The biggest pre-postseason news for Cardinal fans was that their team earned the ignominious distinction of being the Wall Street Journal’s most hated team in the playoffs. The Cardinals are indeed dislikable, but not in some of the ways that the WSJ judges.
For example, we found it ironic that a journalistic bastion of free trade would lament the Cardinals’ honestly gotten and hard earned successes over the years, which to us seems the perfect reason to love and appreciate them. Also, that Cardinal fans travel well is another feather in their cap, not a reason for disdain. After all, without all of those red-clad guests filling seats in other stadiums, teams wouldn’t fare nearly so well at the gate.
The Journal is right to include in its criteria the number of players suspended for PEDs (the Cardinals have one, Jhonny Peralta). However, honest observers will admit that, despite some big-name suspensions, MLB’s cheater dragnet has enough holes to make it impossible to claim that all or even most have been caught. (To be sure, for all we know, Peralta may not be the only Cardinal.)
The Cardinals do give fans (including their own) reason to dislike them — they’re just not all listed by the WSJ. Allow us to provide a few:
- Boring manager: Mike Matheny surely has his respectable qualities. Creative style and entertaining insights aren’t two of them, though. Matheny is as much “by the book” as you can find these days. For example, he sac bunted 41 times with non-pitchers, including six with his top on-base man, Matt Carpenter. He used closer Trevor Rosenthal 22 times in games with below-average leverage index. And his postgame pressers are now a doctor-ordered antidote to insomnia. In short, Matheny makes Tony La Russa seem like Casey Stengel.
- Loathsome players: The Cardinals score a double play here with AJ Pierzynski, one of the game’s longtime most-hated players, and Carlos Martinez, who specializes in alienating his home fans, not an easy task. Though he’s not on the NLDS roster, Pierzynski is still technically on the team and is going to be seen on the bench. Sorry, everyone.
- Bad baserunning: The Cardinals ranked last in baseball in Fangraphs Baserunning score. They had the lowest bases gained to outs on bases ratio, taking fewer that two to every one they lost. Not pretty to watch. It took its toll in scoring, too: Despite finishing in the middle of MLB in wOBA (.308, tied for 14th), they were in the bottom in runs per game (3.82, 23rd). Their monstrous baserunning is an affront to any fan who knows the basics of the game and the preciousness of outs.
Even with those reasons to hate the Cardinals, we’re not tempted in the slightest to drop them for the Dodgers. That’s because, whatever the Cardinals’ peccadilloes, the Dodgers have as many or more. You want loathsome players? Yasiel Puig somewhat redeemed himself with his kindness toward Jimmy Erskine, but he’s a legitimate menace to society, with two incidents of reckless driving in an eight-month span earlier this year, not to mention the fact that he’s annoying as heck to watch play. Ditto, Brian Wilson. And don’t forget Hanley Ramirez. The Cardinals may be the worst baserunning team in MLB, but the Dodgers aren’t far behind. And as boring and conventional as Matheny is, Don Mattingly gives him a run for his money. Mattingly sac bunted with Puig (career OBP: .386) three times in the first inning this season. And Mattingly’s suboptimal use of his close Kenley Jason (24 outings in below-average leverage index) makes Matheny’s deployment of Rosenthal look like Whitey Herzog’s strategic use of Bruce Sutter.
And although the WSJ believes that a team whose fans comprise a “nation” is hatable, we take a different view: It’s not how many fans a team has, but what percentage of them are legit. It seems to us that the Cardinals have a relatively high percentage of people who wear their colors and caps and can at least name the regular lineup. Dodgers’ fans, on the other hand, strike us as having a higher percentage of poseurs — those who rock the Dodger-blue lid, but haven’t a clue who Mattingly has on his lineup card, beyond Yasiel Puig, of course. And that’s only because he’s the one who returns their beach ball when it accidentally bounces onto the field.