Sportswriter Benjamin Hochman describes common theme between 2011 and 2021 Cardinals


Benjamin Hochman FB page

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

Benjamin Hochman tells stories for a living, colorful commentaries cloaked in a unique delivery and always carrying a personal touch. It’s never just a stat-recap or quick word about a player or sports team; the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist, Clayton High graduate and Central Reform Congregation member (who looks like the illegitimate son of Robin Williams and Sean Penn) always takes each individual story to a different spot, often using pop culture references and hooking readers with his opening line.

Following a year where he covered less games and left the house a lot less due to the outbreak of a deadly pandemic, Hochman’s handling of St. Louis sports has found new avenues of delivery to readers this year, such as a daily video discussion piece called “Ten Hochman.” While his words have published in New Orleans and Denver, Hochman’s connection to Midwest readers is indelible–something that begins and ends in Cardinal lore.

After all, for a sportswriter in this town, it doesn’t get any better than covering the Cardinals in the first week of October. As they prepare to take on the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight in a classic do-or-die wildcard game, I asked Hochman a few questions about this 2021 team, and how they compare to the 2011 team, one that he wrote a book about called “11 in 11.” Keep reading to see which Cards player Hochman has been most impressed with, and how he compared the cities where he has written to each places’ most popular food.


Ben, first things first, what’s the go-to pastrami sandwich shop in St. Louis?

I’m just a tad biased, but I’d have to go with Protzel’s Deli, home of “The Benjamin Hochman,” a pastrami sandwich with a potato knish wedged inside. The three greatest days of my life have been my wedding day, the day my daughter was born and the day Max Protzel asked me if I wanted a sandwich named after me.

Who has been a real mensch for the Cardinals this season, especially during the streak? There are so many that stand out, but which player really triggered this surge?

No matter how the postseason plays out, the Cardinals’ 17-game winning streak will be part of local lore. And you’re right, Dan, so many Cardinals were part of this surge, but my main mensch would be Harrison Bader. The centerfielder has been such a delight to watch this past month. He plays baseball like a showman. He flashes the leather and then flashes a smile. He leads the league in uniform stains. And even though he erupted offensively in September, he’ll be remembered for these two plays. First, when he came in from the outfield to help in a rundown. Second, when he tagged up from second and just kept running, scoring on a deep sacrifice fly in Milwaukee.

You’ve written in New Orleans, Denver and St. Louis prominently. What’s a defining characteristic about each town? Something that sets them apart.

Each town is like its famous dish:

New Orleans is gumbo – a mixture of flavors that come together to create this irresistible taste.

Denver is an omelet – it brightens your morning and inspires you to work off calories outdoors.

St. Louis is toasted ravioli – it’s quirky and delectable yet yearns to be appreciated by outsiders.

As a guy who wrote a book about the 2011 Cardinals, what are some similarities between this 2021 squad and that team? Who is going to hit a two-run triple with two outs and two strikes in the ninth this month?

While reporting for the book “11 in ’11,” the common theme was how much the guys genuinely liked being around each other. The 2011 players shared stories about how there was just this organic camaraderie. The teammates truly enjoyed one other. And there were some great characters, notably Nick Punto, Lance Berkman and Skip Schumaker. Coincidentally and fittingly, the 2011 Cardinals returned for their 10-year reunion during the 2021 team’s 17-game winning streak. Manager Mike Shildt said there was “magic in the air” that weekend. And as the 2021 Cardinals just kept winning, you could see how much fun they were having – how much joy they took in their teammates’ successes. There’s a genuine vibe to the 2021 team that is reminiscent of the 2011 club.

Why is it so hard for fans to not be romantic about baseball? 

Everything in baseball is measured and tabulated, analyzed and scrutinized. The game is explained by numbers and data: “This will happen because this player does this or this team does that at a higher percentage than this other player or that other team.” Yet … YET … for all the analytics, baseball, unlike any other sport, can be influenced by intangibles. And this is the stuff we get romantic about: hustle and history, teamwork and quirks, underdogs and overachievers.

Has Twitter made sports discussion better or worse overall? You seem to have a lot of fun with it, even when someone is saying something not-so-nice about you. 

Twitter has done the following, simultaneously: It has enhanced the intelligence of fans, because Twitter provides access to smart baseball thinkers and articles about the modern game … and Twitter exposes the lack of intelligence in sports fans, because it’s basically a virtual watercooler where everyone gets to spout off thoughts – and some thoughts aren’t thought through.

What’s the next book going to be about?

I’m working on a YA (young adult) novel about a high school basketball team. We’ll see what happens. It’s a new adventure for me.