Baseball general managers are usually evaluated about like we Catholics – in what we have done and in what we have failed to do. Well, to Cardinals general manager extraordinaire Walt Jocketty, I offer a tip of the red StL cap for what he failed to do by refusing to sign Barry Bonds. It is good to see in this topsy-turvy world of 21st Century free agency that values can still win out over value.
Tony La Russa is certainly right in considering Barry Bonds. Bonds, as a left-handed clean up hitter, could have been potentially murderous protection for Albert Pujols in the Cardinals line-up. Bonds’ numbers speak for themselves, and La Russa has to be intrigued by such a prospect. Bonds’ presence in the Redbird order could have played havoc with National League pitching, if one assumes that the aging and increasingly decrepit Bonds were to somehow stay healthy. That is a crapshoot scenario in and of itself, but La Russa’s interest places value over values. I don’t.
The fact is that Cardinal Nation, composed of both players and fans alike, is built like any well-functioning nation - on the quality of its citizenship. Cardinals fans are the best in baseball because they are smart and keen to the nuances of the game. They know when to cheer good performance, and are as delightfully civil as modern sports fans can be today. They expect the same from their players, and they rightfully expect management to deliver and field players of similar values.
Barry Bonds, as talented and statistically compelling a player as he may be, simply doesn’t cut the mustard of citizenship in Cardinal Nation. He is known far and wide as being insensitive, divisive, fan-averse, and team-averse. That same behavior in a Birds-on-Bat jersey would stand out like poison ivy in the White House Rose Garden, and we don’t need it.
The fact is that the bedrock of Cardinal Nation was formed by players named Bottomley, Dean, Schoendienst, Musial, Brock, Gibson, Boyer, Shannon, Javier, Briles and McCarver. We’ve been blessed by good men named McGee, McBride, Sizemore, Torre, and Smith. It is so easy to cheer for players today of the personal caliber of Chris Carpenter, David Eckstein, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. Adam Kennedy is a great signing because he is known to be both a good player and a good person. That’s the stuff of Cardinal Nation.
Each year we challenge Cardinals management to field excellent players who are demonstrably good people, too. It is that test of total excellence that makes us so richly endowed with the tradition that is Cardinals baseball. Barry Bonds, for all of his many gifts, would clearly have been a very square peg in the round hole of Cardinal Nation, a poor fit that could have put up remarkable numbers but earned little or no support or respect from the fans.
So I say again, thank you Walt Jocketty. By putting values over value, you confirmed again your crystal clear understanding of what is important to Cardinal Nation and what modern sports lacks so much. If you are going to be a Cardinal, character counts.
Email Rex Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org.