As a New Baseball Season Nears, Some Perspective on the Cardinals

With baseball’s opening day less than two weeks away, I think it’s about time to sit down, let the brain cool a bit, take a few minutes to recenter and put myself through a process I call a “perspective checkup.”

Statement: The Cardinals have missed the playoffs for two years in a row.

That is our starting point the angst.

It wasn’t any fun, having October become just another generic month around here for two years in a row.


And while no one should be satisfied with that, and while I believe in the principle of holding the Cardinals to high standards, I think it’s positive for my mental health to attend my own baseball history class every now and then.

I say this because there’s quite a large difference between being frustrated and being birdbrained. I am not saying that to take a shot at you or anyone else; I have to remind myself of this truth. I have to try and stay grounded. And it isn’t always easy.

I usually make the effort to level out a bit when I’m peppered with email and messages about the decline of Cardinals baseball … how Bill DeWitt Jr. has forsaken the fans … how the franchise is no longer committed to winning …  how the Cubs and even the Brewers are now the standard-bearers in the NL Central … how it’s just about time for DeWitt to sell the team.

All of this because of back-to-back seasons of 86 wins, and 83 wins.

And while back-to-back seasons of 96 wins and 86 wins is greatly preferred, I don’t think the Cardinals’ 2016 and 2017 campaigns made them the modern version of the 1910 and 1911 St. Lous Browns, who lost 107 games each season.

Being unhappy is fine. But unhinged?

Being disappointed is fine.  But demented?

Since DeWitt Jr. purchased the Cardinals and gave the franchise new leadership in 1996, the team ranks third in the majors in regular-season wins, and second in the majors (to the Yankees) for most postseason games and most postseason victories.

Let’s look at the current inhabitants of the NL Central and how all of the precincts have fared since DeWitt took over the shop in St. Louis. And this is 22 seasons of baseball:

Regular-Season Winning Percentage

St. Louis, .548

Chicago,  .490

Milwaukee,  .473

Pittsburgh, .455

* Houston had a .503 winning percentage from 1996 through 2012 before switching to the AL.)

Postseason Games Played 

St. Louis:  135

Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati combined:   89

Add Houston (1996-2012) to the other four teams, and the Cardinals still have the edge: 135 postseason games to 129 for the other five teams combined.

Postseason Games Won 

St. Louis, 71

Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati combined:  36.

Add Houston’s 15 postseason wins while in the NL Central, and the Cardinals still have 20 more postseason victories (71-51) than the other five teams combined.

Yeah, it stinks for Cardinals fans to see the Cubs rise up as one of baseball’s most popular boy-band superpowers. And Milwaukee is coming on fast, thanks to the work of the wiz kids in the front office. Cincinnati is a smarter organization. Pittsburgh is a smart organization, but the Pirates are a real example of how a cheap owner can buzz kill his own team’s momentum.

But I don’t think that two down seasons — “down” as in an elevator descending a floor or two, and not  dropping 27 levels at alarming speed to the basement — means that DeWitt is now greedy Mr. Potter who seeks to make life miserable for all of the George Bailey fans who buy tickets. And I don’t think president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch have just landed the co-starring roles for “Dumb and Dumber III.”

Great, the Cubs have been outstanding for three years. Whoopee.

The Brewers were a little better than the Cardinals last season. Parade!

Let’s remember what had to happen for the rivals to move up — or at least try to.

The Cubs had to tank …

The Brewers had to tank…

The Reds are tanking now …

The Pirates had 20 straight losing seasons before winning in 2013, ’14 and ’15. And they’ve resumed losing  again.

Since the Astros are NL Central alums we’ll point out that they also went with the tanking method … and that former Cardinals executive Jeff Luhnow, a DeWitt guy, built the Astros into a World Series champion.

No tanking in St. Louis.

The Cardinals have had three losing seasons in 22 years under DeWitt.

Pittsburgh (19), Cincinnati (16), Milwaukee (15), Chicago (12) and Houston (5, through 2012) have combined for 67 losing seasons since 1996.

So the Cubs are quite the beast now, and the Brewers may be good, and the Reds are improving and the Pirates are rolling around again.

Three of the current division rivals (+ Houston) had to tank, which means that they trashed several seasons intentionally. And the other (Pittsburgh) has had three winning seasons in the last 25 years.

But the Cardinals are the disgrace here, right? Never mind that their rivals spent much of the past 22 years stumbling around, and had to lose intentionally just to have a chance to get better …

After an an amazing display of sustained success that included 13 postseason trips, four NL pennants and two World Series championships, the Cards dipped to the ninth-best record in baseball over the past two seasons …  NINTH out of THIRTY which means we now get to throw away DeWitt’s entire body of work as the team’s owner. The many triumphs, the magic moments, the historical feats … well,  they no longer count. We’ve erased all of that. The only thing that counts in the DeWitt file is the last two seasons. Toss the rest out.

Hell, no.

Actually we don’t get to do that.

Not unless we are loco …  bananas … crackers …  moonstruck … and howling at that moon … and having fever dreams of Mr. Potter.

OK, my perspective tuneup is completed.

I’m good.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend.


More -Mike Lupica 101ESPN Interview: ‘Cardinals Baseball Is One of the Capitals of American Sports’