With fewer than 180 days until the London Series 2020 between the St Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, we continue our build-up to this historic clash. Hopefully, you have already read our article on the Cubs, if not you can get it here.
10 things you need to know about the St Louis Cardinals
1. Why the Cardinals?
Formed in 1882, they were originally called the Brown Stockings, before transitioning into the St Louis Browns and then the inaccurately named St Louis Perfectos. They settled on the St Louis Cardinals in 1900. Just in case you’re unsure, the cardinal in question is a bird, not a Catholic bishop.
Right, now pay attention; this is confusing.
In 1902, the Milwaukee Brewers (not Christian Yelich’s current outfit) moved from Wisconsin to Missouri to become the St Louis Browns, taking over the nickname discarded by the Cardinals. For 50 years, the city had two top-level baseball teams until the Browns relocated to Baltimore in 1954 to become the Orioles. The oriole in question is a bird, not a biscuit.
As a side note, Christian Yelich’s current team joined the league as an expansion team in 1969 called the Seattle Pilots but evolved into the Milwaukee Brewers the following year.
In the early 50s, it became inevitable that one of the two St Louis teams would move out of the state. It looked to all of the world that the Cardinals would relocate to Houston until Anheuser-Busch (of Budweiser fame) swooped in to purchase the club and keep it in the city.
The new owners renamed the stadium, and the Cardinals now play in the third incarnation of Busch Stadium. Interestingly, the highest ever attendance at the current Busch Stadium was for a football match between Chelsea and Manchester City in 2013.
Anheuser-Busch sold the Cardinals in 1995 for $150 million to a consortium committed to keeping the club in the city. Today the franchise is valued at more than $2.1 billion.
3. Baseball’s Jean-Marc Bosman
In 1969, the Cardinals traded outfielder Curt Flood to the Phillies … but he refused to go. He took legal action, and although he lost the court case, it proved the catalyst for a change in the rules creating free agency.
This story deserves its own article, but in the meantime, I hope Gerrit Cole raised a glass to Flood after he signed his $324 million deal with the Yankees.
4. And this is why baseball is the best game in the world
The Cardinals are second behind the Yankees in the most World Series wins. Their last victory was in 2011 in a seven-game thriller against the Texas Rangers.
Game 6 was one of the most exciting games in living memory, when, with the Rangers 7-5 up and just one strike away from their first-ever World Series championship, Cardinals’ third baseman David Freese hit a two-run triple to tie the game. Fairy tale stuff.
Then, with the scores tied 9-9 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Freese came to the plate again and launched a walk-off homer into the stands. Hollywood writers could not have scripted it any better.
Today, Pujols is a lumbering, 40-something (there is dispute over his real age), frustrating crowds in Anaheim. Based on his current level of production and his $240 million contract, few players offer less value for money.
Newer baseball fans in the UK, who have only ever seen Pujols in Angels’ colours, will struggle to comprehend that he is probably this century’s greatest player.
Pujols debuted with the Cardinals as a 21-year-old in 2001. During his 11 seasons in St Louis, not only did he finished in the top-5 of MVP voting ten times, but he averaged over 40 home runs with a triple slash of .328/.420/.617. It is difficult to imagine this level of production ever being repeated.
6. Sounds like a movie script
If you thought David Freese’s 11th inning walk-off in the 2011 World Series was worthy of Hollywood, then be prepared for the sequel.
It goes something like this …
In 2009, Chris Correa, Sig Mejdal and Jeff Luhnow worked as Front Office executives for the St Louis Cardinals. Luhnow left to become the Houston Astros general manager and was joined by Mejdal with the cool job title of Director of Decision Sciences.
Correa, still in St Louis, was convinced that they had taken proprietary data and algorithms. One day, he logged onto the Astros system, having guessed the passwords, which were only a keystroke or two different from the ones they had while with the Cardinals.
For over two years, Correa had unfettered access to the Astros player analytics and research evaluation. And then the FBI became involved.
In 2017, the Cardinals were found guilty of cybercrime and ordered to pay a $2 million fine to the Houston Astros. They were also obliged to give the Astros their two top two picks in the draft.
Correa is serving a 46-month prison sentence, and under the terms of his plea bargain, he must find a job when released to pay off $280,000 to the Astros.
7. Yadi, Yadi, Yadi
Some of the most exciting players in baseball will be coming over in June 2020 for the London Series, but if you gave me first pick to choose anyone on either roster, I would take Yadier Molina. The veteran catcher is a manager/pitching coach/motivator/game-caller/clutch-hitter rolled into one.
He has crouched behind the plate for 16,000 innings, a figure that makes my knees hurt just typing it, and has more home runs, runs, RBI and stolen bases than any other catcher playing today.
Sure, much of the production is a result of the sheer number of games he has played, but considering the knocks a catcher endures, playing day-after-day is a valuable skill.
8. America’s first baseman
In an intriguing offseason move last December which sent a couple of controllable, talented players to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cardinals acquired “America’s first baseman” Paul Goldschmidt.
Talent of Goldschmidt’s calibre doesn’t come cheap, and the 32-year-old will earn a cool $22 million next season, making him the highest-paid player on the Cardinals payroll.
Despite leading the team in home runs, RBI, runs and walks in his first season with the club, many clickbait articles and fan sites labelled him a flop. Some people are never happy, and they certainly wouldn’t have won the division without him.
9. Age has its advantages
Salary discrepancy in baseball between young and veteran players is astonishing. Last season, the Cardinals best player was their 23-year-old right-handed pitcher, Jack Flaherty.
Taken in the first round of the 2015 draft, Flaherty oozes talent and is among the very best pitchers in the game. He made 33 starts in 2019, throwing just under 200 innings with a strikeout rate of nearly 11.0 K/9 and an ERA of 2.75.
A sub-1.00 WHIP from a flamethrowing strikeout pitcher is not something you usually see from a 23-year-old. He is special.
The starting pitchers at the London Series 2019 were not great, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it is Flaherty’s turn in the rotation on the 13th or 14th of June next year.Embed from Getty Images
Despite pitching better than anyone else on either the Cardinals or Cubs roster, Flaherty will earn MLB’s minimum wage of around $555,00 in 2020. By comparison, the Cubs have six pitchers each earning more than $10 million. All six are in their 30s. Hopefully, Flaherty’s time will come.
10. The best fans in baseball
Picture a player in a post-game interview, let’s say Aaron Judge, and he thanks the crowd and says “Yankees have the best fans in baseball”. He is wrong.
The St Louis Cardinals fans are the best fans in the world. It’s proven.
A study looked at five key elements:
- Hometown interaction (percentage of locals who watched or listened to a game last year)
- Three years of television ratings
- Three years of stadium attendance
- Three years of merchandise sales
- Social media reach (as a percentage of the area’s population)
The Cardinals were the clear winners. Look, don’t shoot the messenger.
Tickets are on sale now for the Chicago Cubs vs. St Louis Cardinals on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th June 2020.
Make sure you are following @BatFlips_Nerds for all of your baseball news and opinion with a British twist.
Finally, if you haven’t already done so, make sure you read Ben’s article about when he met German superstar outfielder Max Kepler. It’s well worth ten minutes of your time and almost makes you want to buy a Minnesota Twins jersey.