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In Search of The Best Fans in Baseball

Oct 26, 2013, 5:50 PM EST

ST. LOUIS — The idea that the St. Louis Cardinals boast The Best Fans in Baseball started during the runup to the 2004 World Series.

No, wait. It was definitely in the 2000 NLCS against the Mets.

Wait, that isn’t right either. Clearly it began during the 1998 home run chase pitting Mark McGwire against Sammy Sosa. I am sure of it.

Or is it even older than that? Tony La Russa said it not long after he took over the Cardinals managing job.  Peter Gammons used to say it on his old “Diamond Notes” segments in the early 90s. This thing has been going on for at least 20 years, right?

Actually, the Cardinals have been said to have The Best Fans in Baseball for as long as I can remember. And it’s been said long enough and loud enough that we’ve gone through several backlashes and backlashes to the backlashes of the entire notion. It’s to the point now that no one talks about whether the Cardinals actually do have the Best Fans in Baseball. Everyone talks about everyone talking about the Cardinals having the Best Fans in Baseball.

But here’s a funny thing about all of it: usually the ones talking about it (and talking about the talking about it) aren’t actually Cardinals fans. Indeed, I can’t ever remember an actual Cardinals fan claiming to be part of the legendary Best Fans in Baseball, even if many silently — and perhaps a bit smugly — allow the moniker to be assigned to them, all while they maintain plausible deniability. What’s more, very rarely does anyone actually ask actual Cardinals fans if they think they’re the Best Fans in Baseball and, if so, why.

So I decided to do that before Game 3 of the World Series. I set out from my hotel, walked to the ballpark and stopped as many Cardinals gear-clad folks I could find to ask them what they think about this meme that will not die.

First stop: Bridge Tap House on Locust Street, as I figured real fans would be pregaming with some beer and grub. There I encountered Randy Blackburn, 60, of Omaha and his son Brian, 32 of Denver.

“Absolutely,” Randy said when I asked him if Cardinals fans were the best. Why? Because he had lived in between 15 and 20 cities over the course of his adult life and he Cardinals fans were the most widely-scattered and committed folks he’s encountered. Brian agreed, though he noted that “In recent times it’s been easier to be a Cardinals fan. They’re a winning team. They keep players for a long time,” he added, noting that it’s easier to become a more passionate fan for a player you’ve watched develop over time.

I left the Blackburns to their lunch and met Dave Doig, 74, of Townshend, Montana, his daughter Kristie McManus, 49, of Great Falls, Montana and her son Tyler Wolf, 26, of San Francisco:

source:

Their answers to the Best Fans in Baseball question? “Yes,” Yes,” and “Absolutely,” respectively. Doig said “they have the best looking uniforms in the game” and cited Stan Musial as reasons why the Cardinals both attract and maintain baseball’s best fan base. McManus said “I’m my dad’s biggest fan and he’s a Cardinals fan, so that’s why I love them!”  I looked to her father to see if he blushed, but noted nothing but pride.  Oh, and Game 3 was to be the first-ever Cardinals game Mr. Doig would see in person. It certainly put lie to the notion that the best fans, whichever team they root for, have to have their butts in the seats at the ballpark in order to support their team. Doig has been doing it for most of his 74 years from afar.

Father-daughter love isn’t the only basis of strong Cardinals fandom, however. Sometimes it can be passed on from bro to bro:

source:

From left to right we have John Nelson, 21, Jim Costello, 24, Wilson Nelson, 24, Patrick Sherlock, 22 and Patrick Nelson, 18, all from Memphis Tennessee. Also from left to right, here are their answers to “Are Cardinals fans the best in baseball” and “why?”

  • John: “Without a doubt, times ten!” and “We bleed red.” Which is a good point. You don’t see Rockies fans bleeding black and purple.
  • Jim told me his reason for loving the Cardinals, but it was 100% totally unprintable even on the Internet. It was outrageously filthy, actually, but in his defense he meant it as a compliment to the fine women of St. Louis. Whether they would take it as such is doubtful, however.
  • Wilson” “F*** yeah,” to the first question. He said St. Louis had the best strip clubs in his experience as well. At this point I was beginning to wonder if these guys were truly here for the World Series.
  • Patrick Nelson: “You’re g***amn right they are.” He did not say why, but you can’t doubt his commitment to the notion.
  • Patrick Sherlock asserted: “Best team in baseball, dude.” There was simply nothing else to discuss.

Walking away from these lads made me think that maybe, as is the case with every other baseball team, the Cardinals have some fans who are into them simply as an excuse to eat hot dogs, drink beer and party. Which is perfectly fine. Indeed, many worse things than rooting for a baseball team have been perpetrated for far weaker reasons than those. But still, I didn’t feel like anything was setting Cards fans apart.

Thankfully, I soon ran into Sam Nash, 53, of Davenport, Iowa, Lorenzo McNamee, 40 of Moline, Illinois and Angie White, 43, of Bettendorf, Iowa, who got things back on a more conventional footing:

source:

Nash noted that it was hard not to root for a team with some of the greatest players ever. McNamee said Cards fans were the best due to their knowledge and appreciation of their team’s history. White summed it up best, though: “We’re the best fans because we came all the way from Iowa with no tickets and are here just for a chance to get into the game.” Hard to argue with that.

I really enjoyed meeting all of these Cardinals fans, including many others I spoke with but who didn’t want to go on record about all of this. Maybe because they, like most of us, realize that for as much fun it is to talk about these things, it’s ultimately a silly topic to debate.

Every team has its segment of rabid fandom. Every team experiences moments where enthusiasm peaks and the entire city or region seems to coalesce around the local nine. Usually it’s during a playoff or World Series run. But it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes that wave of team spirit erupts over silly things like a player’s hairstyle. Or a play on a player’s name. Sometimes it corresponds with attendance surges, but sometimes not. Heck, even the Cardinals — while always drawing well — have only led the NL in attendance twice in the past 25 years. And as Mr. Doig shows, you don’t have to be at the park to be the best fan you can be.

Who are baseball’s best fans? It’s a question which demands an opinion, not an actual answer. And an opinion that is further removed from data and objective reasoning than most opinions are because it’s an opinion about something that is itself, by definition, irrational. Fervor over sporting events which don’t truly turn on fan fervor and loyalty for an entity that, by its very nature, is comprised of players who are there by virtue of business dealings and a defacto lottery, not concomitant loyalty. We’d die for them in ways that they’d never die for us. Nor, in our more lucid moments, would we ever expect them to.

But just because it’s silly doesn’t mean it’s phony. Here, in St. Louis, on the streets around Busch Stadium before a game which could prove to be the key turning point in the World Series, these fans are jacked to the max. They put their lives on hold for a night or three — or if they traveled from Montana, maybe more — to root on their guys. And when you see and talk to them you feel like maybe — just maybe — they are The Best Fans in Baseball.

Until you see a fan who put his life on greater hold and traveled much farther to cheer on the visiting nine:

source:

 

That’s Edward Lima. He’s a Red Sox fan. He came to St. Louis for the game. From Mexico City.

Best Fans? Everyone has a claim.

  1. perryt200 - Oct 26, 2013 at 6:08 PM

    [video src="http://americanrhetoric.com/videoclips/videomoviespeechkingdomofheaven.wmv" /]

  2. sfm073 - Oct 26, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    It’s a silly topic, but yet it’s the only thing you can talk about. I’m born and raised in stl and I’ve been all over the country and I can tell you that the cardinals mean more to this city than any other team I’ve seen in their respective city. Does that make them the best fans? Idk and I don’t care bc as you said it’s silly. But the cardinals is one of the few things this city can be proud of and there is a lot of passion there.

    • derklempner - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:20 PM

      Good point. Reminds me of what the Packers mean to Green Bay citizens.

  3. xmatt0926x - Oct 26, 2013 at 6:15 PM

    I’m not trying to take anything away from the whole “nice people from the Midwest” sentiment that usually follows questions as to why Cardinals fans are so cheery and patient with their players, even when they don’t play well.

    That being said there are a lot of fanbases who would show the same patience and lack of booing if their team was anywhere near as successful as the Cardinals franchise has been over the years. Going back to the early 80′s when I started following baseball with more of an understanding than a dumb kid just rooting for their team, the Cardinals have always been in the mix. They’ve never been bad for long and always seemed to be in the playoff mix.

    I don’t see the same patience when the St. Louis Rams play and that’s because they’ve been bad for a while now. Don’t get me wrong.I don’t doubt that fans there aren’t naturally pleasant people in general and I don’t think St. Louis fans would ever be as tough on their players as East Coast fans, but the winning goes a long way.

    • chill1184 - Oct 26, 2013 at 6:25 PM

      “Don’t get me wrong.I don’t doubt that fans there aren’t naturally pleasant people in general and I don’t think St. Louis fans would ever be as tough on their players as East Coast fans, but the winning goes a long way.”

      You obviously have never see the twitter account @BestFansStLouis

      • paperlions - Oct 26, 2013 at 6:35 PM

        Using the person that runs that account as the epitome of Cardinal fans is like using the people at Barstool or the callers of WEEI as examples of typical Red Sox fans. Stupid.

      • chill1184 - Oct 26, 2013 at 6:37 PM

        @paperlions

        My point is that fans of eastern teams aren’t the only ones who rant when their players don’t produce. Everyone gets pissed when a key player doesn’t produce.

      • paperlions - Oct 26, 2013 at 8:42 PM

        Of course that is true.

        I’ve noted it before, but:

        EVERY fan base has jackwagons.
        EVERY fan base has smart fans.
        EVERY fan base has polite fans.
        EVERY fan base has band wagon fans.

        Differences in fan bases mostly are due to the recent success (or lack thereof) of the team and a bit by the local culture….but mostly, all fan bases (as a group) are very similar.

        St. Louis does have a unique combination of factors that results in more Cardinal love than some other places: for decades they were the western most team, resulting in a very large region of fans, as opposed to eastern (or now western) fan bases which were (or are) more localized because of the proximity of other teams. The Cardinals don’t really have to compete much with other local sports teams, which results in a larger proportion of sports fans being primarily baseball fans. None of those things make Cardinal fans better than any others, but they probably contribute to the annoying BFIB meme that has developed over the last few decades.

    • perryt200 - Oct 26, 2013 at 7:24 PM

      Uhm, I guess this is where I get into trouble.

      You’re right the Cards always seem to be in the mix come October. (look for it again the next 3-4 years) And again correct that winning goes along way.

      But it is path they take to winning (trying to say away from “way” as much as possible); top to bottom. From the back office to scouting to drafting to the minors to the veteran players that mentor; everyone is a combined effort to field a winning ball team.

      When you play the Cards you don’t play a 40 man roster, a 32 or a 25. You are playing an entire organization that not only wants to beat you today, but has been planning on it for the last couple of years.

      Because of how it is set up, they can consistently do that with a payroll 100mil less than what the top teams spend. Imagine what the payroll would be if just half the pitchers were free agents. And not just the ones on the 25 man roster, but all of the pitchers the Cards used this season.

      First football can’t do that. Sure, you can scout and draft well but after that you are paid to perform without the nurturing culture that someone like Oscar Tavares is getting.

      Next for some reason other baseball teams don’t do it or simply can’t. I can’t explain the Cubs, but I will say if you only spend what Miami and Houston do you have stinker teams.

      So yes, it may be easy to be a Cardinals fan. But they sure deserved it too.

  4. Jeff - Oct 26, 2013 at 6:31 PM

    I’d probably say Cardinals fans are the best baseball fans, and I’m not even from St. Louis.

  5. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Oct 26, 2013 at 6:38 PM

    Sox fans can definitely make the claim too. Granted the trek from Kingston, Ontario to Boston isn’t a long one, but I made it down here for Game 2 with no hope of getting tickets. The atmosphere around Fenway and in the bars was every bit as electronic as it must be in St. Louis tonight. Definitely the most fun I’ve ever had watching baseball on tv.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Oct 26, 2013 at 6:40 PM

      Oops, definitely meant electric atmosphere. Smart phone, stupid person.

      • Francisco (FC) - Oct 26, 2013 at 8:31 PM

        Actually, considering the amount of phones, tablets, etc. I’m pretty sure the atmosphere was plenty electronic too.

    • paperlions - Oct 26, 2013 at 8:56 PM

      I trekked to Boston specifically to watch a game at Fenway. I went to a day game on Memorial day last year. They were playing Detroit. It was May, the Red Sox were having a shitty year, and the atmosphere in bars all around the park before and after the game was pretty electric (full of anticipation and then, because they won, celebration). It was only one game and it was my only day in Boston, but Boston fans were pretty great all day. It probably didn’t hurt that none of us (fans of the Cardinals, Yankees, Tigers, and Phillies) wore any gear from our teams….but we didn’t hear/see fans in the park or any bar/restaurant giving shit to anyone else wearing non-Boston gear either.

  6. sportsfan18 - Oct 26, 2013 at 8:06 PM

    Of course it can’t be said for sure. I’m a lifelong baseball fan, 46 yrs old, began following ball in 1974 and attending Cubs and Sox games in 1976.

    Even though I was born and raised just outside of Chicago, I recognized the rivalry between the Cubs and the Cards…

    The Cards are a great organization with great fans. Like many said in their comments above, it’s easier to root for the Cards as they’ve been consistently good for a long time.

    One poster said the Rams in St. Louis don’t get the same kind of love from the St. Louis people as the baseball team…

    Well one thing I may say for the Cubs, their fans are pretty good because the Cubs are consistently bad yet their fans show up game after game, year after year.

    I don’t think another team that loses as much as the Cubs has fans that still support them like the Cubs do…

    Hell, the Rays are a great team and yet they have no fans…

  7. chiadam - Oct 26, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    I would ask someone to define what makes one group of fans better than another, but it’s easier to ask if anyone gives a shit.

  8. player169 - Oct 26, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    I am from central Illinois and have followed the Cardinals my whole life…from a Cardinal family. I can’t claim to be a fanatic though…put NFL and soccer above baseball and those are the sports I care about. The thing I love about the Cardinal fan base is that they are as a whole, very respectful. I think that is what makes them “the best” if there is such a thing. The average fan will clap for a former Cardinal coming to the plate (ie, Skip Schumaker for LA in NLCS). In today’s world you don’t see that in many fan bases…to include other Midwestern teams like the Cubs. I don’t say that just because the Cubs are rivals either. There is something to be said for respect, game knowledge, team history knowledge and just good old plain fan sportsmanship. Every team will have a mix of fans with these qualities…I just think that you see that in action in St Louis more then other cities.

    I am diehard Rams fan and I will say that the Cardinsl fan base IS better then the Rams fan base. Again, it’s a baseball town…I don’t get that, but maybe history, family upbringing factors in…in the NFL, you look to the Greenbay fans or Seattle and say…wow, that’s impressive. I will also say Green Bay fans come to St Louus for Rams games they are very respectful, so I respect them for that….

  9. hojo20 - Oct 26, 2013 at 8:41 PM

    Cardinal fans suck

    • paperlions - Oct 26, 2013 at 8:57 PM

      After a few dates, sure, if you are lucky.

  10. Anoesis - Oct 26, 2013 at 9:05 PM

    “I can’t ever remember an actual Cardinals fan claiming to be part of the legendary Best Fans in Baseball…”

    Today I learned Craig doesn’t read the comment section of HBT. Or maybe he does, but doesn’t think those posting those smug claims are really Cards fans.

    “Who are baseball’s best fans? It’s a question which demands an opinion, not an actual answer.”

    There’s the entire gist of the article: It’s just an opinion, nothing more.

    • makeham98 - Oct 27, 2013 at 8:35 AM

      Craig should try reading the message boards on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Packed with a group smug, obnoxious and entitled fans debating such high-quality topics of whether they should applaud a boo a particular player, or whether the Cardinal-unique tradition of doing the wave during critical points of a game makes an individual a “good fan”.

      Yokels aren’t good fans, they’re yokels.

      I hate the Yankees but being in Yankee Stadium in the late 70s was the greatest environment I’ve ever enjoyed for a ballgame. Real electricity. Busch Stadium doesn’t have ushers, it has hall monitors.

  11. hcf95688 - Oct 26, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    Kristie McManus is kinda hot.

  12. gloccamorra - Oct 26, 2013 at 9:57 PM

    I’M stunned! Here we get a masterpiece of investigative journalism, and not one kudos to the author? The reputation of the HBT commenters is at stake here, so let me be the first: KUDOS, Craig.

    • forsch31 - Oct 27, 2013 at 2:23 AM

      I rag Craig a lot for some of his stuff, but this was a great piece.

  13. jhaegs - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:00 AM

    Meanwhile, there’s a World Series going on right now…

  14. hughhansen - Oct 27, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    My memory of the BFiB from the 90s was based on a few salient things:

    Cardinals fans showing up to the park even when the team was bad.

    Not booing their own players.

    Generally being nice folks.

    I don’t know how true the first two are, but they’d definitely be high on my list of good fan traits.

  15. gloccamorra - Oct 27, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    The Cards’ fans’ rep begins and ends with their willingness to give a player his due on a great play/performance, no matter what uniform he’s wearing.

    When Tony Gwynn was six hits shy of 3000, Cards fans cheered his every at-bat in a four game series, they wanted to see that 3000th hit. Tony had five hits, and eight RBI against their team, but they cheered him every at-bat. Tony got his 3000th hit in Montreal in a 4 for 5 game, and the Expos gave away 20,000 tickets to avoid an embarrassment to the Cards’ 35k, 40k, 43k and 45k as Tony got closer. Less than 14,000 showed for the Expos game.

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