“Something Missing” in camp: Cardinals without legends in Spring Training

St. Louis Cardinals

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.

Cardinals’ Hall of Famer Lou Brock dies at 81 

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.

Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson dies at 84 

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.

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Members of our team, including Sports Director Martin Kilcoyne, Charlie Marlow, and Rich Gould have covered every significant moment in St. Louis sports since 1987, from the football Cardinals’ departure for Arizona to the arrival of the St. Louis Rams; from the Mark McGwire home run chase to the Cardinals’ World Series titles, to the St. Louis Rams and the Greatest Show on Turf era’s Super Bowl crown; from Brett Hull to Vladimir Tarasenko, we’ve covered the Blues all the way to the team’s first Stanley Cup.

Think of all the great characters in St. Louis area sports history. Jack Buck, Mike Shannon, Charlie Spoonhour, Norm Stewart, Whitey Herzog, Tony LaRussa, Stan Musial, Dick Vermiel, Lou Brock, Albert Pujols, Kurt Warner, Ozzie Smith, Hull, Pat Maroon, Keith Tkachuk, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, David Freese. All of them talk to us.

About the St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals are one of Major League Baseball’s iconic franchises. The team with the “Birds on the Bat” have won more World Series titles than any other National League club, and are second only to the New York Yankees overall.

St. Louis has been home to a National League franchise since 1892, but the franchise wasn’t known as the Cardinals until 1900.

Behind future Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, the Cardinals won their first World Series in 1926 over the Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig Yankees. The ‘Gashouse Gang’ era Cardinals dominated the 1930s thanks to Dizzy Dean, Johnny Mize and Joe Medwick and won the 1934 World Series.

Did you know that Branch Rickey, who would later rise to fame for bringing Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues and breaking baseball’s color barrier, invented the minor league farm system we know today with the St. Louis Cardinals? It was Rickey who built a system of affiliate teams to grow talent that would later shine in St. Louis. In the 1930s and 1940s, that system produced the likes of future Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and Enos Slaughter, all of whom won World Series championships for the Cardinals.

The Musial-era Cardinals would later give way to a new generation, and it was Bob Gibson and Lou Brock who helped bring the World Series back to St. Louis in the 1960s. Gibson had one of the most dominant seasons in baseball history in 1968. He was so good baseball lowered the mound the following year.

The 1970s saw the end of the Gibson and Brock years, the trade of Steve Carlton to Philadelphia and the arrival of Keith Hernandez. Hernandez would share the 1979 NL MVP award with Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell.

For the Cardinals, the 1980s could be summed up in a single word: Whiteyball. Behind Manager Whitey Herzog, baseball in St. Louis became synonymous with speed, stolen bases and defense. Shortstop Ozzie Smith was acquired from San Diego, and with Hernandez, second baseman Tommy Herr, a rookie outfielder named Willie McGee and closer Bruce Sutter, the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series over the Milwaukee Brewers. After Hernandez would dealt to the New York Mets, that core of players, along with slugger Jack Clark, would get the Cardinals to two more World Series trips that decade.

The 1980s saw the end of the Gussie Busch ownership era for the Cardinals. When he died in 1989, the Anheuser-Busch brewery took over after nearly 40 years under his watch.

In 1996 the brewery sold the club to the ownership group still led today by Bill DeWitt, Jr. The DeWitt family brought in former Oakland A’s manager Tony LaRussa, who would go on to be the winningest manager in team history. With another former Oakland hand running the front office in Walt Jocketty, the team acquired Mark McGwire from the A’s in 1997. The slugging first baseman would break Roger Maris’ single-season record for Home Runs in 1998 in a chase with Sammy Sosa that captivated the nation, only later to be tainted by the use of performance-enhancing drugs that McGwire admitted to years later.

In 2001, a young rookie named Albert Pujols burst on the St. Louis scene. Playing all over the field, he was the runaway winner of the National League MVP, setting the stage for the most dominant decade of offensive performance ever seen in a player’s first ten years in Major League Baseball. Catcher Yadier Molina came on board in 2004 as the Cardinals made their first World Series appearance since 1987. Two years later, a rookie pitcher named Adam Wainwright would fill in as the closer on a club that won its first World Series since 1982.

The Cardinals’ third World Series appearance in eight seasons may have been the most improbable when it came in 2011. A team that was left for dead at the start of September managed to roar into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season behind the pitching heroics of Chris Carpenter down the stretch. Once in the playoffs, the legend of David Freese was born. Freese, a St. Louis County native, won the National League Championship Series MVP by slugging three home runs against Milwaukee. Then in the World Series against Texas, down to the team’s last strike in what would have been a Rangers clincher, a Freese triple tied the game. A Freese home run in extra innings forced a Game 7, which the Cardinals won, bringing an 11th World Series crown home.

Albert Pujols left via free agency in the offseason and LaRussa retired, but the Cardinals kept moving forward, reaching the 2013 World Series against the Boston Red Sox with former catcher Mike Matheny now managing the club. In some respects, the Cardinals are still recovering from what happened October 26, 2014, when outfielder Oscar Taveras, considered a potentially generational talent who could have become the face of the franchise, died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.

The Matheny era would last 6.5 seasons, until he was replaced by current manager Mike Shildt in 2018.

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