As that great baseball philosopher and native St. Louisan Yogi Berra once famously uttered,
“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
Despite the benefits derived from physical preparation, scouting and even stats, there can be no dispute that motivation and state of mind also play an important part in athletic performance. Yet their inherent inability to be identified, let alone quantified, can be challenging to the writer, or viewer or fan, let alone coaches and managers.
It is only natural that here in the early days of the St. Louis Cardinals spring training camp that the focus of many outsiders looking in, especially nationally, is on trying to assess the reaction to what has been lost.
The questions are not without merit. After all, 2012 marks the first time since 1995 that Cardinals camp does not include Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan and the first since 2000 in which Albert Pujols is not present. All three are potential future Hall of Famers.
The new manager has no experience in his job, the pitching coach is relatively unproven and the players signed to replace Pujols carry age and injury-related questions. They all have to step in and meld with the returnees to try to equal the World Championship journey of 2011.
Mike Matheny is still enjoying his managerial honeymoon period with his career 0-0 record. He has received high marks from many corners for his personality and approach.
One such example is his motivational “Quote of the Day,” shared each morning of spring camp. Whether it is resonating with his team remains to be seen, but a segment of the press and fans appear to have bought in wholeheartedly.
Matheny is also showing restraint with the media. Closing a national television interview aired Tuesday, the skipper was asked, “Are you going to try to win without Albert?” I immediately cringed, instinctively bracing for a patented La Russa reaction.
Instead, Matheny simply replied with long and well-articulated praise for what Pujols meant to him personally, to the team and the city. He closed with a reminder that the 2012 Cardinals will be ready.
Earlier that morning, I read an even more encouraging Matheny quote, this one about what he is seeing in his players. Whereas one might have expected at least a bit of complacency in the troops coming off the successful 2011 campaign, the new manager is viewing just the opposite.
The strong impression is that those remaining behind after the well-publicized departures feel they have something to show the baseball world themselves. The following was reported by CBS’ Danny Knobler.
“I see a lot of chips on shoulders that I didn’t think I’d see,” new manager Mike Matheny said. “And that’s a beautiful thing.”
The owner of one of the shoulders to which the skipper may be referring is Adam Wainwright, already emerging as one of the next generation of team leaders. With the same TV crew as Matheny, the right-hander passed up an on-camera opportunity to express regret about not being able to contribute to the 2011 title on the field. The next question was similar to the one fielded by his manager regarding his club’s 2012 chances without the big three.
The pitcher’s reply was most telling. After explicitly saying he was speaking only for himself, Wainwright made it very clear he wasn’t.
“We’d kind of like to prove that we can win without those guys – and I think we can,” Wainwright concluded to his national television audience.
It can never be known how much and how long that kind of resolve will fuel the 2012 Cardinals, but at this early date, how can one not find plenty about which to be encouraged?