posted on October 06, 2008 00:00
Bryn Smith was a ginger-colored, lumberjack-looking, mediocre Major League pitcher. He’s also the reason I became a diehard fan of the St. Louis Blues.
Before the 1990 season, Smith was the “big name” free agent the St. Louis Cardinals signed in the offseason. Up to that point, I was almost exclusively a Cardinal fan. But while other teams were signing guys worth $3 million and more a season, the Cardinals were looking for bargains like Smith, who posted a less than spectacular 10-11 record in Montreal before he signed with the Cardinals. Smith epitomized then-owner Anheuser-Busch’s bargain-basement approach to the franchise. It was like a big red flag the brewery was waving with two sentences on it: “We’re Done Trying To Compete! Enjoy Bryn Fucking Smith!” I remember reading the Post-Dispatch that day and seeing a big picture of Smith with a huge smile not unlike a lottery winner. You could tell he couldn’t believe his luck It pissed me off to no end. If this was the kind of player the Cardinals were pursuing, then the 1980s for the Cardinals were deader than Gussie Busch.
And look what happened the season they signed Smith. They traded Willie McGee to Oakland. The players unanimously gave up and Whitey Herzog quit part way through the year. It was so bad, Jose Oquendo played 152 games. They finished last in the standings for the first time in generations. Bryn Fucking Smith only pitched 141 innings and posted a 9-8 record. The team was obviously headed nowhere fast and did not have a committment to winning.
On the other side of downtown on Oakland Avenue, the Blues were making waves. The 1989-90 season ended with a disappointing but hard-fought, second-round playoff loss in seven games to the Blackhawks. That was really the first playoff series I watched and followed. It got me hooked, especially with the team general manager Ron Caron was pulling together.
Of course they had that guy named Hull and Adam Oates, a guy I quickly learned to love watch handle the puck. Then during the summer when the Cardinals were going down the toilet, they acquired Scott Stevens and Geoff Courtnall. In a league where signing free agents was a taboo, the Blues went out and got one of the top defensemen in the league and a decent complimentary scoring forward. They were spending money! They were being aggressive! And as soon as that season started, I was hooked. There was a game in the fall where there was a faceoff at the dot on the goalie’s left side. Oates won the draw, Courtnall helped clear/create traffic and Hull won it with a blast just outside the circle. It was one of the most exciting things I had ever seen.
Then Hull made the push for 50 goals in less than 50 games. Stevens was a madman. Oates a magician. Even when Caron blew up the team with the trade deadline deal that sent Cliff Ronning, Robert Dirk, Sergio Mommesso and Courtnall to Vancouver for Dan Quinn and Garth Butcher, at least the team was being aggressive. You could say the same thing for the signing of Brendan Shanahan in the summer of 1991 that cost the team Stevens in arbitration. It was obvious they were trying to win even if the moves imploded like the former St. Louis Arena. Conversely, the early 1990s were tough on the Cardinals. St. Louis didn’t have an NFL team. The Blues suddenly became the hot ticket in town (that of course led to the Kiel Center being built and unaffordable tickets by the glass and $9 beers and a big pantsless furry mascot, but who’s counting?). And I was fucking hooked, like a junky getting his first hit of heroin or a pervert watching his first porn film.
It wasn’t one game. It wasn’t one Blues player. It wasn’t one experience that got me hooked. It probably had most to do with Bryn fucking Smith. Man I hated that guy, but he’s why I’m here at InsideSTL.com writing about a hockey team that’s never won a Stanley Cup and hasn’t seen the Finals since the franchise’s third season at the dawn of the 1970s.
If you look at the other sports columnists on this site, I’m a little different. I’m not a sports reporter. I don’t go to practice. I won’t be in the locker room or talking to the players. I also won’t be kissing their asses or mincing any words. When Eric Brewer plays like a big, immobile piece of shit, I’ll call him a big immobile piece of shit. When the team wins two in a row the third week of October, I’m going to write optimistically about the playoffs. Fair warning.
I’ve been doing this for awhile, writing for a fan-run paper called St. Louis Game Time that is sold outside the Scottrade Center every home game. We give an irreverent take on each night’s game, give you all the updated stats and standings our readers can handle and hopefully a few laughs. We started the unique operation in November 2005 after this South City guy named Jeffio ran his own paper called Game Night Revue for 10 years. Every issue probably smelled like Wild Turkey. And read like it too. Our blog at stlouisgametime.com is the hands down No. 1 fan blog about the Blues. Others try, they can’t keep up. Until today, it was the only place on the Internet to find a smart-ass opinion about the team. Now you’ve got this corner of InsideSTL.
A new column will be posted at least every weekday and when there are games on the weekends. Regular readers will know everything they need to know about the next game and what was important in the last one.
Come back tomorrow and see what was important about the end of last season and the offseason. Later this week we'll preview the Blues for this season and take a quick look at the Central Division. And then it’s game time on Friday with the Blues opening the season with the Nashville Sexual Predators. Chris Hansen will be watching. Will you?
Brad Lee writes for St. Louis Game Time, a fan-run paper sold outside every St. Louis Blues home game. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.