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Brendan Ryan, a.k.a. The Boog

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When the St. Louis Cardinals began Spring Training, they did so with Khalil Greene as their projected starting shortstop. The team acquired Greene in an offseason trade with the San Diego Padres. Whether it was poor scouting or lack of disclosure about his condition, it wasn’t long before Greene went into a slump and then onto the disabled list for social anxiety disorder.

Brendan Ryan stepped in and the Cardinals never looked back.

Ryan was drafted by the Cardinals in the seventh round, 215th overall, in 2003. He battled his way through the minors and on June 2, 2007, he made his MLB debut against the Houston Astros. He finished 2007 with a .289 average in 60 games played at 2nd, 3rd, and shortstop. In addition to his versatility, Ryan became known for another skill: pranking.

A rib cage injury sidelined Ryan during Spring Training 2008 and the first month of that season. In 80 games, his average dipped to a paltry .244, but his flexibility in the field was a good fit for Tony LaRussa. His seriousness about the game was the only thing stopping him from being a complete player.

This season, Kyle Loshe and Joel Pinero talked the pitching staff into growing mustaches for team unity. The rest of the team soon joined in. And when everyone started shaving them off, Ryan’s ‘stache was the last one standing. True to form, he started growing it longer towards the end of the season in order to curl up the corners a’la Rollie Fingers.

And this time, his goofy attitude was welcome. He was the starting shortstop. He was making great plays. He was hitting well. He’d found his way.

The 2009 season started with a lot of changes from “The Boog,” a nickname Ryan’s father gave him. He came in more determined and slightly more serious. By June, Ryan was starting every day at shortstop. The position isn’t easy but it’s made even harder when the fans remember seeing one of the greatest of all time there, “The Wizard” Ozzie Smith.

Ozzie’s fielding percentage was .978 career. When Smith was 27, the same age Ryan is now, his fielding percentage was .984. Brendan‘s fielding percentage was also .984 but in 105 games. Only Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies (155 games/.990) and Troy Tulowitzki (151 games/.986) of the Rockies were higher than Ryan’s this season. A full season at the position could see Ryan’s number improve.

Ryan’s batting average improved to .294 in 2009. He had 114 hits, 19 doubles, 7 triples, and 3 homeruns, one of which was his first career grand slam. A newfound discipline at the plate made him a valuable hitter for LaRussa. Ryan could be stuck anywhere in the lineup, and he normally was. Dependability with the bat, and speed on the bags, makes him more valuable to a team that uses flexibility and versatility on a daily basis.

Ryan may take the game more seriously but that hasn’t stopped his joking nature. As teammate Jason LaRue said during a pregame interview, “He’s just looking for attention.” The reason for LaRue’s comment? A pair of scissors sneaking into the frame, pretending to cut LaRue’s long locks. The camera panned out enough to show Brendan smiling widely under that ‘stache.

And it didn’t stop him from playing wiffleball with Joe Mather at Busch either.

Or acting in the St. Louis Cardinals “Play like a Cardinal” commercials.

Even LaRussa got into the pranks. After Ryan had been removed, Tony convinced his shortstop that there was a special rule that a player could reenter the game once on the last day of the season. Ryan, never one to miss an opportunity to play, grabbed his batting helmet. It didn’t take long for him to realize he’d been had.

The 2010 Cardinals will be back with a vengeance. Some players will be gone. New ones will be ready to show devoted fans what they can do. And Brendan Ryan will be there at shortstop making great plays, getting on base, and pranking whomever he can when he’s not in the lineup. The Boog will be there in all his glory. Take it or leave it.

Written by LS Murphy. Mrs. Murphy is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan and is a consistent contributor to Cardinal’s Mix. She can also be followed on Twitter.