old timers on the team had to re-evaluate the man as he came in and played hard – he was the real deal
- His leadership in the clubhouse helped balance out the extremes of the other factions, and the team became a unit by the middle of the season following the trade.
- He hit effectively and smartly between the speed at the top of the order and the MVP slugger that followed him
- Even though he was thought to be a defensive liability, the Cardinals were able to produce more than enough offense to compensate for his defense
- A speedy young outfielder with a good arm (Bobby Tolan) was ready to go as a late inning substitute, but wasn’t needed nearly as much as the experts feared
And let’s not forget the most important thing ……..
The Cardinals won 2 NL Pennants
Apparently Bob Howsam knew what he was doing. The trade caused one player (Mike Shannon) to change positions and put a defensive question mark in right field, when there was already one in left, but other parts of the team compensated. A good pitching staff became a great one, and then the next season became legendary. The infield rose to the challenge and became a formidable first line of defense (pun intended). And finally, the offense just out-slugged the competition all summer long.
Maybe this is a good time to take a step back and acknowledge that there are a number of ways to win in baseball. Whitey Herzog did it with pitching, speed and defense. Johnny Keane did it by putting players in spots where they could succeed and removed their fear of failure (sort of an anti-La Russa). Red Schoendienst did a little bit of both. With Lance Berkman on the roster in 2011, the team will look a lot different than anything we’ve seen recently. Yes, good pitching can neutralize good hitting most of the time – but that doesn’t mean that this team can’t put up enough offense to beat anybody, especially in a weak division like the NL Central.
It will be interesting to look back at this next May or June and see how this is working out for the Cardinals. Of course, this could go totally in the Vada Pinson direction, but until proven otherwise, I shall take the optimistic view.
If you want to try to guess some of the players and events in the earlier hints, feel free to do so in the comments. A couple of the clues have more than one right answer.