The United Cardinal Bloggers strike again, this time with a recap of 2007. We each selected the five stories that we thought were the most important for 2007 in relation to the Cardinals. Check out CardinalNationGlobe, CardinalGM, Readin’ Redbird, Rockin’ the Red and Stan Musial’s Stance for their takes. (I’ll direct link to their stories when they are up.)
And, after the jump, my selections:
1. Front Office Shakeup
I’m not sure exactly what it says about the Cardinals season that more breath, ink and cyberspace were spent discussing those that don’t even put on a uniform than the actual games played. From the October 3 firing of Walt Jocketty, through the whole will-he-or-won’t-he-return dance of Tony LaRussa, after the long and drawn out GM search which included the almost-signing of Chris Antonelli, to the eventual promotion of John Mozeliak, the beginning of the offseason burned much hotter than most of the regular season had.
So far, it appears that Mozeliak is more of his “own man” than some of us had feared, expecting Jocketty lite. He’s let veterans go that, in years past, probably would have stayed and committed to going younger and looking toward the future. That said, it still appears that ownership missed its chance to freshen up the organization by bringing in new blood for both the GM job and managerial role.
It’s obviously too early to really pass judgment on these moves. The 2008 offseason should be more telling both in ownership’s commitment and Mozeliak’s acumen, with a larger group of quality free agents available.
2. The Edmonds trade
He was possibly the icon of the successful run of the Cardinals from 2000-2006. His streaky power, his ability to carry a team, and most vividly, his golden glove earned him the respect and admiration of most all in Cardinal Nation. So when Jim Edmonds was traded to San Diego December 14 for a Single-A third baseman, it rocked the fanbase.
It wasn’t that the trade was unjustified, just unexpected. Edmonds had slid in the last couple of years as he dealt with injuries and the advancement of age. Cardinal management, in my mind unwisely, had given him a two year extension after the ’06 World Series instead of just exercising his option, which meant Jimmy Radio was going to be an expensive part of what could be his last team, a team that probably wasn’t going anywhere.
When LaRussa wouldn’t commit to playing him everyday, Edmonds decided to go out on his terms. Few blamed him, instead turning their ire toward “cheap management” even though it was Edmonds who requested a trade. Jimmy gets to play his last year close to home on a contending team. I can’t fault him for that and wish him the best. He’ll always be a Cardinal to us, though.
3. The Death of Josh Hancock
Cardinal fans had been down this path before, but it was a road they never hoped to trod again. On April 29, reliever Josh Hancock, returning home after a night out on the town, ran into a parked tow truck on the interstate and was immediately killed.
The team flashed back to 2002 and the death of Darryl Kile. Both were pitchers and, in both instances, it was during a series with the Chicago Cubs. It was a tough situation to deal with, as LaRussa demonstrated by threatening to take a fungo bat to any report he suspected having ulterior motives in their questioning.
It later was revealed that Hancock’s blood alcohol level was well over the legal limit, that he had marijuana in his system, that he was texting at the time of the accident, that he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and that he was speeding. A combination that would have made it more surprising if he had survived than that he did not.
The team wore a patch denoting number 32 for the rest of the season. Only time will tell if it is reserved like Kile’s 57 or put back into use.
The incident put a harsh spotlight on the Cardinals and Tony LaRussa, who had been charged with a DUI during spring training. Many stated that TLR was at fault because he couldn’t expect the players to listen to him about drinking when he’d been caught doing the same thing. I think the fault has to lie with Hancock. Even if he hadn’t been drinking, the other factors in the accident very likely could have caused his death as well.
4. Rick Ankiel
On August 9, the Cardinals called up an outfielder that had hit 30 home runs for AAA Memphis. But this was no ordinary outfielder. The saga of Rick Ankiel was finally coming full circle.
Once a phenom pitcher who melted down on the biggest possible stage, Ankiel struggled to control his pitching, finally reaching the majors in 2004 and winning a game. That was to be his last win, however, as the next spring training, after another setback, he retired from pitching and became an outfielder.
Most everyone dismissed it as a novelty, a desperate attempt to stay in the game. Sure, Ankiel was a good hitting pitcher. That didn’t make him a good hitter.
Even after a knee problem sidelined him for most of a year, Ankiel continued to battle. He improved his hitting and defense before earning his August callup. That, though, was just the beginning.
After his storybook home run in his first game, sealing a 5-0 Cardinal win, Ankiel hit 2 HR two days later against the Dodgers. His arrival and hot hitting coincided–or perhaps inspired–the greatest winning run of Cardinal baseball in 2007 as the team pulled to within a game of first place in September.
While it’s possible to give Ankiel credit for some of the improvement of the team, it’s also possible that he was a part of stopping that momentum. On September 6, the news broke about his use of HGH in 2004. The next day, the Cardinals started a nine game losing streak, effectively ending their postseason hopes. Ankiel, whether shaken by the revelation or just figured out by pitchers, slumped during this stretch but had a small rebound later in the month.
Ankiel goes into spring training as the favorite for a starting outfield job. Whether he keeps it may be one of the top stories of 2008.
5. Days of Our Third Baseman
I really didn’t want to put the LaRussa/Rolen feud on this list. To some degree, it feels like something that is beneath the level of genuine baseball discussion. Personally, I felt that it was more a media creation, something they wouldn’t let go, than anything that was going on in the clubhouse.
However, when the feud leads to the strong possibility that Scott Rolen will be elsewhere next season and when the manager calls out the player in the press, it becomes legitimate discussion fodder in my mind, no matter how soap operaish it may be.
The trade of Edmonds probably reduces the chances that the Cardinals will move Rolen before the season starts. Not that they were desperate to do so, assuming the reports that they would not pick up any salary are correct. A strong start to the season, though, and he could be dealt. I think it would be a mistake–a healthy Rolen is a considerable asset to this team–but it wouldn’t surprise me any.
I still contend, though, that those that are telling Rolen to “shut up and play” are misguided. LaRussa is the one talking in the press. Rolen has never said anything about it until the last LaRussa comments, whereby he issued a statement saying that he was going to keep things private. Take whichever dog in the fight you want, but characterize them accurately is all I’m saying.
There were a lot of other great and memorable stories of 2007. LaRussa not using Pujols in the All-Star Game. LaRussa’s DUI. (Man, LaRussa made a lot of news in ’07, didn’t he?) The third-place finish of the Cardinals. The massive injury bug, starting with Carpenter on Opening Night and continuing through the painful Juan Encarnacion/foul ball collision and beyond. Cutting ties with David Eckstein. The battle between Dave Duncan and Anthony Reyes. The return of Jason Isringhausen to dominant closer status. The rise of Yadier Molina. It wasn’t a great year on the field, but it’s one with repercussions we won’t soon forget.