“Breaking up that old gang of mine.” So it goes for an organization once known for its stability, the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the process of searching for something, I sometimes come across unusual items completely unrelated to my immediate objective. Interest in the following photo knocked me off my original quest, at least temporarily.
It was taken by photographer-supreme Scott Rovak on July 10, 2007. Members of the defending World Champions were assembled during batting practice prior to the All-Star Game at AT&T Park in San Francisco. It was customary that the coaching staffs of the World Series teams from the previous year received all-star supporting duties for their respective leagues.
Despite having won it all the previous fall, the Cardinals had just one player selected to the 2007 All-Star Game, and he was a reserve. At the time, St. Louis was just 40-45. The club was already 7 ½ games out in the National League Central, en route to a sub-.500 record and a third-place showing.
What makes this photo so telling is that not a one of the seven Redbirds pictured – six coaches and one player – remains in his job today. The seven are (from left to right) bullpen coach Marty Mason, bench coach Joe Pettini, manager Tony La Russa, first baseman Albert Pujols, first base coach Dave McKay, bullpen catcher Jeff Murphy and pitching coach Dave Duncan.
Hitting coach Hal McRae, also now-long-gone, had been invited to the AT&T Park festivities as well, but is not pictured. He would have made it eight. Jose Oquendo was on the staff at that time as he is today, but was not included in this photo, either.
Mason was let go following the 2010 season amid concern that his criticism of the player development organization had been too vocal. He now works in the Chicago Cubs system. Pettini was ousted as bench coach following the 2011 season. Though it was announced he would have an undefined job in baseball operations in 2012, one would have to assume that Pettini is looking elsewhere. La Russa announced his retirement at the conclusion of the World Championship parade but expects to continue in baseball in an as-of-yet undefined role.
As the entire world knows by now, Pujols is a very wealthy new member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and is expected to be for the next decade or more. McKay was dumped along with Pettini, but has since been hired as the Cubs’ first base coach by new manager Dale Sveum. Murphy was let go following the 2011 World Championship as well.
Duncan was the last to depart. He has been dealing with his wife’s serious health issues and is unable to return for the second year of a two-year contract (with a third-year option) signed last off-season. When his indefinite leave of absence was granted, the last survivor from this 2007 All-Star Game photo took off his Cardinals uniform.
At this point, it is unclear whether La Russa will manage at the 2012 All-Star Game despite having earned it as the leader of the 2011 National League champions. Even if he does, he may or may not attempt to get (at least part of) the old band back together. By now, they are pretty much scattered to the winds. (Update: On January 24, MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced that La Russa will manage in the 2012 Mid-Summer Classic.)
Of course, Pujols is the most likely one of the seven to actually be at the game, anyway. As a bonus, it is to be held in his adopted home town of Kansas City. In a potential once-in-a-lifetime oddity, the first baseman would be in the other dugout, trying to defeat La Russa, who was Pujols’ only manager over his entire 11-year MLB career to date.