December 11, 2015
I convinced myself all week that Jason Heyward would be in a Cardinal uniform for the next decade. Really, I prophesied that image since last November, when he came to the Cardinals to fill the hole in right field for the late Oscar Taveras.
I became infatuated when Heyward hit two doubles in his Cardinals debut against the Cubs, a 3-0 win at Wrigley Field. I turned skeptical, like many Cards fans, when he hit .217/.261/.349 (for non-baseball fans, that stat line would never warrant the $185 million contract he got from the Cubs. It probably wouldn’t warrant a $5 million contract) in April. But come May, things started to turn around. I fell in love with Heyward on May 27 during my second trip to Busch Stadium this season when he launched a solo shot over the right field wall to tie the game in the 9th inning of what became a 4-3 win against Arizona (where Shelby Miller, the pitcher the Cardinals traded to receive Heyward, will now call home). As he continued improving throughout the year to finish with a .293/.359/.439 stat line, I screamed foe the Cardinals to sign him immediately and for as much as he asked for. When the Cubs signed Ben Zobrist and dumped Starlin Castro, I pleaded with the baseball gods to push Heyward back to Busch, not toward Wrigley.
Looking at it all now, I don’t think we ever stood a chance at retaining Heyward. He allegedly turned down a larger offer from the Cardinals to join the Cubs, and while that’s my nightmare, I find it impossible to blame him. The Cardinals have a richer history and offered what was likely relatively marginally more money, and as a diehard Cards fan it kills me to say this, but the Cubs are a more desirable team in every other aspect. Damn it, it hurts to type that statement.
If I were 26 years old and about to sign a nearly $200 million contract, would I rather live in Chicago or St. Louis? Sorry to my fellow St. Louisans, but Chicago has much more to offer than St. Louis; it’s a perk of being a metropolis with a booming downtown. And, if you help bring the first World Series to Wrigley Field in its 100+ year history, you’ll be immortalized forever. Not only that, but the Cubs have one of the youngest and fun-loving clubhouses in baseball, something that is part of the fabric of Joe Maddon’s clubhouses. Oh, Joe Maddon. Him, too. No offense to Mike Matheny, but there’s no better manager in baseball. The hard, shitty truth is that the Cubs are just more desirable now than the Cardinals.
I hate everything about that idea. The Cubs have always been the cute, harmless little brother in this rivalry. Then, all of a sudden, puberty hit them like a Kyle Schwarber home run onto their scoreboard and they became so much hotter than their older brother Cardinals. Everything the Cardinals had to work for since 2000 started gravitating naturally toward the Cubs. Yes, they put in great work to develop Schwarber, Bryant, Russell, Soler, and others, but their organic allure is a great asset in free agency, a trait the Cardinals lost as soon as we became the know-it-all braggart, unsatisfied with 16 years (and still counting) of National League dominance.
I saw a screen cap on Twitter today from The Revenge of the Sith of Obi-Wan looking at Anakin and shouting, “You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the sith, not join them!” The tweet came from a Cardinals fan in reference to Heyward as Anakin and the Cubs as the sith. And while it’s so tempting to view today in that light, in truth, the Cardinals have been the Evil Empire for some time now. To the rest of the world, Jason Heyward is trying doing what Anakin never could: abandon and destroy the sith. I highly doubt that there is any actual ill will between Heyward and the Cardinals, but the metaphor stands: the Cardinals are universally disliked, and the prospect of a fresh team, a fun team, a rival team infiltrating them to bring them down is a wonderful story. A tragic story for myself, but a wonderful one nonetheless.
The main damage done today was not Heyward’s departure up I-55. Rather, it was the confirmation that from an unbiased view, the Cubs are legitimately more appealing to play for than the Cardinals. Now, the Cardinals must make some major moves to fend off the fall of a dynasty. I seriously wonder whether we need a brand new approach in free agency as we look toward Alex Gordon, or maybe Yoenis Cespedes, or any of the other free agents left to fill this enormous gap that Heyward could only plug for a year. Every once in a while, a castle’s walls start to crumble. At first, temporary fixes provide adequate patchwork, but once they wear down or jumps ship, the castle is left a bit weaker than before. Especially when your greatest enemy, thirsty for the glory you’ve sustained, thieves that temporary fix. The Cardinals dynasty of the 2000s isn’t over, but I wonder whether it’s time to finally nail down a permanent renovation to maintain the NL Central throne.
“NOOOO! GOD! No, God, please no! No! No! NOOO!” – Michael Scott – The Office Season 5, Episode 8: Frame Toby