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Reading Baseball: A Great Baseball Story, Almost

A photo of Busch Stadium during game action
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The St. Louis Cardinals had another great regular season that resulted in the franchise’s 4th consecutive playoff appearance.

In this edition of Reading Baseball, Pete Peterson has the story of the Cardinals’ 2022 campaign and how it didn’t end in a storybook fashion.

Reading Baseball is a series of essays and commentaries by Richard “Pete” Peterson, the author of Growing Up With Clemente and the editor of The St. Louis Baseball Reader.

Pete wants listeners to know a recent health episode has affected his speech, but he’s in good spirits and appreciates your patience as he continues his recovery.

Here is the text of Pete's commentary:

If we see baseball’s drama and history as a storybook, then in 2022, St. Louis Cardinal fans were treated to three classic stories. All that they needed was for the three stories to merge into a perfect ending, the “and they lived happily after” fairy tale ending.

First of all and most important to Cardinal fans and to fans around the country was the story of the Prodigal Son. Albert Pujols, after leaving the Cardinals a decade earlier, returned to the Cardinals for his last season. As if he’d discovered some magical elixir, he began, ay mid-season, to hit home runs at a record pace. He was honored around the league, but for Cardinal fans it was a homecoming.

Closely following the Prodigal Son was the story of the Comeback Kid. After suffering what appeared to be a season and career ending injury, Yadier Molina returned at mid-season and led the Cardinals with his clutch hitting and defensives prowess. Though years of wear and tear as a catcher had taken their toll, he came back and played with the energy and enthusiasm of a kid.

Last of all, was the story of the Aging Hero. While most thought that Adam Wainwright’s career was over, that he was too old, had lost too much, to get batters out, he took to the mound and out pitched his opponents. He didn’t try to overpower hitters with his fast ball;. he used cunning and the curve ball, a pitch many thought was obsolete, to get batters out.

At the last home game at Busch Stadium, when the three heroes walked off the mound together, there was that sense of anticipation and expectation, the feeling that the three great stories would merge into one happy ending -- the Cardinals winning the World Series. Cardinal fans didn’t know how it was going to happen -- maybe Pujols would end the World Series with a dramatic home run, maybe Molina would save the World Series with a brilliant defensive play, or maybe Wainwright would end the World Series with a strike out on a curve ball . Cardinal fans didn’t know how, but the storybook season had to end with the Cardinals winning the World Series.

But it didn’t happen ---- there was no happy ending. Though they got hits in their last times at bat, Pujols and Molina hit no home runs, drove in no runs, while Wainwright didn’t even have a chance to throw a curve. The Cardinal didn’t hit, didn’t field, didn’t pitch in the clutch, and they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Phillies.

Cardinal fans learned all over again that, while baseball can be a field of dreams, it can also break you heart. Like the Mighty Casey, our hero sometimes strikes out and sometimes our best pitcher gives up the game winning hit. We root for our team all season, but when it comes to the moment of triumph, our heroes sometimes let us down. Former Yale scholar and baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti once wrote that baseball “is designed to break you heart.... You count on it, rely on it ... and when you need it the most, it stops.”

We are approaching the 50th anniversary of one of baseball saddest stories --- the death of the hero at the height of his glory. At the end of the 1972 season. in his last at bat, Roberto Clemente lined a double off the left-center field wall. It was his 3,000th hit, a feat rarely accomplished by a major league batter.

Led by Clemente, the Pirates had won the World Series in 1971 and were expected to repeat, but they suffered a heart-breaking. loss to the Reds in the playoffs. The Pirates, however, still had the great Clemente and there was always next year. But all that changed forever, when Clemente, on a plane filled with relief supplies for victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua, died on New Years Eve when the plane crashed into the sea.

It breaks you heart.

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