ST. LOUIS– The St. Louis Cardinals, a franchise with a rich sense of tradition, doesn’t just celebrate its past players in the form of statues and ceremonial first pitches. It has shown over the years a need and a desire to tap into that history in the form of players from the past passing on what they’ve learned to players in the present.
With the coronavirus and the march of time, the last few year have shown the franchise how much that tapestry of the past means to the organization, and how much it is missed.
Red Schoendienst, the Hall of Fame player, manager and a staple of Cardinal baseball for more than half a century, died in 2018.
Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock, a fixture at Spring Training and Busch Stadium long after his legendary playing career ended, died on September 6, 2020.
Less than a month later, on the October 2nd night the Cardinals were eliminated from the postseason by the San Diego Padres, word surfaced in postgame comments that Hall of Fame Pitcher Bob Gibson had died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Gibson, the ace of the 1960s Cardinals, had developed a relationship with current ace Jack Flaherty, after Gibson’s phone number was left in Flaherty’s locker.
With COVID protocols in place, the usual interactions between former players like Ozzie Smith, Jim Edmonds and others with current players haven’t been possible, and Manager Mike Shildt said it’s particularly felt in this Spring Training.
“There’s something missing in camp. Camp’s going great. This is the first time in my 18 years in this organization that you haven’t seen the rightful protection of our institutional knowledge, our hall of famers being present, being involved in camp. It’s just a huge part of getting people to understand being good caretakers of the organization and also being able to loearn from these guys, including myself,” Shildt told reporters Wednesday morning.
“It’s not the organization’s choice,” he said. “We only have so many spots for people that are with us more on a daily basis, and a lot of people that are in the organization full time aren’t even here, so people wonder why aren’t they here?”
Shildt said he planned on talking with former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog in the coming days, and was hopeful that some of that inter-generational interaction featuring the likes of Ozzie Smith and Bruce Sutter could happen over Zoom, with the possibility of it being in person sometime this season at Busch Stadium.