I was in the navy overseas when the Cardinals won the pennant in 1964, and I got up in the middle of the night to listen to them play the Yankees in the World Series. I wondered if they had a chance. The Yankees were playing in their fifth World Series in a row and ninth in ten years. The Cardinals’ most recent pennant (1946) existed for me only in storybooks. It was more a legend than an actuality.
On Friday I opened the Tribune to its Perspective page and confronted the headline “The most insufferable fans in sports live in St. Louis.” The essay, by Jonathan Mahler by way of Bloomberg, asserted that “people are finally getting nauseated at the pious gloss that’s endlessly smeared across this ‘storied franchise,'” said franchise being the Cardinals, of course, now engaged in their third NLCS in three years. The Cardinals have gone from an upstart little franchise that presumed to challenge the Yankees in ’64 (and beat them, did I mention that?) to being the Yankees.
Mahler made the comparison explicit. He noted with approval a critique of Saint Louis fandom Drew Magary had posted on Deadspin a few days earlier: “You are poorly disguised Yankees fans in ugly Christmas sweaters carrying a Jell-O mold to your neighbors’ door.” The title of Magary’s open letter had been “Why Your Cardinals Suck.”
It was one thing for the Pittsburgh Pirates to be the sentimental favorites when they played the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs. That was to be expected—the Pirates hadn’t won anything in forever. But for America to cheer for Los Angeles over Saint Louis in the second round in the name of favoring the little guy—that was astonishing.
In Saint Louis I’m sure they love it. It’s been a long time since Saint Louis was held up as an equivalent of New York. It might not have happened since 1904, when the Smith family ruled out a move to New York so they could stay home and go to the World’s Fair together. And that was a movie.
Sportswriter Bernie Miklasz addressed the situation in his daily video posted on the Post-Dispatch site. “If you want to know why so many people seemingly hate on the Cardinals, that’s it, it’s nothing more than envy and petty jealousy,” said Miklesz. “Just remember this. The haters only want what you have and they cannot have it. And that makes them mad.”
I showed the Tribune headline to my wife. It immediately reminded her of the football program at the University of Nebraska, her alma mater. The comparison is excellent. Like Cardinals baseball fans, Nebraska football fans think of themselves as the best there is—the savviest, most loyal and passionate, and most sportsmanlike. And yes, there is much to admire in Nebraska’s program and faithful, but the self-regard can become a little hard to take. Whenever I see mention in the sports pages of a wayward NFL player in hot water, he is a little too likely to be a former Nebraska Husker—perhaps Ndamukong Suh, for whom a five-figure fine for rough play is pretty much a weekly occurrence, or perhaps Suh’s Detroit Lions teammate Dominic Raiola.
There is an attorney at one of Lincoln, Nebraska’s biggest firms whose entire practice, so far as I can tell, consists of representing Nebraska athletes who get in trouble with the law.
Mahler’s beef with the Cardinals and their fans is actually with “Cardinals-loving broadcasters and writers.” He names them: Tim McCarver, a former Cardinal; Joe Buck, a Saint Louis product whose father, Jack Buck, was the beloved Voice of the Cardinals; Bob Costas, who still has a home there; and Buzz Bissinger, who in 2003 teamed up with former manager Tony LaRussa for the “love letter” (that’s Mahler) Three Nights in August.
So Saint Louis sends its best out into the big wide world and they spread the message. What’s a city supposed to do about that? Gloat, actually, and hope Chicago’s paying attention.