A funny thing happened when Adam Wainwright struck out Pedro Alvarez Wednesday night for the final out of the NLDS series between the Cardinals and the Pirates. Wait, let’s start over, a completely expected thing happened when Wainwright dropped into some sort of power crouch, double-fist pump on the mound at Busch Stadium.
My entire Twitter feed turned into pure, 100-percent anti-Cardinals vitriol. There’s no sense posting any of the tweets. They basically fell into these general categories: a) I hate the Cardinals b) the Cardinals suck c) Cardinals fans suck d) the Cardinals and their fans are pieces of fecal matter. There were also plenty of tweets accusing the Cardinals of institutional racism, which serves as another reminder perhaps the 140-character microblog service isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, despite our reliance on it.
At one point I decided to ask: why are the Cardinals subject of such unabashed hatred? Admittedly I’ve been bitter toward the Cards since they embarrassed my Tigers in the 2006 World Series, but the growing anti-St. Louis sentiment by sports fans is strange. Some of the vitriol could simply be trolling, but it seemed a little too widespread to be only that.
The most typical response to my query centered around the theory in the national media that St. Louis is home to the “best fans in baseball,” and as we know any time the national media start hammering home a point there will be backlash. Fittingly a parody Twitter account @BestFansStLouis picks into the darker side of St. Louis fandom. As you’d expect, St. Louis fans are just like everybody else, so painting them with the wide brush of the “best” label is probably a little foolish.
Is that really it, though? Is the”Best Fans” tag is a reason to loathe the Cardinals? Have we all become so cynical and twisted that a team having lots of loyal fans, independent of the “best” label, is a reason for loathing? (I emailed a Cardinals friend and he said he’s only noticed the “hate” the last two Octobers. He said all the fans he knows HATE the “best fans” label.)
It has to be more than that. If anything, it’s typical sports jealously of successful teams. Without the Yankees in the playoffs, fans need a team to root against, meaning the Cardinals have joined their place at the table alongside the likes of the Patriots, the Heat and Duke basketball.
Friday’s NLCS Game 1 against the Dodgers at Busch Stadium will represent the 22nd postseason series by the Cardinals since 2000. During that span they’ve played in three World Series, winning twice. So in that regard, yes, people might be tired of seeing them seemingly each and every October. Familiarity often breeds contempt in sports.
Still, few baseball fans wouldn’t be envious of the Cardinals organization. Look no further than this season where homegrown arms like Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn and Trevor Rosenthal all played key roles. Take the production-line farm system that brings up useful bats like Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams year-after-year. Most baseball fans would be happy to have a team like this, churning out winners with mostly players the organization developed. Figure on plenty of “model organization” stories about St. Louis in the next week, which will likely only end up producing more anti-Cardinals contempt than respect.
Chances are as the NLCS progresses almost everyone on Twitter without direct rooting interests will pull for Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. Strike that, everyone outside of Cardinals fans (and Giants fans) will be pulling for the Dodgers.
So in a weird way, congratulations are in order for the Cards and their fans. The club’s sustained level of success places them in the pantheon of team’s America loves to hate. Don’t worry about the haters, Cardinals fans, you’ve got the rings and they probably don’t.