With Jorge Soler going bonkers against the Cardinals over the weekend, I thought it was an appropriate time to write down my thoughts on the rivalry between two of the oldest franchises in the National League. I speak of the Cubs and the Cardinals. But the biggest portion of that rivalry actually happens outside St. Louis and Chicago, which is a little known fact. It’s at the borderlines.
We all can agree that being a Cubs fan can be very difficult at times. Growing up in Central Illinois, I would argue that it made it even more so. I still remember vividly that next day back at school in 2003 after the Cubs lost Game 7 to the Marlins. Several Cardinals fans had found a newspaper with the Cubs logo re-imagined into the word “Choke” and were walking the hallways looking for Cubs fans to taunt.
When the Cubs are bad, it’s painful to watch, it’s painful to read about, and it’s painful to talk to fans of other teams because they tend to like to rub it in. When the Cubs are good it’s fun to watch, but usually there’s some Debbie Downer writing about how they’ll inevitably blow it, fans of other teams mocking the pending implosion, and even Cubs fans crying about it.
But I truly believe, having lived in Chicago and also down in Cardinals country, that there is nothing worse than being a Cubs fan surrounded by Cardinals fans. Sure, I could pen a whole essay on why the Cardinals and their fans are just the absolute worst, but Deadspin beat me to that by nearly a year.
In case that one doesn’t strike you, this one on Buzzfeed is good too. And here’s a decent editorial in the Chicago Tribune. And this one from a Brewers blog, too. Or you could just read the Twitter timeline of @BestFansStLouis. Either way, the point has been made before, and I don’t feel like I need to turn this whole thing into “why every non-Cardinals fan hates the Cardinals.”
By nature, this has to involve some level of ripping on the Cardinals and their fans, so fear not! You’ll get quite a bit of wrath. But this is more specific as to why living near the Cubs/Cards fan border is especially difficult. Let me delve into the thoughts, facts, and frequent comments that I hear often enough to inspire me to continue writing past midnight.
“Cardinals Fans Are The Best In Baseball”
First, how can this be quantified? It can’t, of course. Where did the idea originate? That’s been debated, but the earliest instance I’ve seen it was a quote from Jim Leyland (then managing the Pirates) in 1992. For the sake of argument, let’s say that “best fans” could be quantified in some way. And let’s take if further and say that, given our categories for what makes one the “best,” Cardinals fans check the most boxes.
Doesn’t the constant boast of “best fans in baseball” kind of negate the claim? It’s sort of like telling everyone you know that you, and only you, are the MOST humble person on the planet. Or constantly reminding everyone you know that you scored best on the ACT, when the exam was taken years ago. The point is, living in an area populated by about seventy percent Cards fans, you hear the “best fans” claim a lot.
And that’s unfortunate, because it doesn’t matter whether you think the it’s true, false, unquantifiable, or asinine. Nobody cares. I like my team, Cardinals fans like theirs, Reds fans like theirs, etc. It’s just a part of the reason why being a Cubs fan living among Cardinals fans is the worst.
Also, if we were able to quantify best fans, the aforementioned @BestFansStLouis Twitter account would provide some serious ammo. Here is just a taste from the last few weeks:
@Cardinals Lackey, Miller, Neshek, Masterson, Rosenthal, Choate, and Wainwright are all useless as tits on a boar hog, as is our offense.
— Noah Daves (@Danovah32) August 30, 2014
If Ike Davis plays tomorrow and I could pitch…I would bean him in the back for watching that homer and slow trotting the bases…
— Aric Bremer (@abremermu) August 27, 2014
Adam Wainwright is our second worst starter
— Tim Kellogg (@vanilla2413) August 27, 2014
— Tyler (@tyler479) August 21, 2014
It took about 6 innings, but through the perseverance of a few individuals the wave is going around bush stadium #CardinalNation
— Maren Osterholt (@monsterHOLT12) August 17, 2014
I left out some better examples for sake of the language used. I figure you don’t NEED to see a Cardinals fan referring to Trevor Rosenthal’s heritage, calling him the “C word,” and wishing that he would take a line drive off of his face. Every fanbase has a large portion of idiots. There is no point in pretending that Cards fans are any different from the rest of us.
The Cardinals’ Voo-Doo Witchcraft
By nature of being in Central Illinois, you become aware of the Cardinals and their team more so than when you live somewhere else. When I was living in Chicago, I didn’t really think about or notice the team from St. Louis unless they were playing the Cubs or were in the playoffs. But the Cardinals dominate the sports page, sports talk radio, and general conversation here.
At this point I should mention that the header “The Cardinals’ Voo-Doo Witchcraft” is misleading. Is it annoying that they can draft guys in late rounds that turn into good players? Yes. Is it annoying that they won a World Series with an 83 win team that had no business being in the playoffs? Yes. Is it annoying that they won another World Series after being down to their final strike? YES.
But my zip code doesn’t make those facts more insufferable. Having to constantly hear about them does. This goes further than fans, but also to local media. The constant praise for, just an example, Allen Craig being allowed to score because of interference. It was flukey, Middlebrooks was NOT intentionally tripping him, and Craig took a very odd route from third to home.
It would be nice if anyone in a David Freese shirsey could admit that sometimes it pays to get lucky. There’s nothing wrong with a little good luck. If you want to look at it mathematically, the Cardinals organization has positioned themselves to get some luck. When you only miss the playoffs four times in fourteen seasons, you’re pushing the gods of chance to force a few lucky breaks from time to time.
It’s fine to say “we won because we’re the better team,” but don’t pretend a lucky break is skill or some sort of manifest destiny (because that’s stupid). It’s hard to have to listen to it over and over again.
Cardinals Fans Support Their Team No Matter What
Oh man, do I hear this a lot these days. Especially since Wrigley Field has been a bit more on the empty side the last couple of seasons. It’s easy to sit on your high horse while your team is in the midst of a pennant race and tell others that you’re superior because you would support your team through thick and thin.
Among the outrageous claims are that Cards fans don’t boo, whether it be home players or opposing players. That’s a load of crap, and Ryan Franklin and Tino Martinez can vouch; this Cardinals blogger is actually promoting booing Albert Pujols, and this Cardinals blogger writes about hearing fans booing in mid-season 2011 (the Cardinals won the World Series that year, by the way).
All fanbases boo; it just makes sense. You work hard for your money, so when you’re dropping $60 per ticket, $7 on a hotdog, and $9 on a beer (a Budweiser at that!) you expect an enjoyable day. If the team performs poorly, a lot of people feel the right to boo said performance. And, in general, there’s nothing wrong with that. The only thing wrong is lying about it to appear superior.
Another claim is that the Cardinals draw fans no matter what, win or lose. Well, in recent years the Cardinals have mostly won and they have drawn plenty of fans. However, from 1983 to 1995 the Cardinals made the playoffs just two times. They did not win the World Series. And in a stadium of nearly 50,000 seats, they averaged less than 32,000 fans.
And that average is nudged up by two seasons in which they went to the World Series. There were plenty of seasons in which the Cards drew less than 30,000 fans on average. But this isn’t unique to St. Louis fans; most teams lose fan interest when they go through periods of mediocrity or poor performance. Casual fans don’t care to spend money to see bad baseball.
And I won’t try to troll too much, but in 2013 with the first game of the NLDS against the Pirates just a day away, you could still purchase tickets in St. Louis on the Cardinals team website…for as low as $18. Compare that to Pittsburgh, where you had to pay $142 on the secondary market just to get in the door for their first home game. There is no argument where Cardinals fans look good here.
The General Attitude Towards The Cubs
I’m the kind of guy who wants to give people a fair shake. If someone appears to enjoy baseball, I like to clear my mind of fanhood and open myself up to discussing baseball. In Central Illinois, it can be difficult to find people who can intelligently discuss baseball. So whether you are a Cubs, Cards, White Sox, or “other” fan, I don’t discriminate.
The problem? Mentioning I’m a Cubs fan. That will turn most local fans into immature teenagers, giggling and spouting poorly fabricated jokes and cliches. The most common thing I hear is “heh heh, Cubs suck.” And thus ends any attempt at intelligent baseball discussion.
I made sure to emphasize “most” in the previous paragraph because it certainly isn’t all fans. To claim that all fans of any team are a bunch of obnoxious, self-important blowhards wouldn’t be fair at all. I have a handful of friends and family members that root for the Redbirds that can discuss baseball without resorting to childish jokes about 1908.
So don’t get all in a fuss thinking that I’m being unfair, or that I’m trying to say that no Cardinals fans can hold a reasonable conversation about baseball outside of St. Louis. They are just harder to find than the ones claiming that anything their team does is “The Right Way” or that they “Respect The Game,” which incidentally allows me to share another Deadspin link debunking a Cardinals fallacy.
The next time you’re sitting in a bar complaining to a friend that White Sox fans make dumb comments and that Hawk Harrelson is impossible to listen to for more than about 3 minutes, please remember that the largest baseball fanbase in Chicago is the Cubs. Where I’m from, it’s the Cardinals. No matter what bar you’re in, you’re always outnumbered.
So as the Cubs improve on the field and make their move towards contention, try to remember the unfortunate of Cubs fans that live closer to St. Louis than Chicago. It will be heartbreaking for all of us that next time the Cubs lose the Wild Card play-in game, get swept in the NLDS, or lose game seven in the NLCS. But at least you won’t have to be surrounded by people rubbing it in when it happens.