The pitchers and catchers have reported. The 2012 season is officially underway. It has been a long winter of great expectations, changes and hopes for another championship run for the St. Louis Cardinals. We have seen the departure of some of our favorites. One departure that we understand; one that was a pretty jagged pill to gag down. We have anticipated the return of one of the game’s best from Tommy John surgery. It is finally here, the time of year that the Cardinal loyalists live for.
The retirement of Tony La Russa, though it was tough to see him go, it was one that was understandable. The greatest manager in the modern era, nothing left to prove, why not go out on top? Tony was definitely one that did things his way. There was many times it left Cardinal fans scratching their heads. He was not the most personable guy to the media. However, he won games and he won a lot of them so it is really hard to argue with his thought process. As soon as he arrived there was a bristling amongst some. One of the most memorable was the fall out between him and Ozzie Smith.
The future Hall of Famer was in his decline when TLR arrived. Tony announced the shortstop position would be up for competition and it would be earned in Spring Training. No doubt that Ozzie had a better spring than new comer Royce Clayton. Yet, Clayton emerged as the starter. Thus the fallout between Tony and the Wizard began. It was a fall out that has kept Ozzie at pretty good distance from the Cardinals since. Except for few spot appearances here and there the Wizard has pulled a great disappearance act.
This year though Ozzie will be in camp. As well as Whitey Herzog, who will be around for the first time in years. I think there has been an underlying conflict between Herzog and La Russa since Tony’s arrival. Herzog is loved in St. Louis and I am not sure he liked the sharing of the managerial spotlight. That is just my opinion.
So what’s my point? All of the old faces coming back around. We are going to relive some golden days of the Whitey Ball era. That’s a good thing right? I am not so sure it is. Hey, I am huge Ozzie Smith fan and I love Whitey as much as any other Cardinal fan that lived through the 1980’s during the living highlight reels of Cardinal baseball.
Yes, the Cardinals are the reigning World Champions. Yes, we have the potential to go back out and make and honest run for late October again. Yes, we have a ton of veterans coming back and leaders in the club house.
However, this is also a team in transition. We lost the face of the franchise. I can’t remember his name, but he was a HUGE piece of the machine. There was really good Cardinal baseball before him and there will be great Cardinal baseball after him. We will make it without him, but it is going to be a change without him being there.
I think the biggest change is that we are going to have a new skipper calling the shots for the first time in over a decade and a half. I am confident that Mike Matheny can handle himself. But, I am not sure he needs to surround himself with a ton of icons from the pre-TLR days. I don’t see a problem with them making an appearance and then fading back into the background. Matheny needs room to make this team his. He has to show that he can handle this responsibility. It doesn’t need to have the appearance of managing by committee. Tony and Whitey both had great coaching staffs, but there was no doubt when it came down to it, they called the shots.
Ozzie made comments last week to the St. Louis media that he is anxious to claim his “rightful place in the organization.” I feel his rightful place is some guest coaching at camp, make himself available to the younger players to talk to him and then step back. I am glad Ozzie is going to be around. It should be limited though.
I think it is important to have the past players around. It helps build and strengthen the idea of what it means to play the Cardinal way. Maybe more prominent roles next year in camp, this year should be reserved for Matheny to show he is the manager.