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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Most Momentous Moments of the Aughts: The Cardinals

Posted By on Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 12:42 PM

So on this last day of the decade, I had myself a thought. "Aaron," I thought, "You should really try to do some sort of decade-long wrap for St. Louis sports." 
"You know what, Aaron? That's an excellent idea!" I paused for a moment, considering the notion further. "Now why didn't I think of that?"

"Because you're not nearly as smart as I am," I chided myself. "Shit, you couldn't spot a good idea for a blog post if it bit you directly on the ass." 

"Hey! Fuck off, man!" I shouted, finally having enough of my own attitude. "I've had it up to here with your constant shitting on me! Maybe I'm not as smart as you are, but that gives you no right to fucking talk to me like this all the time. Why don't you just get the hell out of here if you hate me so god damned much?!" 

This went on for quite some time, and then I sat down to write this. 

So how to go about wrapping together a full decade's worth of history? Do you write a long, meandering article which attempts to hit all the salient points as it winds through the years? Do you make a list by year or by importance or whatever other criteria? Finally, I decided on a minimalist sort of approach. Not my usual tack, I know, but let's give it a shot, shall we? 

I'm going to give you the three biggest moments in the decade for each of the major sporting teams we have here in town: the Cardinals, Blues, and the Rams. That's right, just three. If I pick 'em right, those three should tell you everything you need to know. Today, we'll start with the Cardinals. 

#3 -- 27th October, 2006: The Cardinals win the World Series 

What it was: The Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers, four games to one, capturing their tenth championship in franchise history. 

Why it was: Well, for one thing, it's the World Series, right? The culmination of everything a baseball team works for from the second week of February until their season comes to an end. How can that not be important? 

Just as much as the championship itself, though, the 2006 Cardinals represented the end of an era. The MV3 Walt Jocketty has so successfully installed as the engine of an NL Dynasty enjoyed its last hurrah during the series: Albert Pujols did his usual Pujolsian thing, Scott Rolen really should have won the WS MVP award after struggling with his shoulder throughout the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, and Jim Edmonds was the unsung hero of the postseason, hitting well, handing out game balls, and bringing together a deeply flawed team for the push up the hill. Never again would the Big Three of Cardinal baseball in the Aughts contribute the same way. 

#2 -- 23rd March, 2000: Jimmy Baseball comes to town

What it was: The Cardinals were a team on the rise in 2000, with a revamped pitching staff and several intriguing young players. Still, they were seen as a long shot to compete for the division title in 2000, being short on both sides, but especially offensively. 

Then, at the end of spring training, Walt Jocketty traded Adam Kennedy, the team's top prospect, and Kent Bottenfield, who had won 18 games the year before, for Jim Edmonds, an incredibly talented outfielder from the Anaheim Angels. Edmonds brought with him Gold Glove defense, a bat that had just begun to really shine, and a reputation for being somewhat difficult in the clubhouse. 

Why it was: Albert Pujols is easily the player of the decade for the Cardinals; hell, he was player of the decade for all of baseball. But the turnaround for the Cards from the late 90s doldrums into the dynamic, winning 2000s didn't begin with Albert. It began with Edmonds. 

Jim Edmonds transformed the Cardinals on his arrival. He immediately upgraded the middle of the lineup, a left-handed bat capable of 30+ home runs with a career OPS of .856 up to that point. (And that was before his best seasons.) In the field, he played magnificent defense, chasing down fly balls virtually no other player in the game was capable of getting to. 

Soon after arriving in St. Louis, Edmonds signed a long-term contract extension, and the first great cornerstone of the Cardinals' success the rest of the decade was firmly in place. The Jim Edmonds deal stands head and shoulders better than any other trade Walt Jocketty pulled off in his tenure with the Redbirds. 

And now, for the biggest moment of the decade. But first, a quick diversion. I thought of putting Albert Pujols' debut here, but the really important date there is actually when he was drafted, I think, and that was in the 90s. I thought to try and include Daryl Kile on this list somewhere, but was forced to concede eventually it was more out of sentimentality than anything. Sure, Kile's death was a huge blow to the team, but I think it was more important on the personal side than it was on the franchise side. Thus, I had to leave it off. I also considered the Mark Mulder Trade, seeing as how it sent perennial Cy Young darkhorse Dan Haren into the Oakland wastelands while bringing the Cardinals continual heartache, but the Mark Mulder deal was, in the larger sense, a reaction to something. And there's my segue. 

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