My Cardinals: Larry Borowsky of VivaElBirdos.com
You know, back when I started putting these together, I had thought to lead off with Larry Borowsky, since he's really the guy who gave me my start writing about the Cardinals. I was just a blogger over at Viva El Birdos, which Larry founded, and he asked me if I wanted to contribute to the front page one day.
From there, Tom Finkel here at the RFT asked me to write a season preview article in 2008, and that turned into the gig that I have now. It seems too good to be true, and it's all thanks to Mr. Borowsky.
First off, tell me a little bit about yourself.
I'm 46 years old, born and raised in St. Louis. Went to Ladue High School, graduated from there and set out for the University of Pennsylvania. I left there and just sort of floated around for a couple of years, trying to make it in the music business, writing songs and things like that. I eventually decided I needed to get serious, and ended up going to Berkeley, where I got a Bachelor's degree in History. I had a lot of fun doing the whole music thing, and I'm glad that I tried it, but at some point, you just get tired of waiting tables. When I went to Berkeley, I was living in the Bay Area, so I could take advantage of the in-state tuition, so I did.
After college, I worked at a couple of software start-ups out that way, but it just kind of seemed a little too much for a Midwestern boy, and I decided to move somewhere a little slower, calmer maybe. I moved to Denver to be close to the mountains, and it took. I started working at Westword.
Since 1992, I've been largely self-employed, though I did edit a historical journal at the Colorado Historical Society for five years. I think I'm a great contractor, but a lousy employee. Just never seemed to fit. I'm much happier this way.
How much did you play the game growing up?
Oh, I played Little League up until I was about fourteen or so, but I never played in school or anything like that. I got an early growth spurt, and was real tall and gangly for a few years. I had the long arms and the height, so I was a pitcher, plus I was left-handed. I also played first base some, but I was mainly a pitcher. Because I was bigger than the other kids for a few years, I was pretty good for awhile. Then they all started catching up to me, and suddenly I wasn't so good anymore. By about fourteen, I just didn't have the velocity to throw it by the other kids, and I couldn't make contact at the plate. I played lots of basketball, and some football, even into high school, but baseball passed me by early.
I could always throw strikes, you know? Velocity wasn't my game, but I had pretty good control, especially for a kid.
Wait, so you're really tall and lanky, left-handed, and had good control? How the hell did you ever give up pitching? Sounds like you may have missed a calling there.
(Laughs) Yeah, I guess so. Hell, if I had known then, I just would have learned a curveball, and kept right on going. I could have pitched a long time.
A lefty? You could still be pitching now.
Probably. (Laughs) That's why Jamie Moyer's my favorite player now; he's the only guy around who's actually my age at this point. And that could have been me.
Who had the biggest influence on you becoming a fan?
My father, Ben, without a doubt. He was an absolute baseball nut, born in '33, and grew up in a little town in northern Arkansas. He fell in love with the Cardinals in the '40s, and he used to tell me about how when he was little, he would just walk all over town, listening to all the different radios. The people would all be sitting out on their porches with the radio on, listening to the game, and he could get the whole broadcast, piece by piece. He became a doctor, went to Washington University, and settled down in St. Louis.
He and a group of other doctors, about a dozen, went in together and bought four season tickets for the 1969 season, I think. They all sort of used them on a time share basis, and we would go to seven or eight games a year each season. I've been going on a pretty regular basis ever since then, when I was about five or six years old.
We all kept going to games together until my youngest brother moved out; I started going to games with my friends more and more after that. I remember we used to take the bus from what's now the Galleria, from Stix Baer and Fuller and the old Famous and Barr that used to be down there.
Wow. Stix Baer and Fuller. There's a name I haven't heard in a long, long time.
(Laughs) Well, yeah, I guess it has been Dillard's for quite a few years now, hasn't it? You know, my dad was actually at Gibson's seventeen-strikeout game in the '68 World Series. I wasn't, but he was.
I think '69 was the year I really started collecting baseball cards pretty seriously, too. That was the year I really fell for the game, I guess, pretty much all around.
By the time I was old enough to drive, I started going to 30 or 40 games a year, back when you could still walk up and get bleachers any time, and they were only a couple bucks. That time coincided with Whiteyball beginning, too, so I was pretty well hooked even further then.
How do you typically follow Cardinal games now?
Some on the television, but mostly on the radio because of my kids. The games mostly start at 5:30, 6:30 our time, so we're usually in the middle of dinner or playing outside. We mostly stay at home in the evenings, so I just stick the laptop out in the yard with us and have the KMOX audio feed on, listening to Mike Shannon.
It isn't KMOX anymore, Larry.
(Laughs) Oh, that's right, isnt' it? It's, what now, I don't remember the call letters-
Yeah, that's it. Still KMOX to me; guess I'm showing my age on that one, huh? I do watch some of the games on television, especially if I'm on the road for business; I'd just as soon watch the game as sit in the hotel bar, you know? If it's a critical game, or a playoff game or something, I'll carve out some time, but mostly I just sort of have it on in the background, that soundtrack to the summer thing. Just sort of there while I spend time with the family and things like that.
How has having kids changed the way you follow the game?
Well, you know, my son is seven, and my daughter's five, so they're still young enough that you have to drop everything to take care of them. It's less of a priority now; everything is less of a priority once you have kids, but it never drops off the map entirely.
I haven't pushed the game on them, but they seem to be picking it up, to like it pretty well. My son likes to hit, and my backyard is no longer big enough to contain his raw power, so we go up to the school and I pitch underhanded to them. My daughter is just old enough that she wants to be part of everything, so she enjoys taking her hacks too. It's a lot of fun to be able to share the game with them, to pass on the things that I know and watch them learn, but there are times when you have to leave the game, even if it's an eighth inning rally, or the Cards are trying to fight off a rally or something, to go up and get their teeth brushed and get ready for bed. You can't just tell them to wait, whereas before there were very, very few things that could pull me away from the game.
Because of that timing, I've had to miss some very key hits. Late in '06, when Albert hit a home run off Cla Meredith to stop a losing streak, I was upstairs, putting the kids to bed. Unbelievable moment, Meredith's ERA at the time was like 1.00 or something, and I missed it. I came back downstairs, found that the Cardinals had pulled ahead, and had to go back to find out how. But with how much I love being a father, it wasn't something I had to think twice about. What am I going to regret more, looking back and thinking I didn't see enough Cardinal games, or that I didn't read to my kids enough. Kids are with you for such a short period of time, you have to hold on to that before they move on; the Cardinals will be there long after life has changed again. Probably when they're teenagers, and hate me anyway. (Laughs)
Did writing about the Cardinals on a day-to-day basis change the way you felt about them?
I don't think it did. What really changed it for me was the strike of '94. That was a big deal, I was one of those pissed-off fans who didn't go back to the ballpark for three or four years. I just remember at the time, I couldn't believe they could possibly be that stupid, to be cancelling the playoffs. Just ridiculous.
You know, baseball had been on such a high for a while there, of great post-season baseball, that really began with the Don Denkinger series in '85. They had those couple of Twins years, and it was just unbelievable baseball all around. The Joe Carter home run, things like that. And then, I just couldn't believe they were so stupid, and it changed my relationship with the game. I sort of started to compartmentalize it a little bit; I still loved the game as much as ever, watching the minutiae of it, a batter fighting off a tough pitch, setting up the relay, the choreography of the game itself, the rhythm, but I became very cynical about the industry of baseball. The industry meaning the leagues as we know them, the business side of the game.
I became much less sentimental about it, started looking at it as a business. I was much less apt to fall in love with a given player, like Jimmy Edmonds, when they considered trading him to the Yankees.
The Wang/Cano deal?
Yeah! That's the one. I mean, he was such a stylish player, a heroic player, almost, with the walk-off in the 2004 NLCS, and the Catch, and all that, and I just really didn't care. Pre-strike, I probably would have said I just like to watch him play, don't care if he's on the down-slope. After, though, I was much more likely to suspend my emotions. I just want to watch a competitive team; the owners and players are all in it for themselves, why shouldn't I be too?
By the time I started blogging about them, I think I was pretty dispassionate about the whole thing, which really helped my writing style. I still want the Cardinals to win, of course, but I'm not attached in the same way.
Albert may be the one player I don't feel that way about, really, the one guy who seems to sort of transcend all of that. Getting way out of the realm of measurable effects, Albert just seems to have the will to win. Certain guys, Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, guys like that, just have that, that ability to just impose their will on a contest.
I can't say the Cardinals would or wouldn't be better trading Albert for six stud prospects, and having $30 million to spend, but I don't care about that. I just want to watch him play the game. I don't feel that way about any other single player, not even Ankiel, even though he's a great player and all. I'm just not that kind of fan anymore. Maybe it's just because I'm older, but the strike really felt like a big dividing line for me.
Probably the only other player I can think of who seemed to just take over a game the way Albert does was Bob Gibson. He had it. Armstrong, Jordan, guys like that have it. Not many though, and when you see it, you want to watch it.
Who is your favorite Cardinal of all time?
You know, you'd think I would say Pujols, but he's kind of a special case. Probably the player I'm most in awe of, but not necessarily my favorite. My favorite is actually probably Lou Brock. He was so exciting to watch, and so visible during the '70s, when the Cardinals were just awful most years. The '70s were marked by individual accomplishments, instead of team accomplishments. First Brock broke the single season stolen base record, then the all time record, and then it was 3000 hits, so that was how we marked time then. Those were the milestones that defined the decade, because the team was just terrible. It's hard to pick one guy.
I love Terry Pendleton in the '80s, because he wasn't like the rest of that team. All the other guys there were real fiery, big personalities, but Pendleton was so calm and quiet all the time. Couldn't hit a lick, though I guess he did have a couple good years there, but he could pick it at third.
Do you miss being closer to the team, being here?
Yeah, I guess I do miss it. I make a point of getting in at least once a year to see them, and I catch them on the road. Back in the '80s, I would drive down to San Diego or Los Angeles, and sleep in my car on the beach, kind of a baseball vagabond, and then catch the games. I had the freedom, but not the money; then again, you didn't need nearly as much money to see a game back then.
But yeah, I do miss it. I like being here, and Colorado has turned out to be home for me, but I still love the Midwest. I use any excuse I can to get back, family reunion, conference, whatever. I plan trips to visit my parents around homestands, and we always go to the games. Under other circumstances, I certainly would have gotten to a playoff game in '04 or '06, and the cost be damned, but with the kids and work and everything else, I just couldn't do it. I haven't been to a playoff game since '96, actually, so that's something I really want to do. I want to get to a playoff game at the new place.
And finally, give me your thoughts on this year's team.
I'm very reductive about it. To me, if Carpenter is actually as healthy as he's looked so far, then it's probably a playoff team. The rotation, if Carpenter and Wainwright are both healthy, that's a rotation that can take on anybody. If Carp isn't healthy, then they don't have enough to get there. Of course, I felt that way about the team last year, too, and if Isringhausen and the rest of the bullpen hadn't fallen apart, they were probably a playoff team.
I'm really hoping they're perceptive enough to realize early is the Schumaker to second base experiment isn't working, and pull the plug before too much damage is done. It's possible they could stick with him all 162, even if it isn't working, and sink the whole season, but I'm willing to suspend judgement for now.
Still, that's all secondary to Carpenter. If he's healthy, it just feels like everything else will fall into place. It guarantees a baseline of quality, at the very least. If he goes down in April or May, but the trade deadline they'll be patching holes or standing pat, but without him, I just think they're too thin.