Life Lessons From The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals

Sports is a metaphor for life, it is a cliché, but it’s true. When I was a kid and competing in youth sports the Dads used to tell us “ boy you are learning life lessons” and I would think to myself “yea that’s just the BS they tell you”.  But as a kid I worked hard in practice and now I work hard as an adult, I played the games to win and now I play the game of life to win, I was hurt when I lost and I still feel pain at loss, and I realized at a young age that to get ahead it often takes courage and a team effort.



Football may have surpassed baseball as the favorite sport in America a couple of decades ago; but there is no question whatsoever that in St. Louis, beyond the shadow of a doubt, baseball remains the most popular sport in this city. Indeed as a kid in St. Louis I don’t think I ever met a single human who was not a St. Louis Cardinals fan.



When I was a kid in the 1980’s the Cardinals played a very exciting kind of baseball referred to as “Whiteyball”. Whiteyball was named after the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals Whitey Herzog. Herzog, a down home folksy manager from nearby Illinois, was wildly popular in the St. Louis area and reminded people of any number of guys riding around St. Louis in pickup trucks and going hunting and fishing on the weekends. The style of play the Cardinals popularized relied heavily on speed and good defense. Few home runs and lots of stolen bases and manufactured runs.



The players on the Cardinals were as diverse as the city. In a city, and region, heavily divided by race, everyone cheered for the team which had a lot of black players. The two most popular players of the 80’s teams- by far, were shortstop Ozzie Smith, a defensive wizard who would come onto the field doing backflips, and Willie McGee an awkward yet productive outfielder. Both are African-American.



It is hard to put into words how racially divided St. Louis was when I was growing up ( and if I dedicated this post to that I would talk about nothing else), but let’s just say racial tension was everywhere from local politics, to the media, to peoples workplaces, and to the schools I was educated in. Yet, black kids cheered for white players such as Tom Herr and Jack Clark, and white kids cheered for black players such as Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee. The Cardinals, and other sports to a lesser extent, brought this city together like nothing else when I was a kid, and for a moment everyone would forget we were on different teams and we all just joined our voices and cheered for the Cardinals.



In 2006 when I returned to St. Louis from New York the Cardinals had just faced the Mets in a memorable National League Championship Series. Like the World Series runs of 1982, 85 and 87 (we can forget about the 2004 sweep by the Boston Red Sox), this city was on fire when I got here. Black and white, rich and poor, young and old, city and county, everyone was united in pulling for the Cards. When they won the series, and I was outside the stadium in my cab when it happened, I witnessed the biggest street party I have ever seen in St. Louis.  Race relations may have improved slightly since my childhood, although they are still amongst the worst in the nation, but that 2006 celebration was the most diverse party I have ever witnessed here by far. Mardi Gras is a huge street party in Soulard every year, but I see few black faces, and the Annie Malone May Day Parade is a huge party on the North Side, but I see few white faces, ALL come to celebrate the Cards.



The 2011 World Series run by the Cardinals has to be the most unlikely and fascinating season in my lifetime. In August the Cardinals were 10 and a half games out of the wild card slot and well behind the division leading Milwaukee Brewers. Local sports writers and sports radio were bashing the Cardinals every day all day. The team was too slow, too old, manager Tony LaRussa needed to retire, the relief pitching sucked, and on and on. Many had stopped watching games and following the teams and basically viewed the season as over. I gave up in the Cards in the middle of August.



Then, with few believers, the Cards made an improbable late season surge and made it to the playoffs on the last game of the regular-season. Suddenly, the Cardinals were red hot, beating the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the playoffs and then handling divisional rivals the Milwaukee Brewers to win the National League Pennant. Next thing you know the local sports media and all the haters and doubters had all caught Cardinals fever and were back on the team bandwagon. Everyone was talking about the Cards, and I mean everyone in my cab, from middle-aged women working as housekeepers at hotels, to nurses aids, to white collar types working in the financial sector. Even the dopeboys and crackheads in my cabs were sporting their Cardinals hats.



Sports can be a something that two people talk about who otherwise have nothing else in common.  They don’t listen to the same kind of music, don’t live in the same kind of neighborhood, don’t vote for the same party, and maybe are not even of the same race, but in St. Louis all can talk about baseball together. And, it is not just a simple matter. These sports conversations can spawn friendships just as my high school sports teams gave birth to lifelong friendships amongst a diverse group of people.



Everything is by the decree of Allah and is His plan and it just so happened that I got a call to pick up a passenger from a St. Louis hospital and take him to rural Missouri. It just so happened that this was the same small town my father had moved to but I had never visited my Dad. After dropping my passenger off I said asked myself should I visit my dad. After all we had not spoken in years, the last time I saw him we almost came to blows, and we have a troubled relationship at best.



I decided to drive to my dad’s house after getting the address from my grandmother. I knocked on the door wearing my Cards hat and he answered the door wearing his Cards hat. We sat, we talked about the Cards chances in the World Series, he gave me a tour of his basement which is basically a Cardinals museum, and in between sentences we caught up on each other’s lives.



Baseball can bring people together and it brought my father and I back together- in a sense, and to an extent. When I was a kid it was black and white Cardinals playing side by side. Today, in a climate of anti-immigration and the fear of a growing Latino population, white folks are cheering for Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Jaime Garcia. I am willing to bet there are some who have softened there position towards Latinos and immigration seeing that just as Latinos can make the Cardinals stronger and work as a team they can also do so with Team America.



Once the Cardinals made it to the Fall Classic the experts still did not believe and most picked the Texas Rangers- but experts don’t play the game. The Cards showed up big and in one of the best World Series in years, highlighted by the 11th inning Game 6 victory a game which will go down as one of the greatest in baseball history, the Cardinals defeated the team of Nolan Ryan and George W. Bush and in doing so a new star was born- St. Louis hometown kid David Freese.



Just as in 2006 I was there outside the stadium listening to Mike Shannon on the radio as the final out was made to give the Cardinals the 11th championship in 2011. I experienced the victory with my passengers as they celebrated and at least for one day we were all one. There are a lot of people who may be in the August of their lives; but if you fight through it, like the Cardinals did, you may end up on top like they did.  




Occupation Without Foundation Will Lead to Damnation

Prior to the American led invasion of Iraq I, along with many other American-Muslims, was involved in the anti-war movement. I attended anti-war marches in St. Louis, New York, and Washington DC. Some of these marches involved tens of thousands of people. In New York we even had a Jummah Prayer service attended by thousands of Muslims in Times Square. The march in DC turned from an anti-war rally to a pro-Palestinian rally and was a site to behold. In St. Louis I organized and led with a few fellow activists a large rally against the war in the Delmar Loop. Along with Tim Kaminski we leafleted against the war at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dogtown and were physically attacked by the crowd.

While the anti-war movement didn’t get that much mainstream media coverage it was a substantial movement organized both locally and nationally. The movement was broad and consisted of pacifists opposed to any war, human rights activists, liberal Democrats, Greens, libertarians, socialists, communists, anarchists, a few trade unionists, Arabs and Muslims. I saw all of these factions and how they interacted with one another.

I experienced the energy and the good of this movement; but in the end I got burned out.  First I got burned out after seeing that no matter what we did the administration of President George W. Bush was determined to pursue its policies of war. Secondly, because I saw the weaknesses within the movement.

The primary weakness I saw was that the movement was not growing beyond its base. Mainstream Americans of any race were not coming into the movement. Amongst African-Americans I saw a very narrow participation from people who normally are protesting someone anyway. The average black barber or school teacher was not compelled to get involved. With whites I saw very few, and I mean hardly any, working-class folks involved. I saw a lot of rich college kids, young people of privilege who were maybe slumming it in an activist phase, and professional protesters who had been protesting since the 1960’. When I attended meetings in New York, of people who claimed to be representing the masses, I had never been around a group of more wealthy and educated people with the bourgeois tastes and mannerisms of the upper-class. This was a group incapable of reaching the masses.

From a Muslim perspective I was also troubled by a few things I saw. Prior to 2001 Muslims lived in America in relative isolation. The majority of the political discussion was Islamist in nature and dedicated to overseas issues. Those that did promote voting were on the fringe and nobody really paid attention to them anyway. Amongst the Muslims I hung out with I was one of only a few who even voted. Many believed that to vote was to justify an un-Islamic system and some even said it was a form of shirk. The small group of Muslim elites that did exist at the time had campaigned for Bush in 2000. Partly because he promised to repeal the Secret Evidence law that the Clinton Administration had used against Muslim activists and partly due to paranoia of Joe Lieberman being on the VP slot of the Al Gore ticket.

After 9-11, with a full scale media, religious, cultural, law-enforcement and military assault against Islam and Muslims it was necessary for a lot of Muslims to come out of their cocoon and fight against this assault. Seeking alliances Muslims joined hands with the anti-war movement marching hand in hand with leftists and atheists for a common cause and that was the right thing to do. The good that came from this was that for the first time Muslims were getting involved in large numbers. The bad was that many young Muslims, who had no political center and limited Islamic education, were getting converted by the left into being Marxists, secularists, greens, and in turn many then supported the kufr of “progressive” Islam or just left the deen.

Stepping away from the anti-war movement while still opposing the war I returned to the kind of activism that my early teachers such as Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Basheer taught me. That was the activism of the masjid and grassroots inner-city Dawah. Realizing that you had to first change the condition of the people and all isms would fail without the foundation of al-Islam. I also became skeptical of Muslim involvement in these movements after seeing so many people losing their deen after becoming involved. A new generation of converts was arising (many white) who converted, never studied the religion, didn’t know anything about tawheed or aqeedah or basic fiqh, and immediately became activists protesting on behalf of the Muslim community. One activist I met kept up a vigorous schedule of anti-war and anti-Bush activity but did not even know how to properly make salaat. So, I began advising all new converts to not become activists until studying the deen for a couple of years first at the masjid and with a teacher (not Sheikh Google or Maulana Myspace).

Moving on to the election of Barack Obama, which most Muslims supported- many enthusiastically (I voted for him), the anti-war movement basically ended outside of a small nucleus of die-hard activists. However, the wars did not stop. As a matter of fact under Obama the wars have increased. Obama has rapidly expanded the war in Afghanistan and has declared a de-facto war on Pakistan killing thousands of its citizens. Predator Drones strikes are now occurring in several Muslim countries who are not in a state of warfare with America, American citizens are being executed with trial ( including minors) and Obama also led the NATO regime-change in Libya. Support for Israel from America has remained steady. The unjust prosecution of Muslims in America has not stopped. The shady prisons from GITMO to the CMU’s started under Bush have not been closed under Obama. Far from reaching out to the mainstream Muslim community Obama has ignored the mainstream and chooses to deal with the liberal fringe of the Muslim community. Instead of inviting known Muslims to government iftars he now invites random people with Muslim names nobody has ever heard of or fringe organizations with no real community support. A new class of Obama Muslims has arisen dedicated both to defending Obama and getting paid via patronage jobs and government contracts.  It is hard to criticize a man and be neutral towards him when he is paying your way (just ask Saudi clerics).

If you are critical of Obama, just as you were critical of Bush for doing the exact same thing, you may lose your job, get your funding cut, and may not get to go on any CIA field trips for Muslim artists to Muslim countries. Abroad these Muslims are on the payroll of the Bush-Obama position and at home I fear they are violating the United States Constitution by violating the separation of religion and state. In Pakistan, Egypt or Sudan there is a state-sanctioned waqf Islam and Muslim leaders vie for the favor of the state and get their direction from it, in America the mere thought of creating such an Islam is profoundly un-American and just another manifestation of FOB Uncle politics this time perpetrated by their children.  

In this context arises the Occupy Movement. A movement I will say off top I morally support and am happy to see Muslims involved in of they have an Islamic foundation and good intentions. I agree with some if the things this movement stands for and disagree with others. Wall Street is corrupt and its actions and bailouts have hurt the people- this is true.

However, it is not just Wall Street.  Main Street is corrupt. It is easy to not take any personal responsibility for the problems of society and point it all towards Wall Street but that is not fair. How many of these occupiers complain about being unemployed but went to college for some nonsensical major that anyone could have told them was a waste of time? How many racked up credit card debt on non-essentials such as pricy restaurants, coffee shops, alcohol, clubbing, expensive clothing, laptops, cell phones and vacations?  How many of the parents bought houses they couldn’t afford and used their homes as ATM’s? How many have lost the sense of delayed gratification? In New York City and DC the biggest plight that faces the poor, and is literally driving them out of the city, is gentrification. How many of these young white activists from say Cleveland moving into former black working-class areas in Brooklyn or Trinidad Northeast living as roommates with four other people setting a market standard which makes it impossible for working-class families to live there are actually a part of the problem? They need to take one finger and point it towards Wall Street and the finger on the other hand and point it towards themselves.

Speaking of the poor, which they claim to represent, how much time with the poor are they spending. I went to Occupy St. Louis and met some cool people who had good energy; but basically all I saw was a bunch of middle-class and rich white kids and a handful of blacks. What can the Occupy Movement do for the temp-tag drivers? You know those people who buy a car, can’t afford plates, get drunk and drive like a damn fool and then crash before they can get plates. Or the mothers who shop their children to doctors so that they can get an SSI check for their kids and use their kids as a paycheck. The parents who have premium cable and wearing Jordans in the projects but not a book in the house. If I drive to the projects a few blocks from my house the parking lot is full of pimped out rides. If I go to the government-funded day care center for kids where my friends mother works I can watch the supposedly poor mothers pulling up in Escalades with TV screens in the backseat, all black Mercedes sittin on fresh rims, and the working people who staff the place are either catching the bus to get to work or driving some piece of crap they bought from one of these scandalous used-car lots. Or how about the passengers in my cab in nice clothes, smelling of weed, who offer to sell me their food stamps (EBT) on a regular basis. The poor steal and scam, the rich steal and scam, and government steals and scams, preachers at churches feat off their congregations (some new imams studying this get rich off religion model) it’s a problem of the whole society and the culture of a nation stolen from Native Americans and built by stolen slave labor from Africa.

Wanna talk about Muslims? The poor Muslims who send their wives in hijab or niqaab into the welfare office and instruct their wives (who they have not married on paper) to tell the caseworker she does not know who the father of her children is so she can get government aid and the man not charged for it. Wanna talk to the sister in Pennsylvania I was a wali for who could not find a husband because all the brothers were interested in marrying a sister with a Section 8 housing voucher and she did not have one. Or how about the Muslim kids, who know the welfare state will take their side to break up a family, who will go and scream abuse to the state so that they can get paid themselves. Education?  There is no shortage of money in urban schools. The schools have a cultural problem that cannot be solved by money or naïve white do-gooders from Teach For America or some guy like Jeffery Canada who was born in the wrong century and should have kicked it with Cecil Rhodes.

I say this to say I support the protest movement- if it expands. If it says the political system is broke, both parties do not represent the people, end the wars, end the racism, end white supremacy, and Islamophobia, change the economic system, as a matter of fact just blow the whole damn thing up. If the movement is saying that then I am with that. If it is this kind of movement I encourage more Muslims to get involved. If it is not, it is a work in progress and still possible of changing if more people get involved. There is no 99, and there never will be, because people are defined and define themselves by so much more than economics, but diverse groups can come together as a working coalition to bring about change.

At the end of the day though real change begins with ourselves and our families and that will change neighborhoods which will in turn change nations. The best model for change is not from the Left or Right; but from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and if we cling to the Quran and Sunnah and let taqwa and emaan occupy our naffs that is the most important occupation. While we are standing up and occupying the streets lets take some time out and occupy the masjid.