Is the so-called “Cardinal Way” a thing of the past? Does it belong in history, put into the museum with memorabilia from the Gashouse Gang, Stan the Man, the rollicking 1940s and the inspirational 1964-1968 run personified by Bob Gibson and Lou Brock? Is the Cardinal Way a lost tradition that gradually faded after the retirements of Hall of Fame managers Whitey Herzog and Tony La Russa?

The 2023 season was traumatic. And though the first pitch of a new season is imminent, we’re still dealing with the aftershock of the stunning downfall in ‘23. The crash came after the warning signs of decline were ignored by ownership-management.

The 2023 gobsmack resulted from hubris and the smug attitude that the “Cardinal Way” would find a way to prevail. The smartest organization had all of the answers. Just like always. (Sigh.) And then 2023 happened.

Concerned Cardinals fans saw 2023 coming. No one envisioned a 71-91, last-place finish. But there was a darkness on the edge of town, and the fan base knew. Those in charge of the Cardinals remained ensconced in the unshakeable belief system that’s embedded in the Cardinal Way. This was before the walls came tumbling down.

The 2024 Cardinals are tasked with a heavy assignment.

Clean up the toxic-spill mess left from 2023.

Fight for a winning record.

Seize the NL Central title.

Return to the postseason.

Win some damn games in the postseason.

Prove that chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. made the right decision by staying the course with his longtime front-office regime and an inexperienced manager.

Stabilize the competitive viability.

Restore the lost faith and shaken confidence.

Calm the fan base.

Please the fan base.

Energize the crowds at Busch Stadium.

Keep the revenue rolling in.

Send a notice to the other 29 teams: the Cardinals are motivated. They’re on the way back. The Cardinal Way exists.

I’ve been thinking about all that the Cardinals have lost. Change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same. There are always new challenges and problems to solve. Rosters are modified. Players come and go. Every season is a new start for every team. The life cycle spins on. For people. For teams.

But take a minute to just think about what the Cardinals are missing since last winning the World Series in 2011.

The St. Louis baseball team and extended family has endured the passing of franchise Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst, Bruce Sutter, Mike Shannon, Tim McCarver and Bob Forsch. That hurts. That’s an unbelievable collection of talent, impact, and monumental careers. These great men were a source of profound happiness and pride for Cardinal fans.

April 13, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals hall of famer Stan Musial waves to the crowd during an opening day ceremony before a game against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Chicago defeated St. Louis 9-5. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports


Another thing I was thinking about was the magnitude of players/leaders that have retired since the 2011 World Series. The list includes Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Tony La Russa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Matt Holliday and David Freese. I feel compelled to mention others (now retired) who played a big role in the 2006 World Series title and other successes: franchise Hall of Famers Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and Jason Isringhausen.

When your franchise loses so many red-jacket immortals and retired legends in such a relatively short time, it leaves a void. No, it doesn’t really explain why the Cardinals flopped to a .438 winning percentage last season. But the collective gravitas and eminence of the men I’ve just saluted made this franchise stronger.

These distinguished gentlemen — winners — were a constant reminder of the incredibly high standards that must be maintained by present and future generations of Cardinals. Their smiling, dignified presence at the ballpark on opening day lifted everyone’s spirits, thrilled adoring fans and was a balm for the baseball soul.

It’s awfully difficult to replace that.

Actually you can’t replace it.

And it’s nearly impossible to compensate for it.

In a broader sense, how realistic was it to expect the Cardinals to continue winning without interruption and avoid going through the painful times that afflict every major-league fan base? Some of the most illustrious baseball powers of the last 40, 50 years have gone through barren periods. The Cardinals were not immune to this. And they got a little too comfortable. Let’s not talk about the fans being spoiled by success. Not when the caretakers of the franchise were really spoiled by success.

So here we are, on opening day 2024.

Was the Cardinals’ 2023 season a fluke, an outlier? We’ll know more after 162 games. But perhaps it’s the Cardinals’ turn to go through hard times. Maybe this is their downcycle. You know, something that happens for every team through the years.

Perhaps it’s helpful to look at the Cardinals and make a more realistic assessment of where they are. And what they are.

The Cardinals have marched through 12 seasons since winning their last World Series.

That’s the fourth longest drought for the franchise since the Stan Musial and the Redbirds won three World Series from 1942 through 1946.

The other three skids:

* 22 seasons from 1983 through 2005. (A labor dispute wiped out the 1994 postseason.)

* 17 seasons from 1947 through 1963.

* 14 seasons from 1968 through 1981.

Though they’ve struck out in the attempt to win a World Series over the last dozen years, at least the Cardinals have done a lot of winning.

During the 12-season World Series famine the Cards have the third-best regular winning percentage (.547) in the majors. They’ve made it to the postseason eight times in the last 12 campaigns, an achievement matched by the Astros, Braves and Yankees and topped only by the Dodgers (11.)

A total of 25 postseason wins put the Cardinals fourth in the MLB since 2012, but that’s also misleading because 20 of the victories were picked up in three postseasons (2012-14.)

Since 2015 the Cardinals are 5-14 in the playoffs, and have one triumph in a postseason round. Not only that, but 17 MLB franchises have won more postseason games than St. Louis over the past nine years. Ugh.

There’s been a sharp dividing line that shows us the “before” and “after” pictures.

— In the first seven seasons (2008-2014) with John Mozeliak in control of baseball operations, the Cardinals won 31 postseason games, two NL pennants and a World Series. Only the Giants won more postseason games (34) than the Cardinals during the seven seasons. Happy times for the most part.

— In the last nine seasons (2015-2023) with Mozeliak running point on baseball ops, the Cardinals have just five postseason wins, which ranks 18th.

The Cardinals were smacked into the ground in 2023, reaching bottom. Their 71 wins were the third fewest in a full season since the NL adopted a 162-game schedule in 1962.

As I mentioned in my March 27 column, the Cardinals have won more regular season and more postseason games than any National League team since the start of 2000. And no NL franchise has made the playoffs more often than St. Louis (16) over the 24-season time frame. If we’re trying to be fair here, that success should be appreciated instead of being disregarded.

This is also true and should be recognized: on the field, the Cardinals are more distant and displaced from their glory-days run under chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. They seem a lot closer to the mediocrity of Cardinal teams 1950s, 1970s and the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The state of the franchise was pretty bleak before DeWitt and partners purchased the team after the 1995 season. Beginning in 1996, his ownership is responsible for one of the greatest eras of winning baseball in Cardinals history.

But that doesn’t excuse the recent trends. With the Cardinals becoming more irrelevant in the biggest month of the baseball season – that would be October – it’s fair to wonder if they can climb back, get on the big stage and stay there for more than a couple of October days.

Not too long ago around our baseball village, the prime question was about winning the World Series. The anticipation was all about seeing how far the Cardinals would go in the playoffs. NLCS? Pennant? World Series? Can they do it?

We got used to the frequent and assertive October runs. We cherished the pageantry and excitement that came with the roiling red sea of fans that gathered in the autumn chill at two different Busch Stadiums.

As 2024 unspools, the questions are much different now. And the aura around the team is dramatically different than what we’re accustomed to.

Can the Cardinals have a winning season? Can they somehow scrape through and win an NL Central division that lacks an established power and probably can be taken by winning 84, 85 games? (That’s based on projected win totals.)

With three wild-card tickets available in each league, it’s never been this easy to qualify for the playoffs. But how confident are we about the Cardinals wandering into the tournament? It’s possible … and questionable.

Sidebar: Here I go again. But I get a kick out of media folks who mean well and work hard but continue to treat the opening stretch of the 2024 schedule as some sort of Armageddon scenario — anticipating a lousy month that will sink the Cardinals into an abyss from which they’ll never return.

There’s a heck of a lot more to this than one lousy month. There are much larger cracks that couldn’t be repaired by adding one pitcher, Jordan Montgomery. (He didn’t want to come here, anyway. So let’s stop the incessant whining.) The issue is the neglect and the incompetence that got the Cardinals in this situation. The weakness that left them down and out as a last-place failure was caused by a glaring default in the crucial area of drafting and developing quality and sustainable starting pitching.

Based on how you feel, the 2024 team is either too old or too young. The Cardinals have a starting rotation that averages 35 years old. The first baseman is 36. The third baseman is about to turn 33. Both are coming off down seasons. Pretty good seasons, but below expectations. In the first lineup of 2024, the Cardinals will have four position players age 23 or younger. That part is actually fun.

Before their first regular season game, the STL injury list has already reached an absurd level. Missing are No. 1 starting pitcher Sonny Gray, high-leverage reliever Keynan Middleton, and outfielders Lars Nootbaar, Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson.

The leadership on the 2023 team was so inadequate and lacking, the Cardinals recruited baseball seniors Matt Carpenter and Brandon Crawford to come in as baseball-life coaches. No offense to Carpenter and Crawford, but the supervision and the fulfillment of the Cardinal Way is now being handled by temporary hires.

The advancing-age starting rotation was put together in a desire for innings and a stronger presence on the mound and in the clubhouse. I agree with the decision for 2024, but it isn’t that simple. These are quick-fix measures to fill a void and the vulnerability created by organizational malfeasance.

While I agree with the need to enlarge the payroll and be more aggressive in securing more high-end pitching talent, the necessary philosophy adjustment is too late for 2024. (Though how management responds near the trade deadline if the team is in contention and in need of help.)

Some situations require stopgap pitching additions. If the stopgap method was the plan, the Cardinals did fine. I will also point out that the ‘24 club has the biggest 40-man payroll ($213.6 million) in franchise history. And that level of investment should produce a likely, almost certain postseason team instead of a “maybe” postseason contender.

I’m perplexed by media and fans that constantly yelp about the Cardinals’ self-imposed limit on spending. Make it more! Make it higher! Spend! Commit! Show us the money! This is really interesting considering how much money this organization has wasted on terrible, and /or disappointing payroll decisions. So you want more of that, eh? Huh.

To get ready for 2024, the Cardinals took actions that came from desperation. And this desperation was triggered by the failure of effective long-term planning and in personnel judgment. Another cobbled together rotation. Another circus adventure in an overpopulated, madcap outfield. Is this the new Cardinal Way? I hope not. But to get this thing right, there’s a helluva lot of work for to do in 2024 … and beyond. This is not a cheerful opening-day message. But it’s the truth. And the 2024 team can help the mission by doing their best to restore a winning tradition. That isn’t the ultimate destination, but it’s a start.

Thanks for reading …

And enjoy the baseball season.


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.