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World Series Outlook: The Baseball Way

I don’t have a dog in this hunt for October glory, so I’m looking forward to good baseball by two good baseball clubs when the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox meet in the 2013 World Series starting Wednesday. But if pressed to take a side, I’d have to admit that I’ve always been more partial to the Cardinals. Blame Stan Musial. In 1960, when I was nine years old, my family flew to St. Louis to visit relatives. Unfortunately, it was the off season, so we couldn’t take in any Cardinal games. But we did get to Stan Musial’s restaurant for dinner. I was already well aware of the greatness of this ballplayer, right up to being able to mimic his trademark batting stance. My Dad, Mom and sister were at our table, and my Dad asked the waitress if they had any autographed pictures of Stan, and told her that while we were Giants fans, we were admirers of Mr. Musial. The waitress said she’d check, and then came back a couple of minutes later to ask if we’d like to meet Stan. My Dad and I were both in shock, and we followed the waitress to the back of the restaurant. She led us into an office and there stood Stan Musial with his hand extended to my Dad’s. I was a Catholic kid, and I had never met the pope, but I was thinking it couldn’t be any better than this. Stan shook our hands, said he was glad we stopped by, and signed a photo of him in his Cardinals uniform right before our eyes. I still have that picture proudly displayed on the top shelf of my sports memorabilia book shelf. I’ve often told that story to friends and strangers, and noted how Stan was the role model for all athletes. He could have easily told our waitress he wasn’t there, or maybe just given her a generic signed photo to present. We never would have known. On January 19, 2013, I heard of the passing of Mr. Musial. I went over to the book shelf, and reverently brought Mr. Musial’s photo to the front and center of other items, and paused to reflect that there was a reason they just didn’t call him Stan the Ballplayer. He truly was Stan The Man.

OTHER WORLD SERIES THOUGHTS:

* The St. Louis Cardinals, having topped the Dodgers, got ready to face the Boston Red Sox. That was the scenario in 1946, after the Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers tied in the regular season with 96-58 records. The teams then met in the first-ever best two-of-three-game playoff to determine the league champion. The Cardinals won the opener 4-2 at Sportsman Park in St. Louis as they knocked out Dodgers starter Ralph Branca in the third inning. St. Louis finished off the Dodgers the next day with an 8-4 win at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers would  be involved in the next three-game National League playoff five years later in 1951 against the New York Giants. The Dodgers would again fall, and Branca again would be the victim. The Cardinals went on to defeat the Red Sox in the World Series, rallying from a 3-2 game deficit to win the title in seven. The Cardinals got the best of the Red Sox again when they next met in the World Series in 1967, winning in seven games largely because of the pitching of St. Louis starter Bob Gibson (3 complete games, 3 runs in 27 innings, 26 strikeouts). The Red Sox finally turned the tables when the clubs squared off in the 2004 World Series, with Boston sweeping the Cardinals.

* I can’t wait for Wednesday’s first pitch. Then perhaps the press can stop talking about The Cardinals Way and we can focus on what actually happens on the field. I’m hip to the idea, and the fact that it became the storyline in the NLCS against the Dodgers. While the Cardinals in effect stole a page out of the Pirates of 1979 with a “We Are Family” theme, the Dodgers were singing “We Are a Dysfunctional Family.” First, this disclaimer: What the Cardinals organization is doing is successful and impressive. There is no argument there. But those who keep pounding this theme home should realize that this is a very worn theme. When Bill Neukom took over ownership of the Giants in 2008, he talked about “The Giants Way.” A year later, the Giants were champs, and two years later, they were champs again. The Giants hammered home the point of “25 guys playing as one” to the point of irritation to everyone in baseball except the all-in Giants fans in 2012. Through the years, I recall nearly every champagne-soaked player and coach ever interviewed after a World Series title credit teamwork, character and how everyone contributed. So, good for Cardinals that your team has all these things, but can we just stop talking and play ball already?

* Boston has the home-field advantage, and the club’s players didn’t have much to do with it. The American League blanked the National League 3-0 in the All-Star Game, thereby giving the Red Sox four home games if the Series goes seven. Boston can thank the 10 American League pitchers who shut down the NL. Not one Red Sox pitcher was among them.

* While St. Louis stays united by doing things The Cardinal Way, the Red Sox bond through their beards. The look might not be very appealing, but you can’t argue with the results. The Red Sox went from a team in disarray with a 93-loss, last-place finish in 2012 to a 97-victory pennant-winning year in 2013. Credit new manager John Farrell and a roster shake-up. But don’t forget to credit the beards, which experts in beard-ology say build camaraderie and friendship.  I’m not sure if I’m buying that. I have close male friends, and I can’t imagine how we’d just get all tighter if we grew beards together. It actually seems kind of creepy. Regardless, the beards are joining The Cardinals Way as something we’re going to have to get used to for the next week or two. The one advantage I see in the forest-like facial hair is that it gives the Red Sox a unique way to pull off the hidden ball trick. Also, has this rule book issue come up this season for Boston? If a high and tight pitch brushes a beard, is that a hit by pitch?

* This argument was lost long ago, but why not have World Series games played during the day? I’m not naïve. I understand MLB’s three-word answer: Money, Money, Money. Boston will have highs in the low 50s and lows in the mid 30s this week. St. Louis expects highs ranging from 58 to 65 and lows from 37 to 43 Saturday through Monday. Which means that the day-time temperatures seem comfortable for baseball and the evening temperatures seem fitting for a Packers home game on the frozen tundra. It’s not as if fans are going to miss the game if it’s played during the afternoon. Most folks could record it, and through the Internet and mobile devices, can pretty much track the game as it is happening. As for time zones, the West Coast always gets a break because the games start around 5 p.m. But in these days of 3-1/2 to 4-hour World Series games, East Coast fans have to struggle to stay up to midnight to watch. And besides, by not playing on weekday afternoons, they’re taking all the fun out of it for kids, who’ll never get the chance to learn the skill of checking for the score on the transistor radio while teachers write on chalk board with their back turned to the class. Of course, I understand that today’s kid would respond: Transistor what?

* Las Vegas odds makers like the Red Sox. An MLB.com analysis ranked the Red Sox ahead in eight of 13 matchup categories. This Series seems so evenly matched that a prediction is not more than playing a hunch or guesswork. My only thought is the Cardinals bullpen is stronger than Detroit’s, and is less lilkely to surrender the big inning. Yet, the Red Sox bench appears stronger than that of the Cardinals. So my game-within-the game focus is going to be on Cardinals relievers vs. Red Sox pinch-hitters or late inning subs. One thing appears certain: the Cardinals can’t go into the ninth trailing. Red Sox closer Koji Uehara is untouchable, even more intimidating than the 100-mph fastball of impressive Cardinal closer Trevor Rosenthal.

* On April 15, 2013, Boston and the nation were shocked by the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon. It was hard not to root for Boston after that, not just from a baseball sense, but as a way to rally around its people, who responded to the tragedy with strength and determination that the attack would not change life in the great city. I would imagine that the equally good folks of St. Louis, after cheering as passionately as they can for their team during the World Series, might be inclined to applaud the Red Sox if Boston won it. That kind of reaction would be OK. I know that Stan the Man would understand.

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