By Julian Linden
(Reuters) – Major League Baseball is driven by money. Truckloads of it.
Attendances, merchandise sales and television ratings are all up and there is plenty of cash to go around.
The richest teams are valued at over $1 billion and the best players are paid tens of millions of dollars each year, but the big bucks are no guarantee for success on the diamond.
There’s a cheaper and seemingly better way – it’s called the Cardinal way – and it is a recipe that has made St. Louis one of the great franchises in America’s favorite pastime.
On Wednesday, the Redbirds will visit Fenway Park to face the Boston Red Sox in the opener of the 109th World Series.
If money was the deciding factor, the Red Sox would be a sure bet to win. According to Forbes, the club is valued at over $1.3 billion, almost double the Cardinals, and boasts one of the biggest payrolls in the sport.
But if history was the deciding factor, the Cardinals would be the overwhelming favorites. While the Red Sox have won the World Series just twice since 1918, St. Louis have won 11 times since 1926, the most of any National League team and second only to the American League’s New York Yankees.
Their last victory came just two seasons ago and they have made the World Series four times in the last decade, sticking with a simple philosophy the club pioneered in the 1920s.
THE GASHOUSE GANG
Unable to compete with wealthier clubs for the best players, the Cardinals – who won a World Series in 1934 with a team nicknamed the Gashouse Gang because of the team’s shabby appearance – relied on a system where they developed their own players in minor league competition.
It is a system that has been adopted throughout the sporting world but the Cardinals remain the standard-bearers for getting the best out of their local talent.
Whenever a big name player is injured or traded, instead of opening the chequebook, the Cardinals simply find a replacement from their feeder leagues.
Their roster for the World Series includes 10 rookies and the youngest manager in MLB, 41-year-old Mike Matheny, a former St. Louis player well versed in the Cardinal Way.
“We’ve been fortunate to be in an organization that winning is a tradition, winning is an expectation,” he said after the Cardinals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL championship.
“We start talking early on about the history and the championships, the great players who have been through here and people who have made their mark on this organization and in the game.
“So we take a lot of pride in trying to carry ourselves like a championship club.”
While the club expects success, making the World Series was anything but easy this year. They needed to win their last six games of the regular season to win the NL Central Division and secure home-field advantage, which proved decisive.
With a brilliant rotation, led by Adam Wainwright and 22-year-old Michael Wacha, and a powerful lineup that includes slugger Carlos Beltran, the Cardinals came from behind to win their divisional series with Pittsburgh at home.
Then they overpowered the big-spending Dodgers to reach their fourth Fall Classic against the Red Sox, also at Busch Stadium in Missouri.
St. Louis won the first two, in 1946 and 1967, both in seven games, but Boston won the most recent, in 2004, ending an 86-year title drought.
“Whenever we clinched a spot in the postseason, they were talking in the clubhouse about how not everyone gets this opportunity,” said Wacha, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the NL championship series. “We have so many rookies on our team that we just try and embrace everything.
“(We’re) trying not to take it for granted and really just take advantage of this opportunity that we’re in, and make a push here in the World Series.”