A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

St. Louis, Cards and a few fans: Whatev’

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Oct. 28, 29 or 30

In the film “Casablanca,” an Italian asks a club owner, “You despise me, don't you?” and the American replies, “If I gave you any thought I probably would.”

I’m a Cubs fan; I don’t hate the Cardinals. I don’t care about the club. But after seeing emails and posts from a handful of Redbird fans who “celebrated” their playoff victory over the Dodgers by ridiculing the Cubs – taking more delight in Chicago finishing in 5th place than in St. Louis winning the pennant – I’ve given this type of fan some thought.

Taking pleasure in others’ pain is sadism, but rejoicing at the Cubs’ lousy season instead of your own good fortune is just goofy, like you mocking a neighbor for not divorcing your wife.

I like the city of St. Louis; I was a Cardinals fan as a kid; and most St. Louis fans are everyday folks who root for the home team.

But I prefer Chicago for ballgames because it’s an easy train ride from downstate. After 1968 – when my heroes, Cardinals hitters Curt Flood and Orlando Cepeda, were stellar all season but lost to the Detroit Tigers in the World Series (the last one before divisional play started) – I lost interest. They’d screw Flood and trade Cepeda, plus other priorities and distractions were more attention-grabbing: the Vietnam War, college, rock ’n’ roll, etc. And after almost 10 years, after maturing and targeting focus and energies more efficiently, I fell in love with the Cubs, almost like falling in love with my wife or the Church.

When I was a child listening to the only major-league games our radio could get, with Harry Caray, I had liked St. Louis ATHLETES: Stan Musial and George Crowe, Tim McCarver and Barney Schultz. I cheered 1963’s National League All-Star infield: all Redbirds (Ken Boyer, Dick Groat, Julian Javier and Bill White), and the next year’s Cards winning the pennant on a squeaker and defeating the favored New York Yankees. Decades after joining the Die-Hard Cub Fan Club, I still enjoy watching St. Louis’ 22-year-old pitching phenom Michael Wacha; outfielder Carlos Beltran, who defies Conventional Wisdom about age; and catcher Yadier Molina, the best backstop/clutch hitter combo in the majors, deftly blending tattoos and a boyish grin to be both friendly and sinister.

However, I like the Chicago Cubs TEAM, even if they traded (and got back) favorites like Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood and Reed Johnson or struggle with rookies, incompetence and the impatience of frustrated fans like me.

I still have family and friends who root for the Cards. But they’re not the type some endure as obnoxious or insufferable. Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Mahler recently wrote about these fans’ self-piety: “We are constantly being told to admire them. Holding up the Cards – and their fans – as some sort of baseball ideal doesn’t just make them annoying. It implicitly denigrates every other team in baseball and their respective fans. It’s one thing for Cardinals fans to celebrate their organization’s values. It’s another thing for those values to be inflicted on the rest of us, especially when all we really want to do is watch a ballgame.”

This variety of Redbird Rooter is reminiscent of arrogant Yankees fans who followed the 1950s Bronx Bombers (like rooting for the Allies in the summer of 1945). Such fans’ tired trash talking includes their Ultimate Cubs Insult: “108 years since a World Championship!”

Ooo; THAT never occurred to us.

Cub fans gripe about our team, laugh through tears, and cope with futility and loss without whining about opposing pitchers cheating, or forgetting botched plays ruled in our favor. (Bartman? Exaggerated.) Most people lose, a lot – whether playing the lottery or applying for jobs. We deal.

No amount of sportscaster hype has convinced me of a “great Cubs-Cards rivalry.” It’s proximity, not enmity. Many Cubs fans would rather beat the White Sox or Brewers than obsess with Interstate 55 nonsense. (Need a rival? Go west; enjoy the Royals.)

In contrast to such fans’ mean-tease, most needling dished out and received at Miller Park or U.S. Cellular Field is good-natured. Cardinal fans’ gloating is lame and a little embarrassing.

Also embarrassing are pompous conceits like “Cardinal Nation,” “The Cardinal Way” and “The Capital of Baseball,” and the cringe-worthy practice of turning routine respect of opponents’ talents into “humblebragging” about their own sportsmanship (neglecting to recall frequent calls for manager Tony LaRussa’s firing or Albert Pujols’ head on a pike in the Botanical Gardens).

Immodestly self-proclaimed “the best baseball fans in the country,” they’ve never justified why. Because they go to games at a nice stadium where a good team plays? Gee, that’s tough.

I hope the World Series is fun; I don’t care if St. Louis wins.

I might watch an old movie anyway.

[PICTURED: Family snapshot of Bill Knight as a 10-year-old Cardinals fan at the St. Louis Zoo.]

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