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At Busch Stadium, Guys in Red Shoes Are Playing Turfball

The Denver Post

Today we will talk about the St. Louis Cardinals. Why? Because, after this last weekend, the Cardinals owned a whopping, four-game lead in the National League East race with a mere 96 games left to play, a status that had their fans performing adagio dances of glee.

Cardinals fans are skilled at tasks like adagio dancing, and pottery making, and baking carrot cake, and, of course, bird watching. Their idea of high-charged rock ‘n’ roll is Wayne Newton’s second show at the Sands, the one where he undoes his tuxedo tie and muses: “Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”

Cardinals fans thrive on that kind of stuff, that kind of shmaltzy and soulless entertainment taking the place of the honest, gritty, second-shift blues real people relate to. They can’t help it, these poor fans. The team they follow is soulless itself, playing baseball as if it was some new spin-off of a Space Invaders game.

OK, I admit it. Some of this is personal. I went to school in Missouri--spent six of the best years of my life there--and learned to loathe the Cardinals in that curious way I could never loathe the Giants or the Indians or even the Yankees.

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Alone, in an empty brick-walled dorm room on an empty campus a week before my first collegiate class, I listened to Mike Shannon drone on about Ken Reitz, Mike Tyson and that damn Lou Brock. I tried to smoke cigarettes and act, uh, un-seventeeny, but it was no use. I was 17, with half of those years spent wishing the Cardinals would simply and casually disband. Today, I still do.

What is wrong with the St. Louis Cardinals? Let’s begin with the shoes. The Cardinals wear red shoes--shiny, perfectly darling red shoes with a couple of strategically situated white stripes, so people will know these guys are ballplayers and not the national touring ensemble of “La Cage aux Folles.”

There’s an old movie called “The Red Shoes.” It’s about a ballerina who is talked into shelving a hot romance with a composer so she can devote her whole life to doing things like pirouettes. This particular plot line is not to be confused with, say, “Rambo.”

Which brings me to the point: With the exception of maybe Jack Clark, the one member of Whitey Herzog’s team who eschews all the twinkletoe stuff and swings the bat like a grown man, the St. Louis Cardinals likely would deplore John Rambo’s mano-a-mano guerrilla tactics. Too blunt. Too savage.

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No, if they were in the same jungle as the Commies, they’d fasten the laces to their pretty red shoes nice and tight, and whisper: “Psst! Ready? Let’s make a mad dash for it!”

And then they’d make a mad dash for it, and arrive safely, of course, whenceupon they’d exchange about 10 minutes worth of high fives while their fans did adagio dances and gushed about how wonderful it is to be in first place with only 96 games left to play.

I’m sorry. I keep digressing, referring back to the St. Louis fans, with whom I hold no grudge whatsoever. No, it’s the team I despise.

It’s the style of baseball showcased in St. Louis since the Birds ditched the old Busch Stadium (aka Sportsman’s Park) to play on the world’s largest, hottest pool table. It’s the style, more specifically, of that little weasly white-haired rat who arrived from Kansas City five years ago and transformed the Cardinals from one of sports’ most noble franchises into a team convinced it can win only by stooping to furtive and cowardly tactics.

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By furtive and cowardly tactics, I don’t mean stealing bases. Ty Cobb stole 892 bases, and he was neither furtive nor a coward. Rest assured of this, though: However Cobb got to first base for those 892 thefts, it wasn’t by richocheting the ball off an ersatz hard-rubber surface and tearing up the baseline while nine fielders watched helplessly. It wasn’t by racking up a bunch of 1-3 put outs disguised as base hits.

See, in St. Louis, home of the hardest carpeted field in the land, what should be a routine 1-3 put out as often as not is recorded as an infield hit, or a ground-rule double, or, in the cases of Messrs. Coleman and McGee, an inside-the-park home run.

Hard carpets, cheap taters and red shoes. This is baseball?

It is in St. Louis, where the fundamentals of the sport have been neutered to make it resemble a mutant form of bumper pool--where the considerable legacies of Musial, Frisch, Marion and Grimes, as well as The Raj, Old Pete, Sonny Jim, Gibby and the Diz are compromised in the name of an aberration called turfball.

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Great Moments in St. Louis History: Busch Stadium, Aug. 13, 1979, fourth inning of the Cubs-Cardinals game. Dennis Lamp is pitching, Brock (who else?) is batting. Brock has amassed 2,999 hits in his wondrous career; he needs one more to join Musial and only 13 others in baseball’s most prestigious hitting club.

He swings. A bouncer to the mound. In any other time and place, the pitcher would glove the ball and offer a dispassionate throw to first. On this muggy Thursday night in St. Louis, Lamp hasn’t a chance. The ball caroms off the surface and crashes against his leg with somewhat the force of an ICBM.

Brock, of course, is safe, having created Cardinals history in the most appropriate of fashions: by offering a bouncer to the mound. If memory serves, the bum steals second, and maybe even third and scores a few moments later on a fly ball, red shoes whirring in the twilight.

Hey Mister Rambo, you out there? Let’s you and I invade Busch Stadium sometime. Just the two of us. You can even lead the way.

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