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March 4, 2014

Baseball Therapy

Why The Cardinal Way is the Most Important Book in Baseball

by Russell A. Carleton


I envy Sam Miller. He got to hold it in his hands. It. The book. That one. The Cardinal Way. I feel like I should whisper when I say its name. It might give me a magic power. Suddenly, I’ll be able to hit like Albert Pujols. Oh, right.

Sam wrote an article about the experience of holding the Cardinals’ organizational bible in a recent edition of ESPN the Magazine. After it hit the newsstands, I sent a message to Sam and asked him to describe the experience. “I looked through it. It was disappointing. You could have written it.”

Uh… thanks?

The Cardinal Way has gotten a lot of press, mostly because it’s so mysterious. Oh yeah, and because the Cardinals have done a fantastic job of churning out homegrown talent (Michael Wacha, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and many more) over the past few years and made the World Series a couple of times on the backs of that talent. It’s only human to want to know the secret to success. Instead of just a vague, amorphous “philosophy” guiding the Cardinals’ success, there’s an actual book. And just like all those books on how to become a millionaire—well, look at all the millionaires walking around.

Before we create too much of a mythology surrounding The Cardinal Way, let’s be realistic for a minute. The Cardinals did not invent player development. They do not have a monopoly on smart guys who are good at molding young bats and young arms. They did not invent the idea of making sure that there was a coherent philosophy running through the player development system. Lots of teams make it a point to ensure that from the Sally League to the National League, the expectations that pitchers have are as uniform as they can be. It sets up a nice uniformity and eases the transitions that players might face as they move up in the minors. For all we know, they may not be the first team to write an internal book—or a series of memos which, if someone had bothered to collect them into a three-ring binder, would look like a book.

I haven’t read The Cardinal Way. Maybe it would be a religious experience. Maybe it would be a dull checklist of developmental tasks that the Cardinals think a player needs to accomplish before coming to the big leagues. I’m not sure, and frankly, it doesn’t even matter. It’s still the most important book in baseball right now. Trying to figure out what’s in the book is missing the point. Simply by knowing that the book exists, we can conclude something even more important. In St. Louis, player development is about more than just the guys in the player development system. It’s about a set of ideas.

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