The "Cardinal way" is an expression that is getting tossed around a lot these days, a label that seems almost ostentatious.
But those who use it insist it has legs. The Cardinal way isn't a brag, it's a mantra, a baseball theology, a direction. During a recent World Series news conference, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak did his best to explain.
"I think when you think about the St. Louis Cardinals, there's obviously just a steep history of success," Mozeliak said. "I think when players decide they want to play here or look to play in St. Louis, there's certain expectations that a player wants to see done.
"Our goal as a front office, as coaches and a manager, we're just trying to make sure that the atmosphere is a winning atmosphere and one that's catering to what they believe and what they expect from this organization.
"And so when you think about building a business, you want that culture to represent success, and when we look at things and you hear people say, 'Cardinal way' it's about tradition, it's about respect, and it's about doing things right. That's what we try to really impart onto our players."
After the Cardinals defeated the Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series at Busch Stadium on Friday night, after they survived two match points in Game 6 and won in 11 innings, after they came from 10 1/2 games back in mid-August to win a championship no one saw coming, the statement is a little easier to comprehend.
The Cardinal way was pioneered by Branch Rickey, Rogers Hornsby and Frankie Frisch. It's been adopted by Gas House Gangs, Coopers and Deans, "Country" and "Cha-Cha." It is muscular like Joe Medwick, imposing like Bob Gibson, dynamic like Lou Brock and acrobatic like Ozzie Smith.
It has had oracles like George Kissell and Red Schoendienst, keepers like Billy Southworth and Whitey Herzog, deities like Stan Musial and Albert Pujols.
The Cardinal way covers 11 World Series championships and 24 playoff appearances, more ground than any other franchise in the National League covers. During Tony La Russa's 16-year tenure, the Cardinal way has averaged 88 wins and advanced to nine postseasons. In the last eight years, it has included three World Series appearances and two championships. The only franchise with a more illustrious trail is the New York Yankees. The Pinstripe way has led to 27 World Series championships, 47 pennants and 50 playoff appearances. The Pinstripe way has lots to brag about.
The Cardinal way boasts a fraternity of red jackets and Hall of Fame names, congregating at home plate on special occasions, closing ranks around "Baseball's Perfect Knight." The Cardinal way is a code La Russa embraced when he came to St. Louis in 1996. He experienced it as a young player, he espouses it as a Cooperstown-bound skipper. He believes in it.
"There is something to the history and the tradition of the Cardinals that as soon as you sign on you feel," La Russa said. "And those guys remind you. During my first year, they came into spring training and they're there, and you know they're pulling like hell for that year's edition to add something.
"I think it helps year in and year out. I think our guys feel it and they want to live up to it as best they can. So that's what it is here."
During this season, through this incredible journey, players have witnessed firsthand how far you might go by following the Cardinal way.
"It's just about us as an organization," La Russa said, explaining his team's improbable finish. "I mean, this one is just different. It was really hard and it was different. As I said a couple days ago, it's like your favorite dog, favorite cat. They're just different. They're still your favorites.
"But in the end, I mean, as a staff, a lot of us have been together a long time, and we have always gotten turned on by guys — veterans who have a chance to win a world championship. So it's really special for some of those guys that paid a lot of dues … We share that with even the young guys, this may be the last time you play in it, you don't have any assurances.
"You know, that turns our staff on and has for years. It's part of what we try to talk to the players about, and this year it worked. I'm really happy for all the organization, but I'm especially happy for the first-timers."
For players such as Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, Octavio Dotel, Edwin Jackson, Rafael Furcal, Jake Westbrook, Arthur Rhodes and Gerald Laird, the Cardinal way became a way to a World Series title, a path those veterans had been trying to find their entire careers.
Furcal, 34, came to St. Louis in a July 31 trade. He made numerous trips to the postseason with Atlanta. He spent five seasons with the Dodgers, who have a rich tradition of their own. But Furcal recognized a "Cardinal way" as soon as he arrived.
"It's one of those things like, everybody is on the same page," Furcal said. "It's a bunch of guys where everybody gets along with each other. Everybody pushes for their teammates and ... everybody tries to, like I say, have fun. Everybody tries to play the game the right way and they are confident about they are going to win. This is the thing, we compete to the 27th out."
Fun, confident, competitive, the right way … those are all part of the formula. It's not just an expression, it's a community spirit and baseball scripture. It's the Cardinal way.