Come back, St. Louis Cardinals! Chicago misses you!
We miss your presence near the top of the standings. We miss your seriousness, your haughtiness, your humorlessness. We miss your Cardinals Way. We miss your noses being up in the air. We miss Tony La Russa’s raised nose serving as the grand marshal of the snob parade. We even miss your fans, named the best baseball fans in a vote conducted by Cardinals fans.
We miss all of it. Whatever this is – a scuffling, searching, .500-ish team – please make it go away and replace it with the version that was so easy to hate. It’s not as much fun when the Cardinals are like this.
A midseason manager change? The team president publicly questioning a veteran’s “effort and energy level”? A pitcher accused of harassing a rookie? These aren’t the Cardinals who have won 11 World Series titles, who have haunted the Cubs for decades. This isn’t the organization that always held itself up as above that sort of unpleasantness. This is every other franchise.
Please come back. We need a villain worthy of his sneer and waxed mustache.
The Cardinals Way is about making the correct play all the time. Players are indoctrinated in the minors about the importance of detail and doing things right. That’s why this stat is so jarring: St. Louis is last in the majors in errors, having made 81 in 96 games heading into Saturday’s doubleheader at Wrigley Field. The first-place Cubs, with 61 in 95 games, were 21st out of 30 teams.
“The one thing that I’ve always appreciated about this organization is there are high expectations,’’ said Cards interim manager Mike Shildt, who replaced Mike Matheny on Saturday. “… The expectation of this organization is to compete for world championships. Those are expectations that I, we, this organization embrace. Now it’s back to the execution and what that looks like. I view this as an opportunity, not a threat at all.
“… Yeah, it’s frustrating that we had a run of many years of really excellent baseball with high-level performance. We know that’s hard to sustain. We also know what that looks like and what that commitment is. There’s no absolute blueprint, but there’s some foundational things that this organization has done for years that we’re going to continue to reiterate.’’
Cardinals fans, so used to winning, are not a happy bunch right now, though they surely took pleasure in St. Louis’ 18-5 beat down of the Cubs on Friday. Since 2000, the Cards have finished in first place in the National League Central nine times and in second place five other times. So you can understand why their fans, who are all related to Abner Doubleday, are freaking out.
Lest you think I’m picking on the Cards’ faithful, let’s talk about their counterparts on the North Side. Since the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, some of their fans have become as obnoxious as any self-important Cardinals fans. They believe that if team president Theo Epstein is smart, it follows that they’re smart, too. Epstein might have graduated from Yale, but it’s apparently just a quirk of fate that they didn’t. Perhaps winning does this to some people.
The Cubs organization also has gotten a tad too big for its designer britches. It stamps anything that moves with a Cubs logo and then sells it for $29.95 plus shipping. Its glass-and-steel building spree has turned Wrigleyville into Naperville.
But for institutional smugness, very few teams could match the Cardinals. Lots of Cubs fans are glad to see St. Louis taking an extra helping of humble pie. They’d prefer that the Cardinals turn into the Reds. But it’s not better this way for anyone. It’s always good to have an archenemy.
Remember how galling/great it was when the Cardinals wouldn’t even acknowledge that the Cubs were their archrivals? That’s the kind of antihero that’s missing in the equation.
Remember when the Cardinals bristled while the Cubs were getting loads of national attention during spring training in 2016?
“Talk is talk,” then-Cardinals right fielder Stephen Piscotty huffed. “It doesn’t mean squat.”
“They can have all the hype they want,” Matheny sniffed.
The Cubs went on to win the World Series that year and lost in the National League Championship Series last season. The Cards won 86 games in 2016 and 83 last year. Piscotty was traded to Oakland in December, and we know what happened to Matheny.
It’s OK for the Cubs and their fans to be king. It’s just not as enjoyable when the Cardinals are mediocre. Something’s missing.
I asked Shildt if he could envision St. Louis doing what the Cubs did – go through several years of hard-core losing to get high draft picks in a complete rebuild.
“No,’’ he said. “That’s not what the Cardinals organization represents.’’
All right. That’s more like it. Not smugness, but a certain loftiness. Maybe there’s hope yet.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.