Most years during the MLB playoffs, I’m left without a team to cheer for. I tend to base my rooting interest on which team I hate the least, one whose victory would not be comparable to fingernails grinding on a chalkboard. Aside from the typical villains and rivals, I tend to cheer against teams that have won it all recently. I just want to scream, “GREEDY! YOU HAD YOUR TURN,” whenever this is a possibility. In 2012, there were actually a few teams that I truly liked in the playoffs – the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals, to name two. Plus Oakland was a great story, and I felt like I should show some allegiance to our southern Ohio neighbors. As you can see, I went 0 for 4 in preferred ALCS/NLCS match-ups. I joked that people should hire me to cheer for their opponents, as their team would almost be guaranteed victory. My resume shows my lifetime record as an Indians fan, and as someone who has also followed the Pirates since the late 1980s.
So out of the four teams that were left (three of which won the past three World Series, while the fourth was just there in 2006), I had to pick someone to cheer for. I also had to pick my villain – the team that under no circumstances I wanted to see capture the 2012 ring. As for the team to cheer for, I went with the San Francisco Giants. I loved AT&T Park when I visited last summer, so it seemed like a good enough reason to root for them. You’d think the villain role could be easily filled – also in the final four are the Yankees, the “Evil Empire” and one of the Indians’ divisional rivals in the Tigers. Yet I still don’t see either one of them as this year’s “villain” for me. Maybe it’s just because I’ve become resigned to the fact that one of them has to advance, there’s no getting around that. For some reason, the St. Louis Cardinals have unleashed a white hot rage inside of my brain that is almost inexplicable. They’re not a rival of the Indians; they barely even play them! What is to hate about them, their players seem almost bland and nondescript? Who finds themselves raging at David Freese, or Adam Wainwright? Nobody on the Cardinals has a number of DUIs to their credit, or was accused of assaulting their wife, or was accused of getting drunk and making anti-Semitic statements. On the surface, there’s absolutely nothing evil about the Cardinals. If anything, I should be admiring their tenacity, both in 2011 and 2012. Yet here I am, practically ready to enter a tirade every time they take the lead in a game.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt terrible about this. It’s like admitting that you hate adorable puppies and kittens – you may not be able to help it, but you certainly don’t want anyone to find out about it. Then I happened to read this story, written by Cardinals fan Will Leitch at Sports on Earth. Suddenly, everything made sense to me and I was able to articulate what I found so obnoxious, so maddening, about the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s because everything just seems to fall into place for them; every error, every bizarre call, goes toward their benefit. As an Indians fan, I tend to have the completely opposite perspective on the Tribe – everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. It’s like my fury toward the Cardinals is a mix of bitter jealousy and disbelief at their incredible good fortune. If you’re the Indians, and you’re up 3-1 in the ALCS in 2007? Of course you manage to lose your next three and miss out on the World Series. The Cardinals are the type of team that comes back from the 3-1 deficit to crush the dreams of teams like the Indians. If you’re the Indians, your closer blows the save in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series as the Marlins (another ridiculously lucky postseason team) goes on to win it all. Even though it was just the NLDS and not the World Series, the parallels between the Cardinals/Nationals Game 5 were somewhat striking to me. I liked the Nationals, and I commiserated with them after that game. And yes, in both of these examples it’s really the Indians and the Nationals that blew it, but it still doesn’t stop the seething anger and bitterness you may feel toward the Marlins or Cardinals.
I could keep going on about other aspects of their good fortune. The 2012 Cardinals wouldn’t even be in the playoffs without the addition of the second Wild Card. Then, in the one game playoff against the Atlanta Braves, the Braves (the best defensive team in 2012) make three costly errors, because of course they did – they were playing the Cardinals. St. Louis also benefited from that bizarre “infield fly” call that’s been disputed and debated since it took place. And you know what I find the most infuriating about this one-game Wild Card playoff? The Cardinals actually made me feel sorry for the Atlanta Braves. The same Atlanta Braves that haunted my childhood by beating the Pirates in 1991 and 1992, and the Indians in 1995. They made me feel sorry for Chipper Jones, and on most days Chipper Jones is a player that drives me nuts. (Except for his Twitter feed. His Twitter feed is pure gold, as is the “Chipper Jones translator“.)
The Cardinals lose their best player, Albert Pujols, to the Angels during the offseason. Yet here they are back in the NLCS, chugging along just fine without him. You know what happens when the Indians lose their best player(s) in CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee? You can be certain that they weren’t even close to contention after those departures. One of the Cardinals’ pitchers, Chris Carpenter, had a complex surgery in July to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, a procedure expected to end his season. Thankfully, he not only made it through the surgery, but made it back before the end of the season. He pitched a shutout in Game 3 of the NLDS as the Cardinals won 8-0. The Indians never seem to get that kind of luck with injured players. Just look at poor Grady Sizemore – he never has good luck where injuries are concerned. He’ll come back and re-injure something else, or will re-injure the same thing all over again.
I know it’s very wrong to be bitter and jealous just because a team seems to have better fortune than your team. However, in my “everything balances out in the universe” state of mind, for the Cardinals to have this much good fortune, it’s almost like they’re stealing it from other teams. Like Leitch said in the article I linked to, it’s as if they are “hoarding all the good fortune from the baseball gods for themselves.” Until they decide to share some of that with teams less fortunate *cough* Indians *cough* I can’t help but cheer for the Giants to knock them out once and for all.