SAN FRANCISCO — Seventeen of the 25 players the Cardinals will have in uniform for Sunday night’s Game 6 of the National League Championship Series — which they lead, three games to two, over the Giants — have been developed in their farm system.
The Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, and to get back a year later would be quite a feat. And if they can pull that off, they could become the first National League team since the 1975-76 Reds to win back-to-back Fall Classics.
To get that far with a predominantly home-grown team is the ultimate. It’s the model, what you would call “doing it right.” St. Louis’s is the organization you’d want to be if you could create one.
It’s somewhat reminiscent of the 1986 Red Sox, whose home-grown rotation of Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst, Oil Can Boyd, and Al Nipper was the envy of baseball.
The Sox also had plenty of home-grown talent in the lineup, including Rich Gedman, Marty Barrett, Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, and Dwight Evans. They had players such as Dave Stapleton, Marc Sullivan, and Kevin Romine on the bench. Bob Stanley, Mike Brown, and Steve Crawford were bullpen pieces.
During the 1986 season, 21 home-grown players played for the Red Sox. Haywood Sullivan and Lou Gorman augmented the roster by bringing in Bill Buckner, Don Baylor, Tony Armas, Dave Henderson, Spike Owen, Calvin Schiraldi, and Tom Seaver.
It’s always the most rewarding way to win, and those Red Sox won 95 games and finished one strike away from a Series title.
Nowadays, having so many players come up through the system is even rarer.
So take a bow, John Mozeliak, the fine general manager of the Cardinals. Take a bow, Jeff Luhnow, the former Cardinals scouting director responsible for many of the home-grown players who now is trying to install the same system in Houston, where he is GM.
The Cardinals had Albert Pujols, another home-grown player, and when he reached the point when his salary was no longer a fit, St. Louis let him go to the Angels. It created an uproar at the time, but look what happened.
No Pujols? So what.
Look at where the Cardinals are again.
Mozeliak will tell anyone who will listen that his objective is to promote his farm system talent to the big leagues and, if he needs to, augment with free agents. When he lost Pujols, he went out and signed Carlos Beltran and moved Lance Berkman back to first base.
But when the Cardinals have to get down and dirty in free agency, they do pretty well.
Remember when the Red Sox were pursuing Matt Holliday and instead settled for John Lackey? It was the Cardinals who beat them out on Holliday.
Other teams were after Beltran. The Sox even had interest. But where did he go? He went to the Cardinals.
Go around the team. The starting catcher, Yadier Molina, the best in baseball, was developed from within. Shortstop Pete Kozma was a controversial first-round pick, taken over Rick Porcello. At the time, some questioned the Cardinals, but you know something? Kozma is a good player. He took over for the injured Rafael Furcal in August and the Cardinals never looked back.
There is the pesky Daniel Descalso at second base, one of the grittiest players in baseball, cut from Dustin Pedroia cloth.
Allen Craig, who plays first and the outfield, is all Cardinal. Ditto Matt Carpenter and center fielder Jon Jay. The backup catcher, Tony Cruz, is full-blooded Cardinal.
Guys such as Skip Schumaker, Adron Chambers, and Shane Robinson are also home grown.
A handful of their pitchers are Cardinal-raised — Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Trevor Rosenthal, and Fernando Salas.
The players from other organizations include Chris Carpenter, Holliday, David Freese, Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright, Beltran, Mark Rzepczynski, and Edward Mujica, but they all seem to fit right in.
“There’s a closeness here,” said Chris Carpenter, the Game 6 starter. “The guys who come through the system blend in with the guys who don’t.
“I’ve been here a long time so I feel like I’ve always been with the Cardinals even though I spent so much of my career in Toronto. I think the guys who come up through the system feel a sense of accomplishment.
“I think it gives a lot of hope to the guys down on the farm now because this organization promotes from within. They look to fill a need within first and then look outside if they have to.
“I think it’s a team that knows what it’s doing. These guys have been taught the same way so when they come up, there’s that continuation of what they’ve been doing and I think that really helps players feel comfortable and adapt to the big leagues a lot faster.”
And that’s part of the reason why when manager Tony La Russa called it a career after his World Series win last season, the Cardinals interviewed three outside candidates, including Terry Francona, and three inside candidates, including Mike Matheny, who had been a longtime player for them.
Matheny’s familiarity with all things Cardinals helped him get the job.
“It just helps to be on the same page, to have the same goals and know what’s expected,” Matheny said.
Whenever you get to the World Series, it’s big. It just seems to mean more when you do it with players you’ve poured your heart and soul out for to develop your way.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.