So I’m trying to figure this out. Let me first admit that I have generally avoided any articles or sound bites that make genuine attempts to explain what this “Cardinal Way” is that makes the St. Louis Cardinals such a force in the National League. Here’s what I can figure.
It mostly focuses on the fact that there’s no drama with the Cardinals, right? There’s no Yasiel Puig-like situation, there’s no unrest with the managerial situation, there’s no silly lead stories on Sportscenter. We just get to the playoffs each year and they show up and they’re really good again. What happens, I think, is we are somehow desperate to attribute features like playing good defense, running hard on the bases, or “not showing up the other team” to the fact that there’s no drama in St. Louis. I’m just not sure there’s a connection, frankly. I think they’re just good.
Consider the rumors that the Cardinals should trade for Troy Tulowitzki, which Troy Renck attempted to squash once again this morning in the Denver Post. These grumblings persist because he would seem to fit all of the intangibles that you associate with “playing the right way.” He is intense, plays hard, plays defense, so on. But really, that’s not why the Cardinals want him. They want him because he is really, really good. Look at it another way: if Hanley Ramirez was made available in a trade, are you telling me that the Cardinals wouldn’t want him because he loafs on the bases sometimes?
I just don’t think so. They would recognize the extraordinary value in having a shortstop with that much pop in his bat. That, if anything, is the “Cardinal Way:” identifying talent and building up a roster of valuable players.
It is similar to all of the praise heaped on Rockies’ outfielder Michael Cuddyer for hustling, being a leader, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, because there is value in all of those things. But we probably wouldn’t give a darn about them if Cuddy wasn’t also a really good player. And I guess that’s what I’m saying here.
For some reason we want the Cardinals’ success to be about something other than the fact that they have a bunch of really good players. If teams across the league want to try and follow their example, they need to try and identify value, develop a stockpile of young arms, and build deep and versatile rosters. Isn’t that what they should be going anyway? It seems to me that this has to do a lot more with being good at baseball and finding a bunch of guys who are good at baseball than any other silly narrative.