The Train Report (Throwback Edition): The 1996 St. Louis Cardinals

gary-gaetti-hits-grand-slam-1996

(@TheATrainSTL)

St. Louis, MO

In this edition of “The Train Report,” let’s take Cardinal fans back to 1996. The year when the Tony LaRussa era began and the Ozzie Smith era ended. Background first, my story second.

THE BACKGROUND:

Let’s take you back to 1995 when the baseball strike ended and the season was shorten. The Cardinals finished a pitiful 62-81. Joe Torre’s future was freed up after the first 47 games and Mike Jorgensen took over the last 96 games. Torre then went to the New York Yankees and won 4 World Series titles. YIKES. The first, during the ’96 season. DOUBLE YIKES.

They saw the retirements of long-timer Jose Oquendo and Tom Henke, who was an All-Star and the Rolaids Relief Man Of The Year award winner.

The Cardinals said goodbye to Todd Zeile, who was already traded to the Chicago Cubs during the season and hometown guy Bernard Gilkey, who was traded to the New York Mets in the offseason and wound up having a career year in 1996. Not to mention, the funny cameo role he had in the first “Men In Black” movie.

The ace of the staff was Mark Petkovsek…EXACTLY. Mark Petkovsek. Say that name, three times fast. No starter on that staff had double digit wins. Henke (36 saves), along with the trio outfield of Gilkey (.298, 17 HR, 61 RBI), Ray Lankford (.277, 25 HR, 82 RBI) and Brian Jordan (.296, 22 HR, 81 RBI) were the only bright spots. But that team stunk and was in dire need of change.

That offseason brought such change. Bill DeWitt, Jr. bought the team from the Anheuser-Busch family. General manager Walt Jocketty said no to interim manager Mike Jorgensen and got former Oakland A’s skipper Tony LaRussa. Huge move. LaRussa then added Ron Hassey, Tommie Reynolds, Dave McKay, hitting coach George Hendrick and pitching coach Dave Duncan.

The Cardinals would add veterans Ron Gant, Gary Gaetti, and Dennis Eckersley. It also saw the returns of hometown favorite Willie McGee and Luis Alicea. Not to mention, the Cardinals went out and nabbed starters Andy Benes and Todd Stottlemyre. But there was one move that stuck during that season that caused riff between a manager and a player.

Royce Clayton.

Why him you ask?

Well here is what I know:

Clayton was a young shortstop that had average speed and average defense. Also, there was Mr. Smith. Smith had announced that it was his last season and wanted to have a great sendoff by being the starter. LaRussa had both shortstops, one young, one not so young compete for the starting job. Now many believe that LaRussa already knew who he had in mind to start. Smith had the better spring at the plate and played way better defense than Clayton (who had 8 errors in the spring)…and didn’t win the starting job. LaRussa chose Clayton. Smith, of course, was unhappy with the move because he felt he was in great shape to start the season, even at the ripe old age of 41. Now the many stories I have heard about the Smith/LaRussa are crazy. But if you want to delve into that, check out this article in 2011 from Howard Friend at Bleacher Report about the Smith/LaRussa feud.

The team started off bad and looked like they were headed to the bottom of the Central Division. By the end of May, they were in 2nd with a 22-29 record. Then a 6-game winning streak put them in 1st during June. After flip-flopping from 1st and 2nd, by the All-Star break they landed back on top. The Cardinals let a 4-game lead slip away by late July and found themselves tied. They would go back and forth with the Houston Astros in August until the lead went to 2.5 games for Houston. By early September, in the midst of a winning streak, the Cardinals took the division lead and wouldn’t give it up and won it.

THE PARTS THAT I REMEMBER THE MOST:

At age 12, I can remember the Cardinals clinching the National League Central for the first time while in Pittsburgh. Eckersley pumped his right fist as the players ran out on to the mound in celebration at old Three Rivers Stadium. They looked primed and ready for the postseason.

That year they got in the postseason and played the San Diego Padres and NL MVP Ken Caminiti. Speaking of Caminiti, I was shocked when he passed in 2004, but wasn’t surprised that he took steroids in his ’96 MVP season. He had a monster year and a monster series against the Cardinals. However, they were swept in three games. Good riddance. Uber excitement, at this point the Cardinals hadn’t been to the LCS in 9 seasons. I was geeked and excited.

In the NLCS they went against the Atlanta Braves, the previous season’s World Champions. I felt pretty good that they could beat them and I was nervous in all seven games of the series because anyone of them could be a complete turning point.

First game was in Atlanta at old Fulton-County Stadium, and they got beat 4-2. Bullpen couldn’t keep the game tied and Benes did the best he could to hold the Braves. They lost the game in the 8th inning thanks to 2 runs given up by Petkovsek. Not a huge deal but still they were down 1 game.

Still had some confidence that the Cardinals could do some damage in Game 2. It damn sure was a tight one when it got to the 7th. With the score 4-3 and the bases loaded, Gaetti unloaded a deep drive off starter Greg Maddux. Gaetti was 38 and nearing the end of his career. The previous year with the Royals he hit 35 home runs, and the Cardinals hoped that he could gave that power he had in KC and bring it down Interstate 70. He wound up with 23 in the season. This grand slam gave the Cardinals an 8-3 lead, to which they would hold on to that final score and even up the series.

As happy as I was, I was still nervous because it was the Atlanta Braves. I hated the Braves. At that point, they had reach the postseason every year (except the 1994 strike).

The last thing I wanted to see was an NL team, MY team, defeat them in the NLCS.

Game 3 back in St. Louis was LIVE. No I wasn’t there at Busch Stadium II but watching that game, it was a damn good feeling to see the Cardinal fans electric in an afternoon game. It was surely a great feeling for Gant, hitting 2 home runs off future Hall-of-Famer Tom Glavine was epic. The excitement on his face as he trotted around the bases. It was like he wanted pure revenge on the Braves. I wanted that for him too. Gant had already participated in 2 World Series with the Braves, so his presence with the Cardinals meant that playoff experience was on deck. He won the game by himself with 3 RBIs in a 3-2 Game 3 victory.

The next game was probably one of the best playoff games I had ever watched at that point. Although, the Birds were down 3-0 going into the bottom of the 7th, a player I had never seen before on the team, Dmitri Young came to the dish with two men on base.

Young kid, big stage. He would falter right?

No, he didn’t.

Young hit a triple off Braves reliever Greg McMichael and drove in both runs to narrow the Braves lead to 1. Clayton would then knock in Young to tie the game at 3. Busch II was rocking high. In the bottom of the 8th, Jordan sent a deep drive off McMichael to give the Cardinals the lead. Eckersley, who already came in the top half, shut down the Braves in the 9th to earn the win and a 3-1 series lead. The excitement I had that night would be the last excitement I would have for the rest of the series.

In the next three games, the Braves’ bats not only woke up…they never went back to sleep. The Cardinals’ bats literally died. I hoped so bad that they would get to their first World Series in 9 seasons, so I could see the excitement that the older generations got to see. Those dreams died the minute Game 5 started.

Game 5, 14-0 Braves. A complete ass whipping in a potential clincher. I was mad, but not angry. The Cardinals were still up 3 games to 2.

Then…

Game 6, a 3-1 defeat. Doesn’t seem like a lot, right? But that game was bad. Pretty damn bad. It set up a Game 7, which is very exciting but sets up a possible collapse by the Cardinals.

That wouldn’t happen, right?

Game 7, 15-0 Braves. Another complete ass whipping in a potential clincher. I remember my father enjoying every minute of that. I had a headache literally while watching that debacle. It was unreal. Catcher Javy Lopez was LCS MVP. The heavily favored Braves, who were on the brink of elimination, came back and won those last 3 games to take the series and face the New York Yankees. The Yankees would prevail in six games. Good that the Braves lost but ouch that Torre won. It would have definitely made for an epic series if the Cardinals got there. But they didn’t.

If you had kept count of those last three games of the ’96 NLCS, the grand total of runs the Cardinals had was…1. That’s right, 1 run.

But it wasn’t meant to be, it gave us hope that they could do it again. But they wouldn’t get back to the postseason for another 4 seasons. However some excitement back 2 years later…some guy named McGwire took the baseball world by storm. (This was before the steroid stories broke)

But that’s how the 1996 Cardinals season was for me. I can’t believe that was literally 20 years ago. It brought a lot of highs and some lows, and believe it or not, that was the last time LaRussa ever faced a 3-1 collapse in his tenure with the Cardinals.

Coming up on the next “Train Report,” I’ll take you to the 2001 St. Louis Cardinals, where it featured the surprising rookie debut of one Albert Pujols.

Keep taking the A-Train. Drop a comment if you like.

Follow me on Twitter @TheATrainSTL

AND…

Follow N The Zone on Twitter @NTheZoneShow

THE A-TRAIN RANT 6.0!

What’s good! After a wild weekend of fun, excitement and atrociousness. I want to start this “END OF THE WEEKEND” rant with a little fun and excitement, yet reality. Then I’ll give a piece of my mind to a certain Cardinals player.

BOOM!

  1. The St. Louis Rams have a great defense, I applaud Jeff Fisher for his defensive scheme, 9 sacks said a lot against Arizona QB Kevin Kolb on Thursday night. Hope Mr. Kolb found his teeth after that game.
  2. Now while the Rams have shown promise to getting over .500 for the first time since ’06, they still haven’t won a road game yet. Convince me, then I’ll yell, “We going to the Super Bowl this season!” I should make a bet.
  3. To the Atlanta Braves fans (at Turner Field)…if you want to throw things on the field, throw them at your own damn team! Their defense was THE reason they lost that “one-game playoff.” Either way it went, that “infield-fly” rule wasn’t going to save the season.
  4. Speaking of the Braves, Chipper Jones played his final game as a MLB player. Funny thing was he knew the Braves were going to lose to that game…WEEKS BEFORE the playoff game. Damn fine way to go out on the bottom!
  5. This year’s baseball playoffs are PURE CRAPOLA! And I stand on that. Even if the Cardinals win it all again, this format to the playoffs is a piece of sh**.
  6. Bud Selig loves to ruin the game of baseball. That’s all from that.
  7. Cam Newton is starting to understand what a sophomore slump really is…at least I think so. Losing to the Seahawks shows you that..(CLEARS THROAT) THE NFC WEST IS THE BEST! Everybody else, just get over it.
  8. Looks like my prediction about Alabama beating the tar off Mizzou by at least 35 is really coming into play. I might watch just to see what happens. Mr. Pinkel, you have one more year left. **WAVES**
  9. Hey Green Bay Packer fans…the Rams are better than your team.
  10. RGIII…how does it feel to be knocked on your ass at home. I told you that you were going to get it. Welcome to the NFL.
  11. Long live Chuck Pagano!!!
  12. 3 teams in the SEC are in the Top 5…waiting on the hatred once again from fans outside of the S.E.C.
  13. If Miguel Cabrera doesn’t win the AL MVP in a landslide, all the voters should give up their voting rights…to the fans.
  14. After all of this, I have to talk about the St. Louis Cardinals. **Sighs** First off, congrats for getting to the Division Series.
  15. Finally…MATT HOLLIDAY SUCKS, HE’S NOT CLUTCH AND HE NEVER WILL BE! Cardinals paid this ridiculous idiot of a player over $126 million, and got completely suckered by Scott Boras. Yeah, he hit a home run in the Wild Card game…the Wild Card game. Yet, when the chips are down, he plays just like he has played previously…horrible. Oh, everybody else played like crap from the 7th inning on in this series against the Nationals but I want to focus on the $126 million DOUCHE. For those that don’t remember, this is the same guy who couldn’t play a Game 7 in last year’s World Series, because he was “hurt.” Now for a guy that is 6’4″, 230 lbs, and has received hitting advice from (get this) Mark McGwire. He should be the best damn player on this team, he should be driving in runs like Miguel Cabrera did. He mustered 102 runs batted in this season, which is great, but you and I know he’s much better than this. So you telling me, the fans can’t get the guy who batted .340, hit 36 home runs, and drove in 137 runs back in 2007??? The fans can’t get it. Yet, some imbeciles want to say he’s clutch. You wouldn’t know that truth if it slapped you in the face. Now let’s go back to all of those fans that said, “Oh, we don’t need Albert Pujols anymore.” AND “Let him rot in Anaheim.” AND my personal favorite, “F*** Pujols.” They could sure use that in the lineup right now especially after the man who has taken his spot in the lineup is supposed to be…that guy. What a joke. Yet, I’m cheering for him. Thanks for suckering me, Matt. You are doing a tremendous job.
  16. When is hockey coming on again?

I’m done. More to come soon.

Thoughts? Concerns? Ideas are welcome. Please reply below.

Thanks.

The A-Train…aka The Mad Redbird

The Best Is Yet To Come (No Jokers Wild Card)

Image

Think about this… Baseball’s extra Wild Card element added for the first time this year gives more sports drama because of last year’s almost incidentally awesome last day. That last day of diligence, drama, and dreams was created in the unlikely but unforgettable last day of last year’s regular season that was happening in four different games.

Because of this extra wildcard now in 2012, teams like the Cincinnati Reds have a chance to shatter the Cards’ playoff dreams instead of just sitting pretty atop the Central Division waiting for a 1st round playoff opponent.

The Reds can be both division winners and Wild Card spoilers! This duality is the new reality of the 2012 postseason race.

The great schedule makers have Cincinnati meeting its division nemesis, the Cardinals, for a three-game regular-season finale of a series that begins Monday. Oh yes, plenty is at stake. Before the playoffs, the National League Central champion Reds can also bounce St. Louis from this new 2012 second Wild Card spot. The Cardinals entered the day with a two-game advantage over the surging L.A. Dodgers.

For the first time ever, the three headed monster of quality teams in the American League West can all battle it out for playoff positioning down the last few games of the season and two of the three will likely get in. Even next year all three teams could have a postseason game. This 2012 change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional cities in the great U.S.A. or Canada to experience playoff baseball each year, all while maintaining the most exclusive postseason in professional sports.

The National and American League Championship Series and World Series formats will remain the same, keeping baseball purists happy still.

Let’s get back to the National League playoff picture. Although the scenario is different this year for the Cardinals to get into the playoffs the revenge factor is intriguing from the standpoint of the Atlanta Braves. Of course The Braves want to get back at the Cards for last year’s epic failure when they held a double digit lead in the standings over the Cards and losing that lead ultimately on the final day of the season. Yes, the Braves ultimately controlled their own destiny but couldn’t hold off the surging LaRussa Lead legacy of champions.

As a St. Louis sports fan, I’ve been blessed to almost always find myself switching back and forth between meaningful and or playoff cardinal baseball and Blues opening season hockey on the same nights for a few weeks in October. Well this year with no NHL hockey and me not playing hockey due to my schedule I hope to see some games on the hockey schedule! But for baseball even the casual or impatient sports fans who often mock the game of baseball can’t help but respect what our national past time has done to help the fan experience exceed expectations.

On the hockey front; I think I’ll wait till’ some of my teammates are ready to get into the swing of the real winter season before I lace up my skates to play some real games. Oh and let’s not forget about the new college friend who will be needing an early season warm welcome back to STL with a pickup game or two in December.

Predictions– These baseball teams will make the playoffs: Senior circuit: Braves, Cards, Nationals, Giants, Reds – Junior circuit: Rangers, A’s, Yankees, Orioles, Tigers

World Series Prediction: Cardinals versus A’s

Prediction for my sports life: Time will be found to play hockey in our league with my teammates and time to play pickup hockey with old and new friends in between the grueling but grateful schedule of producing programing!

-Bryan Kreutz

THE A-TRAIN RANT 2.0!

Time now for another great rant from the A-Train and it goes a little something like this…

(Clears throat)

  1. RGIII is a beast! That’s tough luck for the Rams (PLEASE prove me wrong St. Louis, PLEASE!)
  2. Jay Cutler just needs to shut the HELL up and play some football. BEARS FANS YOU CAN THANK ME LATER.
  3. Dwight Howard will be a hinder the L.A. Lakers…which means no championship for DH12…don’t believe me, ask James Worthy.
  4. The Mizzou Tigers might get only 1 win in the next three weeks…and I’m a Tiger fan.
  5. If the St. Louis Cardinals continue to keep playing so pitiful (yeah even the 2-1 win was pitiful…yet helpful), the Atlanta Braves will have a good laugh and sweet revenge. Trust me…they have not forgotten about last season.
  6. THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS ARE PURE IDIOTS! PURE IDIOTS! You have a top pitcher in Stephen Strasburg and say…”Well, let’s shut him down for the season. Don’t mess up that golden arm.” Manager Davey Johnson seriously doesn’t believe in this theory. He just fooling people that he is for this. Either way, I hope they get swept in the division series.
  7. Gary Bettman and David Stern are the dumbest commissioners in the four major sports.
  8. Bud Selig and Roger Goodell (BELIEVE IT OR NOT) are the smartest commissioners. Sad part…I can’t stand any of them, yet I’m stuck with them. A friend of mine is going to love these previous two statements. I can feel it. **Kanye shrug**
  9. I still have hope for the Baltimore Orioles winning the AL East…baseball needs a true shakeup and Baltimore is it. Hey, it’s going to happen in Boston, except in a bad and negative way.
  10. If replacement refs are keeping the NFL afloat, then just take it and leave them alone. It could be worse, no refs, no NFL games. SO BE THANKFUL.
  11. So Jim Calhoun retires…I wish the best for him. 29 seasons, 3 national championships…a good legacy for the most. Now, the stuff behind the scenes that were not so great, is between him, the University of Connecticut, the NCAA and God. Well…good luck to Kevin Ollie. But seriously though, a one-year trial??? He only gets one year to prove himself…C’mon man!
  12. As a sports gamer (person who plays sports video games for slow ones) I like EA Sports…BUT if they dare put out NBA Live 13 this fall, they should never make basketball video games again. IT’S ATROCIOUS, IT’S AN ABOMINATION TO FANS! Plus, that interview w/ the Live engineer…FORGET IT, I REFUSE TO DO IT, don’t ask why. Thanks.
  13. Speaking to EA Sports games…this is directed to EA Sports: If you know how to make good football games, WHY DO YOU KEEP COMING UP SHORT ON BASKETBALL, WHY? ASK YOURSELVES THAT, PLEASE! IT’S A DAMN SHAME!
  14. On a lighter note, shoutout to Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls…I’ll let you see it for yourself. He’s a class act in my opinion. More athletes need to be humble. REAL TALK. Here you go: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nba-ball-dont-lie/derrick-rose-breaks-down-tears-shoe-company-product-130215847–nba.html
  15. UPDATE: Good to hear that Jerry “The King” Lawler is back after having a heart attack on last Monday’s LIVE Raw broadcast. The thing I don’t like is that the doctors that treated him said…HE CAN WRESTLE AGAIN? You’re serious? King, listen. You have had a storied career, but it’s really time to hang it up. Go back to the announcer’s table and stay there. GLUED TO THE SEAT! THANK YOU!

After that, I’m spent. Good day, folks.

The A-Train