LONDON SERIES: Should I buy a Cubs or Cardinals jersey?

At the end of last summer, I had a dilemma concerning the London Series. I knew that I would drag a non-baseball-following mate to games in June 2023, and as he would soon be celebrating a significant birthday, I wanted to get him an MLB jersey.

And that is where the dilemma started. Which jersey?

At the time, inflation had rocketed to over 10%, UK energy costs spiralled to unprecedented heights, there were shortages in the shops, and the country was enduring numerous strikes.

And then, we had to suffer the farce that was the TV reality show to choose our next Prime Minister. Details of the Conservative Party membership that picked between the two candidates are kept private – you do not have to be a voter or even a UK citizen; just simply pay £ 25.00 to join.

A Dutch friend of mine was so delighted by this scheme that he kept trolling me with how he had voted for Liz Truss.

I bought the jersey, but my enthusiasm for this article dwindled as life got harder with the economic crash caused by the Truss/Kwarteng experiment.

However, with just three weeks until the London Series, my excitement is at an all-time high, so I delved back into the memory bank to give you my thought processes.


First question: Cubs or Cardinals

As a follower of the Cincinnati Reds, I have no allegiance to either. Both are fine teams with rich histories and, in the case of St Louis, a crammed trophy cabinet (sorry, Cubs fans).

I probably should mention that both teams are below the Reds in the NL Central. This has no bearing on the article or the London Series; I just like it.

Without a clear preference for either team, my options would be narrowed down by which player’s name should adorn the back of the jersey.

Which player?

The criteria were simple. The player had to be likely to come to London in June 2023 or had to be a legend of the club. 

I surveyed Twitter for opinions.

Josh came in with Yadier Molina. Future Hall-of-Famer, there has never been a catcher I have enjoyed watching more than Molina. Very good shout. Definitely on the shortlist.

Matt Benson also suggested Yadi but offered several others, including the Cardinals mascot, Team Fred Bird.

Two others he put forward for consideration were Uncle Charlie and The Machine. I’m not sure about The Machine (Albert Pujols). He is, quite possibly, the greatest player of my baseball-watching life, but he also spent 10 of the last 11 seasons in California.

Uncle Charlie didn’t make the cut, as it’s a stupid nickname. Adam Wainwright was an elite pitcher, but he lacks the star quality possessed by a Verlander or a Scherzer or a Kershaw. Maybe that’s just because a Cy Young Award never came his way.

However, like Yadi, Wainwright made the shortlist, thanks in part to his captivating contributions from the commentator’s box.

Sean Guest, the Bat Flips & Nerds’ Cubs’ correspondent, suggested Seiya Suzuki on the basis that he was the only Cubs player signed to a long-term deal.

The Japanese outfielder, who is signed through to the end of 2026, hit the ground running in the USA with a .807 OPS over the first half of last season. He slowed in the injury-impacted second half but has been on fire this year.  

I like the Suzuki suggestion for many reasons, one of which is that I blew 75% of my fantasy baseball budget on him last season. However, having Suzuki on the back of a jersey can only mean one player, and unless you’re a superfan of the former Angels’ catcher, it will always mean Ichiro.

Rachel, another high-profile Cubs fan from Britain, offered the interesting suggestion of Nico Hoerner on the basis of longevity.

The Cubs’ first-round pick from 2018 was sensational when he arrived at The Show, but his production quickly dipped during the Covid-shortened 2020. Since then, the 26-year-old has made second base his own and has produced steady, if somewhat uninspiring, results. In the OPS+ metric, with 100 being league average, Hoener’s OPS+ is… 100.

Did you read the recent interview between Sean and Rachel? It’s really good. A must for all Cubs fans or London Series visitors.

Nick Wright of UK LA Angels fame suggested Mike Ivory, but alas, I couldn’t find that player on Baseball Reference.

Team loyalty came into many of the replies. Following on from “Choose a Cubs player. A Cards’ one will be a terrific error”, I received…

It was Mark, a Cards fan, who very nearly clinched it.

I had been hoping that Lars Nootbaar would get an opportunity last season. So much so, that he appeared in my 2022 Boldish Prediction article (yes, I am referencing that article again).

In the first half of 2022, Nootbaar hit just .200, and the Cardinals’ outfield was crammed until an intriguing trade sent Harrison Bader to the Yankees in exchange for starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery.

I knew that I might regret not choosing Nootbaar, especially if he became a fixture in the Cardinals outfield at the London Series, but I wasn’t confident in playing time opportunities, and I certainly didn’t expect the transformation into WBC superstar/Cardinals OBP-machine.

Since the start of August 2022, Paul Goldschmidt is the only Cardinal hitting better than Nootbaar’s 130 wRC+.

Other names under consideration were…

Paul Goldschmidt

In the summer of 2022, Goldie was playing like an MVP, and convincingly won the award ahead of Manny Machado. However, if you say “Paul Goldschmidt”, I think Arizona Diamondbacks. The 35-year-old has played 500 more games for Arizona than St Louis.

Nolan Arenado

The third baseman clinched his 10th Gold Glove in 10 years and actually outperformed Goldschmidt in 2022, according to bWAR. Despite being one of the finest hitters and fielders of this era, it seems that Arenado is always underappreciated. He also missed the cut here, as he still feels more like a Rockies player than a Cardinals one.

While we are talking about Arenado, I’m pretty convinced he will be the best player we ever see in a London Series game. More here – It wasn’t meant to be a controversial take, but I don’t think anyone has agreed with me yet.

Tyler O’Neill

My mate doesn’t have the muscles to pull off the O’Neill jersey look.

Ian Happ

Back in the summer of 2022, it was unlikely he would still be playing for the Cubs when they came to London. Happ himself thought he was on his way to New York, Atlanta, or Toronto. Instead, in January, he signed a three-year, $61 million extension to keep him in Chicago. An Ian Happ jersey would have been good.

Willson Contreras

This was a hot favourite and made it into the final three. When the trade deadline passed without the Cubs moving their soon-to-be a free agent catcher, it was assumed that Chicago would offer the 31-year-old a deal to keep him in the North Side of the city.

However, it was the St Louis Cardinals who made the best offer, and despite a bumpy start as Yadi Molina’s replacement, Contreras is the clear number one behind the plate. He will be in London, albeit not in the colours I expected when I started this article.

Nick Madrigal

In my mind, similar to Nico Hoerner but not as good. Back in 2019, across three levels of the minors, Madrigal was a slap-hitting speedster with incredible plate patience, and his future had “superstar” written all over it. In 120 games, he hit .311 with 35 stolen bases and nearly three times as many walks as strikeouts. So far, the transition to the majors has not gone to plan. 

Kyle Hendricks

I’m sure he is a lovely bloke, but there is just nothing to get excited about. A low-strikeout, high-contact pitcher whose best days seem behind him.

Justin Steele

This was a good shout. He posted a minuscule 0.98 ERA in the second half of last season. What if he is really that good?

The sample size was too small to invest in, but the left-hander is proving sceptics like me wrong and is a top-10 starter this season. Let’s hope the forearm strain is not too serious, and he can still make the London trip.

In the end, the answer about which jersey to buy came from another Bat Flips & Nerds poll conducted at the start of last season. Among other questions, we asked, “If you were to build the perfect franchise, who would be your franchise hitter and pitcher?”

I can’t divulge all of the answers as it is part of a fascinating article demonstrating how quickly opinions change, but Tom Pringle’s choice for franchise pitcher was Cubs’ starter Marcus Stroman. 

Marcus Stroman

The tournament MVP when the USA clinched the World Baseball Classic in 2017, New York-born Stroman switched allegiance to represent Puerto Rico in this year’s competition as a tribute to his mother and his heritage.

“My flare, my swag, my charisma. I truly feel like that all comes from that Puerto Rican side.”

Now 32 years old, Stroman has developed into one of the most outspoken players in the game. Unafraid to put his head above the parapets in defence of the victimised and repressed. A whirlwind on social media, a Marcus Stroman post is a bigot trigger that is followed by an avalanche of the most dreadful racial abuse. The ability to withstand such hatred on a daily basis gives an insight into his strength of character.

Drafted in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012, Stroman pitched just under 800 innings over six seasons in the big leagues for the Blue Jays, with a robust 3.76 ERA (3.60 FIP).

He was traded to the New York Mets in 2019 – his All-Star season – and finished the year with a 3.22 ERA split between the two teams. He opted out of the Covid-19 pandemic 2020 season but returned to New York to lead the league with 33 starts and a 3.02 ERA. 

Frequently maligned for his below-average strikeout rate – his career rate is 7.5 K/9 – Stroman has developed into one of the most reliable, workhorse-like pitchers in the game. Which, considering his diminutive 5-foot-7 stature, is somewhat surprising.

This year, he is currently the best pitcher in MLB, with 79 innings over 13 starts for a 2.39 ERA with 1.00 WHIP.

And based on one of his most recent starts against the Tampa Bay Rays, this might be the best Marcus Stroman we have ever seen.

This might also be a good time to drop in a reminder of my Boldish Prediction for 2023.

My Boldish Prediction for the Cardinals was that Dylan Carlson would finish the year as a critical member of the Cardinals’ postseason run. Hmmm, we’ll see.

For all of Stroman’s on-field successes, it is his off-field exploits that firmly set him apart from the typical MLB pitcher. Stroman is as vociferous in condemning wrong as he is supportive of those in need. He will not remain silent.

Remember when we all thought Rob Manfred was a clown for cancelling MLB games? Stroman wasn’t silent.

He’s called out Steve Cohen and the Mets for not making an offer to re-sign him. He called out Barstool boys for ludicrous World Baseball Classic racism. He called out a hated home run ball collector. He called out the arbitration system. He called out NASCAR driver Kyle Larson. He called out Yankees fans. And he trolled the Yankees’ front office when he was available in free agency.

In fact, there is probably not an issue on which he will stay quiet.

He is a role model for millions and a mentor for many. Cincinnati Reds’ young phenom Hunter Greene trains with him in the offseason. The pair have another bond; they are two of only five black starting pitchers. A demoralisingly low number.

Last week, at the start of PRIDE MONTH, Stroman was again out in solidarity for a minority. And once again, a torrent of abuse followed in his wake.

It is, however, his stand against racism that causes the most attention. You can understand why other sportsmen tend to keep a low profile on social and political issues. Daily, Stroman receives more hate directed at him than any of us will endure in a lifetime. And that’s before you get on to the death threats.

“I’ve heard about it, but I’m ready for it, I’m prepared,” Stroman told USA TODAY Sports in a wide-ranging, 40-minute interview. “Obviously, racism is something that very, much exists in society today. It’s very profound. My DMs are filled with very, very, very, very aggressive racist men that are filled with hate. I was getting it bad in New York.

“I’ve learned to cope with the death threats and people saying, ‘If I see you out, I’m going to kill you.’ There are people sitting at home who have miserable lives, spewing hate onto (you) for no reason because it can get to you and it can affect you.”

And then, he takes the ball every fifth day and performs at a level only achievable by a few dozen people in the world. Absolutely amazing.

So, in three weeks, we will see Marcus Stroman in London, and my mate will be wearing his Stroman jersey. Fingers crossed, we get to see him pitch (Stroman, not my mate), but if not, I am convinced the Chicago Cubs superstar will be the best value entertainment of any MLB non-playing player we’ve had this side of the Atlantic. 

The London Series 2023 will feature the first-ever NL games in Europe when the Chicago Cubs take on the St Louis Cardinals on Saturday 24 June and Sunday 25 June. Check out the Ticketmaster website with tickets starting from £59.00 – make sure you are following @Batflips_nerds for all your London Series content.

Article by @GavTramps. Want to share your baseball opinions with a Bat Flips & Nerds audience of 10,000+? Click on the “Write for us” link above.

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