An inspiring World Series

A day or so removed from the final out, the excitement generated by this year’s World Series is still fully evident among baseball fans.

What more could you ask for from a Fall Classic than a seven-game series packed full of drama and containing one game – Game Six – that will go down as one of the all-time greats. 

The St. Louis Cardinals were crowned as champions, but we were all winners really, even if it won’t feel like that for anyone connected to the Texas Rangers.

It must be devastating for the Rangers to lose a second straight World Series, especially as they were so close to winning Game Six and completing their journey the way they had imagined all season long.

Their defeat made me think of the Cincinnati Reds team of the early 1970s, so brilliantly depicted in Joe Posnanski’s book The Machine.  The Reds didn’t lose back-to-back World Series, but they did fall short in the Fall Classic twice in three years (1970 and 1972) and when they got back there in 1975 their mindset was that they simply had to win.

The Texas Rangers will go into 2012 with that same mindset, whilst acknowledging how difficult it will be even to get back to the World Series.  They had a very strong team in 2011 and, subject to any major injuries, will have so again next season.  The trouble is, even the best planning can come undone.  

The predictions of a Boston Red Sox – Philadelphia Phillies World Series were made on the basis that they had the best rosters on paper heading into the year. 

The Red Sox played like the best team in MLB for two-thirds of the season, but their slow start and calamitous September did for their chances and, ultimately, their manager’s employment.  The Phillies were the best team in MLB based on their regular season record and yet they fell victim to the nature of the postseason: any decent team can put together a few wins and knock you out in a short-format series. 

So there are no guarantees for the Rangers, but with a strong core of talent, a good farm system and significant financial resources following their on-field success and a lucrative local TV deal, they know they can be a major contender for several years to come.  All they can hope for is that these losses make an eventual success taste that much more sweeter.

The St. Louis Cardinals can leave the future where it belongs for a while yet and bask in the glory of what seemed at times to be the most unlikely of triumphs. 

If ever a World Series win evoked the spirit of Yogi Berra’s phrase ‘it ain’t over ‘till it’s over’, this was it.  Every team, at whatever level of play, should take inspiration from the Cardinals.  If there are still games left in the regular season, and still outs left in the postseason, it’s possible to battle your way out of desperate situations and come out the other side as winners. 

Possible is a long way from probable and you won’t beat the odds too often, but to coin a slight Yogism, nothing is impossible if it’s possible.

Players of all types can change the course of a game and a series.  One of the joys of a classic World Series is that it produces a cast of heroes playing at different stages in their careers.

David Freese and Allen Craig were relative unknowns to the baseball masses outside of St. Louis.  Whatever else comes in their careers, they will always have the 2011 postseason to be remembered by.

Meanwhile several established Major Leaguers added another chapter to their histories. Chris Carpenter once again pitched well when it mattered the most, Lance Berkman picked up some important World Series hits to cap off an excellent comeback from his difficult 2010 season, while Albert Pujols’ three homer night in Game Three will be one of the highlight games in his illustrious career when we look back many years from now.

Pujols’ future will, of course, be one of the biggest stories of the offseason.  Now that the Major League games are over for another year, the Hot Stove will start bubbling with rumours of free agent signings and trades. 

The inspiring and incredible 2011 World Series will serve as a great reminder to all as to what is at stake and what could be in a team’s future.  Every organization will be looking to add pieces to their roster to enjoy in 2012 the feeling currently experienced by the Cardinals, or to continue a rebuilding project in an attempt to make a future World Series win possible.

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