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From the top down

Blame Cardinals owner for world champs' poor start

Posted: Thursday May 10, 2007 11:05AM; Updated: Thursday May 10, 2007 12:23PM
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Signed as a  bargain-basement stopgap starter, Kip Wells has failed to provide a boost to the world champions' title defense.
Signed as a bargain-basement stopgap starter, Kip Wells has failed to provide a boost to the world champions' title defense.
Frank Orris/WireImage.com
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Also in this column:
• Mussina errs on Clemens
• Schilling's latest gaffe
• Toronto manager on hot seat
• More news and notes

Manager Tony La Russa recently tried to take the hit for the Cardinals' poor start. He said, blame me.

I say, no way.

I say the Cardinals' problems go right to the top, to the owner, Bill DeWitt Jr., a rich guy determined to hold on to his money.

He's lucky enough to own a team in the best baseball city in America, a city where half the town wears red the day of games, a town that actually does bleed Cardinal red. He's lucky enough to have won a World Series with an 83-win team, and also to have bought a team whose franchise value likely has soared by $200-$300 million in the few years he's had it.

His whole life he's carried around a lucky charm, right from the start, when he lent famed baseball midget Eddie Gaedel his jersey (not kidding, that was DeWitt Jr.'s first act in baseball).

Apparently, his lesson from last year was this: If his team can win it all after an 83-win regular season, why try to win one more game?

So he didn't.

DeWitt owned the Rangers with George W. Bush in the '90s, and like Bush, he wound doing up what his father did. DeWitt Sr. was the owner of the St. Louis Browns (which explains how a 10-year-old DeWitt and Gaedel shared clothing). The difference between the two fortunate sons is this: Bush spends more.

Everything Billionaire Jr. does turns to red gold. He bought the team for a song, watched it soar in value and prints money in a city that loves baseball.

Yet this winter, he handed nickels to his fine general manager Walt Jocketty to spend, while other GMs had millions. The owner did what he did the year before. He counted on Jocketty, La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan to turn another slightly above average roster into magic. It's tough to repeat. Under these circumstances, it's nearly impossible.

So far it isn't happening. The Cardinals are 14-18 and nine games behind the Cinderella Brewers in the NL Central.

Jocketty brought in Kip Wells (1-6, 6.59) for $4 million for 2007, Adam Kennedy (no home runs, .239 batting average) for $10 million over three years and brought back a recovering Mark Mulder (who could be ready for the second half) for $13 million over two years, when even the notoriously cheap team across the state that hasn't won a thing in decades spent $55 million on Gil Meche (wisely, it turns out).

The Cardinals offered postseason hero Jeff Suppan $18 million over three years, and it's no surprise that Suppan more than doubled that bid, going to the division rival Brewers for $42 million, where he's 5-2 with a 2.63 ERA.

The Cardinals offered Jeff Weaver $10 million over two years to stay, and La Russa called Weaver to tell him they needed him, that they'd be in trouble without him. Weaver said he'd love to stay, and that he'd even stay for no raise, for the same $8.325 million he made last year. But when the Cardinals said no, he got his money in Seattle instead. Duncan brought out the best in Weaver, certainly better than the 15.35 ERA he is now toting as a Seattle Mariner, and that was another loss.

The Cardinals certainly weren't going to match the $20 million the Cubs gave Jason Marquis, not after Marquis (who's 5-1 with a 1.70 ERA with the Cubs) was dropped from the Cardinals' postseason roster.


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