Category Archives: Tributes
A little something I put together about someone that has left us.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Joe Strauss died over the weekend at the age of 54 after battling leukemia for the better part of a year. He left an indelible mark on St. Louis sports in his 13+ years there, and obituaries and tributes have poured in from all over the sports world in the less than 24 hours since the announcement of his passing.
Strauss was a great writer who cultivated a persona on social media and other places online as a snarky contrarian who enjoyed pouring gasoline on the already enflamed fringes of any local fan base. But those who truly knew him confirm what most of us suspected: he wasn’t some joyless curmudgeon; he had a huge heart and was loved and respected even beyond his professional accomplishments.
I had the privilege of sharing the journalistic floor with Joe a couple of times. He pursued answers relentlessly. And, while amusing in the moment, the exasperation on his face when a question was blown off, answered weakly, or stepped on by someone else’s softball told a story of a man who took great pride and responsibility in his work. For me—a credentialed blogger trying to do a good job but still not step on the toes of the real pros—he was inspiring.
I also had the privilege of talking with him a bit in that arena. While writing up his story after most had gone home, he took the time to have a conversation with me about sports writing—something most bloggers, I’m sure, would find unbelievable if they’ve followed his Twitter account over the years. But there was no “Who are you? Why are you here? Don’t bother me; I’m working” coming from him, even in the face of trying to complete his work. It was a short conversation, but it’s one I wish I’d kept my recorder running for.
In the wake of Strauss’s passing, a recurring theme emerged online yesterday. It contained some form of “I didn’t always agree with/like/want to hear what he said, but he was a great writer…” As his name trended on Twitter, I couldn’t help but wonder what he would think of that if he knew about it…a “balloon party” in his honor. For all the battles he fought—and sometimes initiated—with readers in St. Louis, I hope he knew just how much people really enjoyed his work. I hope he knew how respected he was as a journalist by peers and readers alike. And I hope he knew what a vacancy he would leave behind.
Rest in peace, Joe Strauss. Thank you for always giving it to us straight.
Four years ago today, I was going on about four hours of fitful sleep. The night before, I and the rest of the baseball world witnessed one of the greatest games in the history of the World Series. After that game, I was so wired, so geeked I couldn’t fall asleep at all. Finally, after pounding out a delirious blog post, I managed to nod off…only to sit bolt upright the instant my alarm went off a few hours later, feeling as awake and alive as I ever have in my life. I ran into the other room to look at the two most exciting pieces of paper I think I’ve ever held.
I’m sure I managed to be productive at work that Friday, but I couldn’t tell you how. All I wanted to do was go to Busch Stadium, even hours before the game was supposed to start. I wanted to sit in my bleacher seat with a beer and 45,000 or so of my closest friends to watch Game 7 of the World Series. Even just saying the phrase “Game 7 of the World Series” gives me chills as a baseball fan; as a Cardinals fan about to walk into Busch Stadium to watch it live I was almost unable to process the sights…the sounds…the feeling.
None of us knew it at the time, of course, but a fan favorite (certainly one of mine) from the Whiteyball Era made his final appearance before Cardinal Nation and passed less than a week later.
After the previous night’s heroics, Game 7 lacked much drama beyond the first inning. The Rangers took the lead in top half, and David Freese once again swatted them back. Allen Craig—robbed of a World Series MVP by the All-Universe campaign Freese had—hit a home run and took one away with his glove. Chris Carpenter gutted out another start that would essentially prove to be his professional swan song. Jason Motte blocked out his previous struggles in the series to mow through the ninth. And when Craig secured the fly ball near the track for the final out…
It all happened four years ago today—my greatest baseball day.
I thought I would have better perspective on the sudden and tragic death of Oscar Taveras, 22, after a good night’s sleep. Maybe I’ll get one of those tonight.
His life and the life of his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, 18, were cut painfully short when Taveras wrecked his red Camaro on Sunday in the Dominican Republic. Early reports indicate there had been a lot of rain in the area, and that the car ran off the road and hit a tree. It’s the kind of gut-punch you only expect to get upon hearing something absurd like “Baseball has been cancelled forever.” Because the reality certainly couldn’t be true, even though it too often is: a young man and his girlfriend driving along, maybe laughing at a joke or holding hands or singing along to a song on the radio, then something happens and it’s all gone. Just like that. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it sucks, even from afar as nothing more than a fan of the team the kid played for. Potential unrealized takes a backseat to life unlived. How could this happen?
What’s worse, how could this happen again? News of Taveras’ untimely, shocking, and tragic death immediately reopened Cardinals fans’ old wounds from the 2002 death of Darryl Kile and the 2007 death of Josh Hancock. For Major League Baseball as a whole, the news rang eerily similar to the 2009 death of LA Angels’ young star-in-the-making Nick Adenhart. He also died in a car wreck. He was also 22. Those three tragedies—which, even more unfortunately, are of course but a fraction of the list of young lives ended too soon—happened in-season. As difficult as the events were, the teammates could lean on each other for support. They could grieve together in the dugout, in the clubhouse, and on the team charter. And they still had to take the field every day, using game day responsibilities to honor their fallen brother or maybe just not dwell on the tragedy for a couple hours. But this Cardinals team doesn’t get that luxury; all they have to do is sit around and think. Sure, some are playing Winter Ball, and all have offseason programs to follow to keep in shape until Spring Training. I’d guess the majority of these guys would tell you it’s not the same. That is, if they can get the words out at all.
I don’t really know what else to say. I’ve seen the tweets and the tributes and the video interviews and the footage of the story breaking and I still can’t believe it’s real. But a lot of people are hurting today. My heart goes out to the Taveras family, the Arvelo family, and the St. Louis Cardinals family.
(PHOTOS CLIPPED FROM INTERNET SOURCES; THESE PICTURES ARE NOT MINE.)
One of the greatest spectacles in U.S. sports is The Kentucky Derby. While I have been to Churchill Downs on a number of occasions, I have yet to make it to that iconic palace for its greatest annual event. So instead, every year in the week leading up to this event, I give a reread to the great Hunter S. Thompson feature “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” to satisfy a nagging itch that could probably only be scratched by a bender I’m no longer willing to undertake.
“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” is a significant benchmark for a number of reasons. Thompson was still finding his way in the “New Journalism” movement of the time, and after it was published it became the first of his pieces referred to as Gonzo–a moniker that was and will be forever synonymous with his revolutionary work. It also marked the beginning of a lifelong creative partnership between Thompson and artist Ralph Steadman. But it also provided a bit of social commentary about what it meant to interact with the “whisky gentry” of the South nearly half a century ago, and you can’t help but notice how little has changed since.
Personally, I’m connected to this piece in two ways. At this year’s South By Southwest festival in Austin, I caught the documentary “For No Good Reason,” a film about Steadman’s art and relationship with Thompson (Johnny Depp features prominently as well). It’s a great picture for Thompson/Gonzo fans, and the beginning of the Steadman-Thompson partnership at the time of the 1970 Kentucky Derby is featured prominently. The other personal connection is to Michael MacCambridge, contributor to the Grantland website who annotated “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” for the site–and taught me sports journalism at Washington University in St. Louis. Maybe he wouldn’t want me bragging about that, but it happened all the same.
Enough about me. The Kentucky Derby happens later this afternoon. Before then, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read the Director’s Cut version of “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” over at Grantland (language warning). And resist the urge to Mace everyone you see today.
This week marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Van Halen’s epic album 1984. I could sit here and wax poetic about the greatness of each song, the unbelievable sales the album achieved, and how it played into the departure of David Lee Roth from the band. But that’s all been done so many times I’m afraid Google would laugh at me if I added another document like that to its search results. So here’s something a little more personal.
Van Halen’s 1984 is easily the largest brick in the foundation of my love for all things music. In fact, it might just be the entire foundation.
I was born in 1977, so Van Halen has been around almost as long as I have. But like most kids in that 7-8-9 year old range, my mid-80s music tastes were still pretty much limited to what my parents owned or what happened to come on the radio. I’m not entirely sure how much airplay Van Halen got in those days before 1984, but I either never heard it or never recognized it on the stations that dominated our house and cars. We listened to a lot of music, and we had a lot of records—just no Van Halen that I can recall.
Then my parents decided it was time to step out of the 70s and into the 80s and bought a portable stereo with a cassette player and tuner known in those days as a “boom box.” My dad also joined Columbia House, the music club catalog service that would send you new cassettes (or records, at that time) you chose every month, or a preselected hit album unless you told them not to. Back then I think the introductory offer was six for a penny or something like that. Anyway, I’m pretty sure by that time “Jump” and “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher” had made it through even our stereo speakers via popular radio, so that first shipment of cassettes included 1984.
I don’t know if it was fascination with the new medium or just a budding desire to listen to whatever new music came my way, but I listened to those first cassettes every chance I got. Eventually I would start building my own collection of music outside of the children’s records and random 45s I had scattered among my parents’ collection, and it was all cassettes. I still listened to a lot of the stuff my dad was now acquiring on cassette as well, but 1984 was always a go-to for me—so much so that, inevitably, the tape ended up in my collection permanently. I played the shit out of that thing, so much so that the white plastic yellowed and most of the screen printed track listings were rubbed down to mere ghosts of the black lettering they once were. I was in awe of Edward Van Halen’s guitar virtuosity, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony’s thunder, and David Lee Roth’s bravado. My love for Van Halen was off and running.
As I got older, friends turned me on to the new incarnation of VH with Sammy Hagar at the helm. By the time I started high school, I owned every Van Halen release on cassette. Not long after, I got my first CD player. I had evolved into full-fledged geekdom over Van Halen by then, so of course I re-bought every album on disc—but one of the first ones was, of course, 1984.
And then something happened that would change me and my music obsessions forever. At a friend’s house as a teenager—probably while I was preaching to my eye-rolling comrades about how great Van Halen was and/or how Eddie is the greatest guitarist who ever lived—my friend’s dad caught wind of my love for VH and said he had something I might like. He brought out a copy of 1984 on vinyl that was still partially in the original shrink wrap. He said he bought it when it first came out because he liked “Jump” but didn’t really care for the rest of the album, so it had been played once. I was in awe once again but, oddly enough, I couldn’t quite figure out why. At that point in the mid-90s, vinyl was nowhere near its resurgence. Records were the dusty old fossils parents brought out to reminisce about polyester days gone by. A child of the times, I had a respectable cassette collection that I was slowly pushing toward obsolescence by a growing CD collection. But this record immediately jumped out to me as a beautiful, pristine work of art and I had to have it. The black vinyl was so clean I could see myself in it. It even still smelled new. I think I gave him $10 for it; at the time, it probably wasn’t worth half that. But you can’t put a price tag on love at first sight.
Since that day, I’ve acquired about 1,000 records of varying condition and worth, both monetary and sentimental. But 1984 is still my most treasured record, and always will be. It was the first hit of a long, steady addiction to vinyl. Strangely, it’s not even my favorite Van Halen album musically. But as is true in every aspect of life, you never forget your first. And listening to it today still gives me that same flood of awe and wonder it did nearly 30 years ago and every day in between.
Right. So it’s the closing moments of what would have been Hunter S. Thompson’s 76th birthday. Not coincidentally, I’m in the closing sips of a glass of a pretty good 5-year rum.
If not for the good doctor, I’m not sure I’d enjoy writing—and, for that matter, reading—as much as I do today. I never wanted to be HST; I just wanted to capture that bite. It’s not something that can be properly explained but you know it when you see it. I could be talking about anything—sports, politics, pop culture, cooking, laundry tips—and then, crunch, like a shark through unsuspecting flesh. Fear. Loathing. The bite hits you and you can’t turn back. Maybe you’re inspired or horrified or tickled or disappointed. Regardless, your brain carves out a little niche and shoves those words in. And they’re in that little cranny forever. It’s a legacy to which all writers should aspire, content be damned.
No one can capture and relive the frenzy that was Thompson’s life; at least not fully. But your own life can take on Gonzo qualities if you really want it to. Because I always viewed that state of being as completely subjective. Live your life. Take chances but always be smart. Fight for what’s right. Do it with a buzz or do it without; it doesn’t really matter as long as you make your own rules in spite of theirs and manage to not get caught along the way.
Thank you, Doc. For everything. Maybe someday I’ll come up with a proper tribute.
Res ipsa loquitur.
Less than 24 hours after his passing, Stan The Man’s legacy is already the biggest discussion in Cardinal Nation. That should surprise no one.
But it should be more than just a uniform patch or a new image at the stadium. Those are fine ideas, but a person with the stature of Stan Musial—both on and off the field—deserves more. Maybe it’s impossible to come up with something truly big enough to represent what Stan The Man meant to the Cardinals, to St. Louis, to Baseball. I mean, he already has two statues erected in his honor, and one is only slightly less iconic to the city of St. Louis than the Gateway Arch. Yet somehow even all that doesn’t seem like enough, does it?
So here are two of the best ideas I’ve seen so far, with what I believe to be proper attribution…and by that I mean, where I first saw the idea:
–St. Louis media guy Larry Thornton tweeted: “On Jackie Robinson day everyone wears 42. On Opening Day every Cardinal should wear 6” Such a simple idea, yet so brilliant. Robinson’s impact on baseball and, really, the entire country is unparalleled and will never again be matched. The same could be said about Stan Musial and St. Louis/the Cardinals. Not that Musial was a civil rights pioneer fighting for equality and justice…that’s not where the comparison is. But just like Robinson to the whole of the game and the fabric of the country, Musial transcended what it meant to be a pro ballplayer. He was one of the greatest ever, and yet that doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story.
–Fellow bloggers Chris Mallonee and Daniel Solzman each wrote posts suggesting a name alteration at the home of the St. Louis Cardinals. “Musial Field at Busch Stadium” (or some variation) has a pretty good ring to it. Naming the field after Musial would in no way impact the name Busch Stadium, yet it would give more permanence to Stan The Man’s impact as a player and a person on the organization and the community. One good spot for the name would be the backstop. Busch Stadium looks great there; wouldn’t Musial Field look even better?
I may add some ideas to the post, so look for updates. I’m sure the Cardinals are already on top of a number of tributes set for this season; these are just some suggestions with both class and precedence. Commemorative giveaways and video tributes are nice, too, but Stan’s passing is not just the death of an icon…it’s the death of THE icon. Feel free to leave more ideas and suggestions below.
Today was a tough day for St. Louis Cardinals fans, as Stan “The Man” Musial died at the age of 92.
What does Stan The Man mean to me?
Stan The Man is the Cardinals. He is St. Louis. He is Busch Stadium, he is Opening Day, he is the All Star Game, he is the World Series. He is MVP, Hall of Fame, and Medal of Freedom. He is the Birds on the Bat and the red blazer. He is a veteran. He is a record holder. He is comfortably in the Top 5 of the best players ever—period. Perfect warrior, perfect knight.
I use the present tense rather than the past because even though he has passed, Stan The Man will never be a “was” to St. Louis Cardinals baseball. Surely some of his records will fall—some already have. But the numbers only tell part of the story of Stan The Man. The word most often associated with him off the field was “decent”…How many times do you hear that nowadays? I never had the privilege of meeting Stan Musial, but so many in St. Louis had—and described it exactly the same way every single time—he felt like an old friend. It’s hard to imagine Cardinals baseball without Stan The Man’s physical presence, but his spirit, his memory will never leave the Cards.
Regardless, the sports gods did not let the opportunity to illuminate the legacy of Stan Musial just a little more pass them by.
Today I looked forward to listening to the broadcast of the belated first St. Louis Blues game of the season, and the news of Stan The Man’s passing hit me just before I fired up my computer looking for the stream. So it turned the evening bittersweet, to say the least. I basically thumbed through my Twitter feed, read articles, and looked at pictures of Stan The Man while listening to the hockey game. When the Blues scored their fourth goal of the night, I thought “wouldn’t it be something if they ended up scoring six tonight…” Stan The Man wore number six. And sure enough, the Blues ended up beating the Detroit Red Wings 6-0. As if for an extra tip of the cap to Stan The Man’s unparalleled consistency, they scored two goals in each period. Simply incredible. For a guy who recently relocated 800+ miles from the only home he’s ever known, that put a smile on my face.
Goodnight, St. Louis. And rest in peace, Stan Musial. Thank you for being Cardinals Baseball.