ST. LOUIS — The Best Fans in Baseball?
The most sanctimonious and self-involved?
That’s probably more like it.
But we’re not about to bend over backward to give St. Louis Cardinals fans the business. Their old, tired act — full of sacrosanct rules and know-it-all conceit — has been roundly dismissed and become widely, relentlessly mocked as it is.
Then came Tuesday, when a New York Daily News online story accused Cardinals fans of having “blitzed” Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward with the N-word the previous night at Busch Stadium.
On social media, the Most Defensive Fans in Baseball took what seemed at first to be a well-deserved beating.
Unfairly, it turns out.
The original version of the story stated outright that vile shouts from the crowd toward the former Cardinal could be heard on television broadcasts, though that turned out not to be the case. In fact, there was next to no corroboration — not even from random voices in the Twitter echo chamber — of the Daily News’ story.
Multiple players on both teams said they heard nothing of the sort during Monday’s 5-0 Cubs victory. Even Heyward — who bolted St. Louis for Chicago in December in a delightful free agency surprise for Cubs fans — said he didn’t hear any specific words above the expected boos he received.
“I don’t feel like it’s a story,” Heyward said.
We should be careful not to paint it as a total non-story. Heyward may not have heard the N-word on Monday, yet if he had, it wouldn’t have been the first time he’d heard the term hurled by cowardly bigots in the stands at a big-league ballpark.
“Have I heard it before? Yes,” he said.
Enough times, unfortunately, that he said it wouldn’t have surprised him to have to hear it again.
Teammate Dexter Fowler has heard it, too.
“You always think we’re past that as a whole in this world,” he said, “but, obviously, we’re not.”
Cubs catcher David Ross has seen past teammates “pissed off” by racial epithets from the crowd. Cardinals journeyman Brandon Moss recalls a night in the big-leagues when he nearly went after a fan who’d called a teammate the N-word.
“There’s small-minded people everywhere, man,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “There’s stupid people everywhere. It’s not unique to one spot in one ballpark.”
The point is: If the Daily News’ shoddy report at first left you appalled, then by all means, remain appalled.
Just not at the Best Fans in Baseball. At least not in this particular case.
Cardinals fans aren’t a bunch of innocents. Many of them, for example, directed despicable sentiments at Heyward on social media after the right fielder left money on the table and defected to the rival Cubs.
If one could fight through all the nasty language, the underlying message smacked of familiar St. Louis sanctimony: How could any player in his right mind trade the precious “Cardinal Way” for whatever it is the inferior Cubs do?
But it’s a changing world, and no longer are the Cubs inferior. The long-held Cardinals-Cubs hierarchy seems to be reversing. Not surprisingly, the Best Fans in Baseball are struggling mightily with this.
It ought to be noted that Cubs fans may be struggling with it some themselves. Struggling not to gloat. Struggling not to take shots at their red-clad contemporaries to the south.
That act could eventually wear rather thin, too.
Didn’t this rivalry used to be friendly?
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.