A Cardinal Christmas Carol
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Mozeliak.”
The general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, John Mozeliak, looked up from the paperwork on his desk. Â Running a baseball team might be enjoyable and have great perks, but it never stops.
“Thank you, Molly. Â I hope you have a nice holiday as well. Â Are you visiting family?”
Molly nodded. Â ”My parents are in town and we are having a nice family gathering. Â How about you, sir?”
“Well, tomorrow will be, but tonight the wife and kids are visiting her family while I work on this paperwork and make some calls.”
Molly frowned. Â ”Christmas Eve, alone? Â That can’t be fun.”
Mozeliak smiled. Â ”True, but the job’s the job, I’m afraid.”
As the day wore on, more and more people came by to extend season’s greetings to their boss before they slipped out the door, off to whatever the evening held for them. Â One by one, the office lights were extinguished until it was just Mozeliak there, poring over paperwork and calculating numbers.
Suddenly, the phone rang. Â Mozeliak glanced at the caller ID and, with a smile, picked up the phone.
“Walt! Â Merry Christmas to you!”
Walt Jocketty, currently Mozeliak’s opposite number within the Cincinnati Reds organization, responded, “And to you as well, Mo. Â Knew I’d find you in the office. Â Don’t know you know when to go home?”
“When I figure out how to beat your team next year, I’ll go home. Â Say, what’s all that clanking in the background?”
“Clanking?” Jocketty responded. Â ”I don’t know what…..oh, I see. Â The grandkids have bicycle chains they are putting on their new gifts. Â Anyway, Mo, I had another reason for calling you. Â Tonight, you will be visited by three spirits.”
“Um, Walt, you know I don’t do much drinking, especially not spirits.”
“Yes, I know, which makes getting you a Christmas gift a lot harder. Â No, I mean spirits, apparitions, ghosts. Â You know what I mean.”
“Exactly what was in that egg nog you were drinking, Walt?”
Jocketty sighed. Â ”Can’t blame you for not believing me, I guess. Â But thought it was only fair to let you know they were coming. Â Hope they are better for you than me. Â I had the ghost of Johnny Cueto visit me and I still have a headache from where he kicked me.”
Mozeliak, bewildered, thanked his mentor for the knowledge and hung up the phone. Â He quickly made a note on his organizer to check on Jocketty in about a week and, if he was still in such a state, see if he could swap Kyle Lohse for Edinson Volquez before whatever it was wore off.
The GM then got back to his work, calculating just what he could get for Brendan Ryan, wondering how to convince Tony La Russa that Bryan Anderson was an acceptable backup catcher, putting a fine structure in place for pitchers that allowed fly balls to wherever Lance Berkman was playing.
Time passed and Mozeliak was fully engrossed in his work when the silence was broken by an unmistakable voice.
“Howdy, Mo Man. Â Reckon you’ve heard we were comin’”
Mozeliak looked up. Â Before him stood the voice of the Cardinals, Mike Shannon. Â Shannon didn’t look like what Mozeliak was used to, though. Â He was decked out in a Cardinal uniform and looked decades younger.
“Mike? Â It’s Christmas, not Halloween. Â What’s with the getup? Â Though I’ve got to say it does work well for you.”
Shannon chuckled. Â ”Heh, heh, heh. Â No, big boy, this ain’t my current look. Â I’m the Ghost of Cardinal Past. Â You and I get to take a little trip.”
“A trip?” Mozeliak asked. Â ”Mike…or whomever you are…I’ve still got work to do and I’ve got to be home for Christmas tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry about that none, partner. Â Time doesn’t have a whole lot of meanin’ where we’re going. Â Just grab on to this bat….that’s it. Â Hang on, now.”
Mozeliak had, by this time, rounded his desk and, figuring he needed a break if he was seeing ghosts, held on to the bat in Shannon’s hands.
“All right. Â Get up baby, get up, here we go!”
The next thing Mozeliak knew, it was a bright summer day. Â The sounds of the ballpark were overwhelming, as the vendors cried out, selling their hot dogs and cold beer. Â He and his otherwordly guide were sitting in seats right behind home plate. This wasn’t the ballpark Mozeliak knew, though. Â It wasn’t even the ballpark he used to know.
“Spirit, where are we?” he asked.
“Who you callin’ spirit, man? Â I’m Mike. Â And we’re still in St. Louis, still in Busch Stadium. Now, when, that’s a different story.”
Mozeliak paused. Â ”When? Â You mean, we’ve gone back in time?”
Shannon roared. Â ”I thought you were the smart one! Â What part of Cardinal Past didn’t you get? Â I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it.”
“OK, point. Â Give me a break, this whole thing is a little out of my comfort zone. Â So let me rephrase: when are we?”
“May 1, 1954. Â Old, old Busch Stadium. Â Doubleheader between the Giants and the Cards. Â Bit before my time, but since I’m not constrained, I come here often.”
May 1, 1954. Â That stuck in Mozeliak’s head for some reason. Â It was a big day in the history of the Cardinals, but he couldn’t quite piece it together. Â Until he looked at who was coming up to bat.
“Stan,” he breathed.
Mozeliak watched as Stan Musial strode to the plate and listened to the crowd going crazy for him. Â He kept his eyes trained on the Cardinal legend as Musial got into his famous stance. Â And he rose as everyone else did when Musial’s swing rocketed the ball over the wall for a home run.
“This is the double header where he hit five home runs, isn’t it?” exclaimed Mozeliak, giddy with the moment.
“Yep, sure is. Â That was number five on the day, though the Cards couldn’t pull out the nightcap. Â Listen, though, to this crowd. Â They love him here in St. Louis!”
Mozeliak tore his eyes away from Musial’s home run trot to scan the stands. Â Every Cardinal fan was on their feet, clapping, swaying, cheering for their hero. Â ”Stan! Stan! Stan!” they cheered and the name reverberated off the old ballpark’s walls. Â The love for this icon was almost tangible.
“Got another stop, Johnny boy. Â Best hang on now.” Shannon’s words broke through Mozeliak’s thoughts. Â Unwilling to leave but realizing he had no choice, he reluctantly took hold of the magic bat.
The scene shifted. Â It was still a warm summer’s day, it was still a baseball field, but this time the confines were a little more familiar to Mozeliak. Â He recognized it as Busch Stadium II, the ballpark the Cardinals were using when he began to work for the organization.
“When are we now, Mike?”
“Catching on, are ya? Â Well, we’re at a random game in 1983. Â Take a gander right over there in the middle of the infield, will ya?”
Mozeliak looked where Shannon pointed and, sure enough, a young Ozzie Smith was stationed at shortstop. Â Mozeliak knew the current version of the Wizard, of course, but was brought back to his childhood by seeing the Hall of Famer without the grey highlighting his hair and the youthful expression on his face.
“You know, I didn’t get to see Ozzie much growing up in Colorado. Â The All-Star Game, of course, and maybe an occasional Game of the Week. Â I’ve always wished I could see him in action.”
The ghost grinned. Â ”Well, if you’ve been a good little boy, maybe that wish can come true.”
The words were barely spoken when the batter hit a sharp liner between short and third. Â Ken Oberkfell went to his left, but had no chance. Â It looked like a clean single.
Then, from nowhere, Smith ranged over, dove for the ball, scrambled to his feet and made the throw to first, stirring a great reaction from the crowd–and the out-of-time visitor as well.
“That was amazing, Mike! Â And yet, I have this nagging feeling that it was a little familiar to me. Â Why is that?” Mozeliak asked.
“Not in my department, my man. Â If I told you that, the next guy’d be madder than a pig caught under a barnyard gate. Â ’Sides, my time’s up. Â And, in my book, this has been a big red W. Â See ya around, big guy!”
Mozeliak blinked. Â He was in his office, exactly where he’d been. Â He heard vacuuming down the hall as the cleaning crew finished up for the evening. Â For all intents and purposes, his extraordinary experience had never happened.
Before he could ponder what he had seen, though, another visitor materialized in front of the general manager.
“Evening, Matthew. Â How did you get in here? Â I figured all the doors were locked since everyone had gone home. Â Do you need something for a story?”
What appeared to be Matthew Leach, writer for MLB.com, shook his head. Â ”No, Mo. Â Nothing like that. Â I think you’ve already had a visit from one of my associates?”
Mozeliak snapped his fingers. Â ”That’s right, Jocketty said three spirits. Â So which one are you and when and where are we going?”
“I’m the Ghost of Cardinal Present. Â We’ve got a bit of a trip this time, so please sit down at your computer.”
Puzzled, Mozeliak did as instructed. Â Leach then tapped a couple of keys. Â ”Let’s see. Â Ah, yes, this should do it.”
Mozeliak looked around. Â While he was still in front of a computer, he was no longer in his office in St. Louis. Â Instead, there was bright and warm sun coming through the windows.
“The internet’s a powerful thing, more so than people realize,” Leach remarked as Mozeliak tried to process it all. Â ”We’re in Los Angeles, home of someone I believe you know.”
At that moment, a person walked into the room. Â Clad in a Cardinals workout shirt drenched in sweat, he had obviously just come from a strenuous workout.
“Brendan! Â How are you?” Mozeliak called out to the shortstop.
Brendan Ryan made no indication that he had heard. Â He moved through the room and out the side door.
“Let me guess, he can’t hear or see me, can he?” said Mozeliak.
“That’s an excellent guess, my friend. Â Come on, let’s follow him.”
The two went outside, where they found Ryan in his personal batting cage. Â Ryan continued to refine his swing, trying to get comfortable.
“He’s been doing this a lot since the season ended, but especially since the end of last month,” Leach reported in between cracks of the bat.
“The Ryan Theriot trade. Â I figured he wouldn’t take that very well. Â We had to improve our offense, though. Â That was the best move we could make.”
Leach sighed. Â ”Was it? Â On a ground-ball pitching staff, you significantly weaken the glove at the most important infield position? Â Never mind, I didn’t come here to argue with you. Â Just to show you.”
“Show me what?” Mozeliak asked, by now slightly annoyed.
“Let’s take a look around his house while he’s taking BP,” Leach replied.
The two went inside and Mozeliak started to look around. Â Over here was a framed picture of Ryan with Albert Pujols. Â On the wall was a panoramic picture of Busch Stadium on Opening Day. Â A Cardinal pennant hung over the door. Â A recliner bearing the St. Louis logo sat in front of the large TV.
Mozeliak started to get the idea. Â ”He’s very proud to be a Cardinal, isn’t he?”
Leach nodded. Â ”I can show you the Cardinal sheets on his bed, if you want.”
Mozeliak put up his hands. Â ”I’ll trust you on that one. Â What would you have me do, though? Â Baseball is a business. Â It always has been. Â When you let emotion run the club, things get out of hand quickly.”
“I’m just a ghost,” Leach responded. Â ”What you do is up to you.”
WIth that, Mozeliak’s office returned. Â The GM shook his head to regain his bearings. Â The vacuum was still going down the hall, indicating again that he had returned to the same time that he had left.
Mozeliak walked over to his window, staring out into the cold St. Louis night. Â How did you balance the needs of the team versus the desires of the individual? Â Mozeliak had an offer sitting on his desk from the Pittsburgh Pirates, wanting to take Ryan for a couple of AA pitchers. Â He’d been on the verge of accepting it. Â Getting an up close and personal view had modified his feelings somewhat.
Before he could come to any conclusions, though, a cold wind hit his back. Â Mozeliak turned and looked at a hooded figure standing silently in the middle of his office.
“The Ghost of Cardinal Future, I presume.”
The hooded figure nodded his head. Â He then drew back the hood to reveal the familiar features of the star of the Cardinals, Albert Pujols.
“Albert? Â You are the Ghost of Cardinal Yet To Come? Â That could be a good sign,” Mozeliak joked.
Pujols remained stone-faced, but finally spoke.
“Mang, it’s not about me. Â I’m not the one standing here. Â Albert is out celebrating the birth of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, mang. Â I’m the spectre of his contract.”
A chill of foreboding washed over Mozeliak. Â Of course, that’s what happened every time someone mentioned Albert’s upcoming contract, so that was pretty expected.
Steadying himself, Mozeliak defiantly said, “OK, then, let’s go.”
“Grab on to my sleeve, then, if you think you are ready.”
Mozeliak noticed that the closer he got to this spirit, the colder he got. Â Still, he grasped on to the robe and was quickly whisked away.
They arrived at the same ballpark the Cardinals currently use. Â As had been his experiences with the Ghost of Cardinal Past, the sun was shining and the vendors were hawking their wares. Â But something was different.
“When are we, spirit?”
“June of 2013.”
“The crowd….it’s so quiet. Â And so small. Â What has happened to this team?” Mozeliak cried.
The spirit pointed his long finger straight at the first base bag. Â There, standing at first base, was a Cardinal.
That Cardinal was not Albert Pujols.
“But I thought….I thought it would all work out. Â We just had discussions about having discussions! Â There is no way that Pujols would walk!”
“And yet he did,” the spirit replied. “When you could not get a contract done by spring training, the negotiations stopped. Â You always thought they’d pick up, that they’d get done. Â However, eventually, he moved on. Â Now, behold, mang!”
The spirit’s figure again pointed, but this time away from the field, up into one of the luxury boxes. Â The box, in fact, reserved for the general manager. Â A figure sat there, overlooking the game and pondering moves.
That figure was not John Mozeliak.
“Answer me one question,” Mozeliak cried. Â ”Are these the shadows of things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be only?”
The spirit started to fade away, leaving the question hanging in the half-full ballpark.
Mozeliak sat up with a jolt. Â He was again behind his desk, in his office. Â He quickly searched the internet to find out that Albert Pujols was indeed still a member of the Cardinal organization. Â He then opened his phone and called the first baseman.
“Albert, I know I’m interrupting your family gathering. Â Yes, I know it’s Christmas Eve. Â Yes, I know what this day is about. Â I just wanted to invite you and your agent here to the office on Monday to finalize this contract issue. Â Albert, you are too important to this city to lose. Â I know what Stan meant to the fans of that time. Â Don’t ask me how I know, it’s a long story that you wouldn’t believe anyway. Â The point is, you can be that guy now. Â You are that guy now. Â Let’s not ruin it.
“Great, see you Monday. Â Merry Christmas to you too, Albert!”
Realizing that the cleaning crew was gone, Mozeliak decided that he probably should do the same. Â As he started packing up some papers, he came across the offer from the Pirates for Brendan Ryan.
He stared at that paper for a while. Â Then, sighing, he picked up his phone again.
“Brendan, it’s John Mozeliak. Â Wait, wait, no crying. Â I just wanted to let you know that I don’t plan to trade you this winter. Â That glove of yours is too valuable to this team. Â If you come to camp, you’ll get a shot at the shortstop position. Â I make no promises. Â It’s OK, Brendan. Â Brendan. Â Brendan, that’s my ear you are screaming into. Â OK, merry Christmas to you too.”
With that taken care of, there was only one more thing to be done, one last call to make before he could head home to get ready for his family’s return.
“Jim Hendry, please. Â That you, Jim? Â John Mozeliak here. Â Just wanted to let you know you might be getting some visitors tonight….”