Did we just witness Swingin' Dick Ankiel's last at-bat as a Cardinal?
The decade of the 2000s is over for the Cardinals, and it was ended by the man who, for better and for worse, was the ultimate story of the decade. The decade began with Rick Ankiel a fireballing young phenom melting down on the mound in the playoffs. It ended with Rick Ankiel a deeply flawed but still talented outfielder swinging through a belt-high fastball to send the Cards home to an early offseason. It was likely the final at-bat of Ankiel's Cardinal career, and the end of one of the strangest and most fascinating chapters in Redbird history.
From a slightly less widescreen view, though, it was fitting for Rick Ankiel to make the final out of the season for other reasons, too. For all Ankiel's talent, he was ultimately undone by a lack of fundamentals and discipline, an inability to make the adjustments all ballplayers, no matter how talented, must make if they are to take that next step.
What went wrong with the Cardinals in the playoffs wasn't something completely out of the blue. It wasn't a lack of talent, but a lack of execution. We all saw it coming from a mile away, as the team struggled to score runs throughout September. Poor at-bat followed poor at-bat, with plate discipline seemingly a dirty word in the Cardinal clubhouse. On days when they strung together a bunch of hits, they scored runs. Most days, though, they didn't. It got to the point where Tony La Russa, ordinarily one to bemoan a lack of aggressiveness in his lineup, began instead to worry about the lack of patience. Even so, the team proved incapable of making any adjustments. As a team the Cardinals amassed 1,061 at-bats in the month of September, and they struck out 219 times. There's nothing wrong with striking out in and of itself, of course; a strikeout is just an out, after all. But to whiff more than 20 percent of the time as a team — that's a bit worrisome. There's an awful lot of contact not being made in there.
Also a bit like Rick Ankiel, the Cardinals were largely done in by the failure of their magic beans. Ryan Franklin and Joel Piñeiro both had outstanding performances this season, and little in their past performances to indicate either could keep it up indefinitely. Franklin in particular scared the crap out of many of us (and by many of us I mean me); a pitcher who throws almost exclusively high-leverage innings has very little margin for error, and a pitcher who strikes out as few hitters as Franklin is living on the edge to begin with. At some point a few of those balls in play are going to drop in, and bad things are going to happen. It was much the same with Piñeiro. Yes, it was incredibly enjoyable to watch him impersonate Christy Mathewson for most of the summer, but there's a reason it's unheard of for a pitcher to do the job in just that particular way nowadays: It just doesn't work. Back in the days of balls that were used for weeks at a time and huge parks with irregular dimensions, allowing hitters to put absolutely everything into play wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Plus, maintaining a 70 percent-plus ground-ball rate is virtually impossible. At some point Jo-El was going to regress.
More than anything, though, the Cardinals just picked the absolute worst time of the year to go completely in the tank. For a month and a half, they looked completely unstoppable; a juggernaut to rival the 2004 team. Then everything came crashing down and reality flooded in. They weren't an offensive juggernaut that could score at will. They couldn't come back against the game's top closers every single night. No, ultimately, this Cardinal team was a group of talented ballplayers who, when the chips were down, just didn't execute.
So I say goodbye to the 2009 Cardinals, a wonderful bunch of ballplayers who came up short in the end. Fun to watch, an outstanding story and at times utterly brilliant — but ultimately lacking that last little bit to put them over the top.
As I believe I said at the beginning of this, it's fitting Rick Ankiel took the last at-bat, isn't it?
— Aaron Schafer
Gentlemen, start your engines. Twenty-six years and 150,000 traffic tickets later, Rock Hill's rainmaker is hanging up his radar gun. You heard right, folks, Officer Ronald Zeigler will soon write his final speeding citation. To be more precise, you have until his shift ends at 7 p.m. on October 20 to get his autograph, which he'll only be too happy to oblige.
With Zeigler riding into the sunset — or at least to his home in Marthasville (the site of Daniel Boone's original grave) — the city's coffers may never be as full again, and most assuredly, Manchester Road will never move as gingerly again.
"He's an institution," marvels city administrator George Liyeos.
"He's the man," exclaims Mayor Julie Morgan.
"He was the highest monthly performer we ever had," boasts Rock Hill Police Chief Paul Arnett, who runs the ten-man department.
Zeigler, a folksy, good-humored, dog-loving man from Coffeyville, Kansas, is the Cal Ripken of ticket writing. Never misses a day, has a strong work ethic, keeps himself and motorcycle in fine working order and, as a result, has chalked up some damn impressive statistics.
On a good day, Zeigler will write up to 60 tickets and barely break a sweat. He's got a lifetime average of nailing some 420 motorists a month.
City officials say it's just not possible to put a number on how much money Zeigler has generated.
Confides Mayor Morgan: "It's above seven figures."
Zeigler's ticket-writing prowess has, fairly or not, given the city of 5,000 residents a regional reputation as something of a speed trap.
The 67-year-old cop, who spent a dozen years as a patrolman in Brentwood before becoming a bane to Rock Hill motorists, admits that image will likely linger, but insists he'll only issue a ticket to anyone traveling in excess of ten miles over the speed limit. On Manchester Road, his primary haunt, that means going at least 40 miles per hour.
Asked in a recent interview at Rock Hill police headquarters whether he's ever been talked out of a ticket, Zeigler smiles wide and says, "Oh yeah, occasionally that happens. I figure I let about one in ten go with a warning.
"But it's kind of funny. I do remember stopping this SUV for speeding on the 92nd block of Manchester, and when I approached the vehicle these two black labs popped up off the floorboard and starting licking me. I didn't give a ticket that time."
Zeigler says he's seen people react in every possible way when they're pulled over. "Oh, I've experienced the gamut of human emotion. I got people who cry. I got people who get a little bit angry. I got people jovial and people a little sarcastic."
Most common excuses?
"'I thought the speed limit was 40.' I don't know how many people have told me that. It's also amazing how many tell me, 'You stopped me 'cause I'm driving a red car.'"
Of the many thousands of encounters Zeigler has had on Rock Hill's byways, few, he says, compare to the day he pulled over a woman in her late forties heading west on Manchester.
"So I write up the ticket and come back to her car and ask her to sign it," Zeigler recalls. "She tells me she's going to kill herself. Then she gets out of the car and starts beating her head against a concrete wall. There was blood everywhere, and I had to call an ambulance."
Another memorable stop occurred in the mid-1980s, not long after Zeigler joined Rock Hill's finest. "I gave this ticket to a guy who was speeding on McKnight. Well, it turns out it was Stan Musial. I guess I didn't know it at the time or put two and two together. But anyway, the department called me sometime later and said, 'Do you know you just gave a ticket to Stan Musial?'"
The incident must have made some impression on the Cardinal great, for in 1985, when Zeigler was selected State of Missouri Traffic Officer of the Year, it was Stan the Man who presented the award.
Zeigler says he looks forward to retirement, to painting the house, fixing up the garden, doing some long-neglected landscaping and being with his wife of 43 years, Earline.
"I'm going to miss the residents of Rock Hill," he says softly. "But I'm not going to miss stopping cars and giving people tickets. Not going to miss that at all."
—Ellis E. Conklin
Editor's note: As many RFT readers know, for years Randall Roberts was a fixture at this paper, first as a freelancer, later as music editor and then as a staff writer, before he packed up his quill pen and ink bottle and hied to the left coast, where he now music-edits our sister paper LA Weekly.
Well, you can take the boy out of St. Louis, but you can't take St. Louis out of the boy. So it was that Randy found himself at a screening of Up in the Air last week and just had to check in with us folks back home...]
It all makes a transplanted Angeleno a little homesick.
On October 6 at International Creative Management's screening room in Century City, director Jason Reitman introduced his new film, Up in the Air, to a small group of interested parties. Much of the film, which stars George Clooney, was shot in St. Louis, even scenes that purport to be Chicago and northern Wisconsin — even though the movie's story only lands in St. Louis for maybe ten minutes.
Highlights, without giving any plot points away?
A heated defense of Lambert Airport by Clooney, set with Minoru Yamasaki's iconic terminal in the background; a scene that takes place in Chicago that was almost certainly filmed in Lafayette Square — the wrought-iron fences are the giveaway. Two characters sneak into (I think) Lindbergh High School.
The Cheshire Inn is featured in a wedding scene that, in the story, takes place in northern Wisconsin. A lot of the scenes in Up in the Air occur in interior settings, so surely there are way more St. Louis locations than those.
As well, touching, incredibly moving snapshots of laid-off workers bookend the film. Many of them are St. Louisans, and their stories of being fired from their jobs offer a glimpse into the lives of Midwesterners dealing with the financial crisis.
(A few of them might want to move to LA and make the transition into acting.)
And then there's the closing song, "Up in the Air," which runs during the credits and was written by former Riverfront Times proofreader Kevin Renick (!). It's a soft acoustic song composed by the St. Louis-based writer and musician. As the credits rolled and I saw his name, I wondered: Is that the same persnickety guy who saved my ass at least once a week? Indeed, it is. Renick wrote it, Reitman told me after the screening, after getting laid off from a job.
Is the film any good, though? I thought it was great. Of course, maybe that's my heart talking.