The book: “The Cardinals Way: How One Team Embraced Tradition and Moneyball at the Same Time”
The author: Howard Megdal
The vital statistics: Thomas Dunne Books, 304 pages, $26.99. (Released Feb. 23)
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com
The pitch: Long, long ago, there was the :”Dodgers Way to Play Baseball.” That was an actual thing.
Al Campanis wrote it, with that exact title, in 1954. One can still purchase an acceptable used copy.
It’s worth finding, if only as a collectible.
Years from now, we’re not sure how collectible this “Cardinals Way” edition will be, so we’re not emphatically advising its purchase.
But we would suggest that, if you’re one of the many members of the Dodgers front office, and still hold some believe that the reason you can’t get past the Cardinals year after year in the National League playoffs, someone might want to leave a copy of this in the executive wash room, a Stadium Club lunch booth or maybe even sell it at the Top of the Park shop with the thought that maybe one of the dozen assistant GMs might pick it up, thumb through it, check the index for their name, and consider there are ways to build and maintain a productive franchise.
This could end up wadded up and used as toilet paper. If they’re not already going that with TWC $20 bills. But you see the intent here.
(For Magic Johnson, perhaps a book on tape version).
As the Cardinals play the first official game of the 2016 season today (10 a.m., at Pittsburgh, on ESPN), we hold up “The Cardinals Way” is an expression often thrown back in the franchise’s faces. ESPN’s Mark Saxon has already made note of that in a piece posted today.
Evidence of the ridicule goes back to when Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon made a salty reference to it during a critical September game last season. It was enough to make a Sports Illustrated/The Caldron writer go out and track this “book” down and recite from it.
There’s evidence that Megdal, a writer for Politico’s Capital New York and contributer to USA Today Sports Weekly, Sports Illustrated and Vice Sports, laid the foundation for this project back in 2013, when he wrote this nearly 5,000-word piece for SportsOnEarth.com entitled “The Cardinal Way,” where owner Bill DeWitt, former star and manager Red Schoendienst and GM John Mozeliak added more context to what the phrase really meant.
The reference goes back to the foundation Branch Rickey laid with the franchise in the 1930s, before jumping over to the Dodgers and establishing the “Dodgers’ Way” of signing the first black player, expanding the minor-league system, etc.
Rickey taught Bill DeWitt Sr. (who’s son eventually bought the team) and a senior coach named George Kissell, who actually put that manual together for player development that has since been referred to as “The Cardinal Way.”
Essentially, how it works today: If someone like Allen Craig can replace Albert Pujols in the Cardinals lineup, and they keep winning, it’s working. In more depth, if you stand to lose someone in free agency, make a decent offer but allow someone else to overpay for your talent, you gain a draft pick because of the collective bargaining agreement. Start stockpiling those picks and using them to your advantage.
If “Moneyball” was the Billy Bean method in Oakland, the implication is that “The Cardinal Way” takes its historical track record and introduces names and philosophies from Jeff Luhnow (now with the Houston Astros), Dan Kantrovitz, Jeff Luhnow, Sig Mejdal, Gary LaRocque, Charlie Gonzalez and more.
Take an interesting aside on page 115, where the team brought in former Dodgers exec Matt Slater in 2007. He got a law degree from Southwestern Law School while with the Dodgers but eventually “became available thanks to the disaster that was Frank McCourt’s tenure. … a number of front-office members there got demoted or left.” Slater was known for making “subjective judgements subject to objective analysis.”
Slater says: “We really believe in the intuitive nature of this business. We believe that you need to have data-based decisions, while keeping in mind that these players are not decks of cards. They’re also human beings that have emotions. And so what the scout brings to the table and what the data brings to the table is all churned together in our final evaluation of a player.”
All of this comes during the aftermath of the Cardinals trying to explain that their “Way” doesn’t include hacking into the Astros’ computer system to see how their former GM Luhnow is doing things in Texas. Tough break, but at least it’s addressed in the epilogue.
In some ways, this harkens a bid back to the Jonah Keri book from 2011, “The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First,” which introduced us to Andrew Freidman. But this is far less interesting.
Still, if you’re not all about tracking down this book up by Megdal, who did the excellent book “The Baseball Talmud: The Definitive Position-by-Position Ranking of Baseball’s Chosen Players” back in 2009, then the SportsOnEarth.com piece is plenty saturated in the topic.
More to know:
= Also coming out this month: “Taking Flight: The St. Louis Cardinals and the Building of Baseball’s Best Franchise” (Triumph Books, 272 pages, $24.95) by Bob Raines