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Best Fans in Baseball…? No longer.

(NOTE: This post refers to booing a player doing his best, on the home team, but is just not getting it done and is clearly hurting over it. It does not refer to a player displaying an obvious lack of effort, etc. nor does it refer to booing a player on an opposing team – that’s expected and received completely differently by the player.)

St. Louis Cardinals fans haven’t been the “best fans in baseball” for quite some time…at least, not in the classic sense.

Sure, we still love baseball like no other town…and we appreciate outstanding play (Cardinal or not)…and we sure love our Cardinal history…but on the way to severe baseball fanaticism, we lost a bit of our humanity.

Baseball is a wonderful thing. I have a quote by Rob Neyer hanging on my office wall (and by “office” I mean “cube”) that reads:

It’s often said that baseball is life, or is like life, or that going to a baseball game is like going to church. Piffle. Baseball is like baseball, and that’s plenty good enough because nothing else is quite like baseball.

No city in the country understands that sentiment better than St. Louis Cardinals fans. We refer to our fandom as “Cardinal Nation”…a name we alone deserve perhaps above all other teams due to its roots in Cardinal history. Where other team’s fans call themselves a “nation” because they heard others do it, we do so out of generational consistency and a deep sense of unity.

But in this, we are divided.

Fan booing has been around as long as anyone can remember. But in the last few years in St. Louis, it has taken on an undercurrent that is nothing short of disgusting. When Jason Isringhausen went through his struggles here in St. Louis, he was eviscerated. Even when Izzy went to the manager and removed himself from the closer role (possibly punching a TV along the way?), fans continued to pound him. The same happened to Chris Duncan. The same seems to be gradually happening to Ryan Franklin.

For the life of me, I will never understand how human beings can consistently and intentionally deliver so much hurt and pain to another human being already suffering so deeply. Fans who defend the assault of a struggling player use the same statements over and over again:

“I have the right to boo…I bought a ticket and I can do it.”
“He makes millions…he can toughen up and take it for that paycheck.”
“It’s the only way a fan can express his/her dissatisfaction with a manager’s decision or a player’s performance.”

All crap. The right to boo? Of course you do. You have the right to do many, many things in this country. That doesn’t mean you should do them. Does he make millions of dollars? Yes. Does that mean more can be expected of him? Yes, again. Does that mean he signed away his humanity and all expectations of human to human interaction and decency? No.

The last, I think, is my favorite. Anyone who has been a fan of the Cardinals through the LaRussa years has to know one truth: Fans will not dictate what Tony does on the field. If a fan – in any way – attempts to suggest that booing is his/her way of influencing the manager’s decision to put a pitcher in the game, you should immediately translate that as: “I really want to selfishly gratify my own disgusting desires to gut a player who is currently disappointing me, so I’m going to fool myself into thinking I’m making a difference.”

And that’s what it comes down to, really. Selfishness. Perhaps the worst kind of selfishness…selfishness targetted at obtaining something of no redeeming or lasting value by directly hurting an already suffering human being.

Ryan Franklin is a failing closer on the St. Louis Cardinals. Yes. 100% true. But he’s also – first, even – a human being. You are a fan, a paying fan who sacrificed something – money, time, a nice meal, a new car, etc. – to come watch him play. Yes. And you have certain rights with that sacrifice. Yes. But you are also – absolutely first, even – a human being.

Do you truly lack the ability to empathize with a human being who is so clearly hurting just enough to simply refrain from hurting him more? Is it really THAT important to your fan experience that you MUST boo a man who can barely keep it together in the post-game?

I love the Cardinals…I really do. My life revolves around the Cardinals much more than it should. And when we win a championship…oh, man…it seems like nothing gets better than that. It seems like all is right with the world. Economy? Pfft. War? What a bummer. Starving nations? I gave at the office.

But a World Series Championship? ….*shudder*….

And even in my worst moments…I refrain from booing a struggling player on the Cardinals who is obviously doing his best for two simple reasons:

1) It does absolutely no good. Nothing good can come of it. Tony won’t change his mind because of it…nor should he. Imagine a game run by booing/cheering fans! Craziness. It won’t make the player perform better if he’s already trying his best. It does no good.

2) It is inhumane. You take a person – regardless of how much money he makes – who is on the verge of tears and an emotional breakdown just after giving it his all in front of paying fans who would just as soon turn on him as cheer him for 1 pitch…and then you decide to boo him? Knowing how it will impact him? It shows an utter lack of empathy (the ability to understand and identify with a person’s experience) and basic human decency. You mortgaged your humanity for the sake of venting in a baseball stadium. Shame on you.

For a long time, I’ve listened to sports writers covering the Cardinals subtly mock the “Best fans in baseball” moniker…and it’s upset me that they do it. I think I understand a bit more, now.

Fans of every team have a certain identity. Dodger fans show up late but love their team. Their interest is driven by star power and winning…but they love their team. Cubs fans love the idea of FINALLY winning one. They show up and perhaps enjoy the actual experience of being at the ballpark better than any fans I know of. And Cardinal fans show an unequaled knowledge and appreciation of the game, along with a deep respect and loyalty.

But that’s it. It’s simply an identity…not a “best” or “worst” or any other such thing. We are what we are…Cardinal Nation…and that does mean something. But “best fans in baseball?” Hardly.

To earn that name again, we must rediscover our humanity…our empathy…our ability to think of a player first as a person, second as a player, and last – if at all – as someone who owes us something for our ticket price.

We want players to make themselves accessible…perhaps more human…and develop a relationship with fans. And then we beat the hell out of them for it.

We are Cardinal Nation…without a doubt…and I am proud to be a part of it. But we are no longer “Baseball’s Best Fans”…and we haven’t been for quite some time.

Go Cards.

P.S. Below is a copy/paste of a comment I put on Bill Ivie’s site, www.i70baseball.com in response to a post he wrote about this subject (just for information’s sake):

Fans who boo a person…a p-e-r-s-o-n…so clearly hurt by what is going on in his world right now irritate the hell out of me, and I have no patience for them at that moment.

The severe inability to simply realize that the booing of Franklin – and the god awful treatment of Izzy – serves no purpose but to selfishly fulfill the fan’s own need to vent. On the other side, the impact it has on that player (who, you know…should probably just suck it up and take cause he makes so much more than us in his paycheck) is tremendous.

It still amazes me when a fan will say, “I wish he would perform better,” and then publicly eviscerate that player and contribute to the exact opposite.

I still stand in awe at humanity’s inability to show empathy (not compassion…just empathy) and basic humanity when a guy is hurting as much as Franklin (and Izzy before him).

If your feuding neighbor says to you, “Hey! You suck you little (blank)!”…big deal…but if your own family says the same to you…the impact is a bit different.

I laugh at fans who say, “Franklin was wrong to attack us, but I forgive him.”

Really? That fan publicly destroys a guy…and then that guy responds with one statement…and HE’S THE BAD GUY?!


I’ve argued against this practice for years…and it never does any good. Fans who boo guys like Franklin right now just don’t get it because they don’t want to get it. It feels better personally to boo the million dollar man. That’s all that matters to them. And they will justify their actions in any way that makes them feel better and keep doing it.

And the guy they hurt be damned in the process.

At some point, it stops being about money, baseball, etc….and it starts being about human to human interaction…even in sports…even in a crowd.

Even in St. Louis.

More comments by me on www.ontheoutsidecorner.wordpress.com (Bob’s site):

Problem is, Bill…everyone lives by the “Fan and Professional” distinction…but no one questions the validity or boundaries of that distinction.

As bloggers and Twitter-ites, we above all others should understand the desire to develop more accessible relationships with professional athletes. We LONG for players to escape the boundaries of “professionalism” and “please please please! talk to us like a person!” We want a more human relationship with professional athletes…and yet we only want it on our terms. We want them to say “pleasant and nice things to us” but we don’t want any of the accountability that a human relationship demands.

The “Fan and Professional” distinction and associated behavior expectations are one more example of the “do it like this because its always been done/expected that way”. At what point do we look at those behavior expectations and say, “You know…maybe it’s time for a change”?

Ballplayers are human beings…and deserve to be treated as such no matter their job, fame, public standing, or paychecks. And fans are human beings as well…and should be expected to act like it regardless of their status, rights, tickets, or anonymity.

One more thing…that expected “Fan and Professional” distinction comes with expected interaction guidelines…guidelines developed by a snail-paced newspaper reporting world where statements are considered, re-considered, then stated and published.

That world is long gone.

We now live in an internet age with on-demand, immediate “Tony TV” and post-game interviews. And yet we’ve never adjusted our expectations. The accessibility and communication medium has changed…but our expectations of interaction with players/coaches and fans has not.

Maybe it should?


One thought on “Best Fans in Baseball…? No longer.

  1. A nice article which i fully agree with, but at the same time Cardinal fans are pretty forgiving. Holliday can have some bad pretty bad playoff moments and survive through it relatively unscathed. There just aren’t all that many places where that happens. Yes there were some boo’s here and there but overall in comparison to others, its really not that bad. Could it be better, definitely but just giving the other side of it as well.

    Posted by Jim | April 24, 2012, 9:39 pm

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