It seems that every few days all winter long, another raucous discussion erupts on our message board about the current state of the St. Louis Cardinals. Some fans are upset at team ownership and management due to their actions (or inaction) with the roster and payroll.
Others look around and see the players that are or were available in the market and their respective price tags and seem almost relieved the team has taken small steps instead of large leaps during this particular off-season.
I have absolutely no problem with either group and can see their points of view. It is another angle on the situation which has continued to perplex me for weeks now. This line of thinking has really seemed to gain momentum since a widely-quoted St. Louis Post-Dispatch column in December that featured such incendiary lines as "bait and switch", "dodgeball", "false hope", "deceived" and so many other greatest hits in characterizing feelings about the recent actions of team officials.
To paraphrase the line of thinking: Fans understand that the team is in transition but club officials should be honest about the team entering a down period instead of pumping their fan base full of false hope, especially their ticket buyers.
Like O.J. for his late ex-wife's murderer, I have been searching in vain ever since for comparable situations - examples in MLB (or professional sports for that matter) where ownership or team management have publicly stated their intent not to compete in the next season.
If such cases do exist, they probably originated from utterly terrible teams with new management begging for time to rebuild, not from a club with a core as solid as the Cardinals. Yes, they have been slowed by injuries and are going through change, but they are still just one season removed from a World Championship in a winnable division and with an improving farm system to boot.
I wonder if in even the most infamous example of team gutting their roster, the Florida Marlins of 1998, such a “white flag” declaration was made, and even if so, would it have really mattered? Would such a statement positively affect the players put on the field or alter the results of the games yet to be played for the good?
Besides, if Cardinals fans are as intelligent as they seem to be fond of saying, aren't they smart enough to see what is going on (or not going on) around them and draw their own conclusions, whether they are leaning toward the positive, negative or somewhere in between? Do they really need officials or writers or anyone else to recite "See Spot Run" to them?
In my opinion, the only people who might have any right to feel misled are those who re-upped their season ticket packages but have since developed second thoughts based on subsequent actions. The dump trade of then-senior Cardinal Jim Edmonds (right) might be considered one such example.
Even so, with the Prime Seat Club, StubHub and many other ways to unload good seats (often at a tidy profit for those involved in selling, I might add), I can't shed any tears for the handful who now might prefer to bail out on the 2008 team out of the thousands and thousands of early ticket buyers.
For everyone else, sure you can be upset with the direction of the Cardinals organization if you want - that is absolutely your right. But, to be angry ONLY because you feel you have been deceived or lied to by ownership or team management seems incredibly naive and misguided to me.
Let’s step back for a minute. As an individual fan, what actions would YOU have taken differently if Cardinals officials had publicly stated right up front that they were planning on tanking the 2008 season?
Would you really feel better knowing this, even if you could be granted the power to look into the future and verify that it would become true? If so, wouldn’t it just be better for you to decide right now to take the entire 2008 season off, saving yourself and those around you literally months and months of frustration?
I have a sneaking suspicion that Albert Pujols and the rest of the boys realize there is nothing to be gained by throwing in the towel though, nor I suspect are the vast, often-silent majority of Cardinals followers.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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