Wednesday, March 2, 2011

One Thing Is Certain

Mr. Von der Ahe says that he expects to win the pennant again next year, but how he will do it is hard to say. From present prospects the Cincinnatis will be very much stronger than the Browns and it is almost certain that Porkopolis will fly the pennant in 1888. Brooklyn, too, is stronger than the Browns, and the once world champions will be about third or fourth in the race next season. In the middle of last season the Globe-Democrat announced that the Browns were to be weakened, as it was certain they were much too strong for the clubs of the Association. The idea was laughed at the, and the cranks said Von der Ahe was not foolish enough to part with his best players. Mr. Von der Ahe determined to hold on to his team as then constituted for a time at least. The beggarly attendance towards the close of the season convinced him that in order to make base ball pay he would have to place his team on a level with the other clubs of the Association, hence the weeding out process lately undergone. Now, the question arises: Will the public pay to see a second-class club after being used to first-class ball? That the Browns have been greatly weakened there can be no question. Behind the bat they have about the same strength. In the pitcher's box they are lamentably weak. Foutz's arm is gone, and Devlin, a rank failure, takes the place of the nonpareil, Bob Caruthers. Devlin is a south paw, who is best known by his miserable failures in attempting to pitch to first-class clubs. Hudson and Knouff are of no account, and this leaves the Browns with one pitcher, King. The latter, too, is very young, and needs considerable experience before he will be able to rank with Smith, of Cincinnati, or Kilroy, of Baltimore. At short stop the team is very much weakened. McGarr is no better fielder than Gleason, and he is a miserable batter. In the outfield the club has been terribly pulled down from its former high standard. For Welch, the king of outfielders, a youngster is to be supplied; a mere boy, who was not fast enough for the Philadelphia club, and who has been earning a great reputation among the "jay" clubs in minor leagues. The Browns will soon be composed of the cast-off players of the Philadelphia club, there now being transferred four on that team-Wilson, Devlin, McCarthy and Lyons. If these men were not good enough for the Phillies why should they be for the Browns? One thing is certain, that local patrons of the game will have no chance to complain next year that the Browns have too much of a walk-over.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, November 27, 1887

Baseball is a strange game. "The glorious uncertainty of baseball" sums it up nicely.

The Globe was right to look at the Browns and see a weakened and inferior club, compared to the previous champions. And yet, they won their fourth straight pennant in 1888. As that great sage, Joaquin Andujar, once said: "You never know."

This is very relevant to my baseball reality at the moment. I'm a Cardinals fan (for those who don't know) and, if you haven't heard, we're having problems resigning our first baseman and our number one starter just underwent Tommy John surgery. Also, we're playing a left fielder at second, a second baseman at short and a first baseman/DH in right. Our third baseman is injury prone, our catcher can't hit and our manager hates our center fielder. Our number two starter was talking about how he'd be open to a trade and then went and pulled his hamstring in his first spring training start. Our number three starter is a second year player who overachieved his rookie season, is a prime candidate to regress to the means and walks too many batters. Our number four starter is a year or so removed from Tommy John surgery. Our fifth starter is Kyle Lohse.

I know all of that. And I still think they can win their division. Why not? Baseball is a strange game.

The more interesting thing in the Globe's article is their assertion that all of the Browns' moves were designed to weaken the club and, at the same time, strengthen their opponents in the AA. This isn't earth-shattering and it's been written about before but here it's laid out explicitly in the contemporary press. I'm more of the opinion that the moves were made to improve the club in the long-term and to get rid of some problem players but the Globe's idea has to be part of the explanation for the moves.

This is why I've been saying that these sales are much more complicated than we've been led to believe. I don't think there is one reason for the moves but rather several reasons for each transaction. This wasn't a fire sale. This was a complex series of transactions, arranged by Von der Ahe, that were designed to achieve multiple goals.

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