As the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals fire up their totally contrived interleague rivalry again this weekend, it’s time to reflect on exactly what these series mean to baseball fans and residents of the cross-state metropolitan areas.
A similar diatribe posted to this site last week; the Pulitzer-worthy piece (emphasis mine, and correctly placed) can be read here. But it’s no coincidence the spirit of that column is one of contempt, jealousy, and disdain, even with the irony of such emotions being mentioned in the article. It’s the classic “little man” syndrome that shows up in society from time to time. Sometimes it appears in a sibling rivalry; other times it can be seen in business. Basically, the little less-significant guy can’t stand anything and everything perceived to be bigger and better and more relevant than him, so he has to puff himself up by tearing down the big guy standing right next to him. Napoleon would be proud.
So when looking west, it isn’t hard to see why Kansas City loathes St. Louis so much. We have the Cardinals, they have the Royals. We have the Gateway Arch, they have a couple of fountains—or something. We have the Rams, they have the Chiefs…eh, we’ll call that one a push. We have the Blues, they have…more fountains. You see my point.
But baseball is the real reason for this municipal fight. The Cardinals and Royals have been toiling in this fierce rivalry for decades, right? Actually, no…no they haven’t. Kansas City anticipates these series like the Fall Classic; the sentiment from St. Louis is a collective “Meh.” The Royals need these games way more than the Cardinals do; it’s the only way Kauffman Stadium will ever be filled for an entire weekend. But that’s not the fans’ fault entirely; continue to put a lousy product on the field and people won’t show up to watch, no matter how many waterfalls Royals’ ownership puts in the outfield to distract them. It wasn’t always this way. Back in the mid-70s the Royals made the playoffs regularly. They had George “pine tar” Brett scorching the American League with mostly legitimate, bat tampering-free hits, and they had the great Whitey Herzog as their skipper. But they never could get the job done, running into better teams once they had to play someone outside the AL West in the postseason. So then the glorious 1985 campaign came along, and we all know what happened there. The Cardinals—who actually let Whitey Herzog build a team that could win a championship—fell in seven games to their cross-state rivals. The Don Denkinger call in Game 6 was a crusher to the Cardinals, and while they still certainly had chances to close the game, the psychological damage was too much to overcome. Psychology is a huge part of the game; just ask Hal McRae. The Royals saw the softball in front of them and yanked it out of the park. Ah yes…the glory days, before the Royals became a Quadruple-A affiliate for every other team in the majors except the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Perhaps it is time for Cards fans to let that ’85 Series go anyway. I mean, once you get to double-digit championships, it really is like “11, 12; who’s counting? We actually have a shot to get one next year, and the year after that!” Royals fans remember what that’s like, as long as they’re over 40.
St. Louis is not the perfect city; it has its problems like any metropolitan area. Some of those problems—like crime—are pretty significant. But is it a miserable city? Every year, Forbes magazine lists the most miserable cities in America. I checked each of the last two years, and St. Louis didn’t make the list. So things could be a lot worse. But similarly, Forbes has a list of the most miserable sports cities in America. Once again, St. Louis didn’t warrant inclusion on that dubious list for 2011 or 2012. And let’s face it; Cardinal baseball alone would be enough to keep St. Louis safe from that distinction. But hey, looky there: Kansas City did qualify as one of America’s most miserable sports cities…both years. Huh.
But I don’t hate Kansas City, and I don’t hate Royals fans. It’s really a question of relevance. Where is it in Kansas City? They have good barbeque and…well, that’s pretty much it. So they can have that one. Make a motto out of it. “Kansas City: Good Meat.” In terms of baseball, however, it would take decades of a complete 180 degree performance turn by both franchises for the Royals to just match the relevance, history, and success of the Cardinals. That doesn’t warrant hate; it warrants pity…deep pity, like you’d show to a Boulevard drinker.