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.
Last week, Danny Knobler of CBSsports.com wrote a great article about the St. Louis Cardinals and their decision process for letting Albert Pujols sign elsewhere while eventually re-signing Yadier Molina and how that was the right move for the future of the franchise. I have no dispute with any part of the article, so there’s no need to go through it here—but I highly recommend reading it if you’re a fan of the Cardinals, interested in how to build and maintain a culture of winning, or just love the business of baseball in general.
But on a personal note, the piece struck a chord with me and somewhat related decision I had to make a few years back.
In 2009, Busch Stadium hosted the All Star Game. It was the first time the Midsummer Classic was held in St. Louis in 40+ years, and anticipation was high. The once-in-a-lifetime aspect of the festivities was the catalyst for us to get partial season tickets, knowing that was our best shot at securing tickets for the All Star festivities as well. We were correct; as soon as they were available, we purchased tickets to the game, the Home Run Derby, the Fan Fest, all of it. As All Star Weekend drew near, I was surprised with one more All Star-centric proposition: as an early birthday present, I could select an All Star batting practice jersey for my gift. The jerseys were red, of course, with the great All Star logo featuring the Gateway Arch, and just a hint of the powder blue beloved by so many Cards fans—including myself. Though they weren’t the only players selected from that ‘09 team to represent the Cardinals on the National League squad, for me there were really only two choices: Pujols or Molina.
I have written about this kind of decision before; in fact, it was earlier in 2009. But that was just off-the-cuff thinking out loud, before I was faced with actually making the decision. And it was one I had a LOT of trouble making. At that time, Pujols was still peaking as the best hitter in the game. His importance to the Cardinals’ lineup was never higher, especially since former fellow “MV3” members Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen were now with other teams. Based on that and the words from his own mouth, it seemed unfathomable that Pujols would ever wear a different uniform. On the flipside, Molina was quickly coming into his own as an elite player. His defense was never in question, but his light offensive numbers and clunky base running usually relegated him to the bottom of the order. Then, in 2008, he topped a .300 batting average and 50 RBI for the first time. He was getting on base much more often and striking out very little. His importance to the franchise was high before, but if his offense kept coming around he too would be harder and harder for the Cardinals to let walk. It was a decision I put off until the very last second; even as we pulled up to the Cardinals Team Store I was still mentally flipping the coin. On the one hand, the 2009 All Star Game would be an event that could never be taken away from either player regardless of whether they left for free agency someday. On the other, I couldn’t imagine wearing any jersey or shirt of a former Cardinal while he was playing for a different team. You know…root for the name on the front, not the one on the back…
And then I made the decision.
To this day, the jersey I chose still hangs in my closet—which is probably where it will stay, at least until Pujols’ contract with the Angels expires. The Cardinals have much better foresight than I do.
Hard to believe I’ve gone an entire year without a Nooner. That’s just sad, in any context.
This thought crossed my mind the other day, and it won’t leave me. So I have to get this out into the open for all to peruse:
Why is it that saying “I’m having a salad for lunch” seems perfectly normal, yet—even though it is 100% the same thing—saying “I’m having leaves and roots for lunch” makes me think of someone taking a fork and diving face-first into a yard waste bag?
Personally I’m enjoying my lunch of garden clippings. Maybe for dessert I’ll treat myself to a tree ovary.
That’s an apple, you sickos.
Moving to a new house is always a big deal. When that new house is more than 800 miles away from the only area you’ve ever inhabited in your 35 years, it can be a little jarring—to say the least. I could probably go on for a couple thousand words about the things that are different between Central Texas and the St. Louis area, how much I miss friends and family, etc. Austin/Round Rock is great, but it will never be home because home can only be Belleville/St. Louis. But for now, let’s focus on baseball.
As a Cardinal fan, baseball is VERY different now.
I was a partial season ticket holder in the Left Field Bleachers at Busch Stadium for five seasons; now, the closest Major League team is at least three hours away. I know, I know…”First World Problems.” But you really do come to expect going to ballgames being a significant part of your life each summer. It impacts your budget, your availability, your perspective of the game…and when it’s gone, you lose something.
It would probably be different if I still lived in the St. Louis area. I could watch or listen to the games like everyone else does, and while I’d miss going to 20 or 40 games each year, I’d still get more than my fill of daily baseball. But even though I’m able to pick up KMOX in my car most evenings, I have to resort to MLB.TV to see or hear the play-by-play. It’s a great technology to have available, and I’m grateful for it—except for one thing.
Yes, there is a pretty significant delay for both the radio and TV broadcast streams to get to whatever device I happen to be using to catch the game that is in progress. That probably would not be an issue if I was just interested in game action. But no, I also have to be addicted to Twitter during the game. I love the social media aspect of watching the Cards and seeing what everyone—writers, broadcasters, bloggers, fans—have to say about what’s happening. It’s like a game within the game. I also love participating in that aspect of the experience. But now, I’m sometimes minutes behind everyone else. Maybe it isn’t all that important being first, but seeing game updates before the feed gets to my Blu-Ray or phone or computer is…well, it’s just unnerving. I don’t even care that much about being surprised as I watch. It just sucks to know everything that happens before it happens (on my screen, anyway). I’m always a batter behind…sometimes two. Yikes.
Again, I know…total “First World Problem.” Twenty years ago, this move would have me wrapping foil around a boombox antenna in the hopes of picking up the signal from St. Louis at best, and waiting for game updates the next day on SportsCenter or, if I was really lucky, the Austin American-Statesman at worst. In that context, I’m not complaining one bit. And down here I do have access to different baseball than I’ve ever had before—namely the Triple A Round Rock Express and the University of Texas Longhorns. I’ll still catch Cards’ games any way I can, and I’ll still be a weirdo on Twitter as much as possible. It’s just not the same as it was. And I miss that.
Now that’s what I call a hiatus.
Recently I made the trek back to the St. Louis area for a visit. It was a reconnect and recharge I enjoyed. Many of my family and friends had the expected questions: How do you like Texas, do you miss home, etc. etc. But one question I got more than I expected.
“Are you still writing at all?”
The long answer is complicated, so here’s the Cliff Notes version: Yes, I am, but not stuff I want to share at this time. The extension of the writing question was always some version of whether or not I was able to still watch or listen to Cardinals games. And the answer there is also yes, thanks to MLB.TV. I don’t see nearly as many games as I used to, obviously, but I get to see or hear at least some of most games. Plus there’s always a steady stream of baseball updates on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I did get to a game at Busch last week, and realistically that might be the only Cards game I see. If that holds, this will be the first year I only see one game at Busch in I don’t know how long—maybe a decade or more. But I do have the Round Rock Express (Texas Rangers Triple A affiliate) playing right down the road and could always make the trek up to Arlington or over to Houston for some Major League action. Regardless, I’m still able to see a good amount of baseball; I just haven’t been writing about it—until today.
Mitchell effing Boggs
The game only ended about five and a half hours ago thanks to that bizarre rain delay, but 11 or so hours ago Mike Matheny called out to the bullpen to get a reliever up to close out a 2-1 game. Edward Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal were apparently unavailable after pitching a bunch of games in a row, so he picked Boggs—the enigmatic, suddenly always struggling reliever who was lights-out as the 8th inning guy last year but has blown more saves than he has secured in 2013. No one can figure out what has become of this guy. He’s been down all year. The Cardinals sent him to Memphis where he pitched better but still didn’t excel. And he comes in to a game where Michael Wacha makes his Major League debut with a great outing and allows the Kansas City Royals to tie the game. The Royals were mired in an historically bad slump before the 9th inning of last night’s game. They had lost eight in a row and 12 of their last 13 and hadn’t hit a home run in like 9451 innings. So what’s a bad team’s cure for that kind of suck?
Mitchell effing Boggs.
And Matheny is at least partially culpable here, too. There are plenty of places to insert a troubled reliever so he can get straightened out. The 9th inning of a 2-1 game isn’t one of them. But it’s decision time regarding Boggs. This isn’t about one loss, or failing to sweep a series the Cardinals should have swept, or ruining Wacha’s debut. This is about wins and losses, and Boggs has been responsible for too many of the latter. I’m not saying the Cards need to release him, because the talent is there—we’ve seen it for several years. Maybe it is going from the 8th inning stopper to the 9th inning closer that messed him up just a little before it turned into a death spiral. But something is amiss with Boggs, and whether it’s his head or his health or his mechanics, he demonstrated again last night why he does not deserve to be anywhere near the mound in any inning of a close game.
The only question is for how long…but it legitimately may be forever.
On Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals called a press conference to announce co-ace of the rotation Chris Carpenter will likely miss the 2013 season after a return of the shoulder and neck symptoms that kept him out of the vast majority of the 2012 season. With Carp due to be a free agent this fall and seriously questioning his ability to ever throw a ball again, the hurler maybe calling it a career once the Cards’ season is over.
Carpenter’s entire career was marred by injuries, but the years he spent with the Toronto Blue Jays were also markedly mediocre. The Cardinals took a chance on him while he was injured, signing him in 2002—but he would not pitch for the Redbirds until 2004. Then, under Dave Duncan, he flourished. Carp became the leader of the rotation, both in statistics and competitive fire. The playoff run in 2004 came to an abrupt halt partly because Carpenter got injured and didn’t throw a pitch in the postseason that year. In 2005 he rebounded to a 21-5 record with seven complete games (four of them shutouts), 241 innings pitched over 33 starts, 213 strikeouts, and a Cy Young award. In 2006 he again topped 200 innings, led the league with three shutouts, and propelled the Cardinals to their first World Series Championship since 1982. The injury bug bit Carpenter again in 2007-2008 when he only pitched in five games—combined. But his resilience would shine again for the next three years. In each season his strikeout totals increased, but so did his innings pitched. It all culminated with the 2011 championship run. For three of the four clinching games that year—Wild Card berth in Game 162, Division Series Game 5, World Series Game 7—Carpenter was the starting pitcher. And you’d better believe he was ready to go for Game 7 of the NLCS if it went that far. But the others were just works of art: a complete game shutout of the Houston Astros to put the Cards into the postseason; a 1-0 masterpiece in Game 5 of the NLDS to knock out Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies; and starting Game 7 of the World Series on short rest, keeping his team grounded after the heroics of the previous night, and pitching six solid innings to give the Cardinals the chance to win their 11th World Championship. David Freese may have been the MVP of the NLCS and World Series, but if they gave that award for the best overall postseason performance Carpenter would have a serious claim to the trophy.
That October 2011 performance could more or less prove to be his swan song. Carpenter did pitch at the end of last year and helped the Cardinals get within a victory of a return trip to the World Series. But now he faces uncertainty like never before, and so does the team.
Carp is a leader like no other on the St. Louis Cardinals. His numbers speak volumes, and may be replaceable. His presence, however, is not. And it’s another key loss from the so-called “old guard” of the Tony La Russa era in St. Louis. In less than 18 months, the Cardinals have said goodbye to Duncan, La Russa, Albert Pujols, and now Carpenter. Certainly nothing lasts forever, especially in professional sports. But that’s quite a hit in a short span of time.
There’s always the glimmer of hope that Carpenter can make it back and take the mound once again for the Cardinals. After all, it’s not like it would be the first time. But for some reason, this time it feels different…more final…more finished. Maybe it’s a combination of his contract situation and age. Maybe it’s that I was always afraid this would be the way he finally hung it up—leaving the game because his body forced him to, not because he wanted to. Hopefully Carpenter remains that invaluable presence in the clubhouse, in the dugout, and around practice. We’ll always wonder what might have been if he’d pitched in the 2004 World Series, or if the Cardinals had him in ‘07 and ‘08, or if he had been healthy all last year. But even if he has in fact thrown his final pitch as a Cardinal, Chris Carpenter can close the book knowing he was one of the best starting pitchers the franchise ever had.
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.
I have to write this, because I have to write something.
The facts are well-known by now: a seriously disturbed individual walked into Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, CT and opened fire with two handguns, killing about 30 people—and 20 of them were children. English is a versatile language, but it falls way short in having adequate words to describe something like this. Maybe every language on Earth does. But that doesn’t stop the information from flowing constantly, on the best of days as well as the worst.
Social Media is a funny thing. It is, simultaneously, all of these: annoying and inspirational, informative and misleading, shocking and totally predictable. I read dozens of “reports” throughout the morning on various reputable news websites and their Twitter feeds that turned out to be partially or completely false; too many times, being first trumps being right. But the gist was easy to grasp, and the horrible realities sunk in quickly. Many people spoke out about the gun violence problem in this country; their opposition promptly swatted them back with either “this is not the time” or “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Others took the stance that more guns were needed, or they hoped their guns would not be taken away as a result of this nutjob’s actions; their opposition knocked them down with labels like “heartless” and, again, “this is not the time.” And probably the majority stuck to the middle of the road, offering something to the effect of “please don’t politicize this tragedy, this is not the time, let us all grieve and help the victims and their families.” I don’t have a problem with that in principle, but don’t trivialize the issues at hand by calling them political. Gun violence, like all violence, is a societal issue. We have a problem with violence in this country. This is not news. It is also, apparently, “not the time.” Well when the hell is the time, then?
Where I sit on this issue is what I would call “medium-left.” I’m not really anti-gun, because I just don’t care that much about them to have that stance. Frankly, I don’t get the fetish—and believe me, that’s the correct term to use in too many cases. I’m generally not a fan of concealed carry, simply because I don’t think the vast majority of Americans are skilled enough, smart enough, or stable enough to safely carry a loaded gun around all the time. It’s not the gun that scares me; it’s the fuckup that’s carrying it around trying to pass judgment on who might be a thug and who might be just a person wearing a hoodie. You want to talk about freedom? I happen to like walking around town without worrying about being accidentally shot by an untrained citizen who thinks his or her wallet is going to be lifted because they were looked at funny. That’s true freedom to me. Now I know the 2nd Amendment humpers will either be getting ready to click over to another website right about now, or are simply readying their vitriolic (yet patriotic, I’m sure) reply for the comments section below. But before you go, let me say I too believe in the 2nd Amendment—especially the part that says “well regulated” at the very beginning. We are not well regulated when it comes to gun laws, not by a longshot. But we need to be.
One of the favorite arguments in debates like this is “Well, how many people kill other people with their car? We gonna ban cars now too?” Listen, Gomer—that’s not exactly apples to apples, and you know it. But even if it was, think about what it takes to legally become a driver: months of driver’s ed, written tests, road tests, eye tests, registering and ID’ing the driver, registering a vehicle, re-registration of the vehicle yearly, re-registration and ID’ing the driver every five years max, retesting, etc. Is that even close to what a citizen has to go through to legally own and carry a gun in most states? It is far too easy for the wrong people to obtain weaponry and equipment that should be reserved for police and the military: automatic and semi-automatic weapons; extended magazines; thousands of rounds of ammunition; body armor…and on and on. Self-defense? With that? Give me a break.
But I digress—back to social media, and something specific I saw on Twitter that really grabbed me. The same basic idea was tweeted by many in slightly different ways, and I failed to note where I first saw it so I cannot properly attribute this quote. My apologies to whomever said it first. But trying to sift through the more guns/less guns/gun control/CCW for all/let’s not talk about it now hullabaloo, I found this simple statement to be the most telling:
Only in America can gun ownership be a right and healthcare be a privilege.
Try to not let your biases cloud your vision while you read that sentence—look at it as just a general statement of fact. Kind of seems like skewed priorities, no? Imagine a society where the reverse of that statement was reality. What if gun ownership was a privilege—not illegal, but tested, registered, retested, the whole lot—and healthcare (including mental healthcare) was a right protected by the Constitution? I know, I know…there’s a money issue. Ignore that; just evaluate this idea on principle. Would we as a society—We The People—really be worse off? After all, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Then why aren’t we taking better care of our people–body, mind, and soul? And save your “Obamacare” diatribes; this isn’t about that. Bob Costas raised a stink recently after the Jovan Belcher murder/suicide by going on TV and saying they’d both still be alive if he didn’t own a gun. Well, here’s my stink to raise: would six adults and 20 children in Newtown, CT still be alive if Adam Lanza had no access to his mother’s guns? Maybe. Would they all still be alive if he had unimpeded access to mental health professionals who could evaluate, diagnose, and maybe treat him for some of the impulses that led him to commit this unconscionable act? Maybe. If the U.S. had a better handle on both sides of the equation, could this tragedy—along with the numerous others that have occurred in recent years—have been prevented? Yes, I believe so.
Again, this is not just a gun issue. It’s not just a healthcare issue. It’s not just a political issue, and it’s not just a rights issue. It’s a society issue, and a priorities issue. Only across-the-board changes will truly prevent things like this from happening again. And it may cost some money, and it may result in uncomfortable nuisances we aren’t used to. But the longer we bicker about it without taking action, that prevention will never come. This is something worth working towards. Now really is the time. You know why? Because prior to 12/14/12 should have been the time, but we missed it. We cannot continue to miss it again and again and again.