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'The Cardinal Way' proves its merit in 2013

'The Cardinal Way' proves its merit in 2013

'The Cardinal Way' proves its merit in 2013

It's about the tradition of winning and the expectation to continue doing so, according to manager Mike Matheny.

It's about creating a culture in which high character and fundamental play are emphasized at every level. It's also about stability, about sustaining a model organization by drafting well and running a strong player development system.

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It's been described as an organizational philosophy, a franchise tradition and an evolving blueprint for how to play the game. It's become something of a catch-all term, really, for the way they go about their business in St. Louis.

It is "The Cardinal Way," and it was proven successful once again in 2013.

The phrase was often mentioned as the Cardinals marched through the postseason and into another World Series, though the definition remained somewhat nebulous. It was used to explain St. Louis' success in scouting, developing and promoting Major League-ready players from the Minors, and it was applied to the day-to-day, often pitch-to-pitch focus and respect with which the Cardinals approached each game.

"Cliffs Notes version is, this is a way of thinking that we have in St. Louis and in our clubhouse and throughout our organization -- an expectation of winning, an expectation of professionalism that comes with that winning, and doing things the right way," starter Adam Wainwright said before the World Series. "And that's been taught and bred over the years from guys like Red Schoendienst, like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith. All of these great Hall of Famers that you've grown to love, they're still in our clubhouse hanging out, with the great Stan passing this offseason.

"We are very blessed in St. Louis to have those guys in the red jackets around, and we still feel their presence there. We still feel their lessons."

After winning the World Series in 2011, the Cardinals saw manager Tony La Russa retire and Albert Pujols leave for a massive contract in Anaheim. They barely missed a step in '12, making the playoffs as a Wild Card and then advancing to the National League Championship Series.

They lost Kyle Lohse to free agency the following offseason, then they lost starter Chris Carpenter, closer Jason Motte and shortstop Rafael Furcal to injuries early on in 2013.

Once again, no big deal. Not for St. Louis, anyway.

The Cardinals relied on the astonishing depth of their farm system this year more than ever, finishing atop the highly competitive NL Central with a 97-65 record. Twenty rookies contributed in some way to the club's NL championship season. And outfielder Oscar Taveras, one of the top prospects in baseball, is still biding his time in the Minors.

Of the 25 players on the Cardinals' World Series roster, 20 reached the Majors through their own farm system. Of those 20, 17 were drafted. Wainwright and David Freese were acquired as Minor Leaguers, and Carlos Martinez was an international signee.

Those young players didn't just come up to play bit parts, either. Consider rookie Michael Wacha, who made two starts in the World Series, and setup man Martinez and flame-throwing closer Trevor Rosenthal. When Allen Craig went down, Matt Adams was ready to be the starting first baseman. Matt Carpenter transformed from a backup corner infielder in 2012 to the team's everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter in '13.

Even Matheny was unproven and untested as a manager before taking the job in '12, but he has shown why the club considered him an ideal candidate to practice and teach "The Cardinal Way."

That vision starts at the top, as it was a product of chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr.'s thinking. It's executed through general manager John Mozeliak and his front-office staff, passed on by coaches and instructors at the Minor League level, then eventually by veterans on the Major League club. And it's carried out on the field by Matheny and his coaches and players.

"We hold ourselves to such a high level of expectation of how we play -- not just wins and losses, but how you go about your business. And I think it's been something that's just been passed down," Matheny said in October. "It was something, when I came here as a player, that was very clear, and it was obvious and something that I feel is a responsibility to continue. And we have a group of guys that buy into it, and I think they've done a nice job of carrying that torch."

The result has been two World Series appearances in the last three seasons and four in the last 10 years. They've reached the postseason in 11 of the last 18 years, and they've won two World Series since 2006. They fell one game short of reaching the Fall Classic in '12 and two wins short of a championship this past October.

It may be difficult to nail down one specific definition for "The Cardinal Way," but it's impossible to deny its effectiveness, especially in 2013.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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