The last time the baseball world saw Dexter Fowler in a postseason, he led off Game Seven of the 2016 World Series with a home run on the road against the Cleveland Indians.
While the game would later be in jeopardy, thanks to several perplexing decisions by now-former manager Joe Maddon, Fowler’s homer helped propel the Cubs to an early lead and their first World Series title since 1908.
Now, he’s back in the playoffs for the first time as a St. Louis Cardinal – and he’s headed to his hometown of Atlanta to take on the National League East champion Braves.
Without Fowler’s successful return to the leadoff spot in the Cardinals lineup in August, it’s quite possible his team would not have made the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
While he, like other Cardinals, struggled at the plate in the season’s final weeks (he hit .202 in September), Fowler starred in an almost must-win game against the Cubs last Sunday. He blasted a lengthy home run, reached base four times, drove in two runs and scored two himself.
The Cardinals prevailed 9-0 and, like that night in Cleveland in 2016, Fowler helped his team shake off any early game jitters and prevail.
Fowler closed the regular season with career-highs in home runs (19) and RBI’s (67). While his .238 batting average won’t win him a batting title, he added 69 runs scored and a .346 on-base percentage.
His ability to earn walks and get on base in the leadoff position in the lineup sparked the Cardinals’ turnaround.
After he retuned to the leadoff spot, the Cardinals went 31-18, finished with 91 wins and a two-game lead over the wild card Milwaukee Brewers.
“We’ve had our ups and downs. A lot of people counted us out early. But we believed in ourselves from the beginning and it has been awesome,” a champagne-soaked Fowler told Jim Hayes of Fox Sports Midwest as the Cardinals celebrated the NL Central Division-clinching victory on Sunday.
“This is a good group of guys. We really meshed.”
Fowler’s turnaround actually began in July 2018 when Mike Matheny was fired as manager and Mike Shildt took over as interim manager. Fowler had the misfortune of breaking his foot in August and missed the remainder of the season.
His and Matheny’s relationship was toxic and many Cardinal fans blamed Fowler, not the overmatched manager.
They were livid when Shildt and John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, announced during the offseason that they still had confidence in Fowler’s abilities and would be a starter in 2019.
Fowler, who told the Post-Dispatch that the front office leaders visited him in Las Vegas last December, said their confidence in him “went a long way,” in his return to being a solid player.
“These guys believed in me. That’s all you ask for. You take that, and you never want to disappoint when people believe in you,” he told Hayes.
He also reminded the Cardinals during the season that he is far from a liability in the outfield – especially as the season neared its close.
After splitting the first two games of a critical series at home against the Washington Nationals, the Cardinals led the rubber game 5-1 in the eighth inning on Sept. 18. Nationals second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera hit a shot to right field that cleared the wall and apparently tightened the score to 5-4.
But Fowler made a perfectly-timed jump and snared the ball, robbing Cabrera of a home run.
“I did hoop,” Fowler told mlb.com after the game.
“Thought those days were over, but I guess Asdrubal threw me an alley oop.
“Big play in the game. It kind of changes the momentum if the ball goes over the wall. Fortunately, I was there and could get it.”
The Cardinals traveled to Chicago the next day and completed a four-game sweep over the weekend that pretty much ended the Cubs’ season. It was announced last Sunday that Maddon would not return as manager.
Maddon will forever be a hero in Chicago. Fowler’s Game Seven home run in 2016 will never be forgotten.
But new, historic moments could be awaiting if Fowler puts together a great postseason run and the Cardinals go deep in the playoffs. It all begins at 4:20 p.m. Thursday – and Fowler will be at the top of the batting order and right at home.
Take that, NCAA
As expected, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) signed into law on Monday a bill that, beginning in 2023, allows college athletes to hire agents and profit from endorsement deals.
The NCAA has threatened all California schools that are members with expulsion from the organization. But as the Associated Press reported, “Critics have long complained that schools are getting rich off the backs of athletes — often, black athletes struggling to get by financially.”
Newsom, whose bill signing was televised on LeBron James’ HBO show, "The Shop: Uninterrupted," said the bill gives student athletes the same rights as fellow students.
"Other college students with a talent, whether it be literature, music, or technological innovation, can monetize their skill and hard work," Newsom said, with James alongside.
"Student athletes, however, are prohibited from being compensated while their respective colleges and universities make millions, often at great risk to athletes' health, academics and professional careers."
James said on Instagram, California’s action “will change the lives for countless athletes who deserve it!"
"NCAA, you got the next move. We can solve this for everyone!"
South Carolina has a similar bill making its run through that state’s legislature and it is expected to pass. Several North Carolina legislators support similar action and, importantly, reportedly have the support of respective head basketball coaches Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Roy Williams of the University of North Carolina.
The coming law will prohibit schools from kicking athletes off the team if they get paid and/or revoking scholarships. Community colleges are exempt and athletes cannot accept endorsement deals that conflict with a schools' existing contracts.
For example. KU has an apparel deal with Adidas. A player could not sign a deal with Converse and wear that brand of shoe during games.
Speaking of Kansas, a legislator there said he supports the California law, but that he foresaw no similar action from that state because “for better or worse,” it defers to the NCAA.
There is no word what Missouri’s legislature thinks of the measure, but I’ll be contacting local black legislators this week.
Battle on with class
Battle High School football coach Atiyyah Ellison said Monday that players and cheerleaders from his school in Columbia were targeted with racial slurs and taunts during last Friday’s away game at Jackson High School (Cape Girardeau County.)
Ellison told the Columbia Daily Tribune that Jackson fans shouted a racial slur that starts with “n” at players and cheerleaders. Cheerleaders were also sexually harassed.
He said referees were informed of the vile language and that they heard the taunts, but took no action.
“The kids, we’re trying to work on our discipline,” Ellison said. “The referees didn’t want to hear it, either.”
Jackson Superintendent John Link told the Tribune he wasn’t aware of the racial taunts, but said he is “looking into it.”
The Tribune left a voice mail inquiry with the Missouri State High School Activities Association, but had not received a response as of Tuesday morning.
In addition to the racial taunts, Ellison said his team’s locker room was vandalized during the second half of the game.
Bananas were mashed in lockers, clothes and other locker contents were dumped on the floor. Wallets were emptied with contents spread on the floor, according to Ellison.
He said a Jackson official said Battle players did those things.
“We were accused of damaging our own things,” Ellison said.
The Reid Roundup
Former Missouri star receiver Jeremy Maclin, former coach Gary Pinkel and 10 others will be named as Missouri Sports Legends by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 3 in Columbia … Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox shortstop and one of MLB’s top, young black players, won the American League batting title with a .335 average … Dave Roberts, L.A. Dodgers manager and the lone MLB black skipper, is guiding a team with a 9-to-4 chance to win the World Series. Only the Houston Astros, at 2-to-1, have better odds. The Cardinals are a 14-to-1 shot … Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper reportedly will ask the city of Charlotte for $200 million for stadium upgrades in an attempt to land an MLS expansion team. Tepper is worth an estimated at $10 billion by FORBES … The basketball court at Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus will be named in honor of former coach Nolan Richardson before an exhibition game against the Arkansas-Little Rock on Oct. 20. In 17 seasons Richardson led Arkansas to a school-record 389 victories, 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, three trips to the Final Four and the 1994 national championship. When he took the helm in 1985, he became the first black coach of a major basketball program in the South … Sam Cooper of Yahoo Sports is among several college football writers that list Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts as the current favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1