California Dreaming? Stanton Should Talk to Ozzie, Big Mac and Jimmy Baseball

Once upon a time California dudes loved playing baseball for the Cardinals.

Oh, they weren’t necessarily thrilled to be traded from their Pacific Coast teams to the staid and dowdy and wholesome Midwest, but that soon changed. Once the stars arrived in St. Louis, they didn’t want to leave. They didn’t want to go home to California. That could wait for the offseason.

I wish Giancarlo Stanton would talk to Mark McGwire, Ozzie Smith or Jim Edmonds.

Three SoCal natives, who played for California-based teams until trades brought them to St. Louis.

Ozzie, Big Mac and Jimmy Baseball could sell Stanton, their fellow Californian, on the appeal of playing for the Cardinals. They could sell the big man … as long as he is willing to listen.

The Cardinals and Miami Marlins have the parameters of a deal in place, but it won’t be finalized unless Stanton waives his no-trade clause and agrees to join the Cardinals. The San Francisco Giants have also made an acceptable trade offer to Miami, but the rest is up to Stanton.

We know that Stanton has abundant power. He smashed 59 homers last season, was voted National League MVP, owns a .554 career slugging percentage and has homered at a rate of a bomb every 13.4 at-bats.

Stanton’s signature is the most powerful of all. He can change the course of at least two franchises by signing off on a trade. What will Giancarlo do? As I type this, no one seems to know.

The Cardinals used to be able to close these deals, but that came at a different time in Major League Baseball.

Smith, McGwire and Edmonds weren’t exactly elated and overwhelmed by excitement when the Cardinals acquired them in trades. But the three Pac Coast imports experienced full-house crowds, passionate support, and relatively calm media environment. They tapped into the energy that flows in a tremendous tremendous baseball town. They had the opportunity to play in the biggest games, and competing for championships. They added to the Cardinals’ successful legacy.

+++ Whitey Herzog traded shortstop Garry Templeton to San Diego for Smith in the winter of 1981. But Ozzie was a reluctant newcomer. He had concerns, questions, and contract requests. The Padres and Cardinals had a tentative trade in place, but the transaction wasn’t completed until two months later. Herzog personally became a tour guide, hosting Smith on a fact-finding visit to St. Louis. Herzog’s convincing gift of gab persuaded Ozzie to make the move.

+++ McGwire was traded here by Oakland at the deadline in 1997, with GM Walt Jocketty pulling it off at a relatively low cost. The trade almost blew up when Jocketty refused to part with his No. 1 pitching prospect, Manny Aybar. The A’s insisted. Jocketty wouldn’t budge. In the end, Oakland capitulated, settled for a lighter package of prospects, and the Cardinals kept Aybar. (Not that it made a difference; in three seasons with the Cardinals, 1997 through 1999, Aybar had a 12-15 record and 5.30 ERA.)

+++ Edmonds became a Cardinal when the Angels swung a deal with Jocketty in spring training 2000. The Cardinals gave up pitcher Kent Bottenfield and infielder Adam Kennedy.

McGwire and Edmonds were moved during the final year of their contracts; the A’s and Angels didn’t think they could afford the anticipated free-agent price to keep them in place. Jocketty took advantage of the situation and bought low.

But McGwire made it clear in advance: his plan was to finish out ’97 with the Cardinals, opt for free agency, and hopefully sign with a California deal. Edmonds came to the Cardinals with an open mind, but he looked forward to becoming a free agent to maximize his earnings. Smith had a no-trade clause and planned to invoke it until Herzog went on a charm offensive.

“Whitey told me that with me playing shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, we could win the pennant,” Smith said upon formally joining the Cards. “He made me feel wanted, which was a feeling I was quickly losing from the Padres. The mere fact that Whitey would come all the way out there to talk to us was more than enough to convince me that St. Louis was the place I wanted to be.”

Ozzie became one of the all-time greatest Cardinals in a Hall of Fame career that lasted through 1996. As a Cardinal he won the gold glove award at shortstop for 11 consecutive seasons and was selected to 14 NL All-Star teams. Smith was paramount in the success of “Whiteyball” with the Cardinals winning the 1982 World Series and three NL pennants over a six-season stretch.

McGwire’s free-agent quest ended before it began. About six weeks after being dealt to St. Louis, the hulking first baseman agreed on a three-year, $28.5 million contract to stay with the Cardinals. In the news conference after the signing, McGwire referred to St. Louis as “Baseball Heaven.”

”I tell you what, it makes me float every time I come to the ball park, to play in this stadium and play in front of these fans,” McGwire said during the news conference. ”I’m overwhelmed.”

McGwire set a new MLB record by slamming 70 homers in 1998. He followed with 65 home runs in ’99. By the time McGwire retired following the 2001 season — his career cut short by a knee injury — he’d homered 220 times and slugged .683 in 545 games as a Cardinal.

Edmonds was a quick convert to St. Louis. Months away from free agency, he sought out Jocketty to express a willingness to discuss a contract. On May 12 of 2000, Edmonds agreed to a six-year contract for $57 million.

“It’s been a pleasure to play here for the first month, and I’m looking forward to staying here for the rest of my career,” Edmonds said in explaining why he wanted to stay with the Cardinals. “I wasn’t trying to get a dollar for every person through the turnstile and a free house and a free plane and all that stuff. I just want to play baseball and have a place where I knew I could be for a while. I knew what I wanted and it made it pretty simple, pretty easy.”

In his eight years (2000-2007) for the Cardinals, Edmonds won five gold gloves for his sensational defense in center field, was tabbed for three NL All-Star teams, averaged 30 home runs per season, and slugged .555.  Edmonds played a major role in leading the Cardinals to NL pennants in 2004 and 2006 and the World Series championship in ’06.

From a career standpoint, they found what they were looking for … in St Louis … not California.

Between then Smith-Mac-Edmonds played for 12 division champions, five NL pennant winners and three World Series champeens while sporting the Birds on the Bat.

Smith was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and all three players are members of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. They had a great baseball life here.

Stanton would like to play for his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers.

I think he would like it here.

And I am sure that Ozzie, Big Mac and Edmonds would agree.

But this is a different generation of player.

If Stanton wants to stay in Miami, ride out an extreme roster rebuild and angle for a trade to LA in a couple of years, that’s  his right.

If he wants to play in California, cool. He has the leverage with the n- trade clause and can use it to his advantage to steer his career in the desired direction.

Stanton controls this process. He’s the boss. This isn’t 1961.

If winning isn’t as important as geography, that’s Stanton’s choice. He’s been in the majors for eight seasons, has played in 986 games for the Marlins, and has never had the chance to compete in a postseason game.

During Stanton’s time in Miami, the Marlins rank 28th overall in winning percentage, and are dead last in the NL in winning percentage. If Stanton puts a priority on weather and lifestyle over the chance to play postseason ball for the first time — that’s his call.

If playing in front of adoring crowds at a packed Busch Stadium  in a celebrated baseball town doesn’t appeal to Stanton above his other objectives, that’s up to him. In 2017, during Stanton’s 59-homer, MVP season, the Marlins ranked 28th among the 30 teams in home attendance. They averaged only 20,395 fans per game.

Stanton is allowed to set his own priorities.

We may question his judgment, but Stanton has the power and is doing nothing wrong by using it.

As a Cardinal, Stanton would be more popular than the Gateway Arch. But if Malibu Beach is beckoning …

Surf’s up.

Thanks for reading …


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