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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Inevitable Cardinals

You knew the Cardinals would beat the Pirates, didn’t you? The Cardinals are the new inevitables of the National League. They may not win the World Series. They may not win the pennant. But they always stick around because they never really go away. They trump most of the good stories that orbit in their atmosphere. If you don’t see them winning everything or most things in a given year, just wait another year and they will. They’re not going anywhere.

This is admirable on its face. If it was some other franchise pulling it off, it would be downright inspirational. Surely it is aspirational. But it’s the Cardinals. It transcends the brand of simple “they win all the time” aggravation we used to associate with the Yankees or Phillies or Braves. By now it’s more than what they did to us in 2006 or what we couldn’t do to them a couple of times in the 1980s.

The Cardinals can be impeded, yet they cannot be brought to a full stop. Old Man River has nothing on the team whose city he keeps on rollin’ by. They don’t retain the services of probably the greatest hitter of this century. They say goodbye to a manager and pitching coach who were deemed essential to their success. They turn over their roster so completely from their first world championship of the current era to the present that the only core left from it consists of two of the three players we most closely associate with our bitter, bitter loss to them. And the biggest name they’ve added in the past couple of years? That would be the third player we most closely (if not always fairly) associate with that bitter, bitter loss.

The Cardinals aren’t flawless but they are the kings of resilience. Did you know that in 2012 the Cardinals gave up a 3-1 lead in the seven-game National League Championship Series and in fact lost that series to the Giants? Think of the teams for whom that would constitute a crisis of epic proportions. “They were one game from the World Series but were so shaken by how they blew their chance that they never recovered.” The Cardinals? Do they appear shaken? Stirred? Did they suffer at all?

Not really. The Cardinals lost Albert Pujols to free agency. Anybody heard from Pujols lately? The Cardinals get hit by injuries same as everybody else, but no, not the same as everybody else (Matt Harvey should forget about Tommy John and request the Adam Wainwright surgery). They just plug in somebody else they have handy, they finish first and they finish off the Pirates.

Pittsburgh reawakened as a baseball town in 2013. Andrew McCutcheon emerged as a full-fledged MVP candidate. The twenty-season losing streak was shattered and PNC Park at last earned its moments in the postseason spotlight. But when they had to fly back to St. Louis to determine how much more life their October contained, you knew there wouldn’t be much. Wainwright could’ve had a bad game…but you knew he wouldn’t. Molina could’ve called for the wrong pitch at the wrong time…but that wouldn’t be “Yadi” now, would it? There was one close moment when the Bucs briefly rallied on a Cardinal miscue, but that wasn’t going to stick. And whatever the Cardinals gave away in the top of that inning, they took back in multiples in its bottom.

It was inevitable.

Wainwright. Molina. Beltran instead of Pujols. Matheny instead of LaRussa. Michael Wacha instead of Chris Carpenter. Matt Carpenter in addition to Matt Adams. Trevor Rosenthal and a cast of closers. It’s not that they’re a classic juggernaut — their 97 wins this year are the most they’ve accumulated since 2005 and they won their recent world championships on the strength of 83 and 90 wins, respectively. It’s not that they’re a budgetary behemoth — their total payroll ranks only eleventh in the major leagues. They’re just…they’re just the Cardinals. And they fail to cease being the Cardinals.

They’re not “the Yankees of the National League,” a phrase I’ve heard now and then that I think misses a couple of points. First off, the Yankees, at their height, weren’t the Yankees of the American League. They were the Yankees, period. They paid and played in their own league. That they were associated with one or the other halves of MLB is a technicality in their business plan. These are the haughty bastards who sell memberships to something called Yankees Universe, for crissake.

Second, the Cardinals are the Cardinals of the National League. They are the signature outfit of the Senior Circuit, not quite dominant or overbearing enough to eclipse everybody in sight but the one team that almost always clicks on every cylinder. They win with pitching. They win with offense. They win with “fundies”. They win with dramatics. They win with strategically signed veterans. They win with an assembly line of youngsters. They draw loads of customers and engender incredible if showy loyalty. They are a model for 14 other teams to copy yet singular enough that whatever it is they’re doing isn’t easily duplicated. (They also seem to be the archrival of everybody in their division, at least according to their N.L. Central neighbors.)

The Cardinals fill a role in the National League that for a long time was taken care of by their next opponent, the Dodgers (talk about a matchup that only the blond villain from The Karate Kid could love). Even when they weren’t necessarily winning divisions or pennants, the O’Malley Dodgers pretty much ran the National League in the ’60s and ’70s. The Dodger Way was spoken of with the kind of reverence currently assigned the Cardinal Way. It was appropriate. L.A. always competed, usually contended and a couple of times conquered. The Dodger Way deteriorated over time as its ownership situation spiraled into chaos (ahem) and the bloom came off the blue, though they were rarely godawful on the field.

Godawful practically never enters the Cardinal vocabulary. They haven’t endured consecutive losing seasons since 1994 and 1995. Before that, it was 1958 and 1959. Three losing in a row? Try Woodrow Wilson’s second term, which was more than nine decades ago. And once the playoffs expanded to include four and then five teams from each league? Forget about the Redbirds flying away. They’re on their eleventh postseason berth in the past eighteen years, their eighth NLCS in fourteen Octobers.

They outlasted us in 2006. They brushed aside the Brewers in 2011 right after dispatching the Phillie rotation for the ages. They rendered Natitutde irrelevant in 2012. They made the potentially feelgreat story of the Pirates sink before it could fully gather steam. They and their “best fans in baseball” will be praised to the nausea-inducing hilt in the days ahead. Through gritted fingers, I am impelled by honesty to type that on some level the whole Cardinal enterprise deserves the thumbs that are about to be raised high in their direction.

The Dodgers took on a ton of contractual obligations and promoted Yasiel Puig from the minors yet were no sure thing to make it this far. The Cardinals just kept being the Cardinals. Their presence here was inevitable.

27 comments to The Inevitable Cardinals

  • otb

    However, in 2000, the Cardinals lost the National League Championship Series to … let me see now, who beat them?

    Also, I must say, I have a sneaky admiration for the Cardinals. I always root for them when they’re in the World Series (well OK, maybe not against the Red Sox in 2004, but that was a special case). Perhaps it’s the great history of the franchise, starting with Stan the Man.

    Still, as a vestige of my Brooklyn youth in the 50s, I’ll be rooting for the Dodgers in the LCS.

  • March'62

    I hate the Cardinals!!!! Hate Whitey, hate Ozzie, hate LaRussa, hate that Keith still gets all misty when talking about them, hate Molina, hate 12-6 curveballs, hated sharing our spring training home with them all those years, and playing them ad nauseum, hate that they just keep on winning whether with fast teams, or with pitching, or with home grown players, or well, you get the point. But I hate the Dodgers more. Hey L.A.!!! Stop stealing every other city’s teams and let’s go Cards!!!!

  • vin

    Maybe the Mets could learn a thing or two from the Cardinals or the Yankees, two organizations that have been ridiculed in recent columns!
    I agree the Yanks are very Haughty and that also irks many fans such as my self…but The Cards and Yanks are needed by MLB because if they had to rely on the Mets for national expousure and attraction, MLB would be completely marginalized by the national media as opposed to the poor media treatment they are now afforded!

  • FL Met Fan a Rich

    Makes it an easy choice to root for Cards over Dodgers!

    I hate everything LA!

    No matter what you think about the Cards you have to respect the organization.

    No matter what they always seem to be winning and sniffing the playoffs!

    Go Cards!

    • Lenny65

      All true, yet I’ve detested the Cards ever since 1985, those blood feuds run deep. And the Dodgers…ugh. Any way the NLCS can end in a tie where both teams go home?

  • 9th string catcher

    Since the playoffs started, I thought it would be a Red Sox-Dodgers showdown, which would be interesting as the two of them made such a franchise altering trade last year which both seem to have benefited from. Very bored with the Cardinals – would like to see the Dodgers fully rehabbed from their previous ownership. I’ve called it – Red Sox-Dodgers.

    You can now buy your Cards-Tigers tix.

  • Lenny65

    And now the Cards have put me in an impossible situation: rooting for the despised Dodgers. Thanks, Cardinals.

    • metsfaninparadise

      Never felt so bad about the Dodgers-if they beat the dynastic A’s in ’88 I guess it was just their destiny. besides, they’re family (sort of). Better them than the Redbirds.

      • Lenny65

        Ugh, if only Bobby O hadn’t trimmed those hedges (and Cone hadn’t gotten them so peed off) we might remember ’88 a lot more fondly.

  • metsfaninparadise

    Larry and the Barves may have deserved those thumbs as well but I was still able to hate ’em, just as I’m still able to hate the Cardinals of Yadi and “Waino” (ugh). Which they still are despite all the turnover, sorry. Just like the sock that’s patched over and over until no original sock remains, just patches.

    I was really looking forward to a rematch of the ’03 WS-1903!

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    All I know is that an organization that has always been so well respected as the Cardinals signed one who has been a two time starting outfielder and big time hitter that another organization said had bad knees and was at the end of his career.

    In turn, that same player was facing an opponent in the NLDS that had been that other organization’s top power hitter this year.

    And last season’s world champions that defeated St. Louis acquired an all-star center fielder whom they re-signed to a four year deal from that other organization for two players who were total disasters and eventually re-signed with their former club.

    It’s hard to imagine any organization in two years giving up an outfield consisting of those three players and only being able to replace them with a second round of “what outfield?” consisting of two remaining players who can indeed field, throw and run around the bases but who also hit.249 and.242 with a total six home runs between them.

    • dennis

      Beltran was traded for Wheeler….who could be a stud pitcher for the Mets for the next ten years. I’ll make that trade anytime.

      • Joe D.

        Hi Dennis,

        No, I would not make such a trade when a team is in the middle of a wildcard race. To do what Sandy Alderson did – getting rid of both Beltran and KRod – undermined the integrity of professional sports and went against every ethic of what athletic competition is all about.

        It doesn’t matter what the odds makers said about the Mets chances or how the players matched up to the opponents on paper. One does not undermine a team in that position based on logic or anything else and in the case of Wheeler, those types of ends never justify the means.

        That is why this organization has lost the respect of so many fans. It is something more important than winning or losing. It’s character, it’s abiding by a set code of standards, that it’s not a front office to decide half way through the season that despite it’s position in the standings, it’s players are not good enough to win and thus throw in the towel. It’s up to the players to prove that one way or the other.

        That is why with Sandy Alderson we will never hear a player respond to him by shouting “Ya Gotta Believe!”. There is no “Faith” in Flushing.

      • Andee

        Don’t mind Joe, Dennis. He’s been sticking pins in a Zack Wheeler voodoo doll since the day Wheeler was acquired, because Joe somehow thinks that keeping the same 2011 team together and giving them a Ya Gotta Believe speech would have made them play .661 ball from July 27 (The Day That Baseball Died, according to Joe) onward, which is what would have been necessary to beat out STL for the WC. Try sticking the pins in his head, Joe, maybe then he’ll get the inoperable astrocytoma you’re hoping for.

        • dennis

          Thanks Andee. Joe, you make Sandy out to be some evil vilian. Do you really think he is the first GM to trade away a player they had no intention of keeping? And please….that 2011 team was going nowhere. They were just on the fringe of the WC race. And did you really want them to keep Krod?

  • Joe D.

    Hi Andee,

    Well, whom should decide when the Mets are really not a contending team despite their position in the standings? Me? You? It follows that since you may say they will not win, it would make the function of not playing out the season somewhat academic.

    But of more importance, I just thought that integrity and professionalism stood for something. Undermining a team reaching heights nobody expected them to have reached at that point in the season – no matter what one thinks it’s chances would have been at the end – goes against the ethics of everything that athletic competition is supposed to represent.

    That was best explained by the great Grantland Rice when he wrote:

    “For when the One Great Scorer comes
    To mark against your name,
    He writes – not that you won or lost – But how you played the Game.”

    If the meaning of that is lost or sounds corny, then it was never really appreciated to begin with and will never be able to be explained.

    • I’m a fan of Grantland Rice and would make the Wheeler for Beltran trade 10,000 times out of 10,000. So, I think, would every GM, scout, oddsmaker and baseball person in the world.

      • Joe D.

        Hi Jason,

        I would make that trade in a minute, but not under those conditions. Perhaps I am naive with my interpretation of integrity.

        But one point to consider. For many fans, even if 2011 was not seen as the first in continuing moves focused on keeping the Wilpons as owners and not the team, everything that has been done since has been indeed seen by most in that light. There is no denying the Mets popularity has nose dived to the point that it hurts just thinking about it. Attendance hasn’t been this bad in two decades. Television ratings are at their lowest in years.

        Most Met fans are astute. If what Sandy was doing was seen in the words of Grantland Rice – a plan that would take a few years to succeed but one focused on the team at heart – would the fan base be looking at the front office with such mistrust? Would they still be without a flagship station.

        • I am an astute fan, and I don’t look at this front office with mistrust. I think their plan is sound, and two months of Beltran for years of Wheeler is Exhibit A why I trust them. I’d trust them a helluva lot less if they’d made some Knute Rockne speech to a mediocre ballclub, stood pat, watched that ballclub lose and then watch Carlos Beltran walk and Zack Wheeler become a promising young hurler for the Giants.

          Do I trust ownership? No I don’t. Not one iota. But that’s a different question.

          Has ownership been straight with this front office about the resources available to it? That’s an unknown. I would argue no. But I don’t know for sure. And the only people who do know aren’t talking, though I hope someday they will.

          As for the loss of a flagship station, honestly who gives a shit?

  • Joe D.

    Hi Dennis,

    I think it would have been difficult but I would not have taken it upon myself to decide to call it a season, not with the way they were playing.

    The trading of Beltran and KRod had nothing to do with the team on the field. Three times in a ten month period the Wilpons had to borrow what became a total $102 million to avoid defaulting on their monthly operating expenses which would have resulted in bankruptcy and losing the team. One way to raise cash is to cut financial obligations, even if it meant saving just $2 million of Beltran’s salary. They also fired 15 long-term administrative and ticket office employees whose total salaries were much less than that.

    Sandy was not looking for a prospect – he was trying to dump salaries, despite the position the Mets were in at that time and at the clip they were playing at.
    After all this, if what I said about integrity doesn’t make sense, if the words of Grantland Rice seems more naive than representative of a principle then again, neither will ever be able to be explained.

    • Come on, Joe. Unless you were in Jeff’s office, you have zero idea whether that’s true or not.

      If Sandy wasn’t looking for a prospect, he sure as hell got lucky with Wheeler, didn’t he?

      • Joe D.

        Hi Jason,

        I wasn’t in Jeff’s office but I know what Sandy said. He said if he could not get a prospect for Beltran, then “monetary considerations” would have been the next step.

        I also did not need to see the books to know that during the season Fred Wilpon also had to cough up $37 million of his own money – on top of the two loans ($75 million total) – in order not to go into default.

        If the total of perhaps $25 million in salary and bonus obligations (KRod’s vested interest and remaining salary minus Milwaukee’s share) was just a coincidence, I will then cede the point.

        As far as Sandy, he is a lawyer and business executive, a former CFO and team President. He runs an organization and one cannot separate him from his bosses. He lost my trust that December when he lied to you and your fellow bloggers about the Mets fiscal situation being on solid foundation when it wasn’t.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    One final thought and apologies for it being so lengthy this one last time.

    You and Greg know how much the Mets mean to me. Know many share those feelings on how much the Mets have been a fabric of my life. Thus it is not at all easy to just accuse this organization of lacking the type integrity Grantland Rice was speaking about. Judgement can be poor but that does not mean to it applies to one’s character.

    I’m looking outside the realm of baseball to that of business. As said, three times the team faced bankruptcy. Since 2010 it has lost more than a combined $100 million (not including 2013). It was bad before Sandy came on board – the Wilpons could not get any more credit from private financial institutions and Selig bent many rules to help them retain ownership (including that $25 million loan without any interest or adherence to a deadline to repay).

    The debt problems are real resulting in a massive in-house downsizing, operating on a much smaller operating budget outside baseball than ever before which included not signing a number two draft pick (Stankwitz) because he wanted $40,000 to meet slot money. They just needed another re-financed loan to pay off some immediate debt. I mentioned no flagship radio station to emphasize being dropped by a station whose powerful and clear signal can be heard up and down the mid-Atlantic states – so CBS could keep the Yankees.

    Sandy is a business person and had to tackle these problems before. He downsized in Oakland and did the same in San Diego. This was his call – getting the Wilpons out of a financial mess because of his background and executive corporate experience.

    That is why the team was dismantled in 2011 and for no other reason. It was a matter of cutting back expenses as much as one could without killing the product that generated the revenue altogether (which sending Jose off would have done).

    Some said we were just fooling ourselves into thinking we had a team again. I guess that includes the one who wrote something about us having a team again in the last sentence of what was written around that time:

    That’s what I meant by the lack of integrity. No other organization except the White Sox in 1997 ever undermined their players and their fans in such a manner. And why? It was a matter of business survival, not a concerted effort on what was best for the team.

  • […] do very well without my support. The Cardinals started the National League Championship Series as inevitable and they ended it, inevitably, as National League champions. I’m sure capturing another flag was […]

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