USA Today's Bob Nightengale has blown the lid off a story that's been simmering for years. While some national writers are content to slobber the Cardinals with love year after year, Nightengale boldly chose to be the villain and point out how baseball's cleanest, most beloved squad is actually killing the game.
Baseball is in the middle of a period of deep introspection. With a new commissioner and a bunch of new rules being implemented and rumored, it is a time of great change, and one of the issues MLB has deemed extremely pertinent is keeping fan's interest in the game. Everybody loses patience with baseball eventually - they play too many games, the games last way too long, and not every player is Yasiel Puig.
There's only so much the league can do, but making players like Puig, or Bryce Harper, or Andrew McCutchen, or Jose Fernandez the news faces of the game helps. They're young, they're new, they're more relatable for kids, they're fun, they smile, and they don't seem to adhere to Brian McCann's annually distributed empty pamphlet of the game's unwritten rules.
But they'll have trouble making any progress with at least one of baseball's franchises working fundamentally against them, as Nightengale revealed in his Thursday column, which opened with a shocking revelation right out of the mouth of the Cardinals' manager:
"We are boring,'' Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak says. "Vanilla are our colored sprinkles.''
This, in an age of baseball - the game that has always so proudly touted its lack of a clock - that has gone to such lengths to insert a clock to prevent extended periods of boring baseball, is an abomination.
What do the Cardinals have against the league's success? They revel in their "Cardinal Way," the oft-cited ledger from which dictates all action in the St. Louis organization. The document, presumably scrapped together since 1882 with various rules ownership determined inane and stupid enough to slow the game down to an unwatchable level, has been celebrated as the means for the team's recent success. But unwatchable they remain - ESPN has scheduled the Cardinals in only two of their first five nationally televised Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts.
Yet the Cardinals face no repercussions for their actions - or inaction - despite public statements in which the players spout clichés and smile cheekily to foster that "aw, shucks" demeanor:
"People say we're boring. That's fine." -Adam Wainwright
"We just go about our business, and let the work speak for itself." -Matt Carpenter
"Who wouldn't want to play here? Once you're here, you never want to leave.'' -Jhonny Peralta
Nightengale explains how once a player joins the Cardinals, any turmoil or wrongdoing in their past is simply erased so that they can assimilate with the zombifying hivemind that is the organization. Peralta, for example, was one of the higher profile players caught cheating in the 2013 Biogenesis scandal, but Nightengale illustrates the eerie way in which the incident doesn't seem to have ever happened now:
"Come on, go ahead and bang your head against your wall to shake those brain cells, can you remember a single controversial quote by any Cardinals players in recent time?"
"Anything that trended on Twitter, lit up Facebook , or created national headlines?"
Peralta's part in a scandal that shook the league is all but forgotten, simply because he was not wearing a St. Louis Cardinals uniform at the time.
Some writers fall victim to it - they feel they need some team to run to when A-Rod won't give them a sexy quote. The Cardinals beckon them to join a world in which a clean organization fueled by moonshots and crackerjack runs the show, and confirms that dad was right, baseball is a game for stand-up gents who get to bed on time. But not Nightengale - he has decided to accept his fate as the media's sword against a lumbering Cardinals beast determined to hold back baseball's progress.
Soon will be your fall, St. Louis.