Game: St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves
Date: July 31
Network: Fox Sports Net-Midwest
Play-by-Play: Dan McLaughlin
Color Commentator: Al Hrabosky
OK…on the one hand, I'm one of those that believe St. Louis just might be the best baseball town in America. On the other hand, the sheer number of grubby panhandlers who accosted me outside new Busch Stadium before and after the game is something that's rarely reported during Baseball Tonight's fellatio of the city. I think Tony LaRussa is a Hall of Fame manager, but his introduction of bullpen micromanagement in the late '80s has slowed the game to a crawl and helped turn off a generation of fans. I think Mark McGwire belongs in the Hall of Fame, too, but I can't help but take some pleasure in the public downfall of a player who took great pleasure in painting the Oakland A's into a corner with his pending free agency in 1997. Boy, I can carry a grudge.
Chemistry: McLaughlin and Hrabosky were all over the map on this evening. They sounded like old chums as McLaughlin was teasing Hrabosky about all the text messages he receives from his pal, former Cards OF "Jimmy" Edmonds. At other times, Hrabosky would barely acknowledge his partner. McLaughlin spoon fed a set-up on Braves SP Mike Hampton's mechanics for Hrabosky to dissect, but he offered only some gruff nonsense on Hampton's need to go back to "that football mentality". Early on, there was a brief disagreement between the two over who Albert Pujols hit his first home run against (Armando Reynoso or Randy Johnson). In case you're wondering, it was Reynoso. Their speaking styles (McLaughlin's energetic, Hrabosky often sounds mildly annoyed) actually work well together, but I'm not entirely sure that the men behind them do. Grade: 5.5/10
Knowledge: The Mad Hungarian seems content to regurgitate the media stat sheet in all of its small sample size glory. After a home run by the Braves' Omar Infante, Hrabosky provided a real-time update on Infante's numbers over the last handful of games. Fantasy players must love this guy! I guess I shouldn't complain, since Hrabosky's clumsy attempt to decipher baseball's post-trade deadline waiver wire rules was comically confusing. Unfortunately, a good chunk of the early innings were spent kibitzing over the trades that were made earlier in the day (while simultaneously lamenting the Cardinals failure to land a left-handed reliever). That was some quality not-talking-about-strategy time we viewers missed. Grade: 5/10
Enthusiasm: Hrabosky seemed positively energized when the discussion took an odd, out-of-place turn towards the then-unresolved Brett Favre melodrama. Later, ol' Al got all riled up over the MLB schedule makers. As of July 31, the Cardinals had yet to play a game at Wrigley Field. As Hrabosky put it, "Well, it's not like [the Cubs] are in our division. I'm facetiously saying that." Uh oh…he's winning me over! McLaughlin is just caffeinated enough to briskly carry the proceedings without ever going too far over the top. Hell, he seems just as bemused by Hrabosky's cantankerous nature as the rest of us. Grade: 6/10
Bar Stool Q: Hrabosky played during the entire decade of the 1970s – a time that has spawned about a billion books on the game's rampant drug culture and amoral values. Suffice it to say…I'm buyin' him a beer. McLaughlin gives off that corporate sheen and would probably snitch to his superiors if he saw us with any non-Busch beer product in our hands. That's a "5" for Al and a "0" for Dan. Don't blame me, St. Louis. Grade: 5/10
Camera/Production: Pujols' first big league hit was against Mike Hampton and the truck was ready with the highlights as Albert stepped to the plate. Unfortunately, I don't have a note on the context, but some ancient clips of former Cards 2B Jose Oquendo pitching four innings (and getting the decision!) against the Braves in 1988 were shown, too. There were a few too many shots of Genius LaRussa and his big brain from the dugout, but otherwise nothing too intrusive. Grade: 5/10
Homerism: Both McLaughlin and Hrabosky jumped all over Cardinals SP Joel Piñeiro for handing runs back to an opponent after St. Louis gave him the lead. They made mention of this happening before with Piñeiro and it was refreshing to hear this kind of candor on a telecast. They also came this close to calling out the front office for their failure to act at the trade deadline. Stick it to the man, guys. Bravo. Grade: -2
Commerciality: I don't live in St. Louis, but I do own a degree in marketing. I can say with confidence that Schnucks is the worst name I've ever heard for a supermarket chain, including those with the words "Piggly" or "Wiggly". I've never been to a Steak n' Shake and their cornball commercials aren't exactly enticing me to find one the next time I'm out there. Besides, dairy products turned heel on my digestive tract about five years ago, so I don't care how slowly they make their shakes. There's a "Cardinals Clinic" in Chesterfield, MO featuring quote – former Cardinals greats – unquote, John Mabry and Scott Terry. And, just to spit in my eye, Hardee's has a new strawberry biscuit, while Jack in the Box counters with biscuits and gravy. Only in the Midwest, of course. Dammit.
AFLAC Trivia Question: None. Don't you people realize I'm writing a 30-part feature for my lightly-read blog here?! That's a half-point paddlin', FSN-Midwest.