Less than a week ago, David Freese politely declined induction into the Cardinals Hall of Fame, passing on the honor after a multitude of fans voted for the hometown boy with tremendous enthusiasm.
St. Louis loved Freese when the San Diego Padres traded him for Jim Edmonds 11 days before Christmas in 2007, loved him when he made his big-league debut on Opening Day 2009 after an injury to starting third baseman Troy Glaus, loved him when his early 2011 season was interrupted for nearly two months by a broken hand. And after his incredible, improbable, dream-weaving, hero-creating sequence that lasted games and 63 at-bats in the unforgettable month of October 2011, St. Louis would love David Freese as much as any town has ever loved any athlete in any sport at any time.
This was an everlasting love, permanent and unshakeable. When he returned to Busch Stadium as a Pirate or Dodger, the red sea would wash over him with ovations before every at-bat. This adoration was made clear by his landslide election into the team’s Hall of Fame, an emphatic vote of the people that reaffirmed his special place in franchise history. … not to mention his place in our collective heart. That one life-changing month – October 2011 – would carry over to every month that came after it.
“Yeah, I think it was all just really fast,” Freese said in 2021, during a visit to Busch Stadium on his bobblehead night. “Not only to get traded back to St. Louis, but a couple years later, you know, you go on that run and grab the ring. I think we’re all just learned as we went along. But it was so much fun every October. Late October the date comes up and you know the whole country gets to see the highlights of us winning the World Series and you get to relive it and enjoy it and, you know, it’s obviously easier to handle when you’re done playing.
“There are a lot of things I wish I did differently while I was playing and, years later, family, friends, we also talk about that (time.) And when it pops up we all look at it a little differently. You know, in a good and better way but just, just a blast, going through it all with everybody in your hometown man it’s just stupid thinking about doing that in your own town. That’ll never get old thinking about that, no doubt.”
Freese is a soulful and introspective person who can see the past through the present. And while he enjoys the inevitable moments of reliving the past, he is savoring a different life. And in his mind – no doubt – Freese is also a better man with a wonderful wife (Mairin) and their children who make him happier and more fulfilled than anything that occurred on a baseball diamond.
Well, it’s Game 6 for Freese every day now.
Every single day, he can quietly celebrate the changes that he made – changes that may have saved his life – and be profoundly grateful that he survived a deep depression, frantic anxiety, and a toxic relationship with the alcohol he consumed to ease his pain.
David Freese likes the 40-year-old version of himself a lot more than the 28-year-old who was on top of the baseball world for a month, only to gradually struggle and slip and find himself in a precarious, desperate state. But he battled through all of it – which was a helluva lot more difficult than anything he pulled off in 2011 World Series Game 6 including the tying two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth, and the walk-off homer in the 11th that lifted the Cardinals to an outrageous 10-9 win over the Texas Rangers.
Because of Freese, the Cardinals survived a treacherous Game 6 to reach their triumphant Game 7. That was epic, and important – but it’s also just baseball.
How would David Freese, the human, survive?
“I was depressed. I was always depressed,’’ Freese told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale in 2017 during a wide-open, unsparing interview. “I never tried to do anything to myself, but I didn’t care about my life. I didn’t care what would happen to me. It was almost to a point that if this is my time, so be it? And there was definitely a lack of care about my well-being at certain times, for sure.’’
As Nightengale wrote …
“Those episodes barely scratch the surface. There was the Thanksgiving Day afternoon in 2012 when he crashed his Range Rover into a tree. The countless mornings he awoke and had no recollection of even getting into bed. The blackouts. The constant feeling of lethargy and fatigue.”
Freese elaborated. “I’ve had moments like that since high school, to be honest,’’ he told Nightengale. “It’s been years of, ‘I can’t believe I’m still here.’ ’’
Freese said something to Nightengale that may tell us why he didn’t feel right about accepting a spot in the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
“You win the World Series in your hometown, and you become this guy in a city that loves Cardinal baseball,’’ Freese said. “And sometimes it’s the last guy you want to be. So you start building this façade, trying to be something I was not. And the whole time, I was scared to death what was going to happen to me after baseball.’’
And in the statement to announce his decision to say no to putting on a Hall of Fame red jacket, Freese said this: “I look at who I was during my tenure, and that weighs heavily on me.”
Freese sincerely believes he doesn’t belong with the most prominent legends that wear the red jackets on Opening. He grew up here, so he understand the huge scope and magnitude of the Cardinal careers perfected by Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith and so many others – including Albert Pujols, who will be an automatic choice for the Cardinal Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Freese doesn’t believe his accomplishments come close to measuring up to the standard established by the greatest Cardinals of them all.
And when Freese says “I look back at who I was,” I can only surmise he believes he comes up short for another reason: that he dishonored the Cardinals and couldn’t be at his best because of his problems with his illnesses, alcohol, various misadventures, and the trouble he may have caused behind the scenes. A lot of his teammates, coaches, managers and front-office staff worried a lot about Freese, during those days and perhaps he still feels guilty about that.
I respectfully disagree with Freese on both points.
Freese is deserving of residency in the franchise Hall of Fame. Why? A committee screened him to be placed on the ballot, and the fans overwhelmingly voted him in. That alone makes him worthy. And Freese deserves a spot because he’s delivered an extraordinary month of postseason hitting unmatched by any Cardinal in franchise history. And then some.
Freese batted .397 with a .465 onbase percentage and .794 slugging percentage and set MLB records at the time for most extra-base hits (14) and RBI (21) in a single postseason. He was named MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series. In only 45 at-bats against the Brewers and Rangers, Freese hit a combined .444 with a .528 OBP and .528 slug with 11 extra-base hits including four homers. And he drove in 16 runs. All of that in 45 at-bats over 13 games!
Though injured and unable to compete in the postseason, Freese played for the 2009 Cardinals that won the division. From 2011 through 2013, he started at third base for a terrific team that won a World Series, two NL pennants and 27 postseason games. In the three postseasons Freese had 15 doubles, a famous triple, seven home runs, 29 RBI and slugged .518 with a .875 OPS. And he was their starting third baseman in the team’s three straight appearances in the NLCS.
During the post-expansion era, which began in 1962 for the National League, here’s where Freese ranks among St. Louis hitters in various postseason categories:
* Tied for 3rd with Yadier Molina with 23 extra-base hits, behind only Pujols and Edmonds.
* 4th in homers (7) behind Pujols, Edmonds and Matt Holliday.
* 5th in hits behind Molina, Pujols, Edmonds and Holliday.
* 4th in RBI (29) behind Pujols, Edmonds and Molina.
* Tied for 3rd in doubles.
* 6th in slugging, OPS and total bases.
This wouldn’t be enough to make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but that’s irrelevant. The standards that get a player inducted in Cooperstown have nothing to do with the merits that put him in a team Hall of Fame or a state Hall of Fame.
In 1961, Roger Maris broke the all-time record (at the time) for most home runs in a season, and he isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But the Yankees retired his number, and Maris is in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame despite playing only two seasons for the Cardinals.
Freese had 7.7 WAR as a Cardinal. Two relievers, Jason Isringhausen and Bruce Sutter, had less WAR than Freese did while playing for St. Louis. And both pitchers are deservedly in the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
Freese did more for the Cardinals than just have a hot month in 2011, and we shouldn’t forget that.
As for Freese’s personal issues, he warrants unconditional respect for having the strength of character to take responsibility and action to get well and evolve into a better human being. The depression-anxiety is a separate issue; no one would blame him for it because depression and anxiety are illnesses.
As for the self-medication and using alcohol, at times to excess, Freese had a lot to deal with and couldn’t handle it. I’d never hold that against him, and I’m sure many of you agree. If the holier-than-thou folks disagree, well good for them. How nice it must be to be brag about your own perfection and shame others.
When many of us wrote or said things like “Freese will never have to buy a drink in this town again,” we weren’t kidding. But little did we know what that really meant.
Freese said this in 2021:
“I think I’ve just matured a lot. You know I think it’s good to look back to when you were (younger), and say you’ve grown or you’ve got a different perspective or, I don’t want to say better perspective you know because everything can change in a day. But definitely, it’s different. Man, all this stuff was real heavy back then. I was a kid that didn’t know a lot. I didn’t know a lot about myself. I didn’t know a lot about what I was, you know, looking for what I was striving for. But you hang on tight and you have the good people around you, and you keep battling.”
In a sports culture where most athletes would happily grab any award or perk or put on a Hall of Fame jacket or go without giving their conscience a workout — which isn’t necessary, of course — Freese stands out for his thoughtfulness and integrity … even if he’s being too hard on himself.
If Freese doesn’t want to put on the red jacket and reawaken memories that have had nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with who he was during a tumultuous time in his life, he’s earned the peace that he keeps within his tight circle of loved ones. His World Series ring is in a box in a closet and he doesn’t feel a need to wear it. The intense feelings that the sparkling ring represents go beyond baseball, because winning the World Series led to danger and damage. The scars are embedded. Dave has dealt with it all in his own way, and his life is more enriched because of his intense commitment to change. That should be honored more than the baseball part.
And Cardinal fans have loved David Freese through his happiest times and through his sadness. They love him for his qualities and for his flaws, because they also have qualities and flaws and can relate to him. They consider him a Hall of Famer and the opinion doesn’t require him being fitted for a red jacket. And if we view him as a Hall of Famer – and I say this with love – he can’t do a dang thing about it.
“I think that you’re just forever a champion,” Freese said in 2021, reflecting on 2011.
And my goodness, the sensitive and self-aware David Freese knows that better than most, but perhaps in a different way. He won the NLCS and a World Series and postseason MVP trophies and a ring — and now he’s winning at life. And he’s come to learn that this is more substantive and less complicated than wearing the costume of a hometown baseball hero. Play your guitar, laid-back Dave. Play it with a soft smile on your face. The Cardinals Hall of Fame will open its doors and show you to your spot when you’re ready to come in.
Thanks for reading …
Have a wonderful weekend …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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For the last 35 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. 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.