Saturday, April 12, 2008
Pujols' slide evokes the spirit of '34
Pujols' slide evokes the spirit of '34
By Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Albert Pujols, right, slides safely
Cardinals' Albert Pujols slides safely into home as Houston Astros catcher J.R. Towles waits for the throw Tuesday night.
OK, so maybe Albert Pujols did veer out of his way to send a message to young Houston catcher J.R. Towles on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park. And it's true that Pujols' aggressiveness led to some minor hostilities between the Cardinals and Astros before Wednesday's game.
The amazing thing is, even some Cardinals fans and St. Louis media were offended by the way Pujols went into Towles — as if Pujols' actions violated the treaties of the Geneva Convention.
How ridiculous is this?
I'm sorry, but when did we become a nation of politically correct wimps? When did our pastime become such a demure exercise in civility and manners that the games should be played at Wimbledon or Augusta National?
Give me some of that old school baseball, thank you. St. Louis was the home base of the grimy, gritty Gashouse Gang. Those were the 1934 rough-and-tumble Cardinals who crashed and sassed their way to a surprise National League pennant, then an upset World Series triumph over the Detroit Tigers.
I think Pepper Martin, Leo Durocher, Frankie Frisch and the other Gashousers would have approved of Pujols' slide.
"Give me some scratching, diving, hungry ballplayers who come to kill you," Durocher wrote in his 1975 autobiography.
In his superb St. Louis Cardinals Encyclopedia, Mike Eisenbath described the Gashouse Gang this way: "They probably weren't the most athletically talented. They certainly didn't look the part. They wore stained, dirty uniforms that didn't fit right ... many didn't shave before games. Most chewed tobacco, spit out the sides of their mouths, rubbed the backs of their hands across their mouths, and then wiped the backs of their hands across their shirts ... thick-necked, knotty-muscled, cussin' and fightin' ... they captured the imagination of baseball fans everywhere in 1934."
I know I'm crazy to even suggest it, but the 2008 Cardinals should honor that Gashouse Gang legacy — minus the chewing tobacco and hideous personal hygiene.
Few expect the Cardinals to win, and if they hope to shock the baseball world by contending, the Cardinals must be a relentless, berserk team that hustles like mad in that fine Gashouse custom.
And the Cardinals should make no apologies for that style, even if Pujols did call Towles after Tuesday's game to say he was sorry.
The Cardinals won't win on attitude alone; this early-season run of great starting pitching, skilled defense and two-out hits must continue.
But I like what Pujols did because it demonstrated the kind of personality that should serve this team well all year.
The Cardinals must play with a feisty, underdog spirit.
When Pujols rumbled home with the fifth run in the Cardinals' 5-3 victory, he toppled Towles with a low, purposeful slide. Towles wasn't blocking home plate when Pujols took out his legs. But earlier in the series, Towles parked in front of the dish, to seal it off and deny Troy Glaus a chance to score.
It was a hard-nosed play by Towles, and within the rules. But it was also the kind of line-in-the-dirt stand that could lead to collision and injury. I can't read Pujols' mind, but perhaps he wanted to remind Towles what can happen if a catcher refuses to yield.
Towles is "going to get blasted one of these days," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told reporters before Wednesday's game.
Some Astros apparently dissented. This would explain why pitcher Brandon Backe shouted at Pujols before Wednesday's game. Pujols answered by hitting his first two home runs of the season.
(We pause to offer some free advice to Backe: In your career, Pujols is three for 10 with three homers, three walks and four RBIs against you. So it's not real smart to approach the lion's den to taunt the lion.)
"Buy a steak for a player on another club after the game, but don't even speak to him on the field," Durocher once said. "Get out there and beat them to death."
Well, perhaps manslaughter would be taking things a little far.
But a hard slide into home plate?