In 1969, the year before he died, Jimi Hendrix appeared on The Dick Cavett Show. He wore a sky blue kimono and answered Cavett’s typical talk show questions with his deep, playful, groovy kind of voice. The conversation moved to Cavett asking Hendrix about the kind of compliments he received given that at that point in time Hendrix was arguably the greatest guitarist the world had seen since Andres Segovia.
He replied, “I don’t really live on compliments. As a matter of fact, they have a way of distracting me. I know a whole lot of musicians, artists out there who hears the compliments and thinks, ‘wow, I must have been really great” and so they get fat and satisfied and they get lost and forget about their actual talent and start living in another world.”
For someone so obviously and wildly talented to not pay mind to compliments tells an incredibly mature lesson from someone who by all accounts lived an incredibly immature life: that skill, ability and status should come with a healthy dose of humility and good will.
This column is only slightly about last week’s revelation that as of yet unknown members of the St. Louis Cardinals’ front office hacked into the network of the Houston Astros and committed corporate espionage in the name of some petty bit of revenge.
This piece is about Cardinal Nation, the so-called “Best Fans in Baseball,” and how last week’s revelation shows that we, as Cardinal fans, no longer deserve that title.
Objectively speaking, the Cardinal fanbase still currently holds the title of “Best Fans in Baseball.” According to a Forbes Business article from March of this year, 76 percent of all St. Louisans watched, listened to or went to at least one game last season, the highest of any sports city and a distinction St. Louis has earned for four straight years.
However, that diehard dedication to the Cardinals has not always been the case.
The Cardinals began their recent run of success at the dawn of the new millennium. Since 2000, the team has made the playoffs 11 times, and they look well on pace to make it again this year. Fans seem to forget that before that, the ‘90s had been a dark time for the Cardinals. Anheuser Busch even announced at one point that they were looking to sell the team in a package deal with Busch Stadium, due to weaning interest in the team.
From 1990 to 1998, average attendance per game at the old Busch Stadium was 32,115 using information from Baseball Almanac. After 1998, Mark McGwire’s record-breaking season, the Cardinals began finding more postseason success and attendance jolted upwards to 39,167 per game. The change in median was from 32,519 people per game in 1997 to 38,390 in 2001.
The quasi-religious status of the Cardinal fan base has been oft proselytized, but the data tells a different story than the Cardinals fan persevering through thick and thin with the team.
So, the display by many Cardinals fans last week does not feel earned. When the news broke that the miracle organization that did things “the right way” (whatever that means) may well have committed a federal felony, some members of the fan base went berserk. Friends of mine living in St. Louis said sports talk radio that day was unbearable. Cardinal fans tweeted about suspected conspiracies against the Cardinals, others downplayed the incident or absolved the Cardinals of any crime outright, and one fan even took to the streets outside Busch Stadium with a sign that read “If you can’t beat the Cardinals, call the FBI!”
All of it was downright embarrassing, a display of pronounced ego and arrogance of people who had truly thought themselves part of that club, the “Best Fans in Baseball.” Unlike Hendrix, we bought into our own hype and presented an ugly front to the world.
Instead of jumping at the throat of anyone who would dare decry the Cardinals, it should have been a chance to forgive the organization, to assess and understand that from all evidence so far, the hack was not an upper-level decision, that the Cardinal organization themselves had started their own investigation, and that none of it changed the fact the Cardinals are winning the Central.
Instead, we just gave Drew Magary a more fuel for his Fredbird effigy.
This incident should serve as a wake-up call: Cardinals fans are not the “Best Fans in Baseball.” The BFIB would not be petty, malicious or bitter. They would be above that nonsense and react passionately, positively and rationally to any crisis that harmed their beloved franchise.
Because a good portion of Cardinal Nation failed to do that, we validated the hatred other fan bases have for us and lost our perceived moral high ground.
Instead of touting the “Best Fans in Baseball” title, we should just stick to cheering on the Cardinals towards the only title that matters: a World Series title.