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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why The 2006 Cardinals Suck, Part I    

(Flickr user incendiarymind)

This has been a rough year.  And no, I'm not referring to the Debacle in Denver or the Abreu Ass-Raping. I mean across the entire world of sports. Every champion crowned since the Rose Bowl has had its title marred in one way or another by circumstance:

  • The Steelers and Heat received their titles with significant help from the
    referees.  (Not so much that America feels ripped off, but certainly enough to raise an eyebrow or three.)

  • The Hurricanes halted, by a hair, what would have been the biggest upset in Stanley Cup history.

  • The Final Four's result was dwarfed by the unheralded run of George Mason University.

  • Team Italy's sublime display of thuggery and mediocrity was outdone by the racism-instigated Zizou headbutt.

As a result, none of those victories resonate. They're overshadowed by either the controversy of the final or the perseverance of the runner-up. They're afterthoughts compared to the events surrounding their championships. And they all happened at once. It's been shaping up as a rough year all the way around.

The win by the 2006 Cardinals is worse than all of them.

The Cardinals were not a good baseball team by any means.  Their 83-78 finish is right on the money.  This isn't a case where the team got hot late and salvaged a disastrous start; that record reflects their skill just about perfectly.  Their hottest stretch was a seven-game winning streak, but they also suffered two eight-game losing streaks.  They were neither proficient nor deficient in any area.  And let's not start in with that phony-baloney hearts-and-guts horseshit.  This blog is an Eckstein-free zone.  Any other year, this team misses the playoffs entirely. This year, they win the whole thing.

I can't get over how little work this team had to do. .500 baseball was good enough to win the Central division, thanks to even worse play from their nearest competitors (Houston, Cincinnati). Their first playoff opponent (San Diego) was no tougher.  The Mets, far superior on paper but woefully short-handed in the absence of Pedro, El Duque, and Clifford "Tits" Floyd, proceeded to lose by a neck in one of the ugliest series in recent memory.  And we've just finished watching the Tigers throw the series away, as literally as possible.  So, just to recap, the Cards beat out three crap teams, lucked past an injured giant, and watched young guns collapse in disaster.  All without having to play "good" baseball even once.  And now we're contractually obligated to refer to them as world champions.

I cannot think of a team that has won a World Series without playing particularly well at any point.  The other notable "soft" winner in recent memory, the '97 Marlins, made a late-season run superior to any other team in baseball.  In other words, they at least did something.  What did the Cards do?  Outlast their opponents?  Use the Jedi mind trick to make Joel Zumaya throw that ball away?  Does anyone think this team was ever pushed?  I sure don't.  That's probably why I find all this "guts" and "heart" stuff to be so laughable: to me, they half-assed it all year and got lucky.  Wow, what an inspiration.

The most damning statement I can make about the Cardinals is that any of the last five Cardinals teams would tear the living shit out of this year's
edition.  If those more-deserving editions didn't win, why reward these chumps?  I guess Cards fans ought to get something, after watching so many legitimate attempts fall short.  It's been almost 25 years since they won, so it's not like a victory means nothing to them.  But it doesn't make their team any better, and I gotta think that in the back of their heads, a lot of them are at least a little bit puzzled.

After living through the aftermath of Super Bowl XXXVI, I know for a fact that winning is not equivalent to respect.  The only way to get people's respect is to earn it.  Winning the game won't shut everyone up, but being the best sure will.  It's hard for me to respect a team that does nothing but find themselves in the right place at the right time.  I'm just not convinced. Time will tell.


  • OK, just so it's on the permanent record, I'll post my comment from the similar email thread:

    Italy did suck and I hated them but that game they played against Germany was one of the most impressive performances. And I'm kind of glad about the way the headbutt all played out. Not only was it way more interesting than any plain old victory would have been, but it recasts Zidane as sort of a tragic, failed hero...and this was the sort of inevitable doom awaiting him, completely of his own making. I love it. But yeah, I hear what you're saying.

    As for the Cards, I guess now I'll have to be a reluctant subscriber to Beane's postseason-luck hypothesis. Not entirely or anything, but it's such a major factor. Anyway, pretty unsatisfying all around. This has a lot of interesting stuff in it, though, some of which makes me feel a little bit better about it all.

    Really, I do think Silver has some solid insights. A lot broke wrong for the Cards to look as bad as they did, and the Tigers choked. I'm sure we've seen the same thing over and over in baseball history, even if this was a pretty extreme case.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 4:54 PM  

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