BOSTON -- They call it the "Cardinals Way." And as St. Louis prepares for its fourth World Series appearance in the last 10 years, it has come to stand for Midwestern common sense, thrift through building from within, slow and steady wins the race.
It also stands as a sharp contrast to the Cardinals' opponents, the Red Sox, who have developed a reputation as a franchise that will stack dollar bills as high as anybody to get the players they want. And, like almost any shorthand, both views are overly simplistic and one-dimensional.
The Cardinals are seen as a team that makes changes gradually and grudgingly. But their World Series roster this year has only seven active holdovers from the team that won it all just two seasons ago: Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, David Freese, Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay, Lance Lynn and Allen Craig. They are also seen as a franchise that spends prudently and reluctantly. But they dug deep to sign free agents like Carlos Beltran and to keep big names like Holliday and Adam Wainwright, who came from other organizations.
Descalso said the Cardinals take pride in not being just the best team money can buy.
"A lot of us have come up through the Minor League system together. Then we have a bunch of young guys who came up this year," he said.
At the same time, the players say, the Cardinals Way is more of an attitude than anything else, something that's handed down from generation to generation
"We've had a little bit of turnover here. But the guys who come up and step in, they look around, and they see a guy like a Yadier Molina or an Adam Wainwright or a Chris Carpenter or a Carlos Beltran or a Matt Holliday -- David Freese, Allen Craig," Descalso said. "Guys who have been through some big spots in the last couple years. And they watch the way the veterans have gone about their business and prepare every day, and that sets a good example for the young guys to come up and contribute as well."
Freese noted that it goes deeper than that.
"You play for Tony [La Russa] and you learn how special being a Cardinal is," he said. "Then Mike Matheny comes in and you pick up right where Tony left off. It's truly a special thing to be a St. Louis Cardinal."
Game 1 starter Wainwright pointed out that the lineage goes back even further.
"This is a way of thinking that we have in St. Louis and in our clubhouse and throughout our organization, an expectation of winning, an expectation of professionalism that comes with that winning, and doing things the right way," he said. "And that's been taught and bred over the years from guys like Red Schoendienst, like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith -- all of these great Hall of Famers that you've grown to love. We are very blessed in St. Louis to have those guys in the red jackets around, and we still feel their presence there. We still feel their lessons."
That creates an environment that outsiders quickly adapt to.
"It's just the expectation of playing the game the right way and winning," said Holliday, who had spent most of his career with the Rockies before coming to St. Louis. "We expect to win. There's been sort of an attitude passed down through the years from veteran players who help pass it down to the younger players. I just think it's sort of an expectation that we're going to play the game the right way. When you get called up or when you come over here, 'This is how we do it.' That's probably the thing that I've noticed the most."
|Yadier Molina||Draft||2000 (4th)|
|Jon Jay||Draft||2006 (2nd)|
|Shane Robinson||Draft||2006 (5th)|
|Allen Craig||Draft||2006 (8th)|
|Pete Kozma||Draft||2007 (1st)|
|Daniel Descalso||Draft||2007 (3rd)|
|Tony Cruz||Draft||2007 (26th)|
|Lance Lynn||Draft||2008 (1st)|
|Kevin Siegrist||Draft||2008 (41st)|
|Shelby Miller||Draft||2009 (1st)|
|Joe Kelly||Draft||2009 (3rd)|
|Matt Carpenter||Draft||2009 (13th)|
|Trevor Rosenthal||Draft||2009 (21st)|
|Matt Adams||Draft||2009 (23rd)|
|Carlos Martinez||Int'l sign||2010|
|Kolten Wong||Draft||2011 (1st)|
|Seth Maness||Draft||2011 (11th)|
|Michael Wacha||Draft||2012 (1st)|
Many factors will influence which team wins the World Series. Payroll, Freese said, won't be one of them.
"Money doesn't matter. It really doesn't," he said. "You sign players to keep players. Or you sign players to bring players in. Win or lose, money doesn't matter. You're going to win or lose based on how you go about your business and the clubhouse atmosphere. I think that's huge."
Yes, the Cardinals rely heavily on players they drafted. They will go into the World Series with 18 homegrown players on the active roster, the most of any team that made the postseason this year. That's enough to make any player development director proud.
The classic example of how that's helped came when the difficult decision was made not to keep Albert Pujols at any cost. The Cardinals not only signed Beltran to take his place but used the compensatory Draft pick they got from the Angels to select Michael Wacha, who will start Game 2 on Thursday night. And Molina, a fourth-round pick in 2000, is a strong MVP candidate.
This year, Shelby Miller and Matt Adams joined Wacha as players who graduated from the farm system to contribute.
Acquired via trade
Even the best farm systems need to fill a hole occasionally, and the Cardinals have done a masterful job of making a few shrewd trades over the years.
Freese, the October hero in 2011, is a St. Louis native who came from the Padres for aging outfielder Jim Edmonds. Holliday was paired with Pujols, then became the anchoring bat in the middle of the lineup when Pujols departed.
Wainwright blossomed after coming from the Braves, a deal engineered by former general manager Walt Jocketty. Current GM John Mozeliak can take a bow for Freese and Holliday, not to mention relievers Edward Mujica and John Axford, who added needed bullpen depth.
Acquired via free agency
The Cardinals don't always sign free agents. But when they do, they get it right. After Pujols took $240 million to go to the Angels, Beltran was quietly signed to a two-year, $26 million deal. Not only has he been rejuvenated, but he has blended right into the Cardinals Way. And reliever Randy Choate has also contributed after agreeing to a three-year, $7.5 million contract.
Which doesn't mean the Cardinals are cheap. Their Opening Day payroll of $117 million was the highest in franchise history.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.