A few days ago, a conversation in one of our Bonfyres made me ponder something. Say it was possible to have a window into another world, a parallel universe that was extremely similar to ours but had some key differences. Assuming those differences related to Cardinal baseball, which ones would you want to see?
I’m not going to go through all the ramifications of a change in history on these. I’ve done that before, if you care to check it out. No, these are just some idle speculations, some thoughts of what it might be like if we could use Walter Bishop‘s device to peer over to the other side(s).
Rick Ankiel: Ace Pitcher. This is the situation that started this whole process. Watching Ankiel from the mound before the meltdown was a wonderful thing. His time was before I was able to watch every game via Fox Sports Midwest, but those few times that I did see him were pretty magical. To have an Ankiel that grew into the starter he was on his way to being would have been like having Adam Wainwright five years early. Can you imagine how far a rotation of Ankiel, Darryl Kile and Matt Morris could have taken this squad, especially since you’d have still had the MV3 on the offense side. There might be another flag or two up on the standards at Busch.
The Million Dollar Question. After the 2004 season, Edgar Renteria was a free agent. The Cards wanted him back and offered a significant contract. The Red Sox, from what I remember, offered a million dollars per year more over the span of a three-year contract. Renteria took the money and the Cards had to look elsewhere, finally settling on David Eckstein. Now, granted, they got a World Series MVP out of the deal (though I still believe Scott Rolen was robbed in 2006) but you have to figure the team would have still be much stronger with Renteria. That might be personal opinion, though, as St. Louis did probably see the best years Eckstein had. However, even Renteria’s off year in Boston was in range of Eckstein’s top level. Maybe 2005 turns out a little differently? It probably wouldn’t have made much difference to 2007 given Chris Carpenter‘s injury, but a longer-term deal to Renteria might have helped the shortstop position stabilize a bit.
Denkinger. Of course, this is probably the one that most people immediately think of. If Don Denkinger gets the call in 1985 right and is still an anonymous umpire today, we’d have been totally robbed of #11in11 because the Cards would have been going for #12 back then. (Side note: the Cardinals would have just recently retired number 11 on the wall, since Tony La Russa took 10 when he came here since that was the goal, to get the tenth title.) Of course, it would have robbed the Royals of basically their only highlight since the ’70s and perhaps pushed them into an even deeper pit of despair, so maybe there is a silver lining. Anyway, you’d have to figure that the Cardinals still might have lost Game 6 if Denkinger had called Jorge Orta out, but it’d have been much harder to do with one out and nobody on. It’d be nice to see how that victory celebration with Darrell Porter and Todd Worrell compared to Porter and Bruce Sutter (or Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina or Molina and Jason Motte, for that matter).
The Recent Pain. What if Shelby Miller had been completely healthy and ready to go? What if Mike Matheny had gone with a strikeout pitcher instead of Seth Maness in Game 4 of the World Series? Jonny Gomes‘s home run seemed to be the pivotal moment of the Series. If Miller or another flamethrower comes in and strikes out Gomes, do the Cardinals win Game 4 and get that 3-1 lead? It’s be great to see if Game 5 might have been a different story had St. Louis had the lead. Would that have given the team–including Wainwright–a little extra kick to finish it at home? Only those with Fox Sports Alternate Dimension know for sure.
Alex Cintron Clears Out. There are so many ifs that come back to Scott Rolen. What if Endy Chavez doesn’t catch his home run in the 2006 NLCS? What if Hee Seop Choi doesn’t collide with him in 2005, sending him to the disabled list? What if he and TLR were a little better suited for each other? You have to figure he’d be a fixture at Busch and in Cardinal-related events if that last one had come true. The biggest if with Rolen, though, is avoiding the collision with Cintron in the 2002 NLDS. A healthy Rolen could have easily been the difference against the Giants that year and, without him still dealing with that the rest of his career, the heyday of the MV3 from 2004-2006 would have been that much greater. It might have also gotten the club into the playoffs in 2003, though it’s hard to imagine he’d have been much stronger than he was. More importantly, though, it’d have given us more games to see that golden glove and outstanding arm anchor the hot corner in St. Louis, something that we’d all like to have seen more of.
Gussie Busch Doesn’t Throw A Fit. In 1972, Steve Carlton was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Rick Wise. This wasn’t a baseball deal, at least not for the most part. Busch didn’t care for the fact Carlton was asking for pay raises and the last request, for $65,000 a year, was the final straw. Busch wanted him gone and while the Cardinals got a good pitcher back in Wise, they didn’t know what they were losing. If Carlton could have stayed in St. Louis, the 1970s might not have been so dismal for the franchise. If nothing else, seeing that lefthander on the mound would have buoyed the spirits of a number of fans and perhaps put them more in contention. The great thing about baseball is its regularity and seeing a dominant pitcher every fourth day go on the hill would have been a pleasure to watch.
There are a lot more changes and issues that would have affected play on the field, for sure. What if Mark McGwire had never been traded to the Cardinals? I think the look of this team right now would be significantly different. What if John Mozeliak hadn’t been tapped as GM after Walt Jocketty left? A lot of magic would be left unknown. What if the DeWitt consortium hadn’t purchased the Cardinals? Would they still be downtown? Would the Brewery still own them? Would we be complaining about a shoestring budget and hoping to just catch lightning in a bottle once?
Let’s open this up. What different decisions, both on the field or on, would you like to have seen the results for? What dimensions would you step into?