Danville, Kentucky – For those of us who watched the games, the early 1990s were a golden age of High School baseball in Northern Kentucky. Gas was cheap, the economy was humming along, and NAFTA had not come into force. While the boys at Danville High never quite reached the heights I scaled in my no-hitter days, I’m proud of what my sons William Hart Jr. and Peter Rose Hart accomplished in their hay-day. I still brag about Peter’s curveball and Will Jr.’s supreme bunting skills if I get enough skillet queso and Limearita in me. What was best about that era of baseball in Danville was the ethics of its players; my boys and their comrades played the game the right way – the Danville way. Unfortunately, that era of sportsmanship ended more abruptly than my 2nd marriage when Greenup County High violated the unwritten code of ethics that governed the game in those days. The crooks at Greenup County had one of their good ‘ol boys in the ballpark that night, stealing signs with a pair of binoculars and relaying the intel to the Greenup dugout. The Greenup sluggers hit Peter’s signature curveball across the Cumberland Gap, en route to a blow-out victory in the state semi-finals. I haven’t been on speaking terms with my boys since I accosted their coach for not playing under protest that night. My obscenity laden tirade cost me the respect of my sons that night, but not as much as the respect I lost for Greenup County High. From then on out, baseball in Danville was never the same. You could never be sure that the result on the field was a legitimate outcome, the product of boys earnestly trying their best and accepting the consequences of their shortcomings.
I can’t help but feel the same way as I watch one of the game’s most storied franchises, the St. Louis Cardinals, face legal repercussions for stealing secrets from the Houston Astros. Let’s get a few things straight. The Astros are not blameless here. They are equally responsible for entrusting prized trade details in computers, which are as fickle as a female at an IKEA and have all the security of a liquor store in Branson, Missouri. This could have never happened in my day, where important business was conducted in person and not by interns or dweebs in the sabermetric department. Hopefully this serves as a wakeup call for the league – trades are best negotiated over bloody marys, not the internet. Take notes on pen and paper, not spreadsheets. Any organization foolish enough to store secrets on computers and not in the darkest and deepest of vaults behind lock and key should basically expect this to happen now that computer saavy nerds have invaded the game at every level.
Yet, the Cardinals are the ones who are truly guilty. If the Cardinals were willing to steal confidential information from a bottom-feeding team, what are they willing to do against the league’s top-tier competitors? Did they light up the un-hittable Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers two straight years in the playoffs because they stole signs like the jerks at Greenup County? Were Scott Feldman and C.J. Wilson Manchurian candidates planted in the Texas Rangers organization by the Cardinals to guarantee an implosion in Game 7 of the World Series? Is their recent run of incredible success and incredible consistency built on a foundation of lies more deceitful than Lyndon Johnson? I’ll be frank; I never bought into the “Cardinal Way” or “Best Fans in Baseball” mystique, but I have always admired the Cardinals because they won baseball games. They weren’t afraid to give guys like Jhonny Peralta a second chance, who was unfairly persecuted by the league for being brave enough to the take the drugs necessary to help him reach the next level. They weren't afraid to buck the trend and play baseball the correct way, without defensive shifts. They did things the right way. But now, all of that is called into question. It is a breach of trust more severe than the time my step-dad courted my third wife after drunken flirtation at Outback Steakhouse after one Bloomin' Onion too many.
The Cardinals have entered rare territory, and I don’t say this lightly. Ban them. Gather up the entire St. Louis roster, front office, farm system – every employee, down to the guys selling peanuts and cracker jacks – and lock them in a cell with Tom Brady, and throw the key in Michael Vick’s dog-fighting cage. Strike all their championships and accomplishments from the record. Make them give draft picks to the Astros until Lance McCullers and Carlos Correa are old enough to burden society by collecting social security.
The Cardinals organization used to be a twinkling star of integrity in a black night of corruption. An olive of honesty in a Martini of unscrupulousness. Now they’re just another slimeball in the bleachers with binoculars.