An ode to Joe Kelly and Allen Craig

KellyCraigChange is an inevitable part of life. No matter how tough a change we face, we as humans learn to adjust.

For many Cardinal fans, Thursday brought about a significant change and somewhat of an end to an era. For many fans, learning to adjust may take some time.

If I sound overly sentimental, it’s because I am. How could you not be?

On Thursday, Cardinal fans were forced to say goodbye to two beloved members of the organization in Joe Kelly and Allen Craig. Kelly’s outgoing and humorous personality won fans over rather quickly and he backed it up with some stellar, arguably clutch, pitching. He was 10-5 last season with a 2.69 ERA and played a huge role in helping the Cardinals win the National League Central by filling in for injured starters throughout the course of the season.

He proved to be a valuable asset both in the rotation and out of the bullpen.

Cardinal fans will undoubtedly remember him for his goofy antics. Fox Sports Midwest put together a compilation video of all of our favorite Joe Kelly memories. You may want to grab the tissues first.

As for Craig, he was a player that grew up in front of our eyes.

As a young player, he provided plenty of heroics during the 2011 World Series with three home runs and five RBIs. In the 2011 World Series film, Lance Berkman said Craig’s solo home run in the eight inning of Game 6 that brought the Cardinals within two runs was possibly the play of the game, aside from David Freese‘s walk-off.

He also came up with clutch hits off of Texas Rangers reliever Alexi Ogando early in the series.

Oh yeah, then there was this.

CraigRob2

Then this.

 

And, of course, this.

 

You could have made a legitimate case for Craig as the World Series MVP.

Last season was a special year for Craig, who was an All-Star and hit an absurd league-leading .454 with runners in scoring position. He was a legitimate MVP candidate until his horrific foot injury that kept him out for the final month of the regular season and almost the entire postseason.

That was a devastating blow for a team poised to win a World Series. The Cardinals of course made it back to the World Series, and Craig returned, once again being a part of an iconic World Series moment.

 

In the three seasons spanning 2011 through 2013, Craig batted .316 with a .345 on base percentage and a .572 slugging percentage.

This season, however, has been an utter disappointment for Craig, and arguably as well for Kelly. Craig was nowhere near the player he was in year’s past and simply looked uncomfortable and lost at the plate. It was painful to watch.

Kelly’s hamstring injury was a blow because the potential for him following the last two seasons was through the roof. Expectations for both players were high, and neither lived up to them.

The writing was on the wall that Oscar Taveras was waiting in the wings to take over the right field job. With Matt Adams emerging as a potential star at first base, there was no place for the slumping Craig. There was no guarantee that, after four months of consistent struggles, he would ever regain the same form that we were used to.

There’s always the chance that he never truly recovered from his Lisfranc injury.

That being said, the Craig trade was easier to understand. When you have a surplus of one asset, you trade it to add an asset in an area of need. That’s simple business.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to stomach, though.

Much like it was the case for these two, this trade caught me a little by surprise. I knew the Cardinals would likely try to add another pitcher after trading for Justin Masterson, but I didn’t think it would come at the cost of guys like Kelly and Craig, even with Craig’s recent struggles.

I believed (or maybe hoped) that Mozeliak wouldn’t give up on Craig this early. Just last year he believed in him enough to offer him a five-year, $31 million contract extension.

For me personally, this trade was the first one that truly left me feeling disappointed. I was sad to see Colby Rasmus traded in 2011, but I was able to be at ease with it. He didn’t fit in St. Louis and it didn’t seem like he wanted to be there much longer.

It was much different for these two. I believed that Craig and Kelly could be key components to future Cardinal teams. They were both a part of this new wave of Cardinal players, and they were oh so likable and easy to root for. It was the only team either of them had ever known, and it was evident they had visions of spending their entire careers in St. Louis. That’s mainly what makes this so tough to see.

Hearing how sad they were to have to leave the Cardinals organization on Thursday was truly gut-wrenching, and the reports of how the clubhouse responded was a testament to how well-respected and well-liked both players were amongst their teammates.

They talked about family and how this was like saying goodbye to two of their brothers. For some, like Shelby Miller, it meant saying goodbye to a best friend.

Most of us probably didn’t know either of these guys on a personal level, but they were so engaging either on TV or social media that you felt like you did. For me, the 2011 World Series was the most fun I’ve ever had as a Cardinals fan. The 2006 World Series run was special in its own right, but it’s hard to top how special that 2011 run was.

The 2011 run was the first Cardinals World Series that I truly felt a part of. I was a teenager during the 2006 run, but my mind was so flighty at that stage of my life that I didn’t really stop to appreciate it. I didn’t feel as connected to that team.

I was 22 in during the 2011 run, a much more knowledgable baseball fan and certainly a more passionate Cardinal fan by that point. That World Series win meant so much more to me because it was the first one I felt like I could claim. Seeing guys who played key roles in that head elsewhere leaves me feeling a little bit like Scott Smalls at the end of Sandlot when he’s talking about all of his teammates moving away.

I looked forward to these two being a part of many championship runs. It’s disappointing that we’ll never get a chance to see that play out.

At the end of the day, as baseball fans who want too see the Cardinals win, we have to remind ourselves that trades are part of the game, and this move was made with the best interest of the team in mind. Mozeliak made this move because he truly believes it will help the Cardinals make a postseason run.

He’s at least earned the right for us to give him the benefit of the doubt and trust him, as much as it might hurt in the short term.

As fate would have it, Cardinals fans will have a chance to get some closure and officially say goodbye to these two when the Red Sox visit St. Louis for a three-game World Series rematch next week. Kelly is set to start on Tuesday.

These two guys will always have a special place in Cardinal history, but at some point we have to learn to turn the page and look forward to what the future holds.

Let’s hope it includes banner No. 12.

 

You can reach Cole Claybourn at highsocksunday@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @HighSock_Sunday.

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