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The Cardinals Had a Big Problem in the Clubhouse: Not Enough Talent

There’s been some disturbing talk in town recently about a big problem in the Cardinals clubhouse in 2017.

Some of this was aired out in a column that appeared in the local gazette.

The intriguing piece caused a stir, and left many fans headed for the fainting couch.

But there was a problem.

And it was a biggie.

A serious issue that cannot be ignored, dismissed, or downplayed.

The Cardinals simply couldn’t overcome the number of flawed individuals that inhabited their clubhouse this season.

The clubhouse composition was so damaging, that it became the No. 1 reason why the 2017 Cardinals failed to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

And for that to change — for the Cardinals to solve the problem during the offseason and push their way back into the 2018 postseason — they must do so something to improve the clubhouse.

You want specifics?

Here’s the hideous truth about the clubhouse chemistry:

Not enough talent in there.

A shortage of good  players.

Too many average, mediocre players.

Here’s what was missing from that clubhouse: enough impact bats, enough outstanding pitchers, enough excellent fielders.

The chemistry chemistry was off, absolutely.

The Cardinals needed an essential, vital ingredient:

PREMIUM TALENT.

This is a shocking revelation. I’ll give you a few seconds to exhale.

I’ll  go down the list of ways to enhance the clubhouse in time for 2018:

1. The Cardinals need more elite-level talent to move into the clubhouse. Get rid of some of the bums who are causing so much trouble … causing trouble because they are streaky hitters … or causing problems by playing klutzy defense … or causing problems because they don’t pitch deep into starts, or they lack a secondary pitch, or they throw meatballs and squander saves, or they are slow afoot on the base paths. You can’t keep these troublemakers around.

The disturbers are source of frustration and anger. They’re just not good for this baseball team. They aren’t good for this baseball team because they are mediocre and not especially skilled at playing the game that pays them. Or they lack the natural instincts to make smart, savvy decisions during competition.  Players like this cost their teammates too many wins, and that only increases the grumpiness in the clubhouse.

2. The challenge is to come up with more players who can lift the clubhouse mood, and brighten the clubhouse atmosphere. This can be achieved by importing very talented newcomers who will make the overall roster more imposing and capable of, well, you know …  WINNING MORE GAMES.

I know that when a team is winning, you will read stories about how team dinners resulted in bonding and unity and a group of 25 men become ONE GIANT BEATING HEART.

And I know that when a team’s starting pitching implodes late in the season — hypothetically, let’s describe this free-falling out of contention because of a 9.57 rotation ERA and a 2-7 record in the final nine games which includes losing five of seven to your division rivals on the last home stand of the season … losing to teams like the Cubs and Brewers, hypothetically… then we’ll be reading about ping pong tables and clubhouse arrival-departure times … and those unprepared SOB interlopers who were not raised to play baseball the right way, the only way, which of course is The Cardinal Way.

Yeah, I know, this gets a little confusing. I thought these team unity steak dinners made the Cardinals a tight team of Bros?  So if the steak-unity suppers turned the squad into single-minded family of blood brothers, then what’s all this stuff about ping pong? Did they start swatting each other upside the head with the paddles, or something?

I never knew that ping pong was cancerous. The respected Matt Holliday used to play a lot of clubhouse ping pong, this is a guy who actually worked too hard, incessantly lifting weights. And yet, even with the ping pong, Holliday was heralded for his seriousness and strong leadership. But I am never too old, or too proud, to learn something.

And by way, you know what the experts warn about the risks of playing ping pong …

It is often gateway to BILLIARDS.

I have also learned something else. Evidently it isn’t sufficient for a player to spend 10, 11 hours at the ballpark each game day. When the game is over, he must sit there in the clubhouse and mill around, and talk about the day, and review video, and maybe go to the workout room, and possibly help the clubbies clean the uniforms, then take some extra swings in the cage at about 1:10 a.m. because he went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and it would be cheating the team to go home earlier than that. Here is what a player absolutely CANNOT do: get on out of the clubhouse in time to get home and say good night to his little kids. C’mon now … you can tuck the brats in during the offseason. But during baseball season, you are obligated to honor and respect the game and that means staying at the damn ballpark all night to PROVE that YOU REALLY CARE.

I personally believe that all 25 Cardinals players, when in the sacred space of this hallowed clubhouse, should be immersed in study, absorbing the Zen of the Cardinal Way. If these new and ungrateful Cardinals would just get themselves righteous by reading the good book of wisdom and the secrets that no other franchise possesses — because the Cardinals are extraordinarily special —   then maybe we wouldn’t see these new, bedraggled Cardinals running like lunkheads into so many outs on the bases. All because they have not been properly trained in the enlightened Cardinal Way.

What’s that?

Matt Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty ran into a gazillion outs on the bases over the last two seasons, and they were drafted by the Cardinals  and developed  in the Cardinals’ system?

Are you sure about that?

Wrong. Carpenter and Piscotty were CUBS.

Just like that DEXTER guy.

3. One issue in this clubhouse is leadership. Let me say it again: there is an undeniable need for leadership in that locker room. The Cardinals absolutely must put some true leaders in that clubhouse. Great leaders to transform  that clubhouse. And it won’t be easy, but it can be done. Just get someone that can lead the league in slugging percentage, or lead the league in homers or runs batted in, or lead the league in quality starts, or lead the league in save percentage. Those type of leaders will put more smiling happy people in that clubhouse … and they will be smiling and happier because the leaders will be leading the Cardinals back into the postseason.

4. This clubhouse definitely  needs someone to do clean up … you know, the cleanup hitter, the guy who bats fourth in the lineup and who can pick up a wooden cleanup tool and erase a two-run deficit with a single stroke. Been a long time since the Cardinals had a first-rate cleaner in the clubhouse. Or in the lineup.

5. This flawed clubhouse also requires — and this is mandatory — relief pitchers who will not forget to close the clubhouse door and lock it up … relievers who will not play with fire and burn away leads and victories. And the sturdiest of sturdy relievers who can pitch, say, 57 days in a row without a break. That last part has been the way of the Cardinals’ bullpen management since about, oh, 2012.

I implore president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, and GM Michael Girsch to do the right thing:

Gentlemen, you have an depressing clubhouse. So what are you going to do? Better take the destructive ping pong table out of there.  And you must put in new rules requiring all 25 players, and even the injured DL guys, to report to the clubhouse at Busch Stadium at no later than 10 a.m. for a 7:10 p.m. start, and following the game they must remain in the clubhouse for a minimum three-hour period of mandatory study, and contemplation. And if the team has lost the game, make it four hours just so we know that they will properly brood and grieve and rededicate themselves to winning.

If I may offer two other suggestions:

FIRST: These team-building steak dinners only seem to be talked about only when the Cardinals are playing great baseball, and going off on a winning streak. So if you get into a crisis, with the team’s earned-run average bursting into flames, billowing smoke to about an 11.43 ERA because the hurlers are fatigued, or hurting or just plain old terrible at what they do  … then promptly schedule a team steak dinner, have the boys gnaw on truck-tire sized ribeyes, and in between bites they can  pledge unwavering loyalty to one another. And that will fix your pitching staff. Immediately. Guaranteed. The team ERA will be down to 3.42 by the time the boys get to the ballpark the next day. And about those horrendous batting slumps? The recent flurry of errors? Or nimrods foolishly getting thrown out at third base to make the final out of an inning?

Two words: team dinner.

Fixed. Solved. Cured.

Dark clouds: lifted.

New clubhouse playlist:  Hey Ya (OutKast), Come On Eileen (Dexys Midnight Runner), The Twist (Chubby Checker), My Sharona (The Knack), Drunk Girls (LCD Soundsystem), Somebody’s Baby (Jackson Browne), Life During Wartime (Talking Heads), Tipsy (J-Kwon), Do It Again (Beach Boys.)

Shake it like a polaroid picture.

World Series parade.

SECOND: Make some big-fish trades and recruit esteemed free agents. Bring in new men who will provide a substantial roster upgrade and get the Cardinals ready to kick ass again. Take these steps, you will fill your clubhouse with the good vibrations that resonate when a team wins 95 regular-season games, and barged into the playoffs to win the more important games. That’s how you cultivate a terrific clubhouse setting. Put terrifically talented players in there.

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie

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