What do you do when your pitching coach is a big baby?
But what if that big baby was the best pitching coach working? What if that big, stinking baby threatened to undermine his best work in a decade and a half with petty, insecure crying?
What if that big, stinking, whining baby had a point?
David Duncan, the Cardinals pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, has been with the team for 14 years, during which time he’s had staffs win 6 NL Central titles, 2 NL pennants and 1 world championship.
But all of those accomplishments pale in comparison to his work in 2009. He’s resurrected John Smoltz’s career, he’s made Adam Wainwright a legitimate Cy Young candidate, he’s coached Chris Carpenter to the NL comeback player of the year award and we haven’t even talked about Franklin or Pinero or Miller. Baseball’s best fans should be lauding Mr. Duncan as a civic treasure; the architect of a dominate and gutty 2009 season that could end up being one of the best in franchise history.
Instead, he’s being called, amongst other things, a big fat cry-baby.
I’m not so sure. Here’s what we know: Dave Duncan’s son, left fielder Chris Duncan, was traded to the Boston Red Sox organization on July 22 for shortstop Julio Lugo. Unconfirmed reports had been spreading the day before that Duncan had been optioned to the AAA affiliate of the Cardinals, but later that proved to be false.
Chris, however, was immediately sent to Boston’s AAA affiliate located in Pawtucket. Dave was infuriated at the Cardinals, but not necessarily for the trade itself (which has proven to be a boon for the organization, providing much-needed infield depth, while simultaneously spurning one of the most distracting storylines of the past three seasons).
Less than a month later, the Pawtucket Sox had outright released the younger Duncan and on August 26th, the elder Duncan missed a game for the first time in his tenure with the Cardinals for “personal business”. Upon his return, his derision at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was outward and emotional, telling reporter Joe Strauss on August 30th that his decision to stay with the team “will be a personal one, not professional”.
Many assume that his ire is directed at the Cardinals for trading his son and not consulting with him or manager Tony LaRussa about it beforehand. But this isn’t the case.
Mr. Duncan’s venom is directed at two entities: The Cardinals front office and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The Cardinals front office did Chris no favors when he was in St. Louis. The majority of the past two seasons he’s played hurt. He’s also played poorly. Unfortunately, the combination of a very stubborn player not willing to cede an inch (remember, Chris did have a very painful vertebra surgery last off-season that had never been performed on an athlete before and made it back in time for spring training) and the silence from the ones charged with protecting him made St. Louis fans assume that Chris just flat out sucked.
And yes, he might indeed suck, I fully admit that. But I also know that the Cardinals did absolutely nothing to protect his reputation a la Kahlil Greene when the chorus of boos starting reigning down after ever strikeout. Was this a tactical move by the GM to make sure that when Chris was finally traded he’d have the vox populi in the bag? Doubtful. So more than an overprotective dad, Dave was merely going to bat for a teammate, trying to explain that the front office wasn’t giving his player the same respects in terms of injury as other players.
Frankly, I’m on Dave’s side here. If TLR isn’t going to take action to make sure that Chris is healthy enough to play, then why let him wallow? Seems pretty reasonable.
But Dave is also on fire about the press coverage of his son as well. As a person that follows the media coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals I can tell you that the portrayal of Chris Duncan as "the whipping boy" was real. And it was exaggerated.
A small subset of Cardinal fans did indeed hate Chris for any number of reasons. But that’s pretty much true for any player on any team in professional sports. At the same time, the fact that it irked both Chris and Dave so much, it was easy to pick up on and blame Chris in blog postings and Twitter updates because, well, it was kind of funny to watch them squirm.
Much like the bully that sort of regrets teasing after something seriously wrong happens, I think many of us want to reach out to both the Duncan men and say “easy, fella’s…we’re only kidding.” The Post-Dispatch just happened to be the biggest bully and easiest target. They weren’t by any means the most vicious, but they got in their pot shots when they could.
It’s professional sports, though. And everyone that covers them is jealous in some small way of the money they make and the life they lead. Reporters get their rocks off with subtle jabs bringing these idols back to Earth. Again, Dave has a point; the media should find other people to pick on too.
Did he handle his request the exact opposite of in a good way? Absolutely. It’s almost comical how bad he’s been with trying to put out this fire. At the same time, he’s never really sought the spotlight and its obvious now why—he’s terrible at being the center of attention.
So here they stand on the precipice of greatness and they've got this big black cloud hanging over the entire event because of two things: the media coverage of a pitching coach’s son and the Cardinals not doing enough to protect a player that was trying hard but failing because of injury.
For whatever reason, this situation is snowballing and growing more ominous. At the same time, it seems like a fairly easy problem to solve: Duncan’s meet with Cardinals. Duncan’s meet with press. Everybody talks civilly and moves on.
Letting this linger and cloud an absolutely phenomenal job by a brilliant coach is not only stupid, it’s self-defeating.
Here’s to hope that not only can the Duncan’s come to terms with their lives at they currently stand, but that St. Louis realizes that this isn’t nearly the problem that it needs to be.