I want to be very clear about this: The Cardinals run an operation that should be the envy of the rest of baseball. They have a big payroll, but they’re smart about how they spend their money. They have a stocked minor league system, a never-ending parade of talented rookies, and they win all the time. Also, they have a beautiful stadium and a passionate fan base.
But the Cardinals and their fans—and I mean this lovingly—are a pain in the ass. Somewhere in the last few months—maybe the last few weeks—the public narrative about Saint Louis baseball has changed. The very tone of the phrase The Cardinal Way is completely different, and it seems to have happened all of the sudden. The phrase once represented a baseball team that operated intelligently and efficiently and a fanbase that was knowledgable and showed respectful passion. Now the phrase seems to be used sarcastically, to demean the perceived self-important “best fans in the world.”
Most surprising to me has been the number of times leading up to and during the World Series that I have seen the Cardinals’ and Red Sox’s fan bases lumped together as insufferable or obnoxious, though admittedly for different reasons. My Red Sox fan friend Greg proudly posted on Facebook before the World Series, “A Boston team is in the championship again! Eat shit, America,” while the Saint Louis airport welcomed opposing fans to the city with this sign, as tweeted by baseball reporter Scott MacArthur.)
This sort of thing may just be intended as good sportsmanship, but the reaction from Cardinals fans is to break their arms patting themselves on the back for being such great people. You can see how these remarks by fans over on the Arch City Sports Facebook page might be seen as a little self-satisfied:
The first sign of trouble for the Cardinal Way came earlier this month when the professional trolls over at Deadspin did what they did best, and published an article titled Why Your Cardinals Suck. Cardinals fans took the bait and lost their freaking minds, prompting an avalanche of “hate tweets” directed at the author, and responses like this from Will Leitch of Sports on Earth, who basically says, “Cardinal fans never say they’re the best fans on Earth, but here’s why Cardinal fans are the best fans on Earth.”
I know this shift in public opinion is infuriating to Cardinal fans, who have as little control over the national narrative regarding them and their team as I do over the perception of my fellow Philadelphia fans. But I don’t want to hear that Saint Louis fans don’t describe themselves as the best fans in the world. Many of my friends are Cardinals fans, and I have heard it from them directly.
IN FACT, on October 11, 2013, the aforementioned Will Leitch wrote: “I have never, ever, ever ever ever ever ever, heard a Cardinals fan refer to him or herself as ‘one of the best fans in baseball.’ I’m sure it has happened. I’ve just never seen it.” Just under a year earlier, on October 14, 2012, he wrote, “My Cardinals! My beloved, sweet, Best Fans In Baseball Cardinals!” Check it out for yourself.
The self-importance of Cardinals fans was on full display when I attended my first game at Busch Stadium earlier this year. I was admonished by a complete stranger for booing when Washington National Denard Span tried to break up Michael Wacha’s would-be no-hitter by bunting for a hit (it went foul). “We don’t boo in Saint Louis,” I was told. Then the entire stadium erupted in boos moments later when Span called timeout and stepped out of the batter’s box later in the same at-bat. When you hold yourself up as “Baseball Heaven,” which the Cardinals announce over the PA before the game, you’re setting yourself up for ridicule.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I’ve had my run-ins with the Cardinals this season. They denied my request for a press pass when I visited in September (which is to be expected—we’re bloggers and bloggers are scum), but their media guy was careful to point out that he had noticed that I had taken a potshot at Joe Buck (in the graphic here) and reference it in his response to my request:
“While amusing, the graphic in your most recent blog entry probably would get mixed reactions from the St. Louis Cardinals as we still consider Joe Buck and the Buck Family a respected part of the Cardinals family.”
I also had an exchange with a Cardinals fan group on Facebook that had taken a meme I created for this blog, slapped their own name on it, and circulated it on their Facebook page:
When I wrote to them to say, “Hello! Excuse me!” they wrote back (true fact!): “Actually it was sent to us Paul. Don’t know the original image… No copyrights and what is sent in is our property.” (First, really? You own it because someone emailed it to you? Second, I would expect this sort of thing from fans in the Northeast, but is this the Cardinal Way?)
Finally, the team itself has stepped on its own toes. For an organization that’s supposed to be above the fray—to lead by example with quiet dignity—they’ve not been portrayed in the best light the last few weeks. While most baseball fans enjoyed the youthful enthusiasm (and boneheaded missteps) of Dodger phenom Yasiel Puig in the National League Championship Series, Cardinal team librarian Carlos Beltran publicly decried his exuberance, saying “He must think that he’s still playing somewhere else.” Beltran’s reaction made the Cardinals look no better than the self-appointed MLB Fun Police Atlanta Braves.
Then there was manager Mike Matheny, who expressed frustration that the umpires overturned an obviously incorrect call in Game 1 of the World Series. Wouldn’t the Cardinal Way be to laud the umpires for getting the call right for the integrity of the game?
And most recently, Cardinals minor league pitcher Tyler Melling on Twitter accused Jon Lester of the Red Sox of cheating during Game 1 of the World Series. The entire baseball world—including the Cardinals—agreed that Lester was not cheating and Melling deleted the tweet, but here again was the Saint Louis brand associated with sour grapes and whining rather than taking the high road.
Taken by themselves, none of these infractions are particularly egregious, but the constant references to the best fans on Earth, Baseball Heaven, and the Cardinal Way (not to mention the constant winning) set the team and their fans up for a backlash, and that backlash has arrived.
My advice to Cardinal fans: Embrace it. Don’t worry about what the rest of the world thinks. Ditch the false modesty and revel in your team’s success.
I know I would.