The St. Louis Cardinals and the Myth of Playing the Game 'The Right Way'
The most overused term in sports is also this generation's most obnoxious cliche: playing the game the "right way."
Does your favorite team play the game the right way? You better hope it does, because that's how you win in today's modern sports world: by doing it the right way.
Only, for some people—including USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale—today's right way means doing what ballplayers did in the 1950s. In the 1950s, by golly, they played the game the right gosh-darn way:
The Cardinals, with a 3-2 lead, will take the field at 8:37 ET Friday at Busch Stadium vowing to take care of business.
This isn't just about flying another pennant in their stadium - their fourth in 10 years - or having the opportunity to win their 12th World Series championship.
It's about the responsibility of upholding tradition.
It's for old-time baseball.
They want to show this generation, that yes, it's still hip to be square.
No siree, the Cardinals beating the Dodgers wouldn't just be for the pride of St. Louis. The Cardinals beating those showboating, home-plate-posing, umpire-arguing, trolley-dodging muckety mucks out in La La Land would be for the good of the game—for old-time baseball, how it was meant to be played.
More from Nightengale:
"This is St. Louis, we have values here,'' said Brian Schwarze, 32. "My grandfather used to always tell me, 'This is a gentleman's game. You play the game right.'
"If he were alive watching what LA did, he'd be shaking his head.''
Schwarze just so happens to be the grandson of Stan Musial.
Things were better back when Stan the Man played, that's for sure. Players never showed up the other team—at least not the Cardinals—because, as Schwarze put it, "(Yasiel Puig) never would have made third base, because (Bob) Gibson would have run around the bases and tackled him."
If that's not playing the game the right way, I don't know what is.
Nightengale made sure to mention the horrible Dodgers fans too. Did you know they have celebrities help get the crowd going? If there was ever a wrong way to get someone excited, asking a famous person who seems like a cool guy to lead the way is it.
Nightengale did quote Schwarze discussing his experience walking into the stadium in a Musial jersey, getting threatened along the way. Given the past history of Dodgers fans and violence, that's not a laughing matter. Yet Schwarze felt the need to add in that people were "throwing popcorn" and one guy tried, and presumably failed, to trip his friend:
Can you imagine that happening in St. Louis? There were even two police officers on horses in the parking lot looking for trouble. One of the officers said, "You OK?" I said, "Yeah, except for everyone hassling me."
And they just laughed.
Even the POLICE don't do things the right way in Los Angeles!
Popcorn?! Laughter at a guy in an opposing team's jersey who is totally fine?!
Why can't things be more like they were in the 1950s? Or like they are today in St. Louis?
That town—that team—does things the right way.
That's what Nightengale is saying, right? The Cardinals do things the right way. From Musial until now, the Cardinals don't need showboating and celebrity fans to respect and honor the game of baseball. What a model franchise they are.
But wait…I'm forgetting something, aren't I? Wasn't there something that happened in St. Louis between the time Musial played and now that maybe, perhaps, a national writer would remember in an effort to keep perspective when talking about how the Cardinals honor and respect the game?
Was it that time in the 1980s, when nearly a dozen players were abusing cocaine?
From a United Press International article dated September 29, 1985, via the Sun Sentinel:
Whitey Herzog, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, said in an interview published Saturday that at least 11 members of his team used cocaine in the early 1980s.
"Keith Hernandez said on the witness stand that he thought that 40 percent of the players in baseball were using cocaine in the early '80s," said Herzog, referring to the former Cardinal first baseman's testimony in a recent federal trial of a cocaine supplier to baseball players in Pittsburgh.
"I think Keith meant 40 percent of the Cardinals. That would be 10 players. By my count that's a little low. I'd say we had 11 who were heavy users," Herzog said.
That doesn't seem like playing baseball the right way.
It also doesn't seem like playing the right way when you get caught doping, like Rick Ankiel did when he was named to the Mitchell Report in 2007.
It sure isn't playing the right way when you deny for decades the rumors you were taking performance enhancing drugs while racking up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers and destroying home run records, only to admit after your career—and before starting a job as the Cardinals hitting coach—that you, in fact, did cheat the game.
Did Mark McGwire play the game the right way? Or, wait, maybe that's actually a knock against the Dodgers now that he works for them, not the Cardinals.
The right way.
Yep, the Cardinals have always played the game the right way. They don't showboat. They don't show up the opponent on the field.
Nope, the Cardinals do their celebrating back in the clubhouse, getting drunk before hopping behind the wheel.
You know, the right way.
Not the right way, you say? Having a manager get caught driving while intoxicated in March of 2007, doing little to change the culture of drinking in the clubhouse until just over month later when a pitcher on the team died while driving under the influence?
Still not the right way to play the game?
How about later that year when Scott Spiezio had whatever issues eventually led to his release? The right way?
Ah, but all those players are all long gone. Not like current star David Freese, who certainly plays the game the right way. Freese, of course, was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated in 2009, a charge that was eventually dropped. The one two years after that, however, was not. Nor were two arrests for DUIs of Cardinals broadcaster Dan McLaughlin, who is still calling games for the team.
Maybe that's what Nightengale meant when he wrote, "The Cardinals will take the stage at the World Series, representing the National League, and reminding the baseball world that old-school tradition remains alive and well."
For those who think I'm turning this into a comparison between a disease like alcoholism and simple baseball showboating, that's the last thing I'm doing. This isn't comparing a disease to anything. This is about doing things the right way. It's about being part of a culture that thinks the rules of the game—or the law of the land—don't apply to them. It's the same thing with people who use recreational drugs. It's the same, in baseball circles, with those who use performance-enhancing drugs.
The rules do not apply. That doesn't seem like the right way to do anything.
We can wring our hands as much as we want about the brashness of Yasiel Puig—also arrested for reckless driving earlier this year, for what it's worth—and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The showboating can be a bit much, especially for baseball traditionalists.
Let's stop short, however, of comparing the Dodgers, or any showboating team, to the Cardinals' way. We wouldn't want to get confused which way is right.
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