10/17/2013 8:45 P.M. ET
When celebrating, Cardinals represent the old school
While Dodgers show boisterous side, composed St. Louis keeps focus on game
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals and the Dodgers represent two different aspects of baseball culture.
And the cultural differences here have nothing to do with ethnicity, race, or any of the arbitrary compartments into which humanity can be divided.
The differences have been apparent as the two clubs compete in the 2013 National League Championship Series. Game 6 of the series will be at Busch Stadium on Friday, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT, to be televised by TBS.
The Dodgers have been an expressive, outwardly emotional bunch. The Cardinals have been at the other end of the spectrum for some time. They have seen themselves as keepers of the old-school flame.
The game is the star in the Redbirds' world view. They are just, you know, trying to play it better than the other guys. They were this way when Tony La Russa was managing them. They are still this way with Mike Matheny steering the ship.
Other clubs, at times, have found the Cardinals to be smug and self-righteous in their belief that they are the true baseball believers. There is some ill-will directed toward the Cardinals on this account, but yes, it could be grounded in envy.
The Cardinals don't much care what the other clubs think of them on this score. Other clubs might prize an occasional demonstration of emotion. The Cardinals, again, have a different set of values. You want to be a Cardinal? Compose yourself. Be composed. That's huge with them.
Listen to starting pitcher Michael Wacha, a 22-year-old postseason star with the composure of someone twice his age.
"I feel like every guy on our team, they're real good at containing that kind of stuff and never letting that moment get too big on you and just staying composed out on the mound, at the plate, just throughout the game," Wacha said. "It really shows what kind of team we have. I think in order to play well, you just can't get caught up in the moment. You've just got to stay composed out there."
So when the Cardinals see, for instance, the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig doing a home run pose on what turns out to be a triple, and then leading cheers for himself on his way into third, it is irksome. This is not their game. The Dodgers answer in kind after the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright describes some Adrian Gonzalez behavior as "Mickey Mouse:" Gonzalez makes with the imaginary Mickey Mouse ears after hitting a home run.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly says these are not attempts to get under the skin of the Cardinals, but are just expressions of the Dodgers' personality.
"I think what you see from our guys is really the kind of personality that we have," Mattingly said. "These guys, we talk about wanting to have fun when we play, and we play the game the way you would play it in Little League, but then get down to business. So we know there's a lot at stake. We're not trying to get in anybody's heads. We're trying to win games, and I think that is the biggest thing. It's been our personality, it seems like. As we kind of got on our roll, these guys have a great time playing together, and I think it's just as simple as that. These guys love playing together."
What was unusual in the Gonzalez episode was anybody in the Cardinals camp commenting directly on his conduct. Generally, the Cardinals maintain a rigorous public approach of not becoming directly involved with how the other team is behaving. The focus is internal. The Cardinals are here to play baseball. The Cardinals are not responsible for the perceived shortcomings of other human beings/baseball players.
"We've been very consistent with how we think about this, and we understand it's our responsibility to take care of ourselves," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That is a big responsibility and we've got a lot to take care of. We're going to stay there. Other teams are going to do whatever they need to do in order to prepare themselves and have their guys ready. As far as evaluating clubs, once again, it's our job to evaluate ourselves on a daily basis to make sure we're going about it the way we want to go about it. It's not our right and responsibility to dictate how other teams go about theirs.
"As far as getting under our guys' skin, our guys want to compete. We're not out there to make friends. We're not out there to do anything except win. That is our job. We'll go about it the way we can, and that's going to be our goal and our initiative."
If you listen to the comments of Mattingly and Matheny, you might think they were talking about two different games. The difference is not that large, but it is still significant; two distinctly different views of how the grand old game can and should be played.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.