David Freese: A bittersweet return for a Cardinal hero

David Freese returned to Busch Stadium this past weekend and it was a bittersweet moment.

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(In case you missed it on KSDK)

Sports are like a very demanding best friend. There are times where you wish you could just quit them but they constantly remind you of the undeniable bond between the two of you.

When former St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese stepped up to home plate at Busch Stadium this past weekend, it was his first at bat at Busch in nearly two and a half years.

As Frank Sinatra once said, the sweet can not be as sweet without the bitter. Freese embodies that tough love ideal to a tee.

Every Cardinals fan remembers October 27th 2011. It’s become part of the great history of this franchise. A fond memory that will turn the most cynical fan into a warm nostalgia covered glass case emotions.

Let’s kick it old school for a minute and relive it. Game 6. 2011 World Series. Bottom of the ninth. The Texas Rangers are up 9-7. The Cards aren’t going down without a fight. Like Rocky with two willing legs and fists, they stagger to their feet bloodied yet not beaten. Two on and two out. David Freese steps up to the plate against Texas Rangers closer Neftali Feliz. Are the Cards coming back? As Donnie Brasco once said, fuggeddaboutit! That’s general wisdom though. Continue reading “David Freese: A bittersweet return for a Cardinal hero”

Man vs. Woman: Talking Cards baseball

What happens when a man and woman talk baseball? 30 minutes of blunt perspective.

Once again, I took to the DOB airwaves late at night to discuss the St. Louis Cardinals with a fierce woman. The lovely Maria from Washington D.C. who happens to adore Tommy Pham joined me for some pointed and rather blunt perspective on the Cards.

The Talking Points:

*What did we learn from the first series with the Cubs

*Can the Cardinals keep hitting for power?

*Should Cards fans be worried about Adam Wainwright?

*What is up with Kolten Wong?

*Can Aledmys Diaz last or will he hit a wall?

*Does Pham factor into the effectiveness of this team when he returns?

Listen right here. 

You can follow Maria on Twitter here.

Here’s a taste of what she can offer on a daily basis:

Thanks for staying all the way if you did.

Dose of Buffa 2

Changing scores at Busch Stadium’s Manual Scoreboard

10 years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals stopped using the Manual Scoreboard, a place where baseball fans were paid to watch games, change scores and slowly become a close knit family.

Manual Scoreboard- Manual scoreboard operators Troy Siade, left, and Danny Buffa take in the Cardinals-Giants game from their favorite spot behind the manual scoreboard at Busch Stadium Wednesday night.
Manual Scoreboard-
Manual scoreboard operators Troy Siade, left, and Danny Buffa take in the Cardinals-Giants game from their favorite spot behind the manual scoreboard at Busch Stadium Wednesday night. (Phil Carlson)

“Watch out!”

“What?”

“Mark McGwire just hit the scoreboard with another batting practice home run.”

True story, folks.

Few people in life get to work their dream job. For eight years on the Manual Scoreboard at the old Busch Stadium, I had the opportunity to watch the St. Louis Cardinals 81 games a year and get paid for it. It involved a lot of sweat and stress, but there was nothing like it.

As my colleague Jim Kleinschmidt repeatedly told us on the 100 degree August days up top the metal housing in a section of terrace reserved seating, “I can’t believe they pay us to do this.” The sentiment was shared by many. If you didn’t mind sweating through a couple shirts and working around scaffolding, the Cards paid you to watch and monitor baseball.

What did this job entail? I’d get to Busch around 4pm in the afternoon. I’d pick up the Dow Industrial numbers, notes on the Cards game and a printout of the night’s games. By 5pm, I was changing team names if needed, setting up leaderboards and getting all the starting pitcher numbers ready to rock and roll. By 6pm, it was time to head down to the Press Box. One of the perks was getting to eat there, drink all the pink lemonade the body could handle and maybe toss a few notes at Bernie Miklasz or the late Joe Strauss about a story idea I was writing up. Maybe greet an announcer or two. And then we were off.

When the Cards game was firing up, the rest of the board was brought up to speed. The East coast games needed 2-3 innings filled in and yes, the fear of dropping a number out of the board was constant. Like the players we watched, the scoreboard crew became a family. We’d scream at each other about a late risky Tony La Russa pitching change and use a bag of ice to engage in cross league ice throwing battles, but we became good friends. There isn’t a day that goes by without me pausing to think about the moments behind a board during the top of the ninth when the Birds were going to win and the building was going to go nuts.

The 2016 season marks 10 years since the Manual Scoreboard shut down. I worked the Scoreboard from 1998, when Big Mac reined, until 2005, when Roy Oswalt turned off the lights on old Busch and the Scoreboard. Here are the 10 things I’ll remember the most about working the scoreboard.

Getting a call from Tony La Russa

One night, the Cards destroyed the Cubs. Scored ten runs in one inning even. In order to rub it in, the crew left the 10 in the inning slot. The next day, La Russa called the board and believe me, I’d never seen my comical supervisor sound so stern and shocked. “Yes, Mr. La Russa, sure, you know it, yes, of course, right Tony.” Lesson: Don’t show up another team on Tony’s watch.

The Birth of #5

Albert Pujols arrived on the scene and the crew thought he was just another guy. The person who made the roster because Bobby Bonilla was hurt and McGwire liked a lot. By the end of the 2005 season, when Pujols hit the moon shot off the train against Brad Lidge, #5 was a legend. I got to see him play over 75 times a season from 2001-2005. He put together 8 straight seasons of 7 WAR or more. He averaged 42 HR, 120 RBI and 45 doubles for those 5 seasons. Pujols eventually left, but I’ll never see a better ballplayer in my lifetime come along like him.

Manual Scoreboard- Peering through the ninth-inning box window, Danny Buffa, a manual scoreboard operator at Busch Stadium, takes in the Cardinals-Giants Wednesday night.
(Phil Carlson)
Peering through the ninth-inning box window, Danny Buffa, a manual scoreboard operator at Busch Stadium, takes in the Cardinals-Giants Wednesday night.

Troy Siade and the Jim Edmonds and Art Holliday fascination

My late friend Troy and I had a fascination with Edmonds. Nothing left us speechless longer than a classic Edmonds catch or spin away from an up and in pitch.  We were mesmerized by his baseball skills, but we also couldn’t help but count the seconds it took for him to rise off the ground after a great catch. He would milk that moment for as long as he could. Troy loved Edmonds more than any ballplayer, even Pujols. Why? He was lefthanded, played center field better than Flood and was cocky. That was my friend Troy. He also almost stole a framed picture of Art Holliday from a suite once. No one knows why. When Siade passed away to Non Hodgkins Lymphoma Disease before his 39th birthday in 2004, the Cards let us spread some of his ashes in center field. Finally, he got to lay where Edmonds laid out on so many breathtaking occasions. Rest in peace my friend.

Working the Scoreboard made you a Rock Star

All my friends wanted to come up on the board, and they didn’t just want pictures. They wanted to work. One time, my dentist came up on a night where the board was shorthanded. For two hours, Dr. Anderson and his friend helped take care of an entire league. That’s how you use a scoreboard allure to your advantage.

The Bittersweet Big Mac Roller Coaster

My first year on the board featured the dramatic and ultimately bittersweet epic tale of Big Mac and Sammy Sosa. Their Ali-Frazier like slugfest in the pursuit of Roger Maris’ single season home run record. On the National League side of the scoreboard, a slot was used for the individual battle. Using two pitching numbers, one of the crew would slide in a new number when McGwire or Sosa went deep. Later on, when Mac was racking up career HR highlights, supervisor Joe Gramen would post up near the exit door where the leaderboard was or the 60 year old would run down to it when Mac went deep. I’ve never seen an old man move that fast.

(Phil Carlson) With the Detroit Tigers unwittingly lending a hand, manual scoreboard operator Danny Buffa playfully heckles one of the ushers working below during the Cardinals-Giants game Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.
(Phil Carlson)
With the Detroit Tigers unwittingly lending a hand, manual scoreboard operator Danny Buffa playfully heckles one of the ushers working below during the Cardinals-Giants game Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.

Years later, I don’t care what Mac said he did or didn’t do. Those were fun seasons.

Press Box Perks

Every time I’d walk into the press box and see Jack Buck sitting by himself in the red suit and calmly taking a few moments before the game, it was a pleasure I kept in my memory bank. I’d occasionally go over to him and say hello, and he would flash that 10,000 watt smile and make me feel like the most important man on the earth. When he died, it wasn’t fair to anyone. He was truly the best. Still is.

Non Press Box Perks

Having Al Hrakosky joke to one of the crew that they put a zero in upside down. True story.

Worst moment ever

Listening to a game I couldn’t work at home and hearing Joe Buck say on the air that a number on a game was put in upside down. Uncommon but forgivable mistake. When the person working that game is your best friend that you brought on, it was a problem.

Breaking the board down after a game

When the teams left the field and fans left the seats, Busch got empty and quiet. The lights would get shut off. On the nights I’d choose to clean the board and set it up for the next day, I’d come out afterwards, sit on the retired banners concourse and just take it in. One of the underrated perks of working at a stadium is seeing it when it sleeps. Looking down on the field where so much had happened and so much would happen, it was hard to not get nostalgic. I miss those midnight hangouts.

Talking to the sportswriters

Every chance I had, I’d walk over to Miklasz, Strauss or Bryan Burwell and just bounce stuff off their shields. They were the hot stuff beat writers and commentary artists, and I was the scrappy young blogger/aspiring journalist. I’d present a theory to them and see how much it weighed. Sometimes a good conversation broke out. Sometimes, I’d look like an idiot. They were always classy and gracious. I miss those days.

I don’t miss the hair I had, the buckets of sweat I shed or banging my head seventy times a season. The Manual Scoreboard will always be the best job I ever had. It combined baseball, friends, and some cash. I was disappointed the new stadium didn’t retain the board but was quietly happy to retire after 8 grueling yet special seasons.

What are your greatest memories from the old Busch Stadium?

 

My endorsement for Twitter’s “Bruno”

As the new season begins in a week, it’s time to follow a few new accounts. Cards fans, take a look at Bruno.

I know what you are thinking. What the fuck am I writing about the St. Louis Cardinals account known as @StlCardsCards, aka the account with Tom Brunansky as his profile pic?

He goes by Bruno now and his podcast is tentatively called the Jon Hamm podcast. He has been going back and forth with me on the validity of spring training for 24 hours now, including 87 tweets, two podcasts and one long extended pissing contest about who is right, wrong and how certain groups on Twitter are just dumb.

Let me explain.

When the Roo Court started up Cards Madness, I secretly wanted Bruno to win. I voted for him over @CardinalTales aka Bob the Barbecue Great. I even voted for Bruno over my writing idol, Bernie Miklasz. It was a Twitter account contest. Not a “best writer” contest. Bruno and I don’t belong anywhere near the latter event.

Why did I vote for Bruno? He brings something different and unique to the Twitterverse. You won’t find too many accounts on the social networking giant(started by a STL local named Jack) that can combine Joe Strauss worthy snark, a real knowledge of the game, and a willingness to be the heel in many conversations. Bruno likes to the the bastard and embraces it. He breaks down other accounts because they either can’t handle his level of attack or they just don’t understand what he brings. It’s not to be taken seriously. Then again, it’s not a joke either.

If Bruno tries to tell you it’s nothing personal, he is lying. It’s always personal and he means what he says. How is it not personal if it sincere? However, he isn’t getting on Twitter to combat you and drive you insane. He wants you to think and laugh. I remember early last season, Bruno and I didn’t follow each other but he led the “Account I Don’t Follow Yet See Retweeted A Shitload” standings. I liked what he brought to the table, even though we disagreed on many things. Disagreeing is okay people. It starts up conversations that scan many tweets, smacks, chats and long lasting feelings. It’s how you connect with other sports fans on Twitter. You can either handle it or you take it VERY personally and go away.

I liked what he brought and followed. You won’t find many Bruno’s on the net. I don’t think you will ever see another account with Tom Brunansky as their profile pic. Soon, he followed back, even though he constantly reminds how all his 101(or so) follow backs that he really shouldn’t follow them and they are nuts, dumb or something weird and harsh. We discussed Matt Adams(back when I defended the now low value pile of Buffalo Wild Wings junk). We came together on the tragedy of Oscar Taveras and shared our articles. We disagree on Mike Matheny’s baseball IQ. We disagree on how much stock should be given to spring training games. Do they matter? How much? Do player stats matter? Trends? Streaks?

While I disagreed with him these past 24 hours over and over again(I’ve never talked so long about exhibition games), I never lost respect for Bruno. Not at all. It may not seem that way when we zing each other and quote tweet the fuck out of each other’s accounts. As I told Bruno’s podcast partner John Rabe, that is what happens when passion, stubbornness, and a need to impose your will clash together on a social media network.

After all, like many of my favorite Cards follows, I have never met Bruno in person nor do I know his name. He’s basically Lucas Hood from Banshee. A man with no true identity. He may be called Gary, Connor, Calvin, Charlie, Devin, Brock, Scott, Steve, Dave, Fletcher, Barry or Ralph for all I know. I have a feeling I will never know his name and I am cool with that. Unlike several Twitter accounts without a real name, Bruno has never changed his profile pic(well there was that idiotic Cards Cyborg shit last year for a day or so) or his handle. Like my other favorite follows such as Art Lippo and Cardinals Farm, he has stuck to his nickname. I can respect that.

On the start of another Cardinals season, it’s always a good time to follow a few new accounts. Now, for all the follow back sweethearts, Bruno may not follow you back. He won’t until he hears you out, sees your tweeting style, and decides if he wants to drop a few 140 character hand grenades on your day. Don’t be discouraged.

There are some accounts I follow on Twitter that don’t follow back. Ten to be exact and if Bruno unfollowed me, I’d still follow him. Why? He brings something unique, doesn’t back down from a fight and keeps me honest. While I still disagree with him overall on the validity of spring training stats, he got me thinking and made me dig in deeper into my stance on the subject. He wasn’t mean, overly harsh, or an asshole. Well, maybe a little of the last one, but sometimes it is required to get a point across. Again, I can respect that.

Follow @StlCardsCards. If you aren’t on Twitter, get on Twitter and follow him. Follow him, Art, Rabe, Farm, and a few others. He is a funny man with a knowledge for the game.

He can even make spring training games seem interesting with his tweets.

I endorse Bruno for Twitter, even though he compared me to Donald Trump today.

Cardinals: The Cubs haven’t won anything yet

The Cubs may be the new kid in town but the Cardinals will have plenty of firepower to hold them off. My warning to Chicago fans.

The last time I checked, baseball games weren’t won in December, January or February. They aren’t won in spring training or by preseason polls or predictions. For the St. Louis Cardinals, a challenge from a divisional rival is not only expected but necessary.

When you are the Cardinals, things don’t go according to plan but you deal with it because the General Manager plans on disruption, chaos and misfortune. No matter what was thrown at the Cardinals in 2015, they endured and won 100 games and the division. Their luck ran out but a message was preserved. Trouble may find them, but their shape moving forward won’t bend too much or break. The Cardinals are resilient.

Let’s go over some facts before I break into some subjective prose.

Since 2000, the Cardinals have made the playoffs 12 times. That’s 12 times in 15 tries.

They have made the playoffs five straight seasons, including three straight division titles. I can’t tell you the last time the Cubs, Pirates, Brewers or Cubs did that. That is because they never did. The Cardinals are the team to chase. Nothing has changed. Continue reading “Cardinals: The Cubs haven’t won anything yet”

Jim Edmonds: A Hall of Famer in my book

Whether Jim Edmonds was a Hall of Famer is up for discussion. Getting tossed off the ballot after just one season is a voting injustice.

Jim Edmonds won’t get another shot at the Hall of Fame. After receiving a terribly low amount of votes(2.5 percent, needed 5 to stay on another year) in his first year of eligibility, Edmonds won’t get next year or the year after that. It’s a shame. Edmonds deserves a discussion or at least another chance to be considered.

I’ll admit I am bias. I watched all of Edmonds’ golden years at Busch Stadium from behind the Manual Scoreboard at old Busch. He was a unique and game changing player. He didn’t have the lofty 3,000 hits, 500 home runs or multiple World Series wins that voters covet or look for. Edmonds did plenty in his 17 year career.

He slugged .527 and compiled an average WAR(wins above replacement) of 3.5 over his career, which included six teams, mostly spent with the Angels and Cardinals. He won eight gold gloves and made four All Star game appearances. He changed the way center field could be played, hovering in shallow center and being able to cover a ton of ground by the time he dove into the grass making an unbelievable catch.

Edmonds was elite for an extended period of time with the Cardinals from 2000-2005, compiling an average WAR of 6.1 and winning six straight gold gloves while slugging 30 or more home runs in four of those seasons. With St. Louis, his OPS was .947 over 8 seasons and .856 over 7 seasons with Anaheim.

He wasn’t a playoff slouch. Edmonds hit 13 home runs and drove in 42 runs with 16 doubles while slugging .551 in 64 playoff games. He made the miraculous diving catch off a Brad Ausmus line drive and hit the game winning home run in Game 6 against Houston in the 2004 World Series. Edmonds had several historic moments and a swing that wasn’t as pretty as Ken Griffey Jr.’s but still effective and compact.

Edmonds is far from a Hall of Fame lock. He always has been a long shot. His 393 home runs won’t woo many. His 1199 RBI’s won’t gather a crowd. His 1,949 hits won’t make anybody’s jaw drop. He did deserve another couple of years of discussion and debate.

He made people stop and think. What makes a career Hall of Fame worthy? Is it a prolonged excellence? An overall solid piece of work, perhaps? Or, do you take a player who was excellent for two different periods of time with two different clubs in two different leagues? Edmonds was great from 1995-98 with the Angels but stellar from 2000-2005 with the Cardinals. Doesn’t that deserve more than a year of consideration?

Edmonds signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals after the 2010 season, but retired in February before spring training unfolded. He was 40 and his body was done. He wanted to give it one last go and try to reach 400 home runs, 2000 hits and add more polish to his career. While it may have added a few more long balls to his career, it could have showed an Edmonds that wasn’t as useful or fun to watch. It does make you think. If healthy, could Edmonds have done better than Colby Rasmus and Jon Jay in 2011? We will never know.

Know this. Edmonds had a HOF caliber career. Far from a lock but nearly as distant from a one and done, he was a signature player who left his mark. Years from now. Decades from now. Fathers and mothers will tell their kids about that lefty who cranked meaningful home runs, stole others from over the wall and created dazzling moments. Edmonds is a better ballplayer than at least 2 or 3 of the centerfielders currently in the Hall of Fame, right?

Edmonds deserved better from the voters. Better than 2.5 percent. He was a Hall of Famer in my book.

(In case you missed it on KSDK)

Joe Strauss: One of a Kind Journalist

The world lost a good journalist Sunday.

Joe Strauss/STL Today

Joe Strauss was late. Matt Holliday had just left the media room at the 2014 Winter Warmup and Strauss had wanted to ask him a question. It was a familiar question but the spin Strauss put on it was unique. Derrick Goold and Jenifer Langosch had asked him the same question but in a different way. It pertained to Holliday’s new teammate, Jhonny Peralta, and his past PED suspension. Strauss walked into the writers room, sat down and asked, “So did Holliday put up his usual moral police stance on PED?”

When I first heard it, I was mad. Enraged. I thought to myself, “What was Holliday supposed to do, tell General Manager John Mozeliak not to sign Peralta because Holliday was so Anti-PED?” I wanted to take a run at Strauss and challenge him. This is was what made Strauss so good at his job. He asked the uncomfortable questions other journalists only thought about afterwards.

Strauss challenged players, coaches, GM’s, his fellow writers and most importantly, fans, to see the other side of the spectrum. The dirty uneven side of an issue rarely talked about. He got me mad about his Holliday claim, but he also got me thinking real hard about my own stance on PED, Holliday’s comments and the future of the game in relation to this reputation. In that one moment, he did what he did best. He challenged me.

Strauss left us Sunday, at the young age of 54, from complications in his battle with leukemia. Like his late fellow colleague Bryan Burwell, Strauss didn’t make his fight with cancer a public one. He fought it behind closed doors, in an abandoned warehouse in his own space where he saw fit. He fought it since January and even survived long enough to write his best most hard hitting column last month about the Mizzou crisis. It was his final swing at a plate where he dominated for many years as a beat reporter and short period as a columnist.

I rarely agreed with Strauss but I respected him more than the people I often agreed with. Does that make sense? Often, Strauss kicked a leg out on the comfy bandwagon many fans rode on. He liked to spin the wheel like calling out young starter Carlos Martinez during a rough patch, discuss the possibility of a player using performance enhancing drugs or challenging popular thought. He did this so much that Albert Pujols nicknamed him “El Diablo”. You know what though…Pujols respected him. So did I.

Strauss didn’t dress flashy or bring an IPhone into media gatherings to take pics of players. It wasn’t required. Imagine Peter Falk’s Columbo dressing like a reporter, and that was Strauss. He had one goal and an initiative every time he entered the press box. He stood there and traded shots with Tony La Russa on many occasions. He made colleagues nervous. He got on Twitter and poked the Best Fans in Baseball with trivial observations. If narrative was water, Joe Strauss was oil. They didn’t mix and he liked it that way.

When I cover the Winter Warmup next month, I’ll miss Strauss. That’s the last thing I thought I would say this year but it’s true. I’ll miss his presence keeping every other scribe honest. I’ll miss his curveballs and verbal fastballs that made players do a double take before answering. I’ll miss seeing a Twitter notification from him rubbing people the wrong way and causing fellow journalism students to formulate a popular defense. I’ll miss the 140 character batches of tears he caused.

This has been a terribly drastic year of loss for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Burwell passed away from cancer last December. Film critic Joe Williams died in a tragic car accident this past summer. Now Strauss is gone. I had the opportunity to talk to all three, debated with them and respected them. I learned from each of them. The world lost three different kinds of fire.

Young journalists should read Strauss’ work. Study it. Take the articles apart. Read them over and over again. There’s a world of knowledge in there. I doubt a hardcore fan can read more than two Strauss takes without feeling a fiery pull inside their heart and throat. A need to debate his point of view. It’s hard to not get fired up about his various stances over the years. His work will live on, growing legs that hopefully touch many up and coming scribes.

Joe Strauss was a journalist who would run towards a player or manager when others decided to retreat. He was never afraid of finding dirt. Sometimes, a writer(even myself) can struggle with that particular initiative. Do you write something that makes you the bad yet honorable scribe? Do you ask that question that may divide a room? Joe was that guy. I feel honored to have known him. Rest in peace Joe.