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The St. Louis Cardinals are in a bit of a slump. In 2017 they failed to make the playoffs for the second straight year, and some players think they know why that happened: it’s the new guys.
In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jose De Jesus Ortiz wrote a column that details some of the struggles the Cardinals had this season, mostly with the famed “Cardinal Way,” and how new players from other organizations had trouble following it. Ortiz paraphrases one unnamed Cardinals player two sentences into his article.
Look around, a Cardinal told me, and see how many of the guys making these mistakes came up through other organizations.
Actually, it’s not that new players had trouble following it. According to the article, new players just didn’t care enough.
On the field, the Cardinals were prone to make poor decisions on the base paths and in the field. In the clubhouse, players were privately griping about the lackadaisical atmosphere that could be described as part chess club, part video arcade, part ping pong tournament.
We never find out who the players “privately griping” were, though it’s reasonable to guess they’re one of the handful of veteran Cardinals players. Ortiz did mention some other names, though.
When teams are winning, the chess set, Brett Cecil’s video games and Jedd Gyorko’s ping pong prowess are embraced as great ways of relieving stress. When teams are winning, teammates hardly ever bother to notice or even care if Dexter Fowler is usually the last guy in the clubhouse and one of the first to leave.
Brett Cecil, Jedd Gyorko, and Dexter Fowler were all added to the team within the past two years. So we have our theme: Cardinals veterans say that new guys who came up in other organizations weren’t following “The Cardinal Way” and the team was suffering for it.
The clubhouse atmosphere and the on-field mistakes led to two different meetings during the course of the year, and the character of the two meeting couldn’t be more different. The first was a players-only meeting in June, held in the clubhouse. It reportedly featured veterans Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina “imploring” their teammates to play better and focus on the team and not the individual.
When the first meeting didn’t result in better baseball (highlighted by a July 20 mishap in which closer Trevor Rosenthal, a lifelong Cardinal, didn’t cover first base), the veterans planned a second meeting in August. This one was held at a Cincinnati steakhouse, and instead of the veterans doing all the talking, other guys got a chance to open up.
“We got a lot of things out in the open,” Wainwright said in mid August. “We had some really great, honest talk. We had some guys pour their hearts out that we’d never seen do that before. It was just great, top to bottom. Guys left there with a sense of confidence that I hadn’t seen in years around here and a sense of purpose and some togetherness that was just off the charts. In my mind that’s translated.”
Hmm, it seems like a different, less traditional approach seemed to make a difference here. And from that point on, the team played better baseball. For the most part.
Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Randal Grichuk, Carlos Martinez and others credited that dinner with helping them go on a season-high eight-game winning streak from Aug. 5-12. Old habits die hard, though. Some veterans continued to anger their teammates with what was perceived as either laziness, selfishness or both.
Even when the team is playing better, the bad things always have to be someone’s fault, and that someone is usually not following “The Cardinal Way.”
While the article is mainly about how the 2017 Cardinals had trouble getting guys to follow “The Cardinal Way,” it revealed a lot of other internal issues. Cardinals veterans are airing their dirty laundry about younger and/or non-lifetime Cardinals. Older guys are upset at how younger guys conduct themselves in the clubhouse. Baseball’s culture is changing, and the old-fashioned players-only clubhouse meeting isn’t always the right approach to get through to guys.
Maybe “The Cardinals Way” is the right way to handle these issues, which represent struggles that are probably happening all over the game. Maybe it’s not. Regardless, no one seems interested in dealing with that aspect of things right now. The playoffs are happening and the Cardinals aren’t involved, so everyone is most interested in placing blame and pointing fingers.
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