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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Are the St. Louis Cardinals America's Team?

About a year ago I belittled the claim of Dodgers' manager, Don Mattingly, that the Dodgers were "America's Team" ("The Dodgers: America's Team"). I argued that he was clearly out of touch, that most baseball fans don't look favorably upon teams that try to buy championships (unless, of course, it's your hometown team). The Dodgers ranked 2nd in terms of salary in 2013 (only the Yankees ranked higher). This season they ranked #1 ("2014 Payrolls and Salaries For Every Major League Team") with a payroll of approximately $235,000. My intuition was later "confirmed" when a study of Facebook pages that identified which teams people listed as their favorite team found that the Dodger fan base was actually quite small ("Proof the Dodgers Aren't America's Team").

I then argued that if there was a team in baseball that would qualify as "America's Team" (which is doubtful), it would have to be the St. Louis Cardinals. As NYU President John Sexton, and life-long baseball fan, notes ("Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game"),
St. Louis has enjoyed a revered reputation for generations among baseball wags. As [Randy] Johnson... has put it, “It’s a fun city to come to because you know it’s all baseball.” 
And baseball there is played famously hard and well, from the spikes-high “Gashouse Gang” rowdies of the thirties to the mad dashes on the base paths of Enos “Country” Slaughter in the forties, to the elegance of Stan “the Man” Musial in the fifties, to the glare of fiery concentration on the face of the Hall of Fame fireball pitcher Bob Gibson in the sixties. Though the record must show that this border-state city was notoriously hostile to Jackie Robinson during his rookie year, the St. Louis tradition generally has been that the game is left on the field, that opponents are respected, that booing is for Easterners, and that rooting for the home team is no less intense during lean years.
St. Louis may just barely be among the twenty largest metropolitan areas in the country, but in recent decades only the far larger-market Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees have kept pace in attendance. When the Cardinals drew three million fans for the first time in 1987, only the Dodgers had done it. Their success was magnified by a famous radio station, WMOX, one of the first fifty-thousand-watt behemoths on the scene; in the years before the major leagues expanded, WMOX saturated the South; if you lived in Dixie, you were a Cardinals fan.
In a rather ironic turn of events, the Cardinals have eliminated the Dodgers from the playoffs the last two years. In some ways it's rather shocking. On paper the Dodgers are the best team in baseball. Their payroll is more than double that of the Cardinals, but so far they've been unable to live up to their talent. Not so with the Cardinals. They seem to get all that they can out of their players. Hopefully, they won't when they play the Giants.

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