No National League team, past or present, can match the storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals, winner of 11 World Championships. Unfortunately, the ability of countless fans to fully celebrate that rich heritage remains in limbo.
During the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up in St. Louis, team president Bill DeWitt III repeated a similar message from the year prior relating to a new team Hall of Fame and the re-opening of the Cardinals Museum.
After poking a bit of fun at the retired number problem, which was exacerbated by the recent departures of the holders of numbers 5 and 10, Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa, DeWitt III acknowledged the need to deal with those individuals perhaps not quite deserving of their number being permanently retired.
Of course, the perfect example is number 51, last worn prominently by Willie McGee. It remains neither retired nor used, having not been seen in action since Bud Smith wore it in 2001. The club likely remains sensitive about not wanting to anger McGee supporters without offering some kind of closure.
DeWitt noted that the team is working on implementation of a Hall of Fame. It would enable them to recognize a number of very good players, but ones that fall short of induction in Cooperstown.
While no specifics were disclosed, such recognition for a player like McGee could accomplish multiple advantages – providing him personal recognition short of retired number status, while potentially freeing up his number for re-use by future Cardinals.
DeWitt III acknowledged that his club won’t be the first to implement the idea, as he estimates that a dozen of the 30 major league teams have a Hall-like recognition system today. Examples offered by DeWitt III of players who might fit other than fan favorite McGee include Jim Edmonds and Chris Carpenter.
The bad news?
It has all been said before and none of it will be happening anytime soon. This long-overdue Hall of Fame will remain on the back burner until after the new Cardinals Museum is operational, the team president affirmed. And the museum won’t reopen until Phase One of Ballpark Village becomes a reality.
Since its "temporary" closing in 2008, the Cardinals Museum has been unfairly strangled by the inherent challenges in trying to get the original 10-acre urban project off the ground.
The scaled-down first phase of Ballpark Village calls for 100,000 square feet of retail/entertainment space, acknowledging the demand for office space continues to be outstripped by supply. The vision for Cardinals Nation, the restaurant and museum complex - designed with tiered balcony seating to look into Busch Stadium – looks and sounds great.
The problem is that DeWitt is saying nothing new from 12 months ago.
“I know it has been a long-delayed project and a lot of people are rightfully skeptical about anything we would say about that,” DeWitt III acknowledged. “I am hoping – keep our fingers crossed – that we can start on it this year.”
I can understand and appreciate the difficulties in getting such an energetic project as Ballpark Village off the ground. My primary issue is in holding the museum hostage year after year.
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With the former museum location owned by the team, it could have remained open and in fact, been expanded into the space formerly occupied by the International Bowling Hall of Fame. Alternatively, a temporary site could have been opened near the ballpark – and still could.
In the time since its closing, the Cardinals have hosted almost 10 million fans, an All-Star Game and a World Series, with no museum for the attendees to visit.
Careful not to criticize, a club official did admit the situation has not unfolded as was hoped. “Had we known then how Ballpark Village would play out, we might have handled it (the museum) differently,” the official acknowledged.
DeWitt III boasted about the club continuing to be aggressive in acquiring new pieces of memorabilia on the open market.
“We have probably invested at this point about a million and a half dollars over the last 10 years buying Cardinals memorabilia at auctions,” he explained. “We’ve been very opportunistic. We already had a great collection and we continue to build on it with things we get from players today.
Several examples were offered.
“A couple of things come to mind that I remember buying along the way - a Dizzy Dean jersey and a Branch Rickey jersey from 1919, which is one of the most coveted jerseys,” he recalled.
DeWitt III also mentioned having acquired more Stan Musial items for the collection and plans to continue to be active in bidding for additional team-related memorabilia going forward.
“We just feel like whenever there is something out there in the marketplace that embodies the history of the Cardinals, we’re going to be a bidder for that item. After all, what is going to be a better place for it than in our museum?” DeWitt III said.
While that is most admirable, there is no museum. The problem remains that at this point, these acquisitions are simply investments that no one can see.
Providing temporary exhibits such as was opened under the Arch a few years back are expensive and time-consuming to produce and allow only a tiny portion of the extensive museum collection to be viewed by the public.
The Cardinals are making some historically-oriented cosmetic changes at Busch Stadium and developing a new museum website, which could help fill a bit of the gap. Yet however splashy a web application might be, nothing is the same as an actual museum experience.
And how joyous would a celebration be to finally fully recognize players such as McGee and perhaps even long-forgotten old-timers like Jim Bottomley and Ducky Medwick?
Too bad no one can tell us when that day might occur.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column during the season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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