Sportswriter Thomas Boswell sees two worlds colliding in the National League playoff between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers:
When the Dodgers meet the Cardinals on Friday with the Gateway Arch framed in center field to start the National League Championship Series, we’ll see a clash of baseball worldviews and a collision of regional cultures, too.
The Cards have always hugged Midwest virtues while the Dodgers loved movie stars in the box seats and star power on the field. But this year both teams are such extreme versions of their traditional selves it’s just delicious.
For generations, the Cards have believed in hitting the cutoff man or going to bed without supper. Yasiel Puig thinks the cutoff man is there to give him a good sight line on his actual target, a 100-yard heave to third base or home on the fly to showcase his hose. Other runners? What about ’em?
In St. Louis, they think running hard to first base is next to godliness. Hanley Ramirez isn’t totally sure you have to run after balls that are actually in play, not if you’re in a bad mood and prefer to walk after it, like that day as a Marlin when he strolled toward the tarp as runners circled the bases.
Cardinals players, in the mold of Stan Musial, keep a low profile, never cause trouble and aspire to play for one team in one town for eternity. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford arrived in Los Angeles last year because Boston couldn’t stand the sight of them — or their contracts — and gave them away, along with Josh Beckett , for nothing.
St. Louis teams are drilled in fundamentals and are often greater than the sum of their parts. They don’t need superstars if it means paying them $250 million. That’s why Albert Pujols is now an Angelic anchor around the neck of that other Los Angles team for the next eight years. The Cards are doing just fine with Allen Craig, David Freese and Matt Carpenter, none of whom can be identified by anybody who lives beyond the reach of KMOX.
The Dodgers are always better, or worse, than their collective parts depending on whether Pisces is in the fifth house of Kasten or the number of Miley Cyrus wannabes in the Chavez Ravine box seats. The Dodgers have more stars than Orion. Matt Kemp ($160 million) is out for the season, but you hardly notice since Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game, Zack Greinke backs him up and five other Dodgers are playing under contracts with an average value of over $100 million. If you don’t make $60 million, the clubhouse guy won’t pick up your wet towels.
In St. Louis, the populace believes that if a shirt has buttons, God meant for them to be buttoned, all of them. In L.A., you’re lucky if anybody, man or woman, wears a shirt at all. In St. Louis, you dress up for the Cards. At Dodger Stadium, if all 10 toes aren’t exposed, they won’t let you in the gate.
In St. Louis, everybody is friendly and gracious to visitors. If your team loses, they say, “Better luck next year,” while thinking, “Fat chance. Our Cards are anointed by Branch Rickey and washed in Bob Gibson’s sweat.” At Dodger Stadium, it’s friendly, too, unless you wear a Giants jersey in the parking lot. Then “Pulp Fiction” breaks out.
Mr. Boswell also writes about the American League matchup, contrasting affluent, Ph.D.-ridden Boston with blue-collar, bankrupt Detroit. He concludes, though, by praising all of the teams still in contention: They are all excellent teams from tradition-rich franchises. And they represent America: one is from the East Coast, another from the West Coast, one is on the Great Lakes, and one is on the Mississippi River.
(As of this date, Midwestern Virtues are ahead of Hollywood Star Power, 2 games to nothing).