Atlanta Braves Blog

The Atlanta Braves blog by David O'Brien, baseball writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Red Sox in town, but TP's Cardinals story is better

With the Red Sox, one of baseball’s grand old franchises, in town to face the Braves for two games and riding a 10-game losing streak that has New England in a dither, I thought this one be a good time to relate a story about … the Cardinals.

Hold on, let me explain.

There’s not much time to write this morning, and I didn’t get to use this great story – or at least I think it’s great – that Terry Pendleton told me when we were in St. Louis just over a week ago. So it just came to be, while chatting today with Kris Medlen in the clubhouse, since there was no batting practice or pregame media session with the manager and most players arrived relatively late today, that today would be a good time to share this with you rather than not write a new blog today and also while facing the Cardinals is still relatively fresh on our minds.

By the way, the defending World Series champion Red Sox have scored 26 runs and hit .212 during their  10-game losing streak, with six homers. They have a 4.69 ERA during the skid. And here we all thought the Braves’ seven-game skid a few weeks ago was wretched.

Oh, one more thing. Today’s matchup. It’s Ervin Santana against Boston righty Clay Buccholz, and each pitcher will be trying to get back on track. Santana is 0-2 with an 8.25 ERA and .373 opponents’ average in his past two starts, after going 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA and .221 OA in his four starts for the Braves.

The former Angels and Royals pitcher is 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 13 starts against the Red Sox, and gave up nine hits and six runs in 3-2/3 innings in his last start against them in August. David Ortiz is 11-for-30 with three homers and 12 strikeouts against Santana, who won’t have to face DL’d Mike Napoli (7-for-19 with three homers against him). A.J. Pierzynski is 8-for-35 with two homers against Santana.

Buchholz (2-4, 6.32) has been pretty bad all year, with a few exceptions. But lately, especially bad. He’s 0-2 with a 7.80 ERA and .414 OA in his past three starts, allowing 29 hits and seven walks in just 15 innings over that span, including hit totals of 10, 10 and 9 in innings totals of 4 1/3, 6 and 4 2/3.

He’s not faced the Braves, and only five current Braves have faced him, including three with more than three at-bats against him: B.J. Upton (7-for-26, 1 HR), Gerald Laird (1-for-7), and Ryan Doumit (1-for-5).


OK, without further ado, the Pendleton story. As most of you know Pendleton, the Braves first-base coach and former NL MVP from the Braves worst-to-first season in ’91, was drafted and came up through the Cardinals organization. Pendleton played his first seven seasons for St. Louis through 1990 before coming to Atlanta and becoming the leader of the ’91 team that changed the culture of Braves baseball.

For some background on the discussion I had with regarding the Cardinals’ way of doing things. There is the Cardinal Way, much as there was The Dodger Way, and the Oriole Way, etc. Those teams and the Red Sox are teams I know have or had an internal book that’s distributed to all minor leaguers in the organization and describes how to do just about everything, from dress for road trips to hitting the cutoff man.

This is from a story by St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold a couple of years ago on the subject of that book that lays it all out in the Cardinals organization:

   …The pages were written, compiled, edited, and updated in 1969 by (George) Kissell, the Cardinals' longtime minor league coach and keeper of the Cardinal Way. Inside his syllabus are drawings of the field and where position players should go for cutoffs and relays. There is a chapter on every infield position. It is a stack of institutional knowledge that became Vuch's inspiration for a project in October 2010….

     In his locker this spring, every minor-league player found an 86-page handbook that outlines The Cardinal Way, from infield positioning to off-field responsibilities and team policies, from the virtues of a Cardinals catcher to where Perez setup to receive a 3-2 pitch. Coaches and managers received the unabridged version, at 117 pages. The guides hold proprietary information and are not for the public. These "organizational manuals" are the result of several years of work to collect the lessons from former coaches George Kissell, Dave Ricketts, and others, blend them with the modern views of La Russa, Matheny, Dave Duncan and Dave McKay, and create a standardized approach to developing Cardinal players….

  “Many of the things that Kissell, who joined the Cardinals in the 1940s, had written in that 1969 syllabus had passed verbally through the organization to his protégés. Same with the lessons and skills that Ricketts taught catchers such as Matheny and Yadier Molina. Both coaches died in 2008, and there was an internal movement to make their philosophies permanent in print. The whole manual is dedicated to Kissell, and it's his quote that greets players and coaches after the introduction.

 "Tell me and I'll forget," Kissell told his charges. "Show me and I'll remember. Involve me and I'll understand."

 In a 1989 article in Sports Illustrated, Kissell and Hub Kittle were identified as "distinguished professors of baseball" at "the College of Cardinals." The article went on to detail the lessons these minor league coaches shared with players, managers, and all who wore the birds on the bat. The new manual is the latest edition of the textbook they would have had.

"In a simplistic way when we graduate players to the major leagues we're in essence putting a stamp on them that they're ready," general manager John Mozeliak said. "George Kissell or some of the other coaches would take the time to explain why you're doing it. It wasn't just the X's and O's of where to stand and just do it ... it always came with a reason. Sometimes those reasons are open for debate. When you look at the evolution of this (manual) you couldn't whip something up today, put a (cover) on it, and say, 'OK, this is it.' This is something that took decades to form. And it's still changing.”

 OK, now that you have some background, here’s the conversation I had with Terry Pendleton, which started with me asking him about whether he’s treated well when he returns to St. Louis, which has a famously loyal and enthusiastic fan base.

“There’s no doubt,” he said. “And people don’t let you forget: When you’re a Cardinal, you’re a Cardinal for life. They don’t forget you.”

Do they still treat you like they did back in the day?

“Like I’m still here,” he said. “I mean, they literally do. I was walking out of our hotel this morning and a guy in a business suit and his wife were coming out of the hotel and I’m not paying attention and I’m walking down to get in the cart to come over here, and he stops me. And he’s probably 60 years old. I don’t expect people to recognize me; I do my thing. And he stops me, ‘Hey, good to see you back in St. Louis.’ He goes through this whole spiel, the whole deal, and I’m really like, in awe. I’m looking at this guy with the big business suit and I’m like, thank you, I really appreciate it and all, but … You don’t expect it, but they give it to you anyway. They truly do here.

“How can I put it? They make you feel like you never left. That’d probably be the best way to describe it.”

I asked him if it were a nice reminder of the impact that he and his team had on people.

“Yeah, I would say so,” he said. “But Cardinal fans are Cardinal fans. If you played here when they were terrible, they would still treat you that way…. They truly do. They scream at me all game when I’m at first base. Somebody comes down and hollers something (nice) at me every inning. It’s something. But it’s enjoyable.”

I mentioned that St. Louis fans, unlike in many cities, don’t usually boo their former players who left as free agents when they return to town with their new teams.

“No, that’s just not their way,” Pendleton said. “They respect the game, they know the game, they’re knowledgable of what goes on, and who’s played here and who hasn’t. And like I said, they just make you feel welcomed home.”

I mentioned to TP that I’ve covered games at St. Louis as a Braves or Marlins beat writer when Busch Stadium gave rounds of applause to an opposing player who did something special.

“They respect the game,” he said. “They understand the game. A guy goes into the ninth inning with a no-no and you end up breaking it up, I mean, they let him know the job he’s done in the game of baseball. As I said, they’re Cardinal fans and knowledgable baseball people. And I think that’s a big thing.”

“In ’87, we were playing the Giants in the playoffs, and there was some crap that the Giants were doing with the one-flap down and all this stuff (with one arm after a big hit). And Jeffrey Leonard was in left field and fans were yelling and screaming and giving him a hard time. But later somebody threw something out on the field at him. I remember that. And it was a Cardinal fan. And every one of the Cardinal fans in that section pointed him out and said, ‘Get him out of here.’

“That just shows you what type of fan they are. It could have been an easy hate-hate thing, and good, you threw something at him. But that’s not the right way to do it here. That’s not the way they do it. Most places, they’re probably throwing something with him. Not here. They don’t do that.”

People who’ve been to a few games at Busch Stadium understand that, I said.

“Anybody who’s played here understands that,” Pendleton said. “It’s not a slap in the face of any other city, not at all. I get in trouble in Atlanta for saying Cardinal fans are the best in baseball. But it is what it is. It’s just a  little different love, I guess you could say. It doesn’t matter the ups and downs, they’re going to be here to support you, irregardless. Personally, I think that’s what a true fan is. That would be my definition of a true fan.

“We had years like ’88, we were terrible. And there were 37,000, 38,000 every day. And sellouts a lot of the time. But at least 38,000 every day. It didn’t matter what time it was. They came from everywhere. It didn’t matter. They’re coming. It just says a lot about them, their fans, the base, and the Cardinals in general, in trying to keep a good product on the field.”

And hopefully you, dear blog reader, have stayed with me to this point, because this was the good story I mentioned Pendleton told me about the Cardinal Way. I asked him specifically about whether there was such a thing and whether players followed it, lived by it, etc.

“When I came through they’re absolutely was a Cardinal way of doing things,” he said. “I don’t know how they run things over there now; I don’t want to step out on a limb and say yes, they still do. But I know when I came through here, there was a Cardinal way of doing things and it started in the minor leagues. And if it wasn’t done that way, you will never see Busch Stadium, plain and simple. And they will tell you that. Without hesitation, it didn’t matter  who you are, what number pick you are, how much money they gave you – it did not matter. If you didn’t learn to play the game the way the Cardinals wanted the game played, you weren’t going to get here.”

“I learned a lot in the minor leagues here, but in baseball you’re always learning how the game should be played. And I can honestly say I learned some of that in high school, I learned some of that at Oxnard Junior College, I learned some of that at Fresno State. But  when I got here, it was – how can I put it? – it was ingrained in you. It was going to be done this way. I don’t care if you’re the No. 3 hitter or the No. 4 hitter, you’re going to know how to sacrifice guys over, you’re going to know how to hit the ball to the right side to move that runner with nobody out. You are going to do these things, or you weren’t going to get here. It was simple. You were going to know what to do in situations, you were going to already think them out before they happened, because that’s the way we do things. And if you didn’t like that, it was too bad. I’m telling you.”

He was getting into it now. TP had initially been a little reluctant to start talking about the old days, knowing how it makes some people roll their eyes or whatever. But the passion came out once he started recalling incidents that helped mold him and make him the player he became.

“In Instructional League we were in Clearwater playing one day,” he said. “I was playing second base at the time. And with two out and runners at second and third they hit a ground ball to me that went right through my legs. Two runs score. So after the inning I come in, throw my glove, I’m pissed off. George Kissell looks down at me and looks at Mike Harris, our other shortstop, and says, ‘You’re in at second.’ What? ‘You’re in at second, Mike.’

“After the game we get back on the bus, we go back to St. Pete. Bobby Meacham, who was the (Cardinals’ first-round) pick the year before in ’81, and Mike Harris, who went into the game for  me, who was touted to be a big-league shortstop -- he could play – he called them in the office, and he called me in the office. And we sat down.  And he looked me in the eye and he looked them in the eye and he says, ‘I’m going to ask you the questions,’ talking to me, ‘about all the stuff that’s happened. I’m going to ask you the questions, and I want you two to answer them.’ I can’t say a word. So he goes on this spiel about, ‘Do you think your attitude was right out there, with what you did?’ They had to answer. Now these are my boys, and they abused me in that room.

“It was the right way to do it. It was the RIGHT way to do it. That made them step up and it made me understand what I needed to do to be successful, and for me to step up and do what I’m supposed to do too. But I’ve never  in my life experienced something like that. What? You’re going to ask me something and I can’t answer, I can’t defend myself? No, they’ll do it. They’re your boys, they’ll do it….

“Kissell ran all the minor leagues, bounced around, but he managed the Instructional Leagues. George was a minor league rover, but he handled it all. Everybody always said, and I said the same thing, if anybody knew more about baseball than George Kissell it was God, nobody else. Nobody else.

“So we finished this conversation. I went out of the office. He called me back in the office, and he said, to me while they were standing there, ‘Listen, I want to tell you something right now.’ He says, ‘If you don’t like what’s going on here’ – and he just wanted us to know – he said, ‘If  you don’t like what’s going on here, we can call St. Louis right now, and I can guarantee you one thing.’ He says, ‘Tomorrow morning, my uniform will be hanging in that locker, yours won’t.’ I haven’t said a word the whole time. I don’t have to say a work. All I’ve got to do is sit there and listen, I don’t get to defend myself. So I sit there and listen to the whole conversation, not another word.

“I knew not to throw a glove, I knew not to let my frustrations show. And it changed everybody’s else’s attitude, too. But that was their way of getting it done.”

“Later  on I fractured my wrist twice at Double-A. I went home and gained 13 pounds while I was home. Came back to Instructional League (in October), walk in the door, he goes, ‘You want to be a big leaguer, huh? Like this, you want to be a big leaguer?’ He says, ‘I’ll tell you what. You were supposed to go to big league camp next year. You won’t be going.’ He said, ‘I’m going to call St. Louis when we get done here today and let Whitey (Herzog) know you won’t be there. And furthermore, 7 o’clock, every morning, you and I, right here.’

“Everybody else is just getting up, 7 o’clock every morning I am on that field. I had to bring out that big bag of balls and an empty bucket. I’d take the empty bucket, walk it out and set it on second base, take the bag of balls, set it behind the pitcher’s mound. And he would stand behind the pitcher’s mound and hit me ground balls at second base, and every ground ball I caught, I had to run it back and put it in that bucket and go back to my position. For two weeks. Every day except for Sundays; we were off on Sundays. Every day, for two weeks. I got done there, I left there, I had lost 17 pounds. I got home that winter and lost another four.  I come back to camp, I walked in the door, they didn’t know who I was. ‘Aw, TP, that’s you.’ I had lost that much went. I said, this is not going to happen no more. They’re not getting me this way no more.

“I learned my lesson. And everybody else knew not to do it too, because when they were coming in (to Instructional League each morning) I was coming in from the field like this. Dog-tired. And I had the rest of Instructional League to do every day.

“But like I said, that’s the way they did it, man. And it didn’t matter who you are or what kind of talent that you had. It did not matter. You’re going to be treated the same.”

* On Memorial Day, we all owe a debt of gratitude that can't possibly be repaid to all the men and women of the U.S. armed forces who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. To their families, our thoughts and prayers. Here's a beautiful tune from Jason Isbell.

"DRESS BLUES" by Jason Isbell

What can you see from your window?

I can't see anything from mine.

Flags on the side of the highway

and scripture on grocery store signs.

Maybe eighteen was too early.

Maybe thirty or forty is too.

Did you get your chance to make peace with the man

before he sent down his angels for you?

Mamas and grandmamas love you

'cause that's all they know how to do.

You never planned on the bombs in the sand

or sleeping in your dress blues.

Your wife said this all would be funny

when you came back home in a week.

You'd turn twenty-two and we'd celebrate you

in a bar or a tent by the creek.

Your baby would just about be here.

Your very last tour would be up

but you won't be back. They're all dressing in black

drinking sweet tea in styrofoam cups.

Mamas and grandmamas love you.

American boys hate to lose.

You never planned on the bombs in the sand

or sleeping in your dress blues.

Now the high school gymnasium's ready,

full of flowers and old legionnaires.

Nobody showed up to protest,

just sniffle and stare.

But there's red, white, and blue in the rafters

and there's silent old men from the corps.

What did they say when they shipped you away

to fight somebody's Hollywood war?

Nobody here could forget you.

You showed us what we had to lose.

You never planned on the bombs in the sand

or sleeping in your dress blues.

No, no you never planned on the bombs in the sand

or sleeping in your dress blues.



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About the Author

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.