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Miscast Cardinals All Wrong for the Part

Sunday I watched a team that wasn’t expected to get as far as it did, one that overcame all kinds of skepticism to take the baseball world by storm. It was thrilling seeing them step up and prove their doubters wrong. What a great story!

Yes, I finally got around to seeing Moneyball. How about those slightly idealized 2002 Oakland A’s?

Then I came home and watched the St. Louis Cardinals win the 2011 National League pennant [1]. Not exactly Paul DePodesta’s Peter Brand’s “island of misfit toys,” but who saw them being measured for celebratory t-shirts and caps, either? Who saw their NLCS Hollywood ending when their script was stalled in development as recently as late August?

Who saw them here at all?

It’s hard to think of the St. Louis Cardinals cast as an underdog considering they always seem to be playing ball at this time of year. It’s also hard to think of them as sympathetic given their identity as the historically annoying St. Louis Cardinals, no matter how objectively likable the contours of their current storyline. If MLB wanted me to get behind these Cardinals, they’d do what the filmmakers did when DePodesta requested [2] his name not be used in Moneyball. They would create a composite character the way the movie did with Jonah Hill’s DePodesta stand-in, Peter Brand:

• a team from the heartland that never gives up;

• a roster dotted with players you either never heard of before September or stopped thinking about years ago;

• a logo that doesn’t inspire visceral dismay;

• a color scheme that doesn’t trigger flashbacks that have me practically reaching through my TV screen to strangle every one of their red-clad followers.

Let’s call this creatively licensed National League champion the Missouri Maulers. They play in the fictional town of Musial. Their fans all dress in green (what the hell, the A’s aren’t using it at the moment). Their manager is a kindly former actuary. Their catcher never hit a big home run in his life and isn’t at all irritatingly flamboyant. The people who attend their games like a cult never intentionally spilled beer on Lenny Dykstra.

They can still have Albert Pujols as Albert Pujols. You do need some starpower above the title.

These Maulers I could root for. These Maulers charged back from double-digits behind in late August and overcame a smug, useless collection of Braves to barely make the playoffs on the last day of the season. Then these Maulers shocked a far smugger collection of Phillies — a supposedly unbeatable champion-in-waiting whose stellar starting pitching proved helpless against Mauler magic — in the tensest of 1-0 elimination games. Finally, these Maulers made their way to Milwaukee and stuffed a sock in the mouths of a band of Brewers who couldn’t shut up long enough to actually field a grounder, collect an out or record a clutch hit.

In the next scene, the lovable Mauler joyride continues to Texas, where…well, I don’t know how it turns out, but I’m pretty sure I’d want to see them in another victorious dogpile wearing another edition of celebratory t-shirts and caps. I’d want the Missouri Maulers to keep up whatever they’d been doing. I’d want them to keep surprising me and sort of delighting me with their corps of no-names and their stubbornly indefatigable bullpen and all the cute talismans — Rally Squirrel! Happy Flight! David Freese! — they pick up along the way. If they were to beat Texas [3], I’d stand and applaud. If they were to lose to Texas, I’d tip my cap in their direction to acknowledge how well they persevered just for the opportunity to land at this spot when Nobody Believed In Them…But Themselves, and to thank them for making the postseason so much more interesting by how they fought.

But they’re not the Missouri Maulers. They’re the St. Louis Cardinals of Tony La Russa and Yadier Molina and The Best Fans In Baseball.

Go Rangers.