ST. LOUIS — Who wouldn’t love a baseball team from the quaint Heartland, the team that produced gentlemanly Stan Musial and fans so friendly they sometimes cheer opposing players?
Apparently, a growing legion.
As the World Series moves to St. Louis on Saturday, vast regions of the Midwest and South still love their Cardinals. But nationally, there are signs that Cardinals fatigue has set in.
That’s not completely unexpected given the team’s recent omnipresence in the postseason. All the Haterade was probably inevitable with the emergence of snarky websites and social media – though Twitter co-founder and St. Louis native Jack Dorsey surely didn’t envision all the 140-words-or-less nastiness directed at his beloved team.
It began in the first round of the playoffs with some national commentators openly rooting for the Pirates to beat St. Louis. It was more about Pittsburgh’s storybook emergence after a two-decade playoff drought than hate of the Cardinals, but it didn’t go unnoticed in Cardinals country.
Then there are the online barbs. In a recent column on the website Deadspin, Drew Magary called St. Louis a “dump” and took particular exception to the team’s fervent fan base.
“Wanna know who you really are, Cardinals fans?” Magary wrote. “You are this. You are poorly disguised Yankees fans in ugly Christmas sweaters carrying a Jell-O mold to your neighbor’s door.”
Another website, Buzzfeed, ran a story headlined, “23 Reasons It’s Perfectly OK To Despise The St. Louis Cardinals.” Among the reasons: No. 20 – Yadier Molina’s neck tattoos.
When their run of success began in 2000, the Cardinals were the happy story – red-clad fans with high school football-like enthusiasm for their overachieving Midwestern mid-market team.
Since then, the Cardinals have become as common in October as falling leaves and pumpkins on the porch. Ten of the last 14 postseasons have included them. They’ve played in the National League championship series eight times in the span. This World Series appearance is their fourth since 2004.
Some are literally tired of seeing red.
“I think to a certain extent that part of the life story of being a sports fan is the struggle, the sense of grinding it out with your team. When your team is in the playoffs 10 of the last 14 years, that can come in conflict with people’s ideas of what a real fan is,” said Annemarie Farrell of Ithaca College, who has done research on the behavior of sports fans.
Fans in St. Louis write off the criticism as jealousy.
“Once you start winning the tide turns,” Cardinals season ticket holder Mark Shevitz, 58, said as he shopped in the team store at the ballpark. “Now everybody kind of wants to knock you off the pedestal. People are tired of seeing you win.”
True enough. Any list of sports teams that draw the ire of fans of other teams is top-heavy with frequent winners – the Yankees, NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, the NFL’s New England Patriots, even the Cardinals’ World Series opponents, the Red Sox.
The disdain for the Cardinals has extended to some opponents. National League Central foes have for years felt the Cardinals sometimes came across as self-appointed proprietors of baseball’s unwritten rules on etiquette.
After the NLCS, some Los Angeles Dodgers feel the same way. When Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez was demonstrative after a key hit in Game 3, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright called the behavior “Mickey Mouse.” Gonzalez responded later by feigning Mickey Mouse ears after another big hit.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz found the derision ironic.
“Cardinals and their fans were depicted as a stern colony of baseball Amish because they prefer solid fundamental play, gentlemanly superstars such as Stan Musial and success with reasonable dignity,” Miklasz wrote in a column after the Cardinals eliminated the Dodgers in Game 6.
All is not negative for the Cardinals, who remain beloved at home, with a fan base that extends over several states. The team draws 3 million-plus fans to Busch Stadium every year and supporters often turn out in the thousands for road games.
Meier Raivich of Fanatics, the largest online retailer of licensed team gear, said that during the regular season, Cardinals merchandise was the third-most popular among major league teams, topped only by the Yankees at No. 1 and the Red Sox.
Farrell said the Cardinals and their fans shouldn’t make too much of the criticism.
“The Cardinals are such an iconic baseball brand, and they’re also a team that’s hard to hate,” she said. “If you’re going to find a reason to root against them, maybe it’s because they’re always good.”