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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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9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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John Geer
(44)

Are we counting Wainwright as 'homegrown'?

Mar 04, 2014 04:40 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

It would be reasonable, but not automatic, to count him, as he came over after being drafted by Atlanta and playing in that system through AA. The basic talent recognition was done by Atlanta people. Turning him into a finished product was a joint accomplishment for both franchises. Turning him from prospect to ace happened once he reached St. Louis.

On the other hand, WW was a first-rounder and could "expect" to have a decent short at the Show. So was Wacha. The hallmark of the Cardinals success, and presumably of the "Cardinal Way" if such a thing exists, is all the value they've got from later-round draft choices -- Craig, Jay, Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, Kevin Siegrist, Matt Adams, etc., guys whose profile did not scream "future major leaguer" when they were drafted. IMO, it is more rewarding to look for the effects of the "Cardinal Way" among those guys than among the ones who were good bets to make it even before the Way's alleged benign influence.

Mar 04, 2014 06:10 AM
rating: 3
 
John Geer
(44)

Agreed. No need to lump in a borderline "homegrown" stud like Wainwright when there are so many other truly 100% homegrown talents who make the Redbirds' farm system and development look even more impressive.

Mar 04, 2014 07:27 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Trueblood

While I know what you mean and you're absolutely right, isn't it possible, historically speaking, to argue that the Cardinals DID invent player development? :)

Great work, Russell. I love reading your concise, thoughtful treatment of these simpler topics. It's very intuitive, to have a record of what works and what doesn't. I would hope almost every team is at least moving toward this more scientific model of experimentation and feedback.

Mar 04, 2014 06:41 AM
rating: 7
 
MattSz

Per Branch Rickey's wiki page:

Rickey had wisely invested in several minor league baseball clubs, using them to develop future talent and supplement the Cardinals major league roster. At 43 years of age upon his firing, he had been a player, manager and executive in the Major Leagues. However, there had been little indication to this point that he would ever belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Although he was not the first executive titled as a general manager in Major League Baseball history — his actual title was business manager — through his activities, including inventing and building the farm system), Rickey came to embody the position of the baseball operations executive who mastered scouting, player acquisition and development and business affairs, which is the definition of the modern GM.

Mar 04, 2014 09:15 AM
rating: 1
 
jroegele

Nicely put Russell. I could make the analogy within a larger corporation as well, where processes and tools are put into place such that all employees are familiar with them, allowing for lateral employee moves from team-to-team as necessary with a shorter ramp up time. This makes sense for the organization for efficiency reasons, and also allows valued employees who want a new challenge to be slid over to a new team without it feeling like a different world.

Any ideas when "The Cardinal Way" was first "published"?

Mar 04, 2014 09:00 AM
rating: 0
 
PLHirsch

Al Campanis pubished a book in 1954 entitled The Dodgers' Way to Play Baseball. I believe that was the first book on player development. Campanis was probably VP of minor league development at the time.

Mar 04, 2014 10:05 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Trueblood

Wait... he PUBLISHED it? Is this out there somewhere? Do we know how detailed and specific it is?

Mar 04, 2014 10:38 AM
rating: 0
 
Doom Service

I have a faint - and perhaps imperfect - memory of reading about a Cal Ripken Sr authored "Oriole Way" guide that sounds very similar to the Cardinals book. I believe it covered defensive positioning, relays, drills, conditioning and the like. I think I read about it in one of the many profiles that came out when he got the manager job in 1987.

Mar 04, 2014 13:26 PM
rating: 0
 
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