Reflection
       

MVPs
It is amazing the breadth of MVP-caliber performances turned in from all over the Cards' roster, while nobody carried the entire load. There is no official MVP in the Division series, but if we were to decide on one, you'd have to go with either Belliard or Carpenter. Of course Suppan won the NLCS MVP. For the World Series, I thought Rolen, with a .421 average, might get MVP honors, but of course Eckstein got it. For the playoffs as a whole, you've got to go with Yadi for hitting .358 and winning a series in the clutch. So that's MVP-level feats from 6 different Redbirds. But wait, who is this team's MVP? Can you believe that Phat Albert hasn't made this list yet? That makes 7 MVPs for the World Champs.

I would have to say that Yadi has emerged as the emotional leader of this team. He directed the pitching staff so beautifully, particularly our rookie-loaded bullpen. Of course his homer is the stuff of legend, but he also squeezed the last strike of both the NLCS and the World Series. And I would have to say he filled his role as the first one to celebrate splendidly each time. He has such a euphoria about him in those moments, how can you not smile just watching it? Unless you're a Tigers or Mets fan, and then maybe it feels like you just got beat by a little kid or something.


The "drought" is over
People my age who are too young to remember '82 are among the longest-suffering Cardinal fans in the history of the franchise. While the Cardinals' championship drought is micro-suffering compared to that of some other teams in our division, this year's championship ended what otherwise would have become the longest in team history. With 9 championships over 5 different decades of the 20th century, the team has never gone 24 seasons without winning it all. Interestingly, the drought between the first -ever World Series in 1903 and the Cards' first-ever title in 1926 matches the just-ended dry spell. And each time, there was a year in which the Series was not played: in 1904 when the Giants refused to play, and the 1994 strike. Thus there has never been a string of 23 consecutive World Series played in which the Cardinals didn't win at least one of them. That's nice—every generation gets something to savor.


The prime of life
Christine and I are both Bicentennial babies, which means right now we are at the peak age for athletes—30. It is fun to see that the players are all mostly around my age this year. Looking at the World Series roster, there are 12 players born before '76, 10 born after '76, and three (Jeff Weaver, Juan Encarnacion, and Aaron Miles) born in 1976. In fact, Aaron Miles was born the exact same day as Christine: 12/15/76. They're twins!

The best baseball team for fans
As a sports fan, I would say that becoming a true fan of a team is not so much a decision as it is a feeling, a connection. This connection is then followed up by loyalty. Some fans maybe would not have made the emotional commitment originally had they known what it would take them through. But by the time they realize this, it's too late. I respect loyal fans of other teams a great deal, and I would be a Cardinal fan regardless of their success. But I'm realizing that there is more than this for my particular team. The St. Louis Cardinals now are the second team in the history of baseball to have double-digit World Series titles. The franchise they broke their tie with, the Athletics, won 5 titles in Philadelphia (all before 1931) and 4 in Oakland. The Cardinals of course have only ever been in St. Louis, and now have a pretty good case as the all-time best baseball team of which to be a fan.

First off, the midwest is the ideal place for the sport of baseball. There are not as many cities packed closely together, so the Cardinals represent fans from all over: Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Fans come out to enjoy baseball, not just to drink beer or to curse at guys whenever they mess up. And the Cubs-Cards rivalry is one of the best there is in any sport. It was awesome growing up in Central Illinois where our town was halfway between Chicago and St. Louis. Cubs-Cards games (I say it in that order to save the best for last) get just about everybody riled up (see Childhood). The animosity does not, however, get nearly as ugly as it gets out east. While I do respect the act of burning an opposing player in effigy, I think the midwest's version of a rivalry is a bit more positive.

But as fans, let's face it—what else do we want? We want some success!

In terms of number of championships, the New York Yankees have no peers. The thing they have done better than any team in the history of pro sports is that when they get a great team, they go all the way repeatedly with that team. Of their 26 World Series titles, only 8 have come without going back-to-back. By contrast, the Cardinals have never won back-to-back titles. (Yet.) But what this means is that the Cardinals have spread out their 10 titles more evenly. I've done some research and come up with an interesting study.

Let's define a "dominant span" as a stretch of time where a team won championships in the first year and last year of the span with no more than two years off in between championships. By this definition, the Chicago Bulls and New England Patriots each have just one dominant span. The 80's LA Lakers dominance spans from the NBA Finals in 1980 through '88, and the Boston Celtics share this era of dominance from '81-'86. I think this definition is fairly accurate at reflecting the era of dominance of given teams in any sport. Of course, winning it all only once gives a team just a one-year dominant span.

With this definition, the Yankees have 7 dominant spans: 1923, 1927-28, 1932, 1936-43, 1947-62, 1977-78, 1996-2000. This is barely ahead of the Cardinals, who have 6 dominant spans: 1926, 1931-34, 1942-46, 1964-67, 1982, 2006-?. In other words, the Cardinals are just slightly behind the Yankees in terms of the number of different great teams assembled. Two franchises have 5 dominant spans, as the Dodgers have stretched their 6 titles (the second-highest National League total) across decades and cities, and the Pirates' 5 championships are each on an island. The Athletics have 4 dominant spans.


So considering all-time history, the Cardinals are clearly the best team in the NL, and just behind the Yankees overall. But would it be better root for the Yankees or for the Cardinals?

In 2006, the Cardinals team payroll was $88 million, less than half of the Yankees $198 million (see figures for all teams). Over the past seven years alone, the Yankees have spent over (cue Dr. Evil) ONE BILLION DOLLARS while the Cards have spent under 600 mil. As a fan, I think it would just seem wrong to root for a team that simply buys the best available players year after year. Had I grown up a hard-core Yankees fan, I probably would have lost interest in baseball by now. I'm loyal enough that I probably wouldn't have switched teams. But after all the championships in the 90's, when Steinbrenner started simply outspending everyone to get wins—I don't think I could be a fan of that. Baseball is the only sport I follow that is still without a salary cap, and I think it would start to feel dirty to root for that organization. Fortunately I grew up a Cards fan, and the Cardinals organization is the best baseball team ever that isn't the Yankees. I'll take 10 wholesome championships, thank you very much.

And amazingly enough, the Yankees spending has stopped working. In the seven seasons of this millennium (including the 2000 season—sorry, calendar purists), there have been seven different World Series champions. So there's no clearly dominant team in this era. Then who is the team of the century so far? Let's investigate this seven-year span 2000-2006.

The Cardinals have made 6 playoff appearances. That is tied for second with the Braves behind the Yankees' perfect 7. But when it comes to success in these playoffs, of course the Braves fall off quickly, and the Cardinals and Yankees stand alone. The Yankees won only the 2000 World Series, and the Cardinals matched that success this year. The Yankees got to the World Series 3 times to the Cardinals' 2, but the Bronx Bombers got bounced in the first round 3 times. And in their only other playoff appearance, they committed the biggest choke of any team in the history of sport. (That was awesome.)

On the other hand, the Cardinals have won the first round every time except for the screamingly close nail-biter to the Diamonbacks in '01, who went on the beat the Yankees in similar fashion. As far as the number of playoff series won during this stretch, the Cards and Yanks sit atop baseball with 8 series won apiece. But for the Yankees, fully 5 of those series came before the end of 2001, while for the Cards, six of their playoff series wins have been since 2004. In the last 3 years 2004-06, the Yankees have won 302 total games, including regular season and postseason, which is the second most in baseball. The Cardinals have won 311 total. And the last 11 of those are the sweetest of them all. So in summary, I can say right now that the St. Louis Cardinals are the best team in baseball. Not just the best team this past year, but the best team of this era. Now combine that with 10 championships. To be this good, without being universally hated, with this rich of a history... Yes, the St. Louis Cardinals are the all-time greatest baseball team of which to be a fan.
Quick Hits
The Cards started the postseason with three day games against the Padres. And that was it for day games, as the last 13 were at night.

One thing the Cardinals apparently do very well is "induce" the other team to make errors in the World Series. Despite sweeping the Cards in '04, the Red Sox committed 8 errors in that series. And here the Tigers committed 8 errors. So that's 16 opponent errors in only 9 World Series games this decade. We've got 'em shaking in their shoes!

I noticed some significant parallels between this World Series and the 1988 World Series. Both times, the American League team was heavily favored. The the A's with their Bash Brothers were so dominant that almost no one gave the Dodgers a chance. Similar forecasts were given to the Cards' chances, with the USA Today even saying "Tigers in 3". But both Series were jolted in Game 1: Kirk Gibson's blast in '88 and rookie Reyes' performance in '06. Of course Reyes' performance won't be replayed as much as Gibson's, but the Tigers had to be thinking, "Oh crap, their #4 starter just mowed us down." In both Series, the underdogs from the NL actually won pretty easily, in 5 games each time. But this time, Tony LaRussa was on the winning side.

The Cardinals' starting pitchers were not given much credit heading into the playoffs. The common thinking (which I will indicate in quotes) was, "The Cards have one ace (Carpenter) and a bunch of scrubs." But Weaver was impressive in the Division Series, so people thought, "OK, maybe they have two respectable pitchers." Then Suppan wins NLCS MVP! "OK, so three quality starters." Then after Reyes' Game 1 performance: "Wow, I guess they actually have a staff!"

FOX Sports has included a clip of the Cards winning it all as part of their signature montage. So now whenever I'm watching the end of a sporting event on FOX, I wait for the conclusion of the broadcast to again see Wainwright's celebration. Ahhh.


More than just a game
What does it all mean, really? It didn't feed the hungry, heal the sick, or bring about peace. No, a sporting event doesn't do that. And certainly there are people who fill gaps in their lives with sports instead of more important things. I know sports is not the most important thing in life. But for me, it is arguably the most exciting thing in life. How many times in your life does something happen when you go from facing dire consequences to jumping up and down and shouting with glee? When does that happen in life? You get a good grade. You get a date. You get a job. You get a raise. You get into a school. You get a surprisingly good prognosis from a doctor. Yes, these things happen, but they are so rare. Most of the big things in life happen gradually. Relationships, marriages, raising a family, learning, helping others. People with very good lives probably could go months or years at a time without having a "WOO-HOO!!" jumping-up-and-down moment. That is a major role sports plays in our lives: the excitement and thrill of a moment. There is nothing else that fills this void so effectively.

Sports also brings people together that otherwise would never come near each other. I can't stand bars, but I am willing to go to a sportsbar to see a game I couldn't see elsewhere. The people there are not the kind of people I usually hang out with, but there is a connection we have. I can strike up a long, detailed conversation and still leave feeling like there was more I could have talked about. And if I want to have a drawn out discussion about sports, I can't get that from anyone I regularly see.

I have a close relationship with my dad, and I believe he and I can talk about just about any topic, including personal ones. But what topic do we CHOOSE to discuss, 90% of the time? Sports, of course! Mom often gets annoyed when she can tell that the phone conversation is heading that way. (Sorry, Mom.) But it is a connection we have, and it's usually the most exciting topic (though admittedly often not the most important). After the Cards lost Game 6 of the NLCS, I needed to talk to someone. So I called Dad. He told me he is rooting for the Cards, which I appreciated. (Of course, he canít root for the Mets—thatís something we have in common.) I realize that he won't be around forever, and there will probably come a time when I'll want to call him but can't. I need to make sure to appreciate the time I do have.

For me, being married to Christine means of course our family is the combination of my relatives and her relatives. I love all my family on both sides just for who they are. But letís be honest—itís more fun to spend time with people when you have significant common interests. This whole 2006 playoff experience solidifies my connection with Christineís side of our family. For the Redskins, I've got my side of the family. For the Cardinals, there's nobody like the in-laws.


Social Status
No matter what my circumstances, I would be following the Cards one way or the other, by radio, TV, internet, and newspaper. But I certainly wouldn't be able to attend these games if it wasn't for the connection to Nana. When I married Christine, I had absolutely no idea that this would be one of the perks. Getting limo rides to the park, seats behind home plate, I mean, it's ridiculous. My dad would call it a "not me" experience. I want to appreciate it, and realize it may never come again. Even if it does, I will never let myself get used to it, ever. This is the part of the story that the 9-year-old Philip would never have had.


At the NLCS game 5 (in the Sweet Seats), I was asked by the guy next to me, "Who are you with?" That's what it is in this section, you have to be with somebody. For me it is a little sad that these seats are never available to the vast majority of people. That's the direction sporting events have gone, and it will likely only get worse. Not only are the ticket prices high, but even to be in position to buy these seats requires a major financial contribution to the Founder's Club. Only corporations can afford that, so to be here you have to be in good somehow to with big business. Amazingly, that was me for a couple of games.

Nana's seats are a little bit more accessible. Of course to be guaranteed playoff seats you have to buy a whole season, but it is more plausible for a group of middle class friends to split up the cost and take turns. Still, even just the single game prices are too high for a lot of people. Generous season ticket holders do make some tickets available to those who can't afford them, but it nowhere near meets the demand of low-income (or even middle class) families. I'm not sure how long the prices can continue skyrocketing, because there aren't 40,000 CEOs in every city.


Conclusion
Since I finally experienced the Cardinals winning it all, I wonder if my long-held view that the Redskins are my number one overall sports team has had something to do with the fact that I had experienced the 'Skins winning championships (in '87 and '91). It is possible that the Cards now could be at the same level as the Redskins. I'm not sure; it's hard to quantify these feelings. But I think that the experiences in childhood make a more lasting impression. I felt the pain of both teams losing the title (with the 'Skins in '83 to the Raiders), but the I watched the Redskins do twice what I never saw the Cards do...until now. I don't think I realized until after the World Series how much I had been waiting for this. That's why I ended up making this whole website.

This site is a celebration, and it also might be a bit of closure. Every team that I followed as a kid has won it all now. I'd love to see a World Series repeat, but even if the Cards do win it again in 2007, it won't be quite as big a deal to me as it was this year. This makes me think of the sermon I heard with my family when we were at Paul's place in Indiana the morning following Game 1 of the World Series. The pastor discussed stewardship. I thought of my stewardship of money, time, and energy in terms of how much of these things I spend on sports spectating. This is something I'm starting to think about now.

There are certainly many things in my life more important than being a sports fan, and maybe now I should focus more of my time and energy on these things. There were times during the October craziness where I briefly lost focus of my priorities. I could be a better husband. I could spend more time helping kids who need a mentor. I could improve my spirituality. Don't get me wrong—I'm still going to be a fan and follow my teams. I can incorporate being a sports fan into some of these more important aspects of life. But perhaps it's time to taper off buying all the gear that I have, and running around frantically like I did in October. It was certainly worth every minute, and I'm so glad that I took advantage of the opportunities I had. But now I have done it, and I have savored it thoroughly. Maybe it's time for me to settle back and be a more casual fan, and a more hard-core servant for God.

Thank you for reading.


Little Boy's Dream

Childhood

Past Decade

Pennant Race

NLDS

NLCS

World Series

Celebration

Basking

Reflection