With Christmas just one week away, I wanted to borrow a little bit from Charles Dickens with a twist.
Instead of being visited by three ghosts, in reading this column today we’ll be visited by three gifts — the gifts of past, present and future within the time frame of 2018 in college and professional sports in the state of Missouri.
The Past Gift
There was no greater gift for a Mizzou football fan in 2018 than seeing the program’s brief transitional doldrums banished — a thing of the past now gone.
The Tigers are headed to a bowl game for the second consecutive year and now that Kelly Bryant is committed to turning in the white and orange tiger colors of Clemson for Mizzou’s black and gold, the future of the program looks bright.
Head Coach Barry Odom’s crew at the zou may still have a ways to go before they’re ready to trade punches with programs like Georgia and Alabama with any regular success, but the Tigers took another big step in the right direction this year.
Looking at the teams atop the Tigers in the 2018 standings, second place behind Georgia in the SEC East could have been an attainable goal for the team this year. Of the two teams tied for second, Mizzou defeated Florida and went to the wire against Kentucky before a late call fell in favor of the Wildcats and cost the Tigers that game for the second year in a row.
Apart from another disappointing loss to South Carolina, the only thing that held the Tigers back from ending as one of the top three records was drawing both Alabama and Georgia on the schedule this year. South Carolina happened to be sandwiched in between those two games, creating the Tigers’ only losing streak of the year.
Mizzou will continue to play Georgia every year, as the two are both featured in the SEC’s East division, but Alabama doesn’t appear on the Tigers’ schedule again until 2025.
Seven or eight wins in a season for the Tigers a decade ago might have felt like business as usual, or maybe even a slightly down year, but eight wins with a shot of a ninth on New Year’s Eve this season feels like proof that the Tigers are back in a big way and better things are coming.
The Present Gift
Even though the news is a week old now, St. Louis Cardinals fans received the biggest gift this offseason that management has been able to provide off the field in some time with the addition of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
Talk all November centered around how the one thing the Cardinals have lacked in the past few seasons has been bona fide star hitter. Matt Holliday filled that role after the departure of Albert Pujols after the team’s last World Series Championship in 2011 with mixed results and Marcell Ozuna was added last offseason to try to fill that role, but was hampered by injuries.
The addition of Goldschmidt gives the Cardinals a prolific power punch in the heart of the batting order that could see Ozuna once again flourish like he was able to do batting behind Giancarlo Stanton in Miami.
Goldschmidt, undoubtedly is a star, and one the St. Louis media has already fawned over him and labeled him a true Cardinals type of ballplayer.
With six consecutive all-star appearances, four silver sluggers and three gold glove awards since 2013, Goldschmidt is seemingly every team’s type of ballplayer. However, it was the Cardinals that were able to land the slugger for the final year of his current contract.
It might not be the headline-grabbing deal like a Bryce Harper signing would have been, but it gives the Cardinals exactly what they needed. Harper is undoubtedly one of the best young stars in the game and whoever signs him this offseason is going to have him for many years to come, but stealing away another franchise’s best player by throwing more money on the table than anybody else just isn’t the Cardinals’ style.
Cardinals fans have a lot to be proud of, following an organization that contends year-in and year-out without having to put the franchise’s future in hock to overpay for a megastar and try to win immediately without consideration for how it might hamstring the budget in the future. Instead, the Cardinals steadily add highly valued prospects and get the most out of them. Even the prospects who are traded away usually have multiple opportunities to earn their spot on the major league club before leaving for another organization.
In this case, the Cardinals bid farewell to pitcher Luke Weaver, who posted a 7-11 record in 30 appearances and 25 starts for the 2018 Cardinals, and to catcher Carson Kelly, who was drafted to be the heir apparent to Yadier Molina. However, with Molina continuing to catch 150 or more games a season and seemingly planning to do so for two more seasons, Kelly’s path to contributing to the Cardinals was blocked unless he found a new position.
Kelly still had a few opportunities to earn more playing time, but it was ultimately determined to be more beneficial for him to get to play every day at AAA rather that maybe once every couple of weeks at the major league level.
The Diamondbacks also got minor league infielder Andy Young and a 2019 draft pick from the Cardinals in the deal.
Time will tell who got the better end of this one. In the short term, it’s definitely the Cardinals who come out ahead for 2019, but in the long run it might take either a championship or a long-term contract extension for this deal to be looked back on favorably by Cardinals fans.
The Future Gift
I can’t think of a future gift with more promise anywhere in the state than in the quarterback in Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes.
After just a few games this year, NFL experts were ready to start crafting his bust for the Hall of Fame in Canton and start debating how many championship rings he would win.
The future gift I really want though comes this year and it’s more conservative than coming out with the big ask of winning a Super Bowl right away.
I would be more than happy just to see the Chiefs make the AFC Championship game, something the team has not done in almost 25 seasons. I was just a first-grader the last time the Chiefs played for the conference championship in the 1993-1994 season, losing to the Buffalo Bills, 30-13.
As a matter of fact, that is the Chiefs only AFC Championship game appearance since the conference championship structure was introduced in 1970.
If the Chiefs can manage to hold off the Chargers for the AFC West title, that would almost definitely also result in a first round bye, meaning the Chiefs would only need to win one game at home in order to get to the AFC title game.
Kansas City controls its own future in that regard, even after this past week’s late letdown against the Chargers on Thursday. Next up is a stiff test though as the Chiefs will have to play the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday night.
Week 17 is seemingly easier, but even with the Raiders in a down year and having to come to Kansas City to close out the season, the Chiefs can’t afford a letdown in that game and can’t take a win for granted.