Going into the long Labor Day weekend, I fully expected to be focused on the Cardinals.
Sure, there was the Mizzou-Illinois game to attend, and a couple other college football games I found intriguing, and there was the Greek Festival down at St. Nicholas' church. (By the by, memo to the festival organizers: Your outing has become a logistical nightmare, and unless you figure out a better system this will be my last year attending. Not that you care, I'm sure, but it's my column so I get to complain if I want.)
Still, though, even with those things going on, the Cardinals, my Cardinals, were playing the Cincinnati Reds, aka The Team Jocketty Gets Credit For Building, as they desperately try to stay within at least striking distance of the division lead.
It was a huge series, a mammoth series. A series the likes of which you could tell your grandchildren one day (assuming you aren't a misanthropic loner who refuses to consider having children like me), that you witnessed firsthand. Surely, I thought, the city will be abuzz all weekend with talk of the Cardinals.
Well, I was sort of right. There was definitely buzz about the Cardinals. Unfortunately, it wasn't at all the sort of buzz I was hoping for.
I've let this whole thing sit and marinate for a couple days, because I didn't want to just jump in all reactionary-like the way so many other outlets have done and are doing, or go all message-board crazy and start spouting off a bunch of uninformed ridiculous crap. Well, it's set long enough, and I think I can now safely give you all my thoughts on everything that went down over the weekend.
We all know the story by now. Colby Rasmus, the Cards' occasional phenom centerfielder, requested a trade. Tony La Russa confirmed it, in fact. And then Albert Pujols went off on Colby in the press. And then, of course, in true baseball fight fashion, everyone sort of tried to make up, kinda.
The problem with all of this is that Colby didn't just request a trade. No, he requested a trade two months ago, and reports of it just now came out. Which is fine, of course; plenty of times we don't hear about issues and situations until a fair bit later. But what I can't figure out is how in the hell a two-month old trade request (that, according to Colby and John Mozeliak didn't really even happen), turned into this shitstorm.
Actually, I can figure it out. I don't like it, but I know how it happened.
So here's my solution. I'm going to lay it out in a handy, three-point plan.
1. Tony La Russa needs to shut up, keep his business out of the press, and play his best players.
2. Albert Pujols needs to shut up, and next time someone says to him, "Hey, did you hear Colby just said he wants to be traded?" before he decides to go ranting away just say this: "Really? When?" Then decide how to answer.
3. Colby Rasmus, and this hurts me most of all to say because I really like Colby and I think he's widely misunderstood, needs to shut up and concentrate every game instead of just most of the time, and quit taking his job so goddamned personally.
I'm going to tackle point #2 first, because it's the easy one and not really related so intricately. Albert Pujols is one of the best players in baseball. Probably one of the best players in baseball history, in fact. What Albert Pujols is not is infallible. I realize we all tend to think of him as sort of Jesus-like since he talks about him so much, but Albert is just some dude who happens to be really good at playing baseball. When someone asks him for his opinion on another player's life or something they said or did or anything else, his answer is not gospel. So everyone, stop acting like Albert did something saintly by chewing out a teammate publicly for not falling down on his knees to worship at the altar of Tony La Russa and Cardinal baseball.
Beyond all that, though, as I said earlier my real problem with what Albert was simply that he didn't ask for any kind of context at all. Apparently Jeff Passan of Yahoo! sports (and if you don't have a negative opinion of Jeff Passan already you just aren't paying attention), asked Albert if he had heard about Colby Rasmus requesting a trade. Albert responded with his tirade about needing to get the kid out of here if he doesn't want to be here and getting in someone who does want to be here. Honestly, I think that's a fairly good answer, as Albert did at least couch it with, "IF he doesn't want to be here..." The problem is that he didn't take the 1.7 seconds it would have taken to respond, "Oh? When was this?"
If he had said that, and the answer came back, "Oh, about two months ago," I have to believe Pujols would most likely have answered something much more diplomatic, and much of this ugliness could have been avoided.
One more point about Albert, and then I'll let it go. If another player were to publicly comment on how he felt Albert's contract situation being up in the air was a distraction to the ballclub, seeing as how they don't know if their star player really wants to be here for the long haul, how do you think that would go over? I can't imagine the fans, or Tony La Russa, or Albert himself, would be very happy about it. And honestly, it would be a perfectly valid point to make. I know I'm tired of looking at every single move the Cardinals make or don't make through the lens of, "How does this affect a possible Pujols extension?" I'm tired of trying to wishcast the team two years down the road and being forced to assume the team can't make any moves to improve because of the looming gigantic payday which could very well cripple the franchise. And if I'm tired of doing it (it's kinda my job to do that sort of thing, after all), then I'm sure there are at least a few guys in that clubhouse who are tired of it. But they don't say that, because you just don't say that. There's a reason it's an unwritten rule not to discuss other player's contracts and clubhouse situations.
Or, you know, at least just ask for even a little bit of context. Either way.
Now, for Tony La Russa. You know what I'm tired of? I'm tired of my ballclub having all this bizarre drama surrounding it. I really am. I'm tired of watching has-beens and also-rans get playing time because they're favourites of the manager. I'm tired of this dysfunctional soup we've seen all too often out of TLR teams over the years.
I'm also tired of watching Cardinal teams fold in September, but that's really another issue, and one I'm sure I shouldn't bring up because it would question the genius of the manager who always puts his players and his team in the best position possible to succeed. So I'll let that one lie for now.
When whoever it was went to La Russa before the game and asked him about Colby's trade request, Tony could have easily defused the whole situation by saying, "I don't know about that. Colby and I have a great relationship now, and whatever has happened in the past is just that: in the past." Simple. Elegant. Easy. Probably too easy, I suppose.
After all, this is the same manager who has had pissing contests in the press with various players over the years and just a couple weeks ago talked about how far Colby has to go with his approach to be as good as Jon Jay. (For the record, I don't completely disagree with that. Jon Jay is a much smarter player than Colby is right now. But hey, how about not saying it in the newspaper?) Think about how it feels when your mother asks you why you can't be more like your brother, who does very well for himself with his used-car dealership. Now, would you really want that as the headline in the newspaper? (Also, you'll have to forgive me; for some reason apparently my example relies on all our families being Jewish families from the movies.) This is the same manager who is constantly sending messages to players with his allocation of playing time and benchings, even when said messages come at the detriment of the team. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised when La Russa inexplicably answers, "Yeah, he asked for a trade. Why don't you go ask him about it?"
I'm just tired of looking at the team I root for and seeing mind games and ugly rosters and favoritism and an obsession with matchups that ignores the quality of the players being matched up and washed-up veterans who apparently know something the rest of humanity doesn't. I'm tired of tight, buttoned-up teams that seem to collapse from the weight of their own seriousness. I'll be honest: there are plenty of times, even when the team is winning, that I look at the way they go about their business and I think, "It can't possibly be any fun playing on that team."
And lastly, Colby Rasmus. Now, let me say first off I think Colby is less to blame than either La Russa or Pujols for the snafu over the weekend. After all, he literally didn't doanything to cause the blowup except awkwardly try to avoid talking about what I'm sure he thought was a private conversation. One that happened two months ago, no less. He may not be savvy with the press, but it isn't as if Colby made his trade wishes public.
That being said, Colby Rasmus needs to grow up. I don't blame him for going to Mozeliak and asking to be traded, if he in fact did. Hey, if I'm miserable in my job because I think the manager has it in for me, I wouldn't hesitate to request a transfer somewhere else. The company would also have the right to tell me no, go back to your cubicle and deal with it.
Here's what I think happened: La Russa does have a hard-on for Rasmus, just the same way he did for J.D. Drew. It's just the way Tony is when he thinks a player isn't getting all he can out of himself. The difference is I think it's actually a little more justified in Colby's case; as much as I love the kid he really does seem to lose focus out there sometimes. (You have no idea how hard it is for me to defend J.D. Drew, by the way. Performance aside, Drew bugs me on a personal level as much as any player I can recall watching wear a Cardinal uniform.) So Colby comes in late one day and Tony threatens him with banishment to Memphis. Personally, I think that's a terrible way to try and motivate someone, and La Russa has to be better than that. Petulant threats to make someone just go away are no way to lead a ballclub. So Colby gets his feelings hurt and starts thinking about the embarrassment of being sent back to the minors after almost two season playing at the major league level and works himself into a panic because that's what introverts do when something bad happens and they don't know how to get out of the situation.
Colby goes to John Mozeliak, and they talk. Mo tries to calm him down, ease his fears a bit, and that's when Colby makes his statement that if Tony thinks he should be sent down, maybe they should just trade him instead. Sure, it's a trade request, but it's an emotional trade request, one borne of a guy not knowing how to deal with a manager he feels is treating him unfairly. Well, things get around, and pretty soon everyone knows Colby marched into Johnny Mo's office and demanded a trade. Fast forward a couple months. Tony and Colby have actually improved their relationship a little bit. La Russa has tried to explain to Colby he really does just want him to do well and thinks he needs to be pushed, and Colby has learned that maybe not everything in life is personal, that sometimes you've got to take your feelings out of it. Then all of a sudden someone gets wind of this two-month old trade request, and we're off to the races.
Now, I said before I don't blame Colby a whole lot for the blowup over the weekend, but I do blame him for much of this being an issue in the first place. His father was his coach all the way through his amateur career, and still has way too big an influence on the kid in my opinion. More importantly, it means Colby has never once in his life played in a situation where he wasn't the best player on his team and had his father right there with him making sure he was treated well. Now that he's in a situation where the manager isn't always nice to him whether he does well or not and there's no one to ride to his rescue, what does Colby do? He asks out. Put me somewhere where I'll be loved. Sorry, kid, but it doesn't always work that way in real life.
While I'm on the subject of Colby's father, I'm tired of hearing the name Tony Rasmus. Period. It's nice to be close with your parents, and I certainly don't mind Colby taking extra hitting sessions with his dad if it helps him keep his swing on track. There are golfers who call up their dads or their high school coaches or whoever else taught them the game when things are going bad just to see if that first pair of eyes that really looked at what was going on can see a problem. That's fine. But when I was 23 years old I already knew there have to be some boundaries between personal and professional, and I think the father of a professional baseball player posting publicly on a message board his thoughts on what's going on with his son's game and family life and relationship with the manager falls firmly on the wrong side of those boundaries.
Colby Rasmus should have long ago grown up to the point he could tell his father to shut the eff up in public and stop meddling in his business. It seemed things had maybe gone that way last year when Colby started his own family, but Tony Rasmus just doesn't seem to want to go away. He acts more like a stage parent, like a Lohan or a Spears, than the father of a professional athlete. It's unseemly, and I'm sick of it being an issue.
My biggest problem with Colby, though, is the inconsistency. He's a ridiculously talented ballpayer. In fact, I honestly believe Rasmus is almost as talented as the man he was drafted to replace, Jim Edmonds. And even as he is right now, Rasmus is an above-average ballplayer, one of the top 10-12 outfielders in the game, I think. But Colby could be so much more. I really believe he could be the best centerfielder in baseball sooner than later if he could just keep his head in the game all the time. He's probably always going to be a streaky hitter; that's just the nature of his game. But there's no excuse for some of the mental errors we see Colby make out there. I don't like the way Tony La Russa has gone about trying to reach his talented you outfielder, not at all. But at the same time I think La Russa really is trying to do the right thing, even if he's going about it the wrong way. Colby Rasmus needs to grow up and learn how to focus on every play, every game, and not sulk in the clubhouse when things are going badly because he feels like everyone is picking on him. He does that, and there won't be any problems at all with his playing time. (Or, if there still is, then Colby will be completely blameless and I can go back to just bashing TLR without having to actually try and seem balanced.)
No one here gets away from the blame. This is a team in the middle of a fight for their October lives, and they're doing a shit job of it, and this -- this! -- is what I have to read about in the paper and hear about on the radio. It's ridiculous. These are supposed to be grown men with a job to do.
So everyone just shut up, grow up, and win some ballgames. Got it?
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