Cover Inspired by Iconic 1968 SI Cover
The St. Louis Cardinals are the most consistent franchise in baseball due to an organizational philosophy dedicated to measured and constant evolution, writes Ben Reiter in this week’s Sports Illustrated. At the forefront of their sustained success is diverse and dominant starting pitching, made up this season by a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Jamie Garcia, Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook—all of whom appear on SI’s cover. The cover is inspired by the iconic October 7, 1968, SI cover that featured Roger Maris, Tim McCarver, Bob Gibson, Mike Shannon and Lou Brock.
“When we think of the Cardinals, we think of a distinct organizational culture: Anodyne, diligent, supportive, resolute,” says Reiter. “Mostly, we think of consistency. Their 11 championships have been well distributed. No son or daughter of St Louis born since 1902 has reached the age of 25 without having lived through at least one victory parade.” (PAGE 64)
At week’s end the Cardinals sit atop the National League with just nine players from their 2012 championship team. They are there, in large measure, because of a starting rotation that has been historically good. “The Cardinals have ended up with such a rotation by doing what they’ve always done, and what any team or corporation ought to do if it seeks success in the long term. Which is to ceaselessly, though judiciously, innovate,” says Reiter. (PAGE 64)
When the game had become power crazy, former longtime St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan worked with the team’s pitchers to mix in ground ball inducing two-seam fastballs since he believed most pitchers only stood a chance by keeping their deliveries down in the strike zone. Wainwright busted on the scene as a closer late in the Cardinals 2006 title run throwing the two-seamer, and continues to use it now as the rotation’s ace and leader.
However, when John Mozeliak was promoted to G.M., in 2007, Duncan began to lobby him to add power pitchers to the mix, especially since home runs were on the decline. “We decided to emphasize not just pitchers who were throwing hard, but guys we thought might throw harder in the future,” says Mozeliak. (PAGE 67) Within three years they drafted Lynn, Miller and also added Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez, each of whom throw around 100 mph from the bullpen and could be future starters—perhaps very soon since Garcia and Westbrook both recently were placed on the disabled list.
The Cardinals have evolved financially, too, as they made the difficult choice to not re-sign Albert Pujols before last season. “Losing an iconic player was not easy—it was jolting,” says Mozeliak. “From a very simplistic standpoint, [once we let him go] we knew we had resources to deploy elsewhere.” (PAGE 67) The flexibility led to extensions for Wainwright and Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina.
“While an overriding ethos—the Cardinal way—has developed over the years, it is flexible enough to allow the team to capitalize on the game’s changing realities better than any other,” says Reiter (PAGE 65)
The money-conscious Oakland Athletics, a team that had one of the league’s lowest payrolls—$53 million in 2012, shelled out $9 million a year for a Cuban slugger no other team would touch at that price. Now, Yoenis Cespedes is drawing comparisons to Bo Jackson and Willie Mays—and proving yet again that the A’s know a baseball bargain when they see one. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, staff writer Ben Reiter writes on how Cespedes, whose nickname is La Potencia (The Power), has emerged into Oakland’s most important player.
In 147 games for the A’s, Cespedes has batted .284, with 28 home runs, 98 RBI’s and 16 stolen bases. The A’s have gone 96-51 with him in their lineup and 16-31 with him in their dugout. Scouts who once linked Cespedes to Raul Mondesi last spring are now comparing him to all-time greats. But how did Oakland, the definitive Moneyball team, decide Cespedes was worth the risk?
Reiter found that the A’s believed they had gone far beyond what other teams had done to evaluate him. Their scouts traveled the world—to Europe, to Japan, to Mexico, to Taiwan—so they wouldn’t miss a single at bat in more than 20 games. Also, the A’s were helped by the fact that Cespedes hit the market relatively late in the off-season when many franchises had already exhausted their budgets.
“You can spend your money on a guy like this, who’s risky but has a chance to really be a star, or you can spend three-times-seven or four-times-eight on a big leaguer who is a more certain thing but isn’t really going to swing the fate of your franchise much either way,” says Farhan Zaidi, Oakland’s director of baseball operations (PAGE 65).
Former Oakland pitcher Ariel Prieto was among the first players to leave Cuba for the U.S. When he arrived in Oakland in July 1995, he felt utterly alone. It was not until his teammates Geronimo Berroa and Stan Javier, both from the Dominican Republic, took him under their wings, to explain to him not only the workings of a new league but also an entirely new culture and country, that he began to feel comfortable. “Everyone thinks the United States is easy, but it’s not,” says Prieto (PAGE 66).
Now 43, Prieto has become Cespedes’s housemate and constant companion. Prieto has helped Cespedes quickly embrace the nuances of American culture—a process that was critical to his success on the field.
The course of Cespedes’s 2012 season was all the more impressive in that he was dealing with personal issues that extended beyond adapting to new pitchers and American customs. Members of his family, including 11 other relatives, were trapped in an immigration nightmare as they tried to join him in the U.S. In March, Cespedes’s family made it to Miami, and the A’s let him take a day off from spring training to surprise them there.“It weighed on my mind a lot last season…sometimes I went three or four days where I didn’t know where they were. They had disappeared. My mind will be completely clear knowing they are in this country,” says Cespedes (PAGE 67).
For the A’s, Cespedes looks to be the most rewarding kind of investment. “We were thorough. We calibrated everything…with all that being said, Yoenis Cespedes? La Potencia? He exceeded all expectations,” says Bill Owens, director of player personnel (PAGE 67).
It’s a perfect storm of a pinup: A last-gasp play seemingly interpreted in opposite ways by two replacement refs—patsies, really—working from a complex rule book. But the photo of the last play in the Monday Night Football game on Sept. 24 will force you to rethink the Packers-Seahawks finish, says Ben Reiter. “You never really know the life that a photograph is going to take on,” says Otto Greule, who took the photo. “That particular frame, to me it’s definitely a moment, an important moment. As far as the aesthetics, it’s kind of pedestrian. But I do like the context, showing the end zone, all the fans going ballistic page 62).”
While Greule’s photo is a fine one—clear, well-framed, exquisitely timed—it would not have been a sensation solely on its artistic merits. Context was everything. Analyzing the photo that precipitated the end of the NFL referee lockout, Ben Reiter digs into the story behind the now-iconic image, talking to the referees about why they made their decisions and how their lives have been changed by the controversy. Says Wayne Elliott, the referee who upheld the touchdown call: “It was the absolute biggest thrill of my life. I was making $225 a game in D-II football, without a travel allowance. I loved that. I would have done it forever. But if I had to sacrifice that to work seven weeks in the NFL? Man, it was amazing (page 66).”
Game-changing rushers are once again proving the value of a productive – and protective – ground attack
Reports of the running game’s death have been greatly exaggerated, as game-changing rushers continue to prove the value of a productive – and protective – ground attack. Through 11 weeks, the NFL’s top five in rushing attempts – Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Adrian Peterson and Stevan Ridley – have slowed the tide of body-slamming pass rushers and provided valuable protection for their quarterbacks. Peter King, Alan Shipnuck and Jim Trotter take a closer look at the way three of those running backs are reviving the run game.
- Marshawn Lynch – Joyous, humble and committed to his community—that’s Marshawn Lynch off the field. On it? Alan Shipnuck says you better strap in or get out of the way. With four straight 100-yard games, he’s averaged even better stats in the second half of games than in the first (page 37).
- Adrian Peterson – Peterson’s ridiculously speedy recovery from ACL surgery is almost as hard to believe as his stats this year, says Ben Reiter (page 41).
- Doug Martin – The Bucs’ rookie, whose nickname is the Muscle Hamster, is on a wild run straight into the record books writes Jim Trotter. With a franchise-best 251 yards on 25 carries against the Raiders, he is on pace for 2,110 total yards, third most ever for a rookie (page 43).
The Miami Marlins were among the most active teams this winter, signing past All-Stars shortstop Jose Reyes, pitcher Mark Buehrle and reliever Heath Bell. In total, they committed $194 million to free agents, more than 10 times the expenditure of the New York Yankees and nearly doubled their payroll. Reyes and new manager Ozzie Guillen appear on the cover of the March 5, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now. This is the fifth time that the Marlins have appeared on the cover.
Adding these free agents to a nucleus of young players that includes a pair of homegrown All-Stars, shortstop Hanley Ramirez and pitcher Josh Johnson, makes the Marlins as dangerous as any team in the league. One NL executive tells staff writer Ben Reiter (@SI_BenReiter), “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s not scared of playing this team” (page 35).
The Marlins, who have a new $515 million ballpark and a new manager in Guillen, should make baseball interesting in South Beach. The biggest concern could be Ramirez moving to third base to accommodate new teammate and friend Reyes. Guillen understands that he cannot take the situation lightly saying, “I would never be happy, if they moved me. But Hanley’s got to understand, this is his ball club. We built this ball club around him. You know, if Hanley Ramirez was replaced by Ozzie Guillen, I would be pissed. But Hanley Ramirez is being replaced by a pretty good shortstop. I expect Hanley to be fine.”