The Christmas Ghosts Return

In 2010, 2011, and 2012, I adapted the classic A Christmas Carol to the Cardinal front office, most specifically John Mozeliak.  With the way this offseason is going, it seemed like it might be time for the ghosts to make a return.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Mozeliak.”

John Mozeliak, the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, looked up from his desk.  While much of the Internet might be wondering just what was going on in the front office of the organization, there was still plenty of paperwork and other items to take care of and, as was his tradition, he was one of the last ones at 700 Clark Avenue again this Christmas Eve.

“The same to you, Lindsey.  Are you the last one besides me?”

“There are a few still straggling about, but most everyone is either gone or heading that way.  You’ll pardon us if we don’t wait on you before we start our holiday.  We know how you get this time of year,” Lindsey smiled.

Mozeliak returned the grin. “Yes, I guess I am usually the one burning the midnight oil while others are out having their Christmas celebrations.  I keep telling myself this year will be different, but it never seems to be that way.”

“Well, it’s not easy running a ballclub, from what I hear.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Mo acquiesced that, perhaps, there was something to that.  “Enjoy your holiday, Lindsey.  Tell everyone else to get out of here as well.”

Returning to the papers on his desk, he sighed.  This wasn’t the Christmas he’d been planning on.  He thought by now there’d be David Price or Jason Heyward jerseys flying off the racks at the team store levels below.  Instead, the Heyward jerseys were marked half off and still were sitting there, a testament to what happens to the best laid plans.

He fiddled with a spreadsheet, sent a text to an agent, then got up from his desk and looked out the window.  The city sprawled out on the other side of the glass, lit up with the regular lights of downtown plus some red, green, and white ones of the season.  It was beautiful and peaceful, but Mozeliak looked past it, unseeing as he dwelt in his thoughts.

Those thoughts turned to recent Christmas Eves, when he was visited by ghosts of Cardinal pasts, presents, and futures.  Experiencing what the ghosts had to show him had always been a powerful way to sort through things that were going on in his professional life.  Two years ago, he’d waited expectantly for the specter of Mike Shannon to arrive in his office to herald the coming of whatever three ghosts would be appearing this year.  Shannon never showed, though, and last year was the same.  Had the ghosts forgotten about him?  Had they found someone else to haunt?  Given their recent success, had they transformed into aids for Theo Epstein in Chicago?

“Now, big boy, you know better than to think we’d be helpin’ those baby bears.”

Mozeliak whirled and, sure enough, the glowing image of Shannon was somehow seated in one of the chairs across from his desk.  It looked just like the long-time Cardinal broadcaster had become one with the Force and was hanging out with Obi-Wan Kenobi.  The first time he’d seen this, he immediately had checked in on the living Shannon, who was quite bewildered about a late night holiday call.

“Heh, heh, heh. Thought we’d forgot ‘cha, did ya?  Naw, things are not always as they appear to be as.  The last couple of years, you seemed to have a pretty good handle on things.  Wasn’t much this old country boy could show you.  Now, I don’t know, maybe we can, maybe we can’t.  Worth a try, right?”

Mo sat at his desk and contemplated his visitor.  It was true that he was in a place of upheaval.  Even if the ghosts couldn’t get him settled with his approach, he always enjoyed his trips, usually getting to see some amazing players playing a wonderful game as a great Christmas gift.

“All right, let’s do this. Who are we going to see first?”

Shannon hesitated.  “You’ll be visited by three ghosts as normal, all right, but I’m not sure you’ll find this go-round quite as much to your liking. It’ll be a bit different than your normal. These trips began as a tiny worm but they just may have blossomed into a large cobra.”

Before Mozeliak could question the spirit further, Shannon snapped his fingers and disappeared.

A different trip this time?  Not as much to my liking?  Mozeliak continued to ponder this, staring at his computer screen but not seeing what was on it.  Time slipped away, and while Mo finally could focus on his work, the sensation of impending doom couldn’t be shaken.

“Are you ready, John?”

Startled, Mozeliak looked across his desk and saw a glowing Chris Carpenter tapping his foot impatiently.  The former Cardinal righthander was wearing his old uniform and looked at Mo like he was Brendan Ryan and had forgotten his glove again.

Knowing better than to make that legendary temper wait, Mozeliak quickly nodded and got up from his chair, coming around the desk to take hold of Carpenter’s sleeve.

“Do I get to know where we are going, Carp?”

“We’ll be there shortly.  This time, we’re not going deep into history.”

Sure enough, they were instantaneously deposited in a new time and a new place.  Mozeliak looked around, puzzled.

“Wait a minute, this can’t be right.  Usually the Ghost of Cardinal Past takes me to a ballgame to see one of the greats play.  We’re in a conference room and we’re not even in Busch Stadium.  What in the world is going on here?”

The room was fairly uniform, with a long table in the front and numerous chairs facing it.  Mozeliak started to examine the room, but suddenly the doors opened and reporters began taking the seats facing the table.  They checked their equipment, started jotting notes, and settled in for what looked to be an important event.

Mozeliak, who knew by now that he couldn’t be seen by anyone on these visits, started walking around the room, looking for clues.  He finally glanced at the background behind the table and blanched.

“Spirit, no.  I’ve been here before.  Four years ago, I had to see the results of this first-hand.  Must I do it again?”

“John, this was a defining moment not only in your history, but in the long history of the Cardinals.  It’s not surprising that you’ll return to it again and again, finding lessons that you weren’t aware of before.”

A side door opened and, walking in front of the Angels logo, was the front office of the Los Angeles club along with former Cardinal Albert Pujols.  A contract, more for show than anything else, was at Pujols’s seat.  Before the reporters started their questions, Pujols affixed his signature to the document, locking his future with the Angels for the next decade.

“Wait a minute, Carp.  Isn’t the lesson here that things will be all right?  That if we can survive losing a talent such as Pujols, we can weather just about any storm?”

“I don’t provide the lessons, just the travel.  Besides, this is only half of the visit.  Let me take you to the other half.”

The room swam, then came into focus.  They were in another conference room, but this one was much more familiar.  The green Edward Jones background dotted with the Cardinal logo told Mozeliak he was back home.  This time, Carpenter had brought him right in the middle of the press conference, as he stood next to Derrick Goold while the reporter posed a question.  Glancing at the table, he was only somewhat startled to see himself up there, presenting the newest Cardinal to the press corps.

“Ah, when we signed Carlos Beltran.  That was a nice day.  Though I’m not sure exactly what we are doing here and how this relates to what’s going on with me currently.”

Carpenter flashed an irritated glance at the general manager.  “Don’t make me put a fastball in your ribs, John.  Again, I’m not here to spoonfeed you.  Think it through.  What possible reason could we have for bringing you to this point?”

Baffled, Mozeliak walked around the conference room, seeing his younger self extolling the virtues of the newly acquired outfielder.  He listened to himself talk about Beltran providing a potent bat and a very nice glove, of him being that veteran presence that would fit well in the Cardinal clubhouse.

“I’m seeing a couple of things that could be relevant, but I’m still not sure of what I’m supposed to take from this,” Mo slowly stated.

Carpenter sighed.  “All I can do is give you the puzzle pieces.  Perhaps your next visitor can do a little more.”

With a flash, Mozeliak found himself sitting at his desk in Busch Stadium again.  Carpenter was gone, no doubt heading to some sort of spectral baseball game to take out some frustrations.  Mo leaned back in his chair, deep in thought.

“When Pujols left, it was a devastating time, sure.  Surely Heyward isn’t quite to that level, though?  A guy that we’d only had as a Cardinal for a year?  Sure, it was a nice fit, but the history isn’t there.  Why would they be showing me something that just happened a few years ago?  I mean, I was there, I should know all about that, shouldn’t I?”

“Just because you were a part of something doesn’t mean you appreciate it fully.”

Startled out of his reverie, Mozeliak found himself staring at the current ace of the Cardinals, albeit in Force Ghost mode.

Adam Wainwright continued, “I mean, I was involved with the 2011 team, but did I appreciate that Series win as much as I could have?  Probably not.  I don’t know that I even appreciated ’06 until some time had passed.  Sometimes you gotta get the long view.  Which is pretty ironic, since I’m the Ghost of Cardinal Present.”

“I guess that’s true,” Mozeliak chuckled.  “So do we get to go to a game this time around?” he asked as he came around to stand next to the tall Georgian.

“Sorry, but that’s not on the list they gave me.  We’ve got two stops, but neither of them involve kicking back in the bleachers.”

The room dissolved and, once again, Mozeliak found him in another room with another press conference.  The white and blue motif made it quickly apparent where they had stopped.

“When you say the present, you aren’t kidding,” said Mozeliak.  “This just happened a week ago.”

As Jason Heyward was being fitted for his Cubs jersey with management and discussing his reasoning to leave St. Louis for the Friendly Confines, Mo again went over the whole negotiating process in his head.  Could they have done more?  Should they have done more?  They stretched, sure, but did they stretch enough?  Was there anything that they reasonably could have done?  What was reasonable anymore in this day and age of billion dollar TV contracts?  The doubts and questions continued to circle.

Wainwright nudged him.  “Hey, as that droid said in Star Wars, he made a fair move and screaming about it can’t help you.  You gotta learn from it, but you can’t let it paralyze you like Beltran looking at that curveball.”

Mozeliak glanced at the ghost.  “I thought you were only supposed to provide the puzzle pieces, not solve the puzzle.”

Waino grinned and said, “Who said I solved it?  There’s more to this than that simple moral.”

Mo contemplated.  “It’s not like our internal options are a bad thing.  I feel pretty comfortable with what we have.  We still have a good team.”

“Before you go down that road too far,” said Wainwright, “let’s move on to our next spot.”

For once, when the scene snapped back into focus, Mozeliak didn’t find himself in a faceless conference room with tables and chairs.  Instead, he stood outside a condominium in someplace that wasn’t St. Louis.  The wind had more of a chill than he’d left back in Missouri and the landscape was dark with much less urban bustle than he was used to.

“Spirit, where are we?”

Without answering, Wainwright pointed at one of the windows.  Mo could see that inside, a young woman was playing with a cute dog in front of a tastefully decorated Christmas tree.

“Do you see that woman?  That’s a woman that’s enjoying the Christmas season, but there’s a little piece that’s broken.  That’s a woman that’s trusted in Cardinal management for a long time, that’s defended Cardinal management often, but finds herself in a place unfamiliar, a place where she’s questioning just exactly what the plan is.  That’s a woman who has been unable to blog about the Cardinals since all of this started and found herself in an uncharacteristic rant against what was happening.

Where we are doesn’t matter.  Who that is doesn’t matter.  What matters is that she’s not alone.  Cardinal Nation is shaken, more shaken than it’s been in a while.  Perhaps it is temporary.  Perhaps your team can be on top again next year.  But what if it isn’t?  What if, after all this, you miss the playoffs?  What then?”

Mo was quiet, thinking about what the spirit had said.  He did believe in his team, he did believe in the process, but he could understand why others might not.  He didn’t and couldn’t share all his information, all his plans.  He also knew it was a tightrope to expect trust without results.  Actions often bought some grace period if they were accepted, though as he found out this summer, even action can be an issue if the price is too high.

It was a data point. What the data point meant, how much value he should give to it, he wasn’t sure yet.  There was thinking left to do there, because the best plans on paper don’t always consider the personal and emotional aspect.

The internal options might be fine, but the more he thought about it, Mozeliak realized what the Beltran visit may have meant.  Sometimes you have to supplement, sometimes you have to go outside the organization to help those that are in it.  Sometimes a move to assuage the loss could be a very important move to make.  There’s a cautious level and there’s a crazy level, but sometimes you can find a happy medium.

Suddenly, he realized that he was much warmer.  He’d returned to his office at some point, sitting again in the chair behind his desk with the same spreadsheet on the screen in front of him.  The numbers and plans still made sense, but he started to wonder if there wasn’t something they were missing.

He looked around the office.  There were no sounds coming from the rest of the floor, so everyone must have finally gotten off to their celebrations.  He began to pace back and forth, trying to figure out just what the best course of action should be.

After a few crossings of his carpet with his head down as he worked out different options, he bumped into something, something that hadn’t been there before.  A hooded figure, cloaked in black.

Mozeliak chuckled.  “Man, really getting into the traditional look this time, are we?  Who is it this time?  Stephen Piscotty?  Alex Reyes?  Luke, Luke Weaver is that you?”

The figure kept silent and, somehow, Mozeliak felt the goosebumps rising on his arm.  Without saying a word, the dark character lifted his arm and beckoned for the general manager to stand beside him.  Uneasily, Mozeliak complied and then was transported into something he never would have expected.

It was Busch Stadium.  At least, it used to be.

The facade was crumbling and caving in.  Only the “h” in Busch and the “adi” from Stadium still could be found from the sign, laying in the surrounding rubble where they had fallen from their normal place at the top of the structure.  Smoke filled the air and fires raged throughout the area.  In the distance, gunfire could be heard as battles took place on what used to be the streets of a major metropolitan city.

While Mozeliak was still trying to figure out what in the world was happening, two young men came around a corner and ducked into the remnants of the old park.  As always, they couldn’t see Mo, so he got closer to them, trying to pick up clues to what was going on.  Finally, he got into earshot of their conversation.

“I always thought that was a myth!” said one.

“Apparently not,” said the other.  “This is insane.  Have you heard how far this goes?”

“Communications are sketchy with the major networks no longer able to transmit, but it seems worldwide.  I’ve heard California actually did break off with those terrible earthquakes.  Somebody said nothing on the East Coast is still in one piece.  It’s terrible.”

“Hang on, I think there may be a gap in the gunfire.  Let’s make a run for it!”

The men took off, looking for safety in a world that suddenly didn’t seem to have any.  What could have caused this?  Mozeliak couldn’t figure out why he’d be brought to such a time.

“Spirit, why am I here?”

The hooded figure still not speak, but pointed at an overturned newspaper container.  Picking his way through the crushed glass and strewn brick, Mozeliak finally reached it and looked at the headline of the last paper printed.

“CUBS WIN WORLD SERIES”

The fact, spelled out in bold black letters, shook Mozeliak.  Yes, he knew that was always a possibility and yes, he knew that the Cubs were building a good team, but he never expected this kind of havoc to be unleashed.  There’d always been that joke that the world would end if Chicago ever ended their curse, but it was always a joke.  Apparently there was some truth to this.

“Spirit, tell me, is this my fault?  Can I fix this?  Is it set in stone that these things will come to pass?”

The spirit remained quiet.

“Spirit, speak to me!  I must know!”

Finally, words came from the hooded being.

“You know, I’m trying to decide whether I’m more upset about the Cubs winning or the fact that now we’ll never know how the Star Wars saga ended up.”

With a jolt, Mozeliak found himself back in his Busch Stadium, safe and sound (as much as St. Louis gets, of course) and still in one piece.  Shaken, he took some calming breaths before picking up the phone.

“Bill, it’s John.  Merry Christmas to you as well.  Can I make a visit to you on Saturday?  I think we really need to rethink how aggressive we plan to be the rest of the offseason…….”

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