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Scandal Lowers Cardinals' Flag

I think we just won the pennant last year.

What else is there to glean from the story [1] that the Cardinals have been caught Redhanded having indulged in a variety of banned substances prior to last year’s National League Championship Series? I would be happy if it weren’t so sad.

This is one of those in-retrospect moments where everything that didn’t make sense then completely adds up now. That was an 83-win team, one that sagged in September and nearly blew a formidable divisional lead in the process. And suddenly they can beat the Padres (maybe) and then the Mets (yeah right)? No, that doesn’t happen without some help. Maybe we (or their fans) thought it was Divine intervention or just a lousy week on the Mets’ part. Turns out sometimes there’s a reason stunning upsets are so stunning.

Where to begin? The LaRussa-McGwire [2] connection? Neither of them wants to talk about the past [3], but they do go back a long way together. There’s now more than the good old days in Oakland to bond (or Bonds) them.

And what about our pal Braden Looper [4]? He looms as having been the worst abuser of them all — and I’ll resist the temptation to crack where was the HGH when Joe Randa [5] came to bat two years ago? Those of us who thought there weren’t enough substances in the world to get him through a tough inning, well, we were wrong. Looper the lifetime reliever suddenly a starting pitcher [6] this year?

Payback, obviously, for keeping his mouth shut. (Aaron Heilman may wish he’d thought of that.) Of course the junk doesn’t just put a few miles on your fastball. It loosens your lips. Who else thought it strange when Looper led the mocking [7] “Jose! Jose!” bit in the jubilant Cardinal clubhouse? He wasn’t a good closer here but at least he kept his mouth shut (like when he should have fessed up to his 2005 injury [8], but never mind that right now).

Looper, though, is just the tip of the dirty iceberg as the rumblings that leaked out of Roger Dean Stadium reveal. An unproven bullpen became an asset for St. Louis in the NLCS. It wasn’t just talent and Dave Duncan after all. Look at those names (because you may never be able to look at them again on a Major League ballfield once disciplinary action is taken): Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney. Looper had a lot of baby Birds under his wing.

Uh, you may be wondering, as long as relief pitchers’ names are being named, what about…yup. If Adam Wainwright’s curve broke unnaturally on oh-and-two to Beltran [9], there was a reason. Wainwright himself wasn’t exactly made from the best stuff on earth.

Nor, it shouldn’t surprise you, was his .216-batting catcher, the last man to touch the ball in Game Seven, the last man to drive a run in. Yadier Fucking Molina never could have earned his middle name [10] without Braden’s Little Helper. Him and Taguchi — another unlikely power hitter — were reportedly among the biggest non-pitcher users on the club. Aaron Miles and Chris Duncan less so, but they were apparently involved.

It was mostly the scrubs and the rookies who broke the rules. Pujols was clean on this pass. Edmonds, as annoying as he is, was, too. Rolen wasn’t implicated. I’m a little unclear on Spiezio (so much for stereotyping the rock ‘n’ roller). Eckstein is still composed of only piss and vinegar. Also, Carpenter and Weaver were tested and came up negative. Not so Suppan [11]. Like Gary Matthews, Jr. [12], his big free agent contract may ultimately be null and void.

But there’s more to this scandal than any given player’s career. The whole integrity of the game [13], which I have to admit I always thought was a little melodramatic as an issue, is in jeopardy. Bud Selig doesn’t want any part of nationally telecast 2006 world championship flag-raising. That’s not going to happen. Keith [14] (ironic [15], eh Whitey?) and his ex-mates won’t be part of any ceremony after all. The coming suspensions have to go through an appeals process, but this is not a fight Donald Fehr and Gene Orza [16] want right now. You’ve got the specter of George Mitchell holding press conferences [17], all those senators who are running for president ready to grandstand [18] at the first hint of opportunity to brandish their moral credentials, the Post-Dispatch [19] at loose ends and — this is almost unthinkable — Anheuser-Busch [20] withdrawing its support of Cardinal baseball. Imagine the Busch Stadium [21] sign down by tonight. (Cry hypocrisy all you want, beer is legal [22].)

I assume there’s still a game scheduled for 8:05. ESPN [23] paid big bucks, the show must go on. Don’t know how the St. Louis fans will respond. Will they throw their giveaway replica rings and banners back on the field this week? Will management hand them out? (Come to think of it, will the real rings even fit those Cardinal fingers that have swollen and deflated so drastically since October?)
Will the fans even show up? They love to wear red, but HGH represents scarlet letters. I know I like to poke fun [24] at them, yet in all sincerity these are pretty decent [25] people by nature. How will they feel about their first World Series win in 24 years if it’s been permanently tainted? How many Men Out [26] this time?

Meanwhile, are the Tigers awarded the 2006 title by default? They sure as hell didn’t earn it [27] (their hands were slippery from plain old sweat and nerves, which is perfectly within the letter of the law), but they were the only other team in the World Series last year. And, in the interest of being completely self-serving, is the National League pennant vacant now or is it ours? Can we now say with objective certainty that we truly deserved to win that LCS? Look how close we came against an illegally stacked deck of Cards. Factor out Guillermo Mota [28] if you want. That’s one Met who was taking something he wasn’t supposed to. Maybe half the Cardinals meet that description.

You don’t have to be Buster Olney [29] to recognize that Selig’s whole tenure will be defined by how he handles this. Baseball has for too long turned its back on steroids and human growth hormones and everything else that has disrupted the game. Letting the St. Louis Cardinals masquerade as defending world champions, even National League champions, transforms this whole sordid tale, breaking on this [30] Opening Day of all days, into some kind of unfathomable farce [31].