The St. Louis Cardinals 2011 championship season was, without question, the single most captivating and exciting postseason run I have seen in my lifetime. Battling out every single game for a month and a half and capping it off with a hometown kid crushing a walk-off home run after two late inning comebacks to win a do-or-die game six is about as dramatic as it gets.
But the fact that those Cardinals, led by Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter, won a championship shouldn’t be considered all that astonishing. The talent on the 2011 team could have matched up with any team in baseball. It was the fact that the team struggled mid-season and dealt with a slew of injuries that put them 10 games out to start September.
That said, the 2006 Cardinals were the most improbable champions I’ve ever witnessed. The oh-sixers out-kicked their coverage all year long, and, after suffering late-season losing streaks of seven and eight games, stumbled to an 83-78 record before catching fire and clinching a 10th World Series trophy. They got it done with a rag-tag bunch that included a rookie closer (Adam Wainwright), a catcher that batted .216 (Yadier Molina), a starting pitcher that had a 5.76 ERA (Jeff Weaver), and a shortstop who wasn’t tall enough to ride The Batman at Six Flags (David Eckstein).
None, however, embodied the fundamental values of baseball, work, and party that St. Louis holds on such a pedestal like the Cardinals’ red-bearded utility man, Scott Spiezio.
Spiezio came to the Cardinals as a reclamation project after laboring through two difficult years with the Seattle Mariners, batting .216 in 2004 and.064 in 2005. The Birds hoped he could re-discover the ability he showed earlier in his career with the Anaheim Angeles when he was a full-time starter for four seasons and an integral part of their 2002 championship season.
After earning a job in spring training as a non-roster invitee, Spiezio would go on to play in 119 games at six different positions, batting a respectable .272 with 13 home runs along the way. He drove in five runs in the NLCS, including a dramatic two run triple with the Cards trailing 6-4 in the seventh inning of Game 2.
Unfortunately, Spiezio’s story takes a downhill turn after that. Although he batted .269 over 256 at bats in 2007, his season was marred when he was placed on the restricted list and underwent treatment for substance abuse problems in August. Spiezio returned to the team in September but was largely ineffective.
Things got worse that offseason when an arrest warrant was issued after a drunken Spiezio crashed his car, left the scene, and arrived at a neighbor’s condo where he significantly injured the man and allegedly disgorged on his carpet (it really tied the room together, man!). He never saw another pitch in the big leagues after the incident.
It was really unfortunate that Spiezio’s career ended in the manner it did, because Spiezio was one of the most well-liked players in the league during his time, and was a darn good ballplayer to boot. He played in over 100 games 8 times. He could play any position on the field, and even appeared as a pitcher in 2007.
Spiezio had a blue-collar attitude and demeanor, and looked more like a rock-star than an all-star. During the 2006 postseason run, fans at Busch Stadium wore stick-on Cardinal red soul patches to mimic Spezio’s signature beard. He played the game hard, and played it the right way. Spiezio was tremendous at situational hitting, executing bunts and putting the ball on the ground when needed.
I was shocked to see a picture of Spiezio these days, looking quite a bit more portly than he did during his playing days and sporting a full white and brown lumberjack beard. He has recently started to emerge into the public eye, acting as the grand marshall of a January Supercross race in Anaheim, where he still has a legion of fans from his days as a World Series hero with the Angels. He lives in his childhood home in northern Illinois on a 60-acre plot, complete with batting cages, a basketball court, a recording studio, and a 2-mile ATV track. He is still the singer of Sandfrog, the same heavy metal band he fronted during his baseball career. He has considered getting back into baseball through broadcasting or coaching.
No matter what he does , I’m certain he would make it entertaining to watch, as he so often did over his 12-year big league career. Wherever he ends up, the party will be soon to follow.