By Brad Lee
The gingery lumberjack-looking fellow above is Bryn Smith, a retired Major League Baseball pitcher and 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. 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 that 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. And 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 for Dan Quinn and Garth Butcher, at least the team was being aggressive. 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.
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.
It wasn't one game. It wasn't one Blues player. It wasn't one experience that got me hooked. It probably had to do with Bryn Fucking Smith. Man I hated that guy.
(We are looking for readers to submit their own stories about how they got hooked on the Blues. Young, old, we don't care. E-mail us your story.)