ST. LOUIS -- They looked back with fondness, and ahead with optimism. The 50th St. Louis Baseball Writers Dinner was a memorable one indeed. The keynote speaker, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, braved nasty weather in his hometown of Milwaukee simply to make the dinner, and he delivered an enthusiastic speech about the future of the game. Selig, who arrived at the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis at about 7:15 p.m. CT following flight delays, stood up for baseball and raved about the direction of his sport. "My optimism about the future of the sport is unlimited," Selig said. "We've made enormous strides. Our revenues have grown. When I took over in 1992, we were at [$1.2 billion]. And I used to dream, used to spend days and nights thinking about how we could ever hit $2 billion. Which is the greatest way of talking and telling you how popular this sport is, [since] this year it's going to be about $6 1/2 billion. We have unprecedented labor peace."
Selig also argued for the strength and effectiveness of the sport's drug-testing program. "We have confronted this problem," he said. "People can say that we were slow to do this, but we have the toughest testing program in American sports. We banned amphetamines. Nobody asked us to do it. Nobody told us to do it, but we did it. We're funding a study to find a reliable test for human growth hormone. And our Minor League [drug-testing] program is entering its eighth year. "I'm satisfied, and I believe that our fans are satisfied, that we are doing and have done everything that we possibly can do." At the start of his big-picture address, however, Selig touched on a local note, one that ran throughout the proceedings. The recent passing of Cardinals vice president Marty Hendin, a proud ambassador for the team and an active leader in the club's community efforts, was remarked upon by one speaker after another. "I'd like to, on behalf of everybody in Major League Baseball, extend our sympathies at the passing of Marty Hendin," Selig said. "Every time I came here, he was so helpful. The great contributions he made, the great love he had for baseball. It doesn't seem to me, as I come here tonight, that it's the same without Marty being here." Selig's speech was just one of many noteworthy points in the evening. Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon, who has been with the team for 50 years, spoke with fondness and delight about his tenure with the Redbirds. And representatives from all the decades of the dinner reminisced with hosts about favorite memories. Speakers from the Cardinals all drummed up the 2008 club in the face of relatively downcast predictions. "People around baseball are underestimating the '08 Cardinals," said manager Tony La Russa. "The '08 Cardinals will play harder and tougher and I think execute better than a lot of people expect. And I really think we will contend this year. So let them underestimate us. But you will really like the '08 club." Said general manager John Mozeliak: "St. Louis has changed a lot of faces this year, as many of you know. But our goals have not [changed]. We want to be competitive in our Central division and ultimately win the National League. We have approached this offseason with a theme of being opportunistic. And when you think about all the things we have in front of us, we've done pretty well so far." Mozeliak announced that outfielder Juan Encarnacion, who was struck in the face with a foul ball late last season, will undergo surgery on Tuesday and asked for the crowd's thoughts and prayers. Albert Pujols and Jason Isringhausen were co-winners of the St. Louis Baseball Man of the Year Award, though Isringhausen did not attend the event. Pujols echoed his manager's vigor for the coming year. "We're going to look young this year," Pujols said. "We're not going to have that much experience in the clubhouse. But I can tell you one thing: We're really excited to go to Spring Training and see some of our young players, because they're going to compete and give their best to help us out to win and bring that World Series back to St. Louis." As usual, La Russa may have delivered the evening's best zinger. Playfully jabbing the writers, he said he turned down another invitation in order to attend the dinner. Then after a beat, he added that the other occasion was "hunting dogs and cats with Scott Rolen."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.