Beyond the monumental loss of life that overrides everything, the Cardinals 2014-2015 off-season was suddenly troubled. There was a name penciled into their RF plans for the next decade, and now that had been permanently erased. The era was over before it began. The superstar, whose projected stats were only fantasies, would remain so. Where excitement once accompanied hopes for the future, now only angst about what could have been.
But, on the baseball field, he was to fix all of that.
Shelby Miller was a huge price to pay. The former 1st round pick and team’s top prospect was only turning 24. And he was good. A sub-par full season tally wasn’t fooling anyone. Miller’s 2nd half was an explosion of promise, an ERA below 3.00 with opponents batting near the Mendoza line. Shelby had put the critics to rest.
His renaissance happened around the time his best friend, Joe Kelly, was traded away. Miller’s reaction was just what you’d want out of a young star. He was shaken, seeing the game become a business. He knew how easily he could be shipped out. He told the media he wanted to be a Cardinal for life.
Less than 6 months later, he was gone. The Cardinals had depth in their rotation, and a giant hole in RF and their offensive future. Oscar was gone, Shelby was gone, but Heyward was supposed to fix all of that.
Jason Heyward was a Cardinal.
The accolades for Mo could have hardly been more overwhelming. No one gets a Heyward. He was universally known as a top prospect in all of baseball. He had as many tools as could be recognized. He was a lovable guy both for his baseball talents, and his personality. He was 25 years old.
When you lose Oscar Taveras, when you lose all of that hope for the future, Jason Heyward was the near perfect fix.
All the Cardinals had to do was resign him.
That seemed very doable. From the beginning Heyward praised his situation in St. Louis. He praised it throughout his stay. He was still praising it, even after he, well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The fans got to see Heyward next. Yes, there were those fixated on Heyward not hitting a ton of home runs, but plenty more saw the all-around solid batting line he put up. More so, they saw the astounding base running on a team that hadn’t had a superior base runner in a long, long time. They saw the dazzling defense full of sliding catches and clutch outfield assists. They saw the durability, the gold glove, the 6 WAR, and the promise for the future. This is what Heyward was at 25, what might he do for the next decade?
All the while, Shelby Miller was in Cy Young talks. The other piece to the deal, Jordan Walden, had a reportedly minor injury that he could never recover from. Those parts of the trade had not gone well. But it would all be OK, as long as Jason Heyward re-signed. Everything else could be forgiven. Jason Heyward spending a career with the Birds on the Bat would be worth it.
It wasn’t a dream season. The hated Cubs saw to that. The Cardinals had a lot to work on in the off-season. They were down, and being kicked again. Still, Heyward was doable. He called St. Louis an “idea” situation.
Ideal: “satisfying one’s conception of what is perfect; most suitable.”
If St. Louis was perfect, most suitable, then surely he’d be a Cardinal.
But then he wasn’t. He was a Cub.
The Chicago Cubs. The hated rivals. The team that had lost for 100 years, but was always the draw. I mean, it’s CHICAGO. It’s the big city. It’s always been just a matter of time.
The Cardinals win, and win, and win, but it’s not a permanent thing, and I think we all know that. St. Louis is not a comparatively large market, and it won’t be anytime soon. St Louis has never spent their way out of trouble. St. Louis is always teetering on that edge where a few bad moves could give us the early 90s all over again. An non-engaged ownership could give us the malaise of the 70s. Baseball in St. Louis is a fragile place. Every year of success not to be taken for granted. Every year hoping that good players buy into the system, and want to play in a baseball town in the Midwest, rather than a giant endorsement filled megalopolis, or beautiful San Diego, Miami, etc. Some players do. Some players discover the beauty of being a Cardinal. Other players are Tino Martinez. Other players think St. Louis is a cow town. Really, they are both right. There will always be cities St. Louis can’t compete with, and St. Louis will always beat other cities. It’s all about what’s in your heart.
And coming into this off-season, when Adam Wainwright was giving quotes about how important it is to beat the Cubs in specific, we all hoped Heyward felt the Cardinals in his heart.
Instead, the Heyward future we had dreamed of a year ago that seemed so close was gone. Articles filled sports pages about how Heyward took less to be a Cub. Heyward quotes about an “aging core” became legendary. Not only was that future gone, Jason Heyward was specifically calling out the Cardinals lack of a future.
Man, in a game that often tears at your emotions-that can hurt.
Heyward was the nadir of one of the worst winters in memory. The 2nd consecutive Winter where Cardinal faithful had to rethink their future projections. All winter long, the Cubs were the story. Heyward was the centerpiece of that.
The Cardinals started their season on a slow note, and then reeled off 6 of 8, to find themselves 3 games behind the Cubs during the season’s infancy. Karl Ravich wondered aloud if the Central Division was already wrapped up. You get the sense the national media was wondering this before the NLDS was even over.
April 18th, a wounded group of fans will watch this ultra-hyped Cubs team, already aloft in 1st place, take the field in Busch. The long standing rivalry will have a different feel. Underdogs, kicked when they were down, trashed by Chicago in both the playoffs and the Winter, fans will gaze out into Right field, and see Jason Heyward – once the Cardinals future – now a part of the terrifying future of the Cubs.
Some fans will look at this sad, sad sight, and will find themselves compelled to applaud. They should. Heyward gave the Cardinals his all, and performed well for a year. The Cardinals fell just short. 2015 was a good year.
Some will remain silent. They should. Heyward is gone. It’s time to move on. The Cardinals can be fine without him. He didn’t ruin our lives, after all. This is just a game.
Some will boo. They should. A star chose the Cubs over the Cardinals. He was with us for a year, and then he left us. This is every Lifetime movie you’ve ever seen. There is a wounded portion of the Cardinal faithful that extends well into the silent and the cheerers. In the world of baseball, the Heyward abandonment was hard on the feelings. So these fans, jilted and hurt, will boo.
And there are people out there who will hear these boos, and they will decide it’s because of the pigmentation of Heyward’s skin. Like the very few of whom it will actually be true of, these people are disgusting. These people should be shunned. These are the people that deserve your boos.