Oscar Taveras has had a deep impact on the St. Louis Cardinals. Sadly it is not in the way the club had imagined. Taveras could have been the future of the club’s outfield. At one point, Taveras was a top five prospect in all of baseball. Looking back I can recall comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero when assessing his potential star power. This guy was just impressive.
On May 31st of the 2014 season, Oscar connected with a pitch from Yusmeiro Petit for his first major league hit sending that ball over the wall in right field.
Today, as I look out the window upon a gloomy and rainy day, I can help but remember that moment. Oscar rounding the bases and firing up the lively crowd at Busch Stadium. The slow-motion camera angles highlighted the rain shower that is forever connected to his first hit. This moment in hindsight foreshadowed the dark and incredibly sad future for Oscar. In this moment, we saw as sneak peek of his potential. The darker side of life looming, the flame that Oscar carried with him eventually smothered out.
At the end of the season, St Louis seemed to be rallying around this young man. Filled with potential that was bursting at the seams, Oscar brought life and fire to the dugout. His presence on the field was also incredible to see. When I see Jose Martinez, and his level of energy, it reminds me of Oscar. His swing that was iconic, it was loud, strong, and just plain fun to watch. All of this is displayed so well with what Oscar did in the 2014 NLCS.
It was the bottom of the 7th of game two against the Giants. Down 2-3, Taveras was sent to pinch hit. Watch the video below and just look at his energy. Taveras delivered, and his swing still to this day brings a huge smile to my face. I can help but notice the way he connected with all of the Cardinal players. The dugout looked so much younger then, but he brought that team together in that moment. Incredible.
The Cardinals were eventually eliminated, but this was a show case of potential for Oscar. This home run blast happened on October 12th, 2014. Oscar was on top of the world, and probably felt invincible. However only two weeks later, Oscar died.
On October 26th, 2014, just before the start of game 5 of the 2014 World Series, Oscar’s car collided with a tree in the Dominican Republic killing him and his girlfriend. It was released later that Taveras had a blood alcohol content that was .287, nearly six times the legal limit. We are left asking, how can such a great talent be lost by something that was so preventable?
The Cardinals, the fans, and the baseball world were left in shock.
Four years later, we remember Oscar Taveras, and the legacy that he now leaves behind. It is not one of great promise and power, rather one of great sadness. What could have been? His departure left the Cardinals outfield with a massive void. The front office has attempted to fill this hole with many names since. Grichuk, Piscotty, Pham, Heyward, Fowler, Martinez, Bader, and O’Neil have all seen their fair share of right field. Unfortunately none of them have quite lived up to expectations. It really makes you wonder where we could be if Taveras was still here.
One thing is certain, John Mozeliak hit the nail on the head when he made the following statement.
“I think back to that tragedy, and I do recall saying to [manager] Mike [Matheny] and others right after that, ‘We’re not going to miss Oscar on the field today or that year. It’s going to be a couple of years down the road where we feel that impact.’”
And here we are a couple of years down the road.
Still, we are searching for an impact bat. We are also desperately hoping that one trade, or one signing, or maybe one good season for someone can fill that void. When you have a solid answer at that position and the promise of longevity, losing that deflates a clubhouse. While the Cardinals did make the post season in 2015, it has been downhill ever since. The impact of his death can still be seen today, and an uphill battle still ensues.
The acquisition of Jason Heyward brought us a year that showed great promise. But the Chicago Cubs, and the allure of a potential powerhouse drew Heyward away in free agency. The sudden hole that needed to be filled going into 2015 lost us Shelby Miller. Hindsight shows that maybe we didn’t win or lose much with that deal, but it inevitably left more questions than answers.
The emergence of Piscotty and Grichuk almost seems to have just happened too quickly. While they both appear to be maturing nicely into their respective roles, neither is currently playing with the club. Four years have gone by and we are still looking for answers, and it leaves us with one big question. Will this be the offseason where an answer is found? Furthermore, are we still seeking to fill the hole left by Oscars death? Finally, how long until his departure is no longer a cause of struggle inside of this lineup?
Bryce Harper is on the table this year. Personally, I like Harper and the sound of a long-term permanent player in right field. But, his defense is lacking, and his consistency is somewhat in question. My fear is that the front office makes a commitment to sign him and the results become something similar to Heyward or Fowler situations. Disappointing.
I also fear that the loss of Taveras is what may cause the team to once again over pay in an attempt to fill this void. While a big risk, Harper has a potential of great reward. But like every other player listed above that has tried right field, would he too be a disappointment? Time will tell.
As we remember Taveras today, the gloomy weather outside serves as a reminder of two things. The first is that day where Oscar hit his first home run. The rain storm that fits so poetically into the story. The second is the overwhelming darkness that has followed ever since. The powerful Left-handed batter is still so greatly missed.
The Cardinals have made an effort to educate the players about the risks of reckless actions. We can only hope that the effort carries over deep into the future of the organization. Great tragedies in baseball are so devastating. It is unfortunate that this one hit so close to this great team.
I like to imagine that Oscar has joined the list of players from the film “Field of Dreams.” Perhaps somewhere he is living up to all of our hopes, and raking the home runs alongside of Shoeless Joe Jackson. None the less, he joins a list of players like Jose Fernandez and so many others that leave us asking, what if.
Rest in peace El Fenómeno.
June 19, 1992 – October 26, 2014
May 31, 2014
Thanks for reading,