The Cardinals, over the past several decades, have benefitted richly from the services of out-of-town sluggers who arrive in St. Louis during the waning days of their careers to catch fire one more time. César Cedeño. Will Clark. Larry Walker. Carlos Beltrán (sniff). But has there ever been an import who transformed the fortunes of a Cardinal ballclub more dramatically than Lance Berkman in 2011? He hit like mad, he helped loosen up a team that by all accounts had been sourpussy and cliquish, and he is the best damned Google image search ever.
Here you go: Five Berkman photos that encapsulate why we love this guy so much.
#1: The young Elvis. He knows what’s up. That little lock of hair on the forehead? It works on both the “suave” and “ironic” levels. Even as a young thing, Berkman was always in on the joke.
#2: Berkman and Tito the dog. My former career was in the world of animal sheltering, so I’m a sucker for any pro athlete who supports animal rescue, as Berkman is doing here by posing with an adoptable dog from the humane society. Extra points because it’s a plain brown dog of the sort that often gets overlooked in shelters. Extra extra points because the dog shares its name with one of my all-time favorite Cardinals.
#3: Berkman and the Obamas. It’s probably best that Lance and I never talk about religion or politics, and I’d bet my signed Tito Landrum photo that he didn’t vote for our current President, but goddess bless him for being his jovial and respectful self anyway when the 2011 Cardinals visited the White House. Congress could learn a lot from this particular Puma.
#4: Berkmanohana. Yeah, that’s Lance Berkman in a sumo suit during his 17-game tenure with the New Orleans Zephyrs. You know how everyone on Match.com says they’re “comfortable in their own skin”? Lance Berkman puts them all to shame. He’s the good-natured honey badger of the baseball world.
#5: Sexy asparagus-munching cowboy Berkman. In a bookstore few years ago, I happened upon a cookbook called Diamond Dishes that featured big-leaguers’ favorite recipes. It was full of softly-lit photos of earnest ballplayers in their HGTV-worthy kitchens—A-Rod leaning defiantly against a pile of greens, Adrian Gonzalez glancing up thoughtfully from a skillet, Albert Pujols brandishing a blowtorch (no, seriously)—but this glorious, ridiculous photo is why my mother got a copy of the book for Christmas that year. This is what would happen if the American Heart Association had a Marlboro Man. This is “Asparagus, I wish I knew how to quit you.” This is perfection.
In honor of Mike Shannon’s contract extension, which will keep him behind the Cardinals’ microphone alongside John Rooney for at least a few more years, I thought I’d dip into the collection of Shannonisms that Julie and I have been scribbling down during games for the last several seasons. I can’t guarantee that these are all 100% verbatim, since many of them have been recorded via the time-honored leap-from-couch-and-dash-to-nearest-writing-device-before-forgetting-what-he-said method, but I promise you they’re pretty close, and I guarantee they’re good for a grin.
Mike: Did you enjoy the fireworks here last night?
Mike: Did the 3-0 loss have something to do with that?
Mike: Did that temper your fire?
Mike: It’s bad when they temper your fire. It’s like the Easter bunny with no eggs. Just so disgruntling.
Mike on Ryan Howard: Well, Mr. Howard can put a dash to your trash, that’s for sure.
Seatbelt Safety Guy doing a guest spot in the broadcast booth: Seven out of ten traffic fatalities are people who are not wearing a seatbelt.
Mike: WOW!!! So what you’re saying is, if they would buckle up, it might not be ANY of out of the ten?
Mike on the slow-working home-plate umpire: This umpire looks like he has double-time disease. The other way.
Mike: Watch out because we’ve got the broadcast cops out today [gives the ‘This broadcast may not be reproduced or disseminated’ statement]. That’s a word you never hear in the dugout. ‘Disseminate.’
John: Thank you for that, Mike. I’m glad the fans were here to hear that bit of information.
Mike: That’s because of the broadcast cops. They’re like the fish cops.
Mike on then-Mets pitcher Oliver Perez: I always thought Oliver was a classy name. Especially in….poetry. And scripture. How about you?
Mike on umpire Tim McClelland: Just so you know, this guy won’t ever call a pitch. He takes four, five seconds every single time, so tell you what, we’re just going to call ‘em and then we’ll let you know if he disagrees with us or if he gets ‘em right. [a bit later] We get more calls right than he does. I guess he called that last pitch a ball, but you can’t tell with this guy. He only cares about himself.
Mike on Juan Pierre: Pierre is a pepper pot. If you turn him upside down, he’s a popper pet, and that’s what we want him to be tonight. There’s strike one and oh! that was definitely a popper pet.
Mike on a crazy game: This is the wild-pitch phase of the moon. It’s bad when that moon goes into wild-pitch phase.
Mike on the URL for the Cards’ website: There are a LOT of slashes in that Cardinals website, you know. Lots of different pages you can go to. There’s a slash for harmonicas, and a slash for….rain delays…..
John: I don’t think there’s a slash for rain delays.
Mike: There’s not? Oh. Well, you know what there should be a slash for that there isn’t? Pumpkins!
….And we’ve got lots more where these came from.
I don’t feel like talking about the World Series, or about the “classy” ad the Red Sox stuck in the Post-Dispatch, or about the macho garbage going on in Miami and the macho garbage being barfed up in the media in response to it.
Let’s talk about Rick Ankiel instead. Specifically, about his Twitter habits, which rank him alongside Peter Gammons on the list of sports figures who use social media to impersonate symbolist poets. Let’s revisit the ten most profound Ankiel tweets of the year to date. (P.S. Sorry for the visual ugliness of this post; WordPress isn’t letting me fix the vertical space. Serves me right for making fun of a guy I actually really admire.)
#10: The unfinished sentence
Where’s he going with this? “I, Claudius”? “I, Robot”? “I have the most amazing arm you’ll ever see on a ballfield but I do an unfortunate amount of tweeting with my butt”?
You can Google it and stare at it for minutes on end, as I did, if you want to hold out hope that it means something, but….no. Butt-tweet.
I’m thinking Peyton Manning. That guy is awesome.
Rick, no. Bad Rick.
#4: Here, have a palate-cleansing butt-tweet
That’s better. And I have to say I love Rick’s commitment to his tweets. Once they’re out there, he stands by them, which is the hallmark of a guy who either understands the meaning of “loyalty” or hasn’t found the “delete” feature.
#3-2: Wait, I forgot who his favorite football player was
Right. Manning. And in case you thought that the top tweet existed to correct the punctuation in the bottom tweet, notice that they were posted a week apart, so they represent two totally separate thought processes and Twitter-urges.
Oh, Rick. We never loved you for your literariness, but we’ll never stop loving you, either.
1) It was important to me to be able to continue living, and wearing Cardinals gear, in southern California without having to brook the taunts of the minority and the (far more unbearable) good sportsmanship of the majority.
2) I was pathetically, adoringly attached to this team, and I didn’t want to lose their company a day sooner than I had to.
Both, I suppose, have something to do with how I’m feeling today: Discouraged after two flat losses in the final home games of the year, sure, and at least a little bit enervated by the obligation of continued hopefulness imposed upon us by the 2011 team—but mostly, just melancholy. Whoever wins this series, however it goes down, we’re at most two games away from four months of dreary baseball-less-ness, and from never seeing again these same guys on the same diamond at the same time. For a sentimental baseball fool like me, the waning days of the World Series are bittersweet in the extreme, like the turning leaves and early sunsets under which they unfold.
Shakespeare would have understood this, I’m certain (he was an aficionado of the sport, you know, and a Cardinal fan to boot). Thus I hope he won’t be too put out that I’ve twisted his Sonnet 73—one of his most darkly beautiful poems, about love intensified amid decay—into a premature and very dorky farewell to a season I have, indeed, loved very much:
That time of year thou mayst in MO behold
When no ballplayers throw, or hit, or run
Within Busch III, all empty now and cold,
Bare ruined fields, where late the Redbirds won.
In MO thou see’st the twilight of a year
That flourished once, but fadeth in the stretch,
As Papi’s bat and Lester’s emerald schmear*
Consigned the Cards to flail, the fans to kvetch.
In MO thou see’st the dimming of a team
Whose loftiness seems but a thing of yore,
Whose happy flights will be a distant dream
Unless the rookie arms astound once more.
Then pause, though thou still cheer’st them toward the ring,
To love that well which thou must leave till spring.
* No, I don’t think that Lester was cheating, or that Game 1 could have proceeded any more ignominiously even if he had been. I just needed a rhyme.
’Tis the day before judgment, the eve of Game 6,
And Cards fans—let’s face it—are pooping out bricks.
Though spirits are hopeful in downtown St. Lou,
It’s tough to ignore the profound déjà vu
Of watching a three-to-one lead dissipate
To a high-flying team from a westerly state.
Was yesterday’s hurler, in fact, Barry Zito
Dressed up as Zack Greinke and gone incognito?
When A-Gon’s two round-trippers brought down the house,
Did Pablo the Panda become Mickey Mouse?
And what of the baffling moves by Matheny
To let the LA crew escape like Houdini?
No, no, it can’t be! This is 2013
And our hopes didn’t perish in Chavez Ravine;
The Cards have two chances to get back on track
And spare us the pain of a futile flashback.
Now, Yadi! Now, Adams! Now, Carlos Martinez!
On, Beltran! On, Waino! On, matching Molinas!
Don’t GIDP, and avoid the TOOTBLAN;
Restore your RISP magic, and win this for Stan!
A Carpenter double, a Holliday bomb,
A gem from young Wacha (I could be his mom),
A wild pitch from Marmol, an error by Skip
Would all help the Cards book a World Series trip….
An unlikely hero could seal the Birds’ fate!
A squirrel could show up and run past home plate!
A ball could get lost inside Wilson’s gross beard!
Who knows what will happen? October is weird,
But one thing’s for sure: The Cards mustn’t show fear
If they don’t want the Dodgers to pee in their beer.
Let’s rise to the challenge of Kershaw and Puig
And take back the crown of the National League!
(Oh, hey, guys—no pressure, but just so you know this,
I THINK I WILL JUMP OFF A CLIFF IF YOU BLOW THIS.)
I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but T. J. Simers, formerly of the Los Angeles Times and recently of the Orange County Register, doesn’t like us Cardinal fans very much:
The feeling around the Cardinals is that they do everything right….The local newspaper calls it, “The Cardinals’ Way.”
Hey, I was just thinking that what this postseason definitely needed was a few more people bitching with poor punctuation skills about the Cardinals and their holier-than-thou straw-fans. Can we count on you to come through for us, T.J.? I THINK WE CAN:
Now I’m not the sort to take offense to another city’s attempt to come across as being superior. If the yokels here want to aggrandize a king-size croquet wicket and call it the Getaway Arch, so be it.
With T.J., you can never be sure if stuff like “Getaway Arch” is a mistake because he doesn’t know, a typo because he doesn’t care, or a failed attempt at humor because he isn’t funny. You should, however, be reassured that “yokels” is just as lazy a diss of the folks in flyover country as it appears to be. Don’t feel bad, St. Louisans—he hates Memphis too, and Philadelphia, and Nebraska, and baby pandas, and war widows, and Doctors Without Borders [citations needed].
But there is a certain smugness about this place. Folks like to say the people here are the smartest baseball fans in the whole world….If they are so smart why were they on their feet cheering for a hopped-up Mark McGwire all those years? Are they now pleading ignorance?
Oh, now he’s asking the tough questions! While I prepare my defense, I have a couple to ask him in return: Mr. Simers, by the time Manny Ramirez played for the Dodgers, you were a professional sportswriter and the steroid epidemic in baseball had already been out of the shadows for a number of years. Was it ignorance that prompted you to pen a series of drooling paeans—like this one and this one—to him? How about that time you said “Manny Ramirez was the best thing to hit Los Angeles. And nothing that has happened recently changes that”….after he’d been busted (twice) for PEDs and arrested for hitting his wife?
The answer, of course, is that T.J. couldn’t care less what Cardinal fans thought of Mark McGwire, just as he doesn’t really have any particular animosity toward St. Louis. But he does have a deadline, and syntactically-challenged, internally inconsistent stream-of-consciousness taunting is his shtick, so doggone it, that’s what he’s going to do.
Back to baseball:
I’m not here to defend our well-paid mercenaries. They got clubs in their hands and they’ll do just fine.
Just my two cents, but maybe T.J. should worry less about what the Dodgers do in the visiting team’s restroom and more about the fact that they don’t seem to be hitting.
Right now all the smart folks are on their feet clapping and screaming for eight horses pulling a wagon filled with cases of beer around the park. Apparently they are also the easiest fans in the whole word to entertain. I’m guessing many of them still have their pet rocks.
….Someone has to work for what it costs to get into Disneyland these days, and so if the Register will have me for another month or so, that should take care of it.
Some might say that a guy who pays $100 to see a dude in a mouse costume isn’t in a position to call other people “easily entertained.”
(Those two excerpts are a few paragraphs apart in the column, but don’t worry, they make just as little sense in context as out of it.)
You can understand now why there was a county fair-like frenzy in the bottom of the seventh inning in a 2-2 game when the locals started chanting, “Yady, Yady.” Of course I can remember a time when Dodger fans were chanting, “Hee-Seop Choi, Hee-Seop Choi.”
T.J. spells “Yadi” two different ways in this column, and neither one is the right one. That’s because he doesn’t actually follow baseball. If he did, he would know that Hee-Seop Choi (career WAR: 2.6) is to Yadier Molina (career WAR: 26.8) as Simers is to Roger Angell.
But I worry about folks who are urged to scream as loud as they can and do so because TBS is going live to the rest of the country. Why would the smartest baseball fans in the world agree to be used as TV props? Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing, folks living much of their lives in anonymity and thrilled to see a camera pointed their way. Can you just imagine the collective swoon if Alex Trebek showed up for Game 2?
“I’ll take ‘Professional Trolls’ for $400, Alex.”
“Answer: Some say the douchiest sports-scribe west of Joe Strauss is this lazy dolt who was recently fired by the Los Angeles Times.”
[Buzz] “Umm…who is Bill Plaschke?”
“Oooh, I’m sorry. The key words here were ‘douchiest’ and ‘fired.’ Obviously the correct response is T.J. Simers. Simers.”
Now you would think I wouldn’t be enamored with the millionaires who get paid for playing baseball in Los Angeles, while I work to pay off Mickey. It’s true that six of our eight position players get paid more than their Cardinals’ counterparts. Our starting pitcher makes $16 million more to get batters out than St. Louis’ starter. But halleluiah, I say, that’s the Dodgers’ Way. It beats the days when the money went to Jamie McCourt’s spiritual healer. The Dodgers paid Juan Uribe $21 million over the past three years, and that’s just the going rate for a NLDS clinching home run. Unfortunately he just hit into a double play, the fans going wild here as if they just witnessed something never done before. And people say they are the smartest fans in baseball.
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Whoops, Carlos the foster kitten (pictured above) just walked across the computer keyboard. I’m leaving it because I want to offer T.J. a standard of journalism to aspire to.
The Cardinals win with a Beltran hit, a millionaire of their own doing the damage and I guess that’s the Cardinals’ Way, any old way just fine by them.
Oh, for crying out loud. Here’s the thing: I can handle criticism of the Cardinals, or their fans, or St. Louis, and I can even enjoy it if it’s smart and/or funny. But I can’t handle sentences like this one, which is constructed about as well as the Angels’ 2013 roster. I can’t handle sluggish, hackneyed jokes about Midwestern hayseeds, which are about as fresh as Yaddy’s knees must have felt after 22 innings of baseball in 25 hours. I can’t handle knowing that I have at least five un- or under-employed friends who write better and know more about sports than Simers.
I can’t blame him for the fact that major newspapers keep paying him to be a troll. I can, however, blame him for being absolutely terrible at it.
And that’s coming from someone who’s entertained by a bunch of draft horses pulling a wagon of crappy beer.