Columbia, MO (October 27, 2014) — Sometimes there are articles you don’t want to write.
Sometimes there are articles you have to write multiple times and still don’t feel good about.
This is one of them.
The St. Louis Cardinals have lost three active players, a legendary broadcaster, and their biggest star in the last dozen years.
In 2002, the Cardinals were in Chicago for a crucial August divisional match up when everything changed. As the team went through their pregame warm ups they noticed something wasn’t right. Darryl Kile, the team’s leader in multiple ways, was missing. It was not much later that hotel staff found the starting pitcher dead of a heart attack in his hotel room bed.
The Cardinals had lost one of their best players and emotional leaders at the age of 33. Cubs catcher Joe Girardi announced the cancellation of the game in tears that day as the Cardinals organization mourned.
It was only a few days after the Cardinals had lost their legendary broadcaster Jack Buck.
The Red Birds went on to win the division that season and Albert Pujols carried Kile’s jersey onto the field with him during the celebration. A sign stating “DK 57″ was immediately hung in the previous Busch Stadium and was carried over to the new stadium as well. The Cardinals, Rockies, and Astros have not assigned any player his number since his death.
Only five years later, in 2007, the Cardinals lost another teammate as relief pitcher Josh Hancock died in a car accident. He was 29. Ironically, the Cardinals had to postpone another game against the Cubs that day. Hancock’s number was hung in the bullpen next to Kile’s.
In 2013 the Greatest Cardinal of them all passed away. On January 19, 2013, Stan “The Man” Musial died at the age of 92. The Cardinals honored him by wearing a patch with his signature and number six on the sleeve throughout the season. They even put a large logo on the outfield wall throughout the season. The Cardinals made it to the World Series that year in memory of the legend.
This offseason’s tragedy hurts just the same. Kile was in the midst of a highly successful career. Hancock had 5 years in the majors. Musial had lived a legendary life. But the pain with Oscar Taveras comes from the unknown.
Many articles have been written about Taveras’ potential. Headlines like “Cards prospect Taveras ‘will sell tickets’ in the future” dominated the sports sections. Scouts from all over the baseball world said he was going to be the next big power hitter. The next consistent number three hitter. The next Cardinals legend.
Taveras’ first bat was a gift from his brother. His second was a gift from Albert Pujols.
He had been in the Cardinals organization since he was 16 years old. An entire generation of Cardinals fans have watched and waited for the superstar to arrive.
Pujols left. Taveras had passed all the tests. It appeared to be time for the Taveras era to begin.
It finally happened.
He was called up in May and hit a homerun for his first major league hit. It was a cloudy afternoon in St. Louis against the San Francisco Giants. Wearing the Saturday alternates, Taveras mashed a pitch deep into the sky in right field. Cardinals fans finally heard the special sound Oscar’s bat made when he hit a ball well.
The ball flew through the Gateway City air and the skies opened up as Cardinal Nation rejoiced. Busch Stadium was ecstatic as the rain began to fall.
Oscar was here. The infectious smile was here.
Many ups and downs followed as the young star tried to fit into his big shoes.
The playoffs arrived and playing time was sparse for the 22 year old.
An opportunity came late in the NLCS and Taveras came through. With playoff hopes high, Taveras hit a pinch hit homerun sending Busch into a frenzy just like he did in his first major league game.
Nobody knew at the time it would be his last home run. His last at bat as a Cardinal in Busch Stadium.
News like this is hard to take. Nobody wants to hear it and many are unable to believe it.
Cardinals analysts, scouts, and fans alike will always remember him as the greatest prospect they have ever seen. The once in a generation player that you will tell your kids and grandkids about.
Unfortunately that’s all he will be remembered for. Only the good die young.
Baseball in St. Louis is different than other cities. It’s everything.
But once again the baseball town finds itself leaving memorials at the Musial statue.
No life should be lost this young. Regardless of sports it’s a tragedy.
Baseball will never know what this young man could have done.
But now he’s working on his swing with Stan Musial and talking baseball with Jack Buck. What many will say is a better world.
I highly recommend reading Bernie Miklasz’s article on this young man’s death. He can always speak for Cardinal Nation in the most eloquent way, whether we want to hear it or not.