Friday, October 11, 2013

My favorite (ugh) Cardinals

Four years ago, I won this autographed Clayton Kershaw card by winning a bet with a certain Cardinals fan. That was the last time the Dodgers and Cardinals played each other in the postseason.

Tonight, they're playing again, and although I'm less confident about the outcome than I was in 2009, I've renewed the bet with that same Cardinals fan and braced myself for purchasing an autographed card of Peter Kozma, or Joe Kelly, or some other St. Louis scrappy who will make me throw up in approximately 10 days.

The Dodgers are trying to get to their first World Series in 25 years while the Cardinals are trying to win their first since -- oh, the tragedy -- 2011. And then there's the matter of 2006 and 2004, and unless you're one of The Best Fans In Baseball (throwing up again) or root for the Giants, Diamondbacks or Padres out of pity/self-loathing, you probably have no desire to see the Cardinals in the Series again.

I hear ya. In the last five years, the Cardinals have fallen in my rank of favorite major league teams from sixth to seventh to 12th to 14th to 15th, and I anticipate it sinking farther next year. From Whitey Herzog to Tony LaRussa, to the fan base (I won't link to that horrific but comical Twitter handle), to the tall, dark-haired aces that they seem to clone every four years, there is something smug, self-entitled and whiny about the organization and it's been there for quite awhile.

But I don't like that I just wrote that, and it's not just because I feel like the Cardinals and I have a kinship in that we regularly laugh at Cubs ineptness. I don't like it because mocking the team your team is about to play in the postseason is bad juju. In these situations, you're supposed to praise your rival, and then smite them when they get all cocky and self-satisfied.

So, instead of criticizing or throwing stats at you on why one team or another will win (we all know how boring that is), I decided to make nice and show my 10 favorite Cardinals.

That's right, I do have 10 Cardinals that I like. Not current players, mind you, but other guys. During the '70s, I liked the Cardinals (they sucked then). And I've always enjoyed the 1960s Cardinals, although if I was around at that time, rooting for the Dodgers, I probably would have spit on all their cards.

I've also had the opportunity to interview a few Cardinals and most of those experiences went OK-to-very well.

So here are my top 10 favorite Cardinals, and no, I'm not being sarcastic:

10. Ted Sizemore: Sizemore is an irrational favorite from my childhood. I mostly liked his 1975 Topps card, but I've shown that so much that I'm bored with it myself. Let's give some '74 Topps some love. Sizemore actually came up with the Dodgers and then played for them again in 1976, so there's an extra reason to like him, besides the fact that his name must have been loads of fun in the clubhouse.

9. Dmitri Young: Dmitri Young hates this card. He refuses to sign it. But I love it and it's a nice card to kick off what was a colorful career for him. It's easy to like Young because he's human. Da Meat Hook had an up-and-down career, struggled with depression and alcoholism, was diagnosed with diabetes, and he overcame all that. He's also a huge baseball card fan, from the time he was a little kid, and had one of the most awesome card collections ever until he sold it. He's a collector's ballplayer.

8. Keith Hernandez: Hernandez probably wouldn't be on this list if he wasn't a Mets broadcaster. I never disliked Hernandez as a Cardinal, but he didn't strike a chord with me. Today, I appreciate his dedication to the game and I love his cranky, colorful demeanor on the air. He's endlessly entertaining and likable in a rye sort of way, even if what he says is sometimes bizarre. It's still way more intelligent than the vast majority of broadcasters (Ernie Johnson, go away).

7. Willie McGee: If you could only see me and my brother's reaction when we first knew Willie McGee existed:

"THAT GUY is going to play baseball? THAT GUY? Look at him! He's a CARTOON! He's a less aware version of Mickey Rivers! This isn't serious, right?"

Then we saw him play. We saw that little E.T. doll rob home run balls and get on base like every at-bat. He couldn't possibly not be a favorite after that.

6. Reggie Smith: I. LOVE. THIS. CARD. I consider Reggie Smith a Dodger, but there was a time when I remember Smith with the Cardinals and wished with all my might that he could become a Dodger. And my wish came true! I was magic! Reggie Smith was a Dodger! I could do things with my mind!

But before he was a Dodger, he produced a tremendous 1976 Topps card and this masterpiece from '75. What a glorious card. Oh, and he punched out a Giants fan. Go Reggie go.

5. Al Hrabosky: Hrabosky's antics on the mound entertained us endlessly when we were kids. Who was this mad man? I know players didn't like it when he went behind the mound before every pitch, rubbed up the ball, psyched himself up, punched his glove and then returned to the mound. But I don't remember a giant backlash against it. Can you imagine if a pitcher did what Hrabosky did today? People would be flipping out everywhere. I'm pretty sure it would be considered a sign of the apocalypse.

4. Lou Brock: I had a fascination with base stealers when I was first getting to know the game. There was no bigger base stealer in the 1970s than Lou Brock. I read everything I could about Brock and loved the mind games he played with pitchers and catchers. Brock has been called overrated by some stat-minded people of today. But he was considered a pretty big asset in the '70s, when the game was a lot different than it is now.

3. Bake McBride: There have been times when I've considered becoming a Bake McBride super collector. But then I think how weird it would be to super-collect a Cardinal/Phillie/Indian. I really only like McBride from his Cardinals days. That was the time when he had a lot of promise and the biggest hair. He was really BAKE with the Cardinals, if you know what I mean. And although I'll probably never super-collect his cards, I must own his SSPC card.

2. Frank Smith: I know. Nobody remembers Frank Smith. And he was more of a Red than a Cardinal. But if you knew Frank Smith the way I did, then he'd be on your list, too.

By the way, I think the Cardinals have an obsession with guys named Smith. Frank Smith. Reggie Smith. Ozzie Smith. Lonnie Smith. Lee Smith. No Smith's on this year's postseason roster though, which is definitely an indicator of losing the series.

1. Bob Gibson: Gibson is one of my favorites regardless of team. And, yup, I like him because he was talented and because he did what he wanted on the mound. I can imagine how many players and fans would get their undies tight if Gibson was pitching today. Gibson knew that baseball was competition and with competition at a high level there comes conflict and sometimes that regrettably leads to violence. It's a fact of life and you can't legislate it out of sports no matter how much you try without fundamentally changing the sport. It's part of the drama. Maybe the ugly part, but Gibson knew how to make it work for him and his team. And that makes me admire him.

When I was making this list, I came across other Cardinals that I liked, people like George Hendrick, Ken Reitz, Alan Foster, Garry Templeton, Mark Sweeney, Bruce Sutter and Ted Simmons.

So, there's proof that I can like some players on a club even if I'm not crazy about that team right now.

But, truthfully, I did all of that in hopes that it will somehow lead to their demise starting tonight.

Yup. There's always an evil plan.

Go Dodgers.

Lose Cardinals.

If you need me, I'll be under the couch all game.


  1. Thank you for your kind words about the Cardinals but especially about my favorite player Bob Gibson possibly the greatest clutch pitcher of all time. I do have to admit that over the years playing fantasy baseball and having a lot of Dodgers on my team they are my 2nd favorite team. I get the MLB package every year and look forward to hearing Vin Scully calling the games late at night. Born in St Louis and living in Chicago brings me even more joy every day because I get to crush Cubs fans explanations of why they stink and why they will never be relevant. I wish your Dodgers the best of luck. I also want to thank you for your blog. I willl take a serious look at what I have Dodger card wise since I have approximately 500,000 cards and will send you some Dodger stuff. Sincerely a St Louis Cardinals fan...

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  3. I think a article about your opponent is very good sportsmanship (despite the fact that the Rockies were left out of your division rivals list).

    One question though, did you only include guys that you actually saw or do you not like Stan the Man? Just curious because he is my 1st 3 favorite Cardinals.

    1. Guys who played before my time are a little tough because I don't have any kind of personal connection, can't really relate to them. I didn't see late '60s guys play, but I can relate to the era a little more.

  4. I like the idea of a player hating his own card so much he won't sign it. (I just pulled two of that Dmitri out of a mystery box if anyone needs one....)

  5. Always enjoyed listening to Dmitri on Card Collector's Radio. Loved hearing him talk about his rookie card collection. Great list of Cardinals. My favorite would have to be Steve Carlton (although I associate him more with the Phillies)... followed by The Wizard, Willie McGee and Vince Coleman.