My Early Days 



Late 80's/
Early 90's
My Early Days
Baseball loyalty has not been passed down the generations in my family. This is in stark contrast to football, where the Grizzards have been Washington Redskins fans for three full generations. The story goes that my Grandpa (my Dad's dad) attended the very first Washington Redskins game in 1937. My Dad has been a 'Skins fan his whole life, as has my generation, which consists of me and my brothers Mark and Paul. So while the Redskins are my team with a strong family connection, the Cardinals are the team that I followed independently of family. And the Cards are hands-down the team that I spent most of my childhood time following.

My family moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Normal, IL (the twin city of Bloomington, for those unfamiliar with Central Illinois) when I was 4 years old in 1980. The combination of having had no team in D.C. for a decade and moving to a new place meant that my family was a set of "free agent" baseball fans. Over the first few years, Mom and Dad got invited to attend several Cubs-Cards games at Wrigley with church folks, and they became Cub fans. Being halfway between Chicago and St. Louis, the town was basically split between the Cubs and the Cards. I believe that White Sox fans were far fewer in Central Illinois because of the fact that the Sox are left out of this rivalry. The question was, "Are you a Cubs fan or Cards fan?" Our church, of course, was split along these lines as well. I was given some Cardinals souvenir stadium cups by some Cards fans from church. My soccer team was named the Cardinals, which was likely because of the World Series victory in 1982. Kids my age didn’t really seem to remember that particular World Series (I certainly didn't), but I think we had an idea that "Cardinals" meant something good.

As a result, I started liking the Cardinals, though I wasn’t very strong yet. The first baseball season I remember was 1984. My parents were actually at the infamous "Sandberg game" in ’84 when Willie McGee hit for the cycle and was named Player of the Game by NBC before Sandberg’s double-heroics. Dad called me after the game, and I was grumpy about it. When the Cubs won the division and went to the playoffs that year, I got totally wrapped up in Cub-mania. With the Cards out, I rooted for the Cubs temporarily, but I was at risk of changing allegiances permanently. Fortunately, Leon Durham helped me gain some perspective, even as an 8-year old.

1985 came around and the Cards won me over forever. Not only were they so good, but they also played my kind of baseball. I was a little, scrawny pip-squeak with lots of speed. When I played baseball, you could forget about home runs, or even extra-base hits. I just wanted to hit the ball slowly on the ground and get to first before they could throw me out. And for me, the reward for getting on first was it gave me the opportunity to do the most exciting thing in baseball: stealing. I loved the challenge, the timing, and using my speed to get to second. Or third. And for the Cards in the mid-‘80s, almost the entire lineup consisted of grownups built just like me. I identified with those teams so strongly, and their success was not only exciting baseball, but I think it also affirmed to me that little speedy guys can be great. It was the summer before my 4th grade year, and I was hooked for life.

As a kid, you have so much free time, and I spent much of mine on the Cardinals. Our local radio station WJBC broadcast all the games and I would listen to just about every game in its entirety. And on weekends, if the Cards won, I would head downstairs to see the local news to watch the highlights (that was past my bedtime on weeknights—when I got older, I was able to do this on weeknights also). If we were traveling, or if I had other things going on, I would still find out how the Cardinals did before I went to bed. That was true from 1985 through the rest of the decade at least. My brothers and I also got into collecting baseball cards big-time starting in '85 and continuing for the next couple of years.

Though I found these images on the internet, I know we have these cards...somewhere.

Under Manager Whitey Herzog, the Cards played "Whiteyball" at its best. Rookie leadoff hitter Vince Coleman was my favorite because he was such a stolen base threat. He changed the game. Walking him was absolutely the worst thing a pitcher could do, because it was like giving up a triple. So he’d get good pitches to hit. Plus, the infield had to play in, because he wasn’t just a bunting threat, he was a "routine grounder to short, safe at first" threat. When he would get on base, the pitchers were shaking in their shoes.

For me, there was nothing more intriguing than Vince getting on first. Everything became harder for the other team. And give Ozzie Smith credit—he’s in the Hall Of Fame because of his unequaled defensive excellence, but he allowed Vince to set records by taking pitches. Instead of sacrificing outs to move runners over, the Cards would sacrifice strikes. "There he goes, the pitch is a strike, and safe at second. There he goes, strike two, safe at third." Ozzie had to bat with 2 strikes so often that I think his batting average would have been higher had he been more selfish. I made my own "Vince-O-Meter," where I tracked his cumulative steals for the season and projected it for what it would be at the end of the season. Vince did not disappoint. He stole 110 bases that year, which still stands as a rookie record.

But it wasn't just Vince who could steal; the Cards had jackrabbits up and down the lineup. Willie McGee led the league in hitting and was named the 1985 National League MVP. With Vince in left, Willie in center, and Andy Van Slyke in right, the outfielders could cover some serious ground. This was critical because of the spacious territory at the Old Busch Stadium.

Ozzie Vince Old Busch Willie

The infield was Ozzie at short, Terry Pendleton at third, Tommy Herr at second, and Jack Clark at first. Clark was our big power guy, and really the only non-pitcher or catcher who wasn't a serious threat to steal. Our catching situation was less steady, with Darrell Porter and Tom Nieto platooning. This is the lineup I first fell in love with. We had 5 guys each with over 30 steals: Vince with 110, Willie with 56 (can you believe 56 swipes and he was half of the team lead?), Van Slyke with 34, and Ozzie and Tommy with 31. Pendleton was sixth on the team with 17 pilfers. Altogether, the team had 314 steals on the season. Man, that was exciting!

As much as I loved stealing, when Jack Clark was up, I was thinking long ball. As our main slugger, he hit a "whopping" 22 homers. That really was a huge total for that team in that era. I learned to appreciate the home run in the way I think it was intended to be: an amazing rarity. The team hit a total of 87 homers that year. So basically on average, you could count on the Cards as a team to steal 2 bases every game and hit one homer every other game. I miss that era.

Our pitchers I remember most were Joaquin Andujar, John Tudor, Danny Cox, Bob Forsch, and Ken Dayley. Our closer became rookie Todd Worrell. I followed the pitchers and all the players with my "Redbird Review" magazine subscription. I even made my own signs for each player that I would bring out when I got to see games on TV. Even for bench guys, like "JohnnyMo" and Jose Oquendo, "The Secret Weapon" It was a fun summer for this 9-year old.

I could go on and on about these memories. The Cards won the N.L. East Division in ’85, but Vince got run over by the tarp during the NLCS. Still, the Cards went on to beat the Dodgers on Ozzie’s impossible homer to win game 5 and Jack Clark’s 9th inning blast in game 6.

In the World Series against the Royals, the Cards went up 3 games to 1, but lost game 5, which concerned me a bit. Then in game 6, pinch hitter Brian Harper broke through with a clutch RBI single in the top of the 8th to give the Cards a 1-0 lead. I was already in bed, but I wasn’t sleeping. When the top of the ninth ended, Dad got me out of bed and said, “Philip, do you want to see the Cardinals win the World Series?” He was not and never has been a Cardinals fan. But he knew I would want to see it when the Cardinals won. I came down to see the disastrous bottom of the ninth, including the blown call at first base by the umpire.

Royals runner called safe.

There was still a chance for the Cards in game 7, but even though I was 9, I sort of knew that it didn’t look good. Sure enough, the Cards were completely stomped 11-0, and I didn’t even want to watch the end of the game. It broke my heart, but now I knew what it meant to be a fan.

After the hated Mets went all the way in ’86, the 1987 season opened with the Cards playing the Cubs on opening day. This was near the end of my 5th grade year, and our class was abuzz about the opening series. My teacher was a Cubs fan, as was probably about half of the class. When the Cards won the opener, I came to school early loaded with Cards gear, and gathered a bunch of Cardinal fans (and probably some bandwagon jumpers) to write the final score on the board and chant “Cardinals! Cardinals!” until our teacher arrived. She was a good sport about it, and even went to get another teacher to show him our display. That year during crafts time (or maybe during class, I'm not sure), I would make little paper Cardinals pennants and give them (or maybe sell them, I'm not sure) to other kids. I started on white paper with navy blue borders and red lettering. Then I started doing red borders and blue lettering. Then I started using red paper, and thought about how many different ways I could make these. In fact, it is my earliest memory of thinking about Combinatorics.

Vince Coleman set another still-standing record in '87 with his third consecutive 100-steal year. The Cards again won the division, this time clinching in the final week of the season. I heard the clinching game on the radio (as I did for just about every game), and got so excited about it the next morning that I started to imitate Jack Clark with a bag of powdered donuts. After a few swings, the bag broke, sending the donuts through our living room window. I had to sweep up the glass before the bus came. That put a temporary damper on my excitement.

After beating the Giants in 7 games in the NLCS, the Cards then had to play at that trash heap (they even have a garbage bag for the right field wall) with UFO lighting in Minneapolis. The 85-77 Twins had by far the worst record of all playoff teams, yet by rotation had the home field advantage all the way through the playoffs! Not only was their record weak, but in fact they had actually allowed more runs than they scored. They couldn’t win on the road (only 29-52 in the regular season and 0-3 in St. Louis in the World Series), but they didn’t have to because of their unearned advantage. That still burns me. Of course nobody else, including the Cardinals, could win in their gimmicky stadium, where it takes about 5 innings to learn how to read fly balls. So Willie McGee grounded out to end game 7 and the Twins beat the Cards 4 games to 3, and again I was crushed.
[Note: Four years later (after a full rotation of the four divisions), the Twins again had the unearned home field advantage. Again, they lost all their World Series games in Atlanta, but won that Series 4-3. They have won two World Series titles without winning a single game on the road. And their home field advantage was never earned. You know, I think after 2006 I can finally let this go, now that I've gotten to experience a Cardinals championship. Ahhh.]

Late 80's & Early 90's
So year after year, I kept rooting and hoping for years like '85 and '87, with a chance for a better ending. (Little did I know that there would be no more playoff appearances until my Junior year of college.) Since I was the big brother, Mark and Paul did whatever I did. So they were also Cardinals fans. Each Cubs-Cards series would be quite an event in the Grizzard household. It was a generational battle—it was in fun, but it was certainly a rivalry. I remember one year the Cards swept the Cubs at Wrigley, and I went out on the deck with a broom waiting for Dad to get home from work. When he drove up, I swung it around tauntingly.

In 1992, the Cardinals started wearing blue hats on the road. At first I was skeptical, but then it grew on me, especially after watching the Cards beat the Cubs at Wrigley. I really liked having a new combination of navy blue, red, and white for the StL logo. That was the summer I turned 16. Shortly after I got my driver's license, I went to the mall and bought the official hat—fitted. It was my first fitted hat. I wore it for several years in American Legion baseball.

I had honestly thought that Mark and Paul were actually Cardinals fans. But, like I’ve discovered about a few little things after we’ve grown up, they only were because of my presence as older brother. When I went to college, they really didn’t care much about baseball. Then Paul moved to Boston and became a Red Sox fan (at just the right time), and Mark lived on the North side of Chicago for a year and became a Cubs fan (there’s never a good time).

For all these years, the Cardinals were the only team that I followed in my childhood with whom I hadn't experienced a World Championship. The Redskins did it twice, the Bulls obviously did it a bunch, but not the Cards. Of course the franchise has had more than its share of success, but I hadn't tasted it—I knew of it only historically. And the Cards are the team that, in the innocence of my childhood, I witnessed lose two World Series after leads of 3 games to 1 and 3 games to 2. I was spoiled with the 'Skins and Bulls. But I never had the supreme fullfillment with the Cardinals. I paid my dues without reaping the ultimate benefit. That had been in my mind every season since I was a kid.

But life moved on, and I was no longer a little boy (technically)... Next to

Little Boy's Dream


Past Decade

Pennant Race



World Series