When I moved to St. Louis almost two decades ago, I found a welcoming corner of my new home by revisiting an old hobby.
I wear my fondness for comic books, especially Spider-Man, on Twitter, in chats, and in conversations, and all these years later I realize that in those early years of my time at the Post-Dispatch, the culture of the comic shop helped me get comfortable here. In the overlap between Cardinals baseball and comic books, I’ve made great friends, too. Comics offered great narratives – an infinite and infinitely fertile landscape for world-building and story-telling. At their core, however, they are about the good person who risks whatever is necessary to do the best they can with the talents they have and then the antagonist who will do whatever it takes to win, to thrive, to accumulate power, no matter the cost.
These were the stories I got to write in 2019.
In May, I wrote about heroes, and by October, I wrote about villains.
The Mother’s Day story about the handful of Cardinals pitchers who were raised by “five-tool” single moms began as a conversation in spring training, but the reporting for it goes back years, maybe even more than a decade. One of the pitchers brought it up to me as something so many of them shared – an often unspoken bond – and the similar traits he saw in his peers. He traced a common strength back to their moms’ strength. This was a story I wanted to find a way to tell, right. Over time I spoke to most of the pitchers during spring, just to see if they were comfortable sharing this personal story, and if they trusted me to do so. Adam Wainwright and his mother had talked with me years before for another story, and their insight was invaluable as I interviewed pitchers and their mothers for this story.
This was a story that required repeated interviews – not just one chat or one phone call, but circling back a few times to several people. That was especially true with Jack Flaherty, who spoke with me several times and at length one day, leaning against a wall not too far from the Cardinals’ dugout, and his mother, Eileen. They gave the interviews such time and such care that I had to do the same.
My mom, a feisty sort who marched on Montgomery in 1965, would let me know if she felt I gave anything less.
With a great personal story comes great responsibility.
So does an important story.
Dispatched to cover the World Series, I knew one of the stories that I wanted to write was about a contrast: How an Astros team that had its share of charisma and stars – from brash Alex Bregman to solid George Springer to MVP Jose Altuve – could own a likeable lineup and yet be such an unlikeable team. Off the field, with the firing of an executive who taunted a female reporter, October was a P.R. quagmire from the Astros. That was weeks before the allegations of illegal sign-stealing surfaced. After a win in Washington, I found general manager and former Cardinals exec Jeff Luhnow outside of A.J. Hinch’s office. I asked him for a moment and warned him he may not like the question that followed.
“Are you comfortable with the reputation your team is developing as long as it wins?” I asked. “I mean are you OK if your team is known for winning at whatever costs?”
“I’m not discussing that,” he said.
And he didn’t.
A few minutes and a few feet away, I came up with a better question and got a better answer. I asked Bregman if he was OK being a villain.
“Some teams can be likable, some are not,” he said. “It don’t know if we’re a villain or not a villain or whatever. We just want to win. That’s it.”
Weeks later, in an article by The Athletic, details emerged of how the Astros had hacked opponents’ pitch signals in 2007, and used technology illegally to do so. It’s rare that a team loses two World Series in the span of a few weeks, and yet here the Astros were: They lost the 2019 World Series at home, in Game 7, to Washington, and they had their win in the 2017 World Series questioned because of illegal skullduggery. In an unapologetic push to win that started with tanking, the Astros had eventually won and won and won and now dealt with a significant loss. Their reputation. The story still to be told is whether it matters to them.
Heroes often have to be told they actually are.
Villains know, but don’t always care.
Speaking of which.
It’s time to finish my Hall of Fame ballot.
Derrick Goold's memorable stories of 2019
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It wasn’t long after Jack Flaherty arrived at his brother’s little league field and found their mom that he launched into all the reasons this…
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A slugger with a familiar last name who often powered through pain and lifted the Cardinals to a World Series championship in 2006 and then la…
One of his four daughters was off at the orthodontist with his wife Jenny, and another daughter, the youngest, was waiting to go to ballet. An…