The St. Louis Cardinals are the best franchise in 21st-century American sport.
Not necessarily the most successful. Not necessarily the most prosperous. Not necessarily the most popular. Just the best.
The Cardinals play the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night, and the Redbirds offer their fans the best deal going.
Constant contention; the Cardinals always play meaningful games. Class organization; the drama is on the field, never in the clubhouse or the front office. Assurance of stamina; the Cardinals' success isn't tied to a player, a coach or an executive.
In St. Louis, the franchise is the star.
Since the 2000s arrived, the Cardinals have won two World Series and reached two others, counting this one.
The Lakers have more titles. But they also have melodrama that trumps the Shakespearean stage.
The Patriots, too, have more titles, but they've all been won by the same quarterback and same coach.
The Spurs have won more titles. All with the same management.
The Heat has won more titles. But Miami has been boom and bust. A mere two years after winning the 2006 NBA title, the Heat went 15-67.
The Cardinals have won with great players, and great managers, and a great front office. But not a particular great player. Not a particular great manager. Not a particular general manager.
Albert Pujols is gone to the Orange County Angels, having taken a 10-year, $240-million contract offer. And the Cardinals keep winning.
Tony La Russa, one of the five best managers in baseball history, is gone, to retirement, after the 2011 World Series title. And the Cardinals keep winning.
Walt Jocketty, who as general manager rebuilt the franchise after a dip in the 1990s, is gone, to run the Cincinnati Reds. And the Cardinals keep winning.
Catcher Yadier Molina and pitcher Chris Carpenter are the only Cardinals left from their 2004 World Series team. Molina was a rookie in '04, called up in June. Carpenter hasn't pitched all season, due to a shoulder injury, but still puts on a uniform and hangs out in the Cardinal dugout, because that's the Cardinal Way.
The Cardinals are sport's best example of the delicate balance between stability and change.
They've had three general managers in the last 30 seasons — Dal Maxvill 1984-94, Jocketty 1994-2007, John Mozeliak 2007-present.
They've had three owners in 60 years, and that's counting Anheuser-Busch as separate from Gussie Busch, who owned the franchise from 1953-89 — Anheuser-Busch sold the Cardinals to the current ownership group, led by Bill DeWitt Jr., in 1996.
They've had four managers since 1980 — Whitey Herzog 1980-90, Joe Torre 1990-95 (Mike Jorgensen was interim manager when Torre was fired in '95), La Russa 1996-2011 and current skipper Mike Matheny.
St. Louis doesn't have the bright lights of Hollywood or Broadway. Doesn't have an ocean. Doesn't even have the smartest guy in the room, like Bill Belichick or Gregg Popovich.
St. Louis just has a baseball organization dedicated to developing talent, spending well but wisely. A culture, to use Sam Presti's favorite word.
And St. Louis has a fan base that loves the game and loves its team like it's 1949. That fan base is rewarded with the best franchise in American sport.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.