keyboard_arrow_uptop

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.”[1]

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?



[1] 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

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
kensai
10/09
Using Drew Magary's rants as evidence of serious think pieces is the best part about this article.
robustyoungsoul
10/09
Cherry picking one Magary rant while ignoring all the others he provides for every single city that has a sports team in America is very Cardinals-fan of you. ;)
kddean
10/09
Wahhh, why don't people like MEEEEEEE??????

/cardinal fans
touchstoneQu
10/09
There's also a spirited plea for gentleness and reason on the Effectively Wild FB page -- apparently this is now a thing for Cardinals fans. ; )

Seriously, to mangle a cliche, success breeds contempt. I'm a Sox fan. My favorite team went from the soulful Everyman yin to the Yankees' yang, to the most despised franchise and fan base in baseball and maybe in all of U.S. sport. You know what? Three WS wins in my lifetime. Who gives a rat's ass?

There's nothing special or unique about folks picking on the Cardinals or St. Louis.
therealn0d
10/09
It's annoying, but I would dare say that for the "normal" Cardinals fan, we don't care. Like you say, winning. I never felt comfortable with the labels (before "best fans in baseball" it was "most knowledgeable fans in baseball"), and this is exactly why. Oh well, let them have their fun.
crdswmn
10/09
That's my view as well, as a Cards fan. I just ignore all of it. It doesn't matter to me what others think of my team or me as a fan. I figure the good times are not going to last forever, so why let others affect my enjoyment? Not worth it.
jayhashop
10/09
A Twitter search for "We're the best fans in baseball" over the 2014 season gives 19 tweets. A breakdown:
-13 Cardinals fans talking about themselves
-3 people mocking Cardinals fans
-1 Red Sox fan
-1 Orioles fan
-1 guy talking to his Dodgers friend buddy about the Cardinals fan he's dating
therealn0d
10/09
LOL internet.
therealn0d
10/09
Sorry, I meant
LOL Twitter. I'll have to update the meme.
BaseballFuries
10/09
I think adding "we're the" obviates your sample.

Get rid of that, and compare the mocking to the self-congratulatory posts.
jayhashop
10/09
I put in the "we're the" because a search for "best fans in baseball" alone brings up a bunch of hits referring to the "I Am Darren Wilson" guy and other connections of Cardinals fandom to racism.

I wasn't trying to determine any sort of mockery-to-braggadocio ratio but instead trying to show Mr. Gunn that there are indeed St. Louis fans - probably at least 10,000 - who "actually refer to themselves as 'the best fans in baseball.'" He just hasn't heard them say that.
buckgunn
10/09
I agree with that. I've never heard anyone in STL use that phrase about themselves, but that's not to say there aren't people who say it. My point was that these people aren't remotely representative, as a mere 13 tweets over the course of an entire season might attest.
lloyd75
10/10
Counterpoint: the existence and pervasiveness of the #bfib Twitter hashtag, mostly used by Cardinals fans to literally describe themselves as the "best fans in baseball." Plenty of hits on a search for #bfib today and every day are clearly STL fans.

In fact I thought it was so well-known I had the impression this article deliberately avoided the phenomenon.
buckgunn
10/10
Not deliberately avoiding it - it seems to me most fans either use that hashtag mockingly or tongue-in-cheek. But I'm sure there are plenty of annoying people who don't.
therealn0d
10/09
There's an R package that you could use more effectively.
http://www.r-bloggers.com/search/twitter
buckgunn
10/09
Just did a Twitter search for "best fans in baseball" - I got up to 5 from Cards fans talking about themselves, 37 from people either mocking Cards fans or talking about themselves (including fans or players from ATL, SEA, MILW, COL, BOS, MIN, NYM). That was taking me back several months so I just stopped there.
mblthd
10/09
Only 6,312 people have even know who Pavement is.
therealn0d
10/09
That's considerably less than those that know what pavement is.
ofMontreal
10/09
We just ignore the Brighten the Corners people ;-)
mattyjames1
10/09
You're my fact checkin, cuz
sebaker
10/09
http://deadspin.com/cardinals-fans-get-ugly-in-clash-with-ferguson-proteste-1643282285
buckgunn
10/09
I've seen that video. Utterly disgusting. I wrote this piece before the video came out, and once I saw it I actually considered pulling the article from publication. Just didn't want to defend those people. Ultimately I figured those yahoos don't represent the overwhelming majority of STL fans, but if you want to use them as a reason not to root for the Cards, that's totally valid too.
sebaker
10/09
and

http://deadspin.com/lets-try-to-create-the-worst-sportswriting-about-the-ca-1644378413
jbriaz
10/09
As a lifelong Cards fans, I found myself nodding along throughout the entire article. The one thing I take issue with is the assertion about STL city losing people. That's definitely true, but the metro area has stayed relatively consistent. Really, it's a story about the city dying and white flight continuing into the suburbs, or even worse, St. Charles.
pepper
10/09
I'm an old geezer who grew up attending games @ the Polo Grounds and Shea in NYC. A lifelong Met fan (still!), I've lived in STL most of my adult life and have owned part of a Cards season ticket since 1979. I find the locals to be, on the whole, surprisingly knowledgeable baseball fans and generally low key about and gratefully appreciative of a winner. They seem, for the most part, to understand that winning is not a given and the franchise will need to rebuild periodically.

The place is plagued with racial intolerance, reactionary politics and a crumbling physical and economic infrastructure, but the baseball team seems to buoy everyone a little when it's successful. Isn't that what a local sports team is for?

BaseballFuries
10/09
And the spotty history of non-baseball sports in the city makes Cardinals fans 3-4x more invested in the team than a fan in an average metropolitan area.
Jens521
10/09
As a Cubs fan, I was hating the Cardinals before it was cool.
therealn0d
10/09
Don't you wish you'd have your turn one day? ;-)
schlicht
10/09
St. Louis also has the Missouri Botanical Garden, a jewel in its tarnished crown.

LlarryA
10/10
Only real interaction I've ever had with Cardinals' fans was in Wrigley Field. About ten years ago, I was in Chicago for a few days and made the trek for a game at the Friendly Confines. Thinking (months) ahead, I was able to procure (at a not too unreasonable price) a ticket waayyy down the right field line, waayyy up high. Went to the game with my scorebook, surrounded by Cubs' fans (some families scoring along, others asking me about things like pitch counts from my book).

A couple of innings in, four college kids show up, having driven up from St. Louis, and having scalped tickets at a price they would not admit to. Throughout the rest of the game (which was a bit of a Cubs' blowout), they were given a reasonably good-natured Hard Time by the locals, and they accepted it all with good grace, and gave back what they could. All in all, a positive impression.

When the Cards have come to Arizona, I can't say their fans have left much of an impression. As opposed to the Cubs' fans, who are loud and obnoxious, but knowledgable, the Braves' fans who are just loud, and the Dodgers' fans who are just obnoxious...
50cubs
10/10
As a Cub fan who doesn't come for the beer and brats (did you mean Brewers fans?), I don't have an unfavorable opinion of Cardinal fans; they tend to be knowledgeable and tolerant. There is a certain condescension and sense of entitlement about them, although not nearly to the extent of Yankee fans. Cubs winning does not appear in their script.

In 2008, I had a conversation with a Cardinal fan who was calling Jim Edmonds a sellout for playing for the Cubs (and helping them win a division title). He was unable to grasp that Edmonds was only playing for the Cubs because they were willing to pay him when the Cardinals would not.

That the Cardinals had released Edmonds was probably reasonable from their standpoint: his offensive production had declined three years in a row. 2008 turned out to be his last hurrah.

But why scapegoat Edmunds?
buckgunn
10/10
That Cards fan sounds ridiculous. Never astounds me how many people fail to grasp that athletes don't play ball as a hobby - it's their job. Edmonds is no more a sellout than an insurance salesman who takes a job with a new company after his old company got rid of him.
buckgunn
10/10
*Never fails to astound me...
therealn0d
10/10
You can't take a conversation between a Cubs fan and a Cards fan in that regard seriously. We're born to take the piss out of each other.
TeamPineTar
10/11
We tend to think in stereotypes, and stereotypes tend to stay with us much longer than what gave rise to them in the first place. There was a time back in the 80s/90s, for example, that the company that printed scorecards to be sold at MLB games printed a minimum number set by MLB for all but two parks: Wrigley and Busch. Keeping score at games was already a rapidly diminishing tradition. It seems like the minimum was something like 800, but it could have been 500 or 100. For fans at Wrigley, they had to print something like 2000, and perhaps 3500-4000 for St Louis.

As a person who has watched a LOT of live baseball in (order of most games) KC, Houston, Chicago, Arlington, and StL over the last 50 years, I think there really was something as late as the 1980s that made Card fans and Cub fans more knowledgeable and interesting. That time long passed. Corporations and the wealthy now own all the good seats, and it's a poor wager that anyone sitting in the best 20K seats in any stadium ever played or has an above-average knowledge of the game. Wrigleyville and the fan population in the park are so yuppiefied and snobbish that I won't even go there anymore if somebody offers a paid ticket. White privilege and arrogance ooze in the park in StL, though it's SES-based and not "baseball arrogance." The old order is gone.

Over the years, I was also impressed by the knowledge and passion of fans during extended visits to Cleveland and Baltimore. And I was always shocked at how much more knowledgeable Rangers fans were than Astros fans (and I lived in Houston and loved the 'Stros and never particularly cared for DFW, so this sentence was WAY more the result of observation and experience than prejudice.)

My worst stadium experiences and least impressive fan interactions were in Toronto. I've been to a LOT of parks, too...three generations of ballparks in some cities like StL and Cincy. One can still find a number of people who keep score in the reasonably-priced seats in upper decks, but they are mostly senior citizens now; and there are scores of them, not hundreds.
alangreene
10/12
This is your mayor: http://online.wsj.com/articles/st-louis-to-america-dont-be-jealous-1412273454

That should be enough evidence.
buckgunn
10/13
Uh yeah - that op-ed is explicitly referenced in the article. And if a mayor writing dopey civic-booster fluff is evidence of anything it's beyond me.
PeterCollery
10/13
Anecdote: Went to game 4 in 2004 as a Sox fan. People could not have been nicer.
bigredsun
10/13
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Joe Buck in this article as the embodiment of Cardinal fans. Maybe not an accurate portrayal of Cardinal fans, but he is what we see.