I lived in Chicago when the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years.
Maybe you saw some of the celebration. Maybe you actively avoided it. It was a big deal for the city. A very big deal.
But if we’re being literal here, most people in Chicago didn’t care. Sox fans live in Chicago. Cardinals fans live in Chicago. People who don’t give a rip about baseball live in Chicago. And while there were a ton of Cubs fans who celebrated like a group of people that have waited their entire lives for this party… us non-Cubs fans were able to go about our day just fine on November 4th, 2016.
The trains ran on schedule. Grocery stores were open. The gym had people on the treadmills.
This was not the case in St. Louis in 2011 when the Cardinals won the World Series.
I’m not here to compare all the merits of both cities. I love St. Louis, but there are many things about the city that are inferior to Chicago.
But one of the great things – the truly great things – about St. Louis is that when the Cardinals are in the postseason, a majority of people/businesses are in.
All the way in.
Offices have special hours. People compete to see who can drape themselves in the most red. The leader of your place of worship is more likely than not to make a passing mention of the team during service.
There isn’t an interaction – personal or professional – that doesn’t eventually transition into a little baseball talk.
As a Cardinals fan, you wouldn’t rather be anywhere else than in St. Louis in October. Hell, even the weather is pretty great (most of the time).
This past weekend, I went to a wedding.
The groom is a big Cardinals fan. Grew up in St. Louis. Is famous for giving devastating high-fives during games when the Birds do something good. Many of the people at this wedding were the same people that had a standing reservation at Little Fort for every single playoff game. We’ve spent thousands of dollars and many October nights together in bars (or at Wrigley Field) watching the Cardinals play baseball.
Want to know how many Cardinals conversations I had this weekend? Maybe two? Maybe? They both included shoulder shrugs and sighs.
Maybe two? Maybe? They both included shoulder shrugs and sighs.
Maybe? They both included shoulder shrugs and sighs.
They both included shoulder shrugs and sighs.
I bring this up not as a way to prove I actually have people in my life that would invite me to their wedding, but to show you that life comes at you pretty quick…the last time I watched Cardinals playoff baseball, the groom was barely dating the bride.
Now they are married, have an adopted dog and moved back to St. Louis.
There always will be Cardinals fans.
Even if the team decided to fold or move to another city, I’m sure there would be a small group of people that wouldn’t admit that their fandom was a sunk cost and refuse to move on. But the vast majority Cardinals fans are reasonable people.
For the past two decades, there’s been a pretty great ROI in being a Cardinals fan. The team came through more times than not and it was fun to share baseball experiences with friends, family and business associates. It made sense investing.
It kind of doesn’t.
The team exited the 2015 postseason in humiliating fashion and hasn’t been the same since. They’ve gone from 100 wins in 2015 (spectacular!) to 86 wins in 2016 (Ok, not great) to a 79 win pace in 2017 (ugh). They are currently 4 games under .500 more than 1/2 way through the season and 5.5 games behind the Brewers in an extraordinarily weak division. The pipeline of talent doesn’t project any star batters… something the team very much is lacking.
Hopefully, they do better. Or make trades. Or something!
From the outside looking in, it appears that everyone from the manager to the front office is pretty content to be patient and see how things play out this season and beyond.
Totally their prerogative.
They should know, though, that the slow erosion of interest has begun.
The wedding I mentioned before?
Two years ago, this would have been a wedding that had the Birds game on a TV in the back so we could all watch a game together again like the old days, at least for an inning or two.
The team we all bonded over in the early part of the decade wasn’t really mentioned. People don’t like talking about depressing stuff at celebrations, I guess. Out of sight. Out of mind.
That’s my point.
Cardinals fans aren’t ever going to throw the e-brake on their fandom. They won’t egg Mo’s car. They won’t hire a skywriter to spell out ‘FIRE MATHENY’ over Busch Stadium during a game.
They’ll just find other things to do. Other things to buy. Other things to talk about.
Maybe 5 games a year at the stadium becomes 2. Maybe ‘America’s Got Talent’ is more appealing on the couch instead of a 7-0 deficit after 2 innings. Maybe choose the the hat that looks best instead of needing it to have an STL on the front.
Then, before you know it… the team just isn’t a huge deal in your life. Maybe you’ll get married. Adopt a dog. Move. Worry about other things in life as opposed to making a ton of room every summer.
I’m sure Padres fans that come across this post are getting a good chuckle at Cardinals fans losing interest in a team after a 86-win season and a whole year off from the playoffs. They’ll be passing the tissues over momentarily.
They’re not wrong. Cardinals fans have been spoiled.
It’s not a one-way street, though. Because the Cardinals consistently draw over 3 million fans annually and because those same fans watch games on TV en masse, the team is one of the most profitable in all of baseball.
Team makes money. Fans expect good baseball.
It’s been a mutually beneficial arrangement for a long time. And – at the moment – the Cardinals aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.
Will it get better? Will it get better quickly?
As the mediocre weeks turn into mediocre months and mediocre months turn into mediocre seasons, though, fans have started to downshift into apathy. And apathy is a dangerous place for any professional entertainment enterprise to spend much time in.
If they do?
Those Octobers in St. Louis will feel like every other month and not the four-week civic pride party they once were.
The Cardinals have entered the danger zone and I’m not sure they’ve realized it.
Photo: STL Tour Guide