Keidel: House Of Cardinals–Is St. Louis America’s Team?
By Jason Keidel
As if we didn’t give you ample reason to hate us.
We are the financial and media vortex, forever fueling that “East Coast bias” you loathe. We are Broadway. We are the money and marble of Madison Avenue. Donald Trump. Central Park. Cosa Nostra. Sweaty subway cars. We are volume. We are vice. We are victory.
As if the New Yorker’s native hubris weren’t enough, we have the Yankees, whom people have compared to U.S. Steel, Microsoft, and the Roman Empire. Pick a decade (other than the ’80s) and we dominated.
You visited once. Once. And you felt smothered in the forest of skyscrapers. You even tried going to Yankee Stadium – the old one – and saw some beer-soaked dolt wearing those “Got Rings?” t-shirts. Then someone stole your wallet somewhere in the South Bronx.
If that weren’t enough, you must watch the Yankees every fall, penning another entry into the history books. 40 pennants. 27 World Series titles. And casting a net of inferiority complexes all over the nation. The New York Yankees are America’s team.
Or are they?
The Evil Empire just doesn’t feel so daunting anymore, winning just one title since the last year of the ’90s dynasty. It feels like the mandate has mutated. We aren’t about product as much as profit. And then we lose Mo and Andy, taking with them the remnants of the glory, Torre days.
There’s a crack in Darth Vader’s mask. And the St. Louis Cardinals have slipped through it, blooming like a rose from Middle America.
While the Yankees lick their wounds and grab their wallet, the Cardinals are deep into another fall run toward the Fall Classic. If they can squeeze out four games against the talented but tormented Dodgers, St. Louis will be the hub of America’s pastime yet again.
And they do it with a fraction of our budget and our bombast.
St. Louis loses their two pillars – Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols – and didn’t drop a rung. They do it the right way, their players are spawned by perhaps the most fertile farm system in baseball. You don’t know who they are until you see them whacking clutch home runs in the playoffs. Then they sprinkle the roster with seasoned, team-first free agents.
The Cardinals, who have their mail forwarded to October, have been to the postseason 25 times. They have 11 rings, including two in six years. The Yanks won their first World Series in 1923; the Cards won their first in 1926, beating the Bronx Bombers. And they beat New York two more times, including the iconic 1964 World Series, essentially ending the Mickey Mantle era.
And they play in St. Louis, appropriately placed in the middle of the map, like the aorta of baseball. Almost every player, foreign or domestic, preaches the Cardinal Gospel. St. Louis is a special place, they say, the real Field of Dreams, a pastoral wonderland where players are beloved no matter their last plate appearance.
They don’t even boo their players. This is the land of Stan Musial, who stayed like a spiritual buoy for over 90 years. The land of Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith. They can find victory in virtue.
New Yorkers don’t understand that. It singes our elitist sensibilities. To us, it is our prerogative to torture whomever melts on the mound at Yankee Stadium. We serenade opponents with vulgar chants, get the middle finger from our own pitchers (Jack McDowell), and applaud while our old owner (George Steinbrenner) warned another pitcher (Dennis Rassmussen), “Columbus, here I come!”
The Cardinals’ lineup reads like a roll call for Bull Durham. Pete Kozma. Matt Adams. Jon Jay. David Freese. Daniel Descalso. Matt Carpenter. Who? Chris Carpenter was their ace. They lose him, and in slides Adam Wainwright. They lose Pujols, and here comes Carlos Beltran.
New York City can’t fathom why anyone would want to play anywhere but here, despite the car wash we put them through. We don’t acknowledge a world west of the Hudson River. The rest is for rednecks. Right. Now we are paying for our excess, our sins, our arrogance. We have become the land of A-Rod and TMZ. We are the new country for old men and bloated contracts.
Now we’re stuck with King George’s kids, and it doesn’t feel the same. Hal Steinbrenner, the Michael Corleone of the new era, talks in a cold, corporate cadence about dollars and salary caps and business models. Yawn.
With Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte finally ending their bejeweled careers – with Derek Jeter soon to follow – it feels like the baton has been passed westward.
New York isn’t the only place that knows about high deeds under brown leaves. Sometime tonight a blimp will zoom in on a well-lit bowl in Missouri, swathed in red shirts, jerseys, sweaters and caps, politely cheering, never jeering, their beloved Cardinals.
And New Yorkers will look longingly toward St. Louis. Not that we will ever admit it.
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