Brian Gunn grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and for years ran a Cardinals’ fan blog called Redbird Nation. A former guest contributor to sites like The Hardball Times and Baseball Analysts, he now works as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. We around here like him a lot, and we like his writing a lot, which is why we are letting him do the one thing the Internet generally does not abide: Stick up for Cardinals fans.
When I was growing up in St. Louis I’d sometimes be hanging out with my grandma, and the city of Dallas would come up in passing. Like we’d hear someone mention the Dallas Cowboys, or J.R. Ewing would be on TV, or we’d see some news clip about something that happened in Dallas. And every time my grandma would seethe with anger and mutter through her teeth: “Ooo, I hate Dallas!”
If you asked her why, she’d reply, matter-of-factly, “’Cause they killed Kennedy.”
She’d say this as if everyone in the Dallas metro area—you know, the ones who welcomed Kennedy with open arms back in 1963—had somehow all crammed themselves into the Texas School Book Depository and took turns firing shots at the President’s head.
We shrugged off Grandma back then, but this kind of thinking is what passes for commentary nowadays when it comes to the way we talk about sports—specifically when it comes to a new cottage industry: bashing St. Louis and St. Louis Cardinals fans. Over the past year we’ve seen a slew of diatribes against them—from, among others, Michael Baumann at Grantland, Jonathan Mahler at BloombergView, Danny Rockett at SB Nation, and most vociferously, Drew Magary at Deadspin.
The pot shots from these pieces run the gamut, but the essential critique boils down to this: Cardinals fans have a reputation as “the best fans in baseball,” but in fact they’re nothing but humblebraggarts. They’re pious and patronizing, or, as Baumann puts it, “they’re like an egg: a yolk of exceptionalism, arrogance, and xenophobia covered with a thin shell of Midwestern aw-shucksness.”
It’s such a sweeping accusation that you might ask: How do these guys know this? What’s their evidence?
Well, here’s what each of them provides us:
- Magary: knows someone who’s nauseatingly chipper about the Cardinals; once read a St. Louis sportswriter who tried too hard to be gracious to a team the Cards knocked out of the playoffs.
- Rockett: ran into a group of obnoxious Cardinals fans at a bar; later ran into an annoying family of Cards fans while on a hike; noticed that “Cubs Suck” merchandise does a passable amount of business in St. Louis.
- Mahler (to be fair, by far the most reasonable of these writers): quotes a self-righteous article by a St. Louis sportswriter; name-drops St. Louis boosters Tim McCarver, Joe Buck, Bob Costas, and Buzz Bissinger.
- Baumann: no evidence at all.
As for myself, I’ve never heard anyone in St. Louis actually refer to themselves as “the best fans in baseball.” I mean, sure, I’ve heard people say things along the lines of “we’ve got great fans here,” and I’ve heard people take pride in the Cardinals’ attendance figures and TV ratings, which consistently outpace their market size. I’ve also heard a fair number of players, as well as people outside St. Louis, refer to the Cardinals as having the “best fans in baseball.” But as for St. Louisans who talk this way? There seems to be scant evidence for them. And yet Magary, Rockett, Mahler, and Baumann simply take them as point of fact.
This is not to say that there aren’t a good number of insufferable Cardinals’ fans. But it sorta reminds me of something that happened on a TV show I worked on a number of years back. The show—about a fictional boy band—was on the verge of cancellation, and the actors were mystified why this was so. After all, they’d say, “we have tons of fans! They’re always telling us how much they love the show!”
What they didn’t understand is that anecdotes like this aren’t really representative of anything. My cousin and I call this “The Rule of 10,000.” The rule states that you can basically find 10,000 people who believe anything. Anything at all: 10,000 people who think an MTV show with so-so ratings should never be cancelled; 10,000 people who are hugely into model trains, 10,000 people who have an enema fetish; 10,000 people who think Brighten the Corners is Pavement’s best album.
The same goes for sports: Every fan base has at least 10,000 people who are arrogant, intolerable, unhinged, or simply moronic. And just because you can dredge up tweets by them, or find pictures of them, or quote some of their chat-room comments, means next to nothing.
Case in point: I have some friends—Cardinals fans—who went to a game in Yankee Stadium in 2003. During a rain delay a segment of Yanks’ fans in the bleachers began serenading them with the sing-songy chant, “Dar-ryl Kile!… Dar-ryl Kile!” This was about a year after Kile, ace pitcher for the Cardinals, died suddenly in a Chicago hotel room. Now, do I hold this assholery against all Yankees fans, much less all of New York City? Of course not. That’d just be innumerate crap.
But of course we do this all the time: Red Sox fans, you often hear, are loudmouths; Dodgers fans are too distracted to arrive at the game before the fourth inning; Cubs fans are just there for the beer and brats. These are lazy stereotypes, false more often than not; yet places like Deadspin and Grantland and Bloomberg have no problem pushing these clichés as if they were actual think pieces.
The truth is, there are literally millions of Cardinals fans throughout the country—a mix of earnest Midwesterners, shrill dickheads, corny suburban dads, jorts-wearing dudes with rattails, hedge fund managers, soybean farmers, restaurateurs, night-shift nurses, old folks, schoolkids, PhD students, carpool moms, ex-cons, and that one guy who used to live down the street from you. For a sportswriter to think he has a handle on a fan base this big and diverse is so wrong-headed you feel kinda silly pointing it out.
The worst offender in this regard is undoubtedly Deadspin’s Magary, who seems personally wounded not just by Cardinals fans, but—much like my Grandma with Dallas—the entire city of St. Louis. Magary calls the town “a boxcar on fire,” “a shithole,” “a fucking dump.”
I have no idea how much time Magary has spent in St. Louis; I suspect not much. But he does have a point. St. Louis is not exactly a city on the rise. It’s losing people, losing key corporations, suffering brain drain, and, worse, it’s mired in racial polarization, violence, and a corrupt, brutish police force. There’s a decent symphony there, at least one great university, and an occasionally good pro hockey team, but there’s also an embarrassing pro football team and not a whole lot else going on culturally. Contrary to Mayor Slay’s hopelessly strained op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, the Cardinals are, quite frankly, one of the few sources of civic pride for most St. Louisans. For Magary to mock their pride—and, worse, doctor up some bullshit to make it sound as if their pride is just a chronic form of self-adoration—seems to me faintly pathetic.
The cynical view says Magary knows all this, that he’s playing dumb—a canny provocateur who’s just out to generate page views. The less cynical view says the poor guy isn’t playing dumb so much as he’s just plain dumb.
Who knows. I’m inclined to think the latter. But as a patronizing Cardinals fan, I would think that, wouldn’t I?
 As a side note, I should say that there’s a whole other argument these articles typically make, and it has to do with the hateability of the Cardinals as a team. I have no problem with this. If you think they’re too lucky, or overly punchable, or you’re sick of seeing them in the playoffs, or they remind you of a guy who fell down an elevator shaft and landed in a pool of mermaids, I totally get it. But that’s a separate issue from the hateability of the Cardinals’ fans. The former has to do with rooting interests, which are almost always justified; the latter is a more general social critique, which oftentimes is not.
Thank you for reading
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