By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Feb. 18, 2016) — For die-hard baseball fans, the start of spring training can’t begin soon enough. Pitchers and catchers officially reporting to their respective camps is a national holiday of sorts.
St. Louis Cardinals fans, of course, are eager for the team’s preparations at their home base in Jupiter, Florida, and for the upcoming season to begin as their beloved franchise seeks to lay the foundation for a 12th World Series title in 2016.
Manager Mike Matheny, a former Cards catcher, is beginning his fifth season at the helm.
In recent years, owner William DeWitt Jr.’s ballclub has been a model of consistency and a perennial title contender. Consider the facts. St. Louis has advanced to the postseason 12 times in the 21st century. this includes nine Central Division titles, with three straight entering the current season, four National League pennants and a pair of World Series titles (2006, 2011). They have had 15 winning seasons in 16 years since the turn of the century. Indeed, general manager John Mozeliak, the key franchise builder since 2007, has picked up where his predecessor, Walt Jocketty, architect of the Tony La Russa era, left off.
Versatile sports writer Howard Megdal explores what has made the Cardinals a model franchise in his latest book, “The Cardinals Way.”
Megdal previously wrote “Wilpon’s Folly,” about the New York Mets owners and their financial and legal issues. That book was published in December 20011.
The New York-based writer’s byline is all over the place, from Excelle Sports to POLITICO New York to USA Today Sports to Vice Sports, etc. He also penned a number of compelling articles for Sports On Earth in recent years. Megdal, who received a bachelor’s degree in literature from Bard College, has also written “Taking the Field,” and “The Baseball Talmud.”
The Cardinals Way’s release date is Feb. 23. The publisher is Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. (Here’s additional book info via amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Cardinals-Way-Embraced-Tradition-Moneyball/dp/1250058317/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qi)
Megdal gave an inside look and some insights about his latest book in a recent email interview.
Can you detail the basic message you are trying to express in the book? In other words, what’s your basic premise?
A pretty simple one: the Cardinals are built on two pillars, statistical information and scouting development, and both of them have roots going back nearly 100 years, with a remarkable continuity between the early advances of Branch Rickey and George Kissell and the way they operate today.
How much of the book is a long-form extension of what you reported in the following article: http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/56835048/the-st-louis-cardinals-have-a-system—-the-cardinal-way—-thats-made-their-farm-system-the-best-in-baseball-and-their-team-one-of-the-best-in-t#!OYEIr?
Easiest way to think of it is this way: that article is the what. The book is the why and the how.
In conducting interviews and doing research for the book, how long did the project last? What was your basic approach to all of this and who are/were your key sources? And was much of the Q&A work done from the NYC metro area or in trips to St. Louis?
So the article above was from August 2013. From my return home, I knew I wanted to write this book. The research that followed consumed most of the following two years, in trips to St. Louis, to minor league outposts, to Florida for spring training, and many, many phone conversations.
What have you found most interesting about the St. Louis organization that you learned while doing research and interviews?
How open it is, from (team president) Bill DeWitt on down, and just how pervasive so much of the Rickey/Kissell influence still is on the day-to-day operations, not just in some abstract way.
What did you find most surprising about the franchise as you wrote and researched the book?
The same. It’s almost impossible to find any business that maintains that kind of continuity over a century. The Cardinals have deviated from one or the other pillar at times, but never both, and maintained them in almost incredible ways through longevity and turns of fate.
How much influence does Branch Rickey’s model of building a farm system and a baseball organization still have for the modern-day Redbirds? (Reporter’s note: Rickey ran the Cardinals from 1919-42, then joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and changed the course of baseball history by signing Jackie Robinson, who broke MLB’s color barrier in 1947.)
It is fundamental to both the way they train players, through Kissell’s methods*—a direct disciple of Rickey, a Rickey signing, incidentally, back in 1940—while the statistical analysis dates back to Rickey as well, who brought aboard the (sabermetrics analyst) Sig Mejdal of his time, Travis Hoke, way back in the 1910s.
*Additional info on Kissell: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Kissell
What are some baseball (or sports) books that you’ve enjoyed as learning tools for your own work as sports journalist/author? What made them especially special or helpful to you?
Too many to name. The work of Bill James informed my view of baseball from an early age, of course, so we could start there—a Chanukah present when I was 7 was the copy of the Historical Baseball Abstract I refer to even today.
In your opinion, who are some of the must-read sports journalists out there you read on a regular basis?
Really hard to single anybody out. My suggestion is to go to my Twitter account and see who I follow—more than 7,000 people, most of them journalists.
Why do you feel now was a good time to write this type of book about the Cardinals? What makes the timing right?
It is important to get the historical record, while fresh, about the way the Cardinals have restored the Rickey/Kissell methods under DeWitt/Luhnow/Mozeliak.
There are some who feel the Cardinals’ fan base and St. Louis make it America’s baseball town. Would you suggest that the Cardinals over the past 25-30 years, especially with Whitey Herzog and Tony La Russa at the helm for a long portion of that time, came close to creating MLB’s version of the Dallas Cowboys’ “America’s Team” era?
I think that’s a reasonable conclusion. I think the team’s regional historical ties make it disproportionately likely to hold that title anyway—think of it as the logical outgrowth of the KMOX effect.
For you, which journalists, announcers, published books, newspaper articles, etc. have been the most useful research material to gain an understanding of the franchise’s overall history?
Again, so many. Derrick Goold (St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer) and Bernie Miklasz (longtime Post-Dispatch sports columnist and now a local ESPN radio personality) were particularly informative (and still are!), (longtime Cardinals radio announcer) Mike Shannon was delightful. But a paper written about the Cardinals farm system back in 1975 by Donald Ray Andersen unlocked many doors. And Tommy Kidwell giving me access to his grandfather George Kissell’s papers was vital.
Follow Howard Megdal on Twitter: @howardmegdal