8.5 Angles to the I-70 Series

(To get us in the interleague mood, a repost from last year.)

 

The annual I-70 Series between the Royals and Cardinals is one of the more natural interleague matchups, standing somewhere in the second tier along with Astros-Rangers, Reds-Indians and Nationals-Orioles, but behind the various "cross-town" matchups. Because the Royals have become so utterly irrelevant outside the Kansas City metropolitan area and a few cities in Kansas, the series isn't quite as intense as it could be. Essentially, its been a Cardinal coronation and a display of Royal weakness since its inception, with the Cards just starting to come out of the Joe Torre Era wilderness when the gimmick began in 1997. Of course, Royals-Cardinals has the rare distinction - shared only with Yankees-Mets and A's-Giants - of existing as an actual World Series matchup, and thanks to the memorable nature of that 1985 Series, it lends the battle for I-70 a little extra flair. Still, MLB has also been unsure as to exactly handle the series as well, occasionally reducing it to a mere three games, or, in this year's case, curiously playing both legs of the battle on non-weekends. Odd.

Without further preface, here are 8.5 Angles to the I-70 Series, a humble compendium of the issues and arguments floating around the fan discourse when the Blue and Red clash.

 

.5) It's Not a Rivalry:  According to many Cardinals fans, the I-70 series isn't a rivalry and it certainly isn't important. Of course, as many poets have reminded us, to be totally ignored is a fate crueler than being rebuffed, and so this calm assertion of indifference is actually a profound slam. The Cardinals are worried about winning championships, so the argument goes, and if the pesky little Royals want to get all excited about a chance to play the Redbirds, then well, that simply betrays their lower order of existence. A related argument maintains that the Cubs are the Cardinals truest, most bitter rival. I think there's a bit of truth to both claims. However, it's only natural that Royals fans would care about the series more given their minority and underdog status. On the other hand, if Cardinals fans truly didn't care then they wouldn't take such glee in flocking to the K each summer in order to raise hell/remind us how rabid they are.

1.5) Size Matters: One of the odder recurring topics of debate between Royals and Cardinals fans is the relative size of each city. While no one has ever established why this is supposed to be important, I've seen it debated on email lists, message boards, blogs and in person. Not sure what the prize is for being a bigger city, but... alas. Not only is it a strange topic, but a complicated one, given that both cities are highly suburbanized and spread into another state. According to the US Census, the 2005 population of KC (just Missouri) is 444,965, while St. Louis is around 347,181. However, St. Louis claims a larger overall metro area, clocking in at around 2.7 million compared to Kansas City's 1.8. Looking at things a slightly different way, according to Nate Silver's research both the "attendance sphere" (3.0 versus 1.9 million) and the wider TV/Media market data (7.5 versus 4.1 million) suggest the Cardinals lay claim to a much larger "home" population base. In the ways most people think about things, St. Louis is a bigger city. An interesting side bet is the battle between the Kansas side of the KC metro and the Illinois side of St. Louis. The KC matter is straightforward, Johnson County, Kansas is home to 516,731 people (largest county in the state), with Wyandotte County (KCK, or "the Dotte") clocking in at 155,509. It's a bit more complicated for the Illinois side of St. Louis, since its roughly split by two counties: Madison (265,303) and St. Clair (260,919). If it helps anyone, Kansas City, Kansas has a population of 144,210, while East St. Louis, Illinois is only home to 29,843.  

Has there ever been a show of this quality set in St. Louis?

2.5) Springfield with More Crime: The population debate quickly segues into a discussion of the relative merits of each city. St. Louis has the Arch and the River, while KC is the City of Boulevards and/or Fountains. Whatever the merits of the Arch, the Mississippi River occupied a central place in the American imagination from the Presidencies of Jefferson through Eisenhower and cannot be seriously rivalled by the nevertheless underrated Missouri.  Usually, the matter of city worth settles into a familiar pattern. According to one side, Kansas City is bland and uncultured (or hicks and white trash, if you will) while St. Louis is more cultured and sophisticated. Interestingly, Kansas City supporters often cede a certain degree of the culture argument, but respond that St. Louis is corrupt, decaying and dangerous. The words "murder capital" have been used more than once. Accurate crime statistics are hard to come by and are made complicated by the fact that "St. Louis" as a larger idea exists across a wide range of city, county and state designations. Subtextually, St. Louis is thought of as a city in the Detroit/Cleveland/Pittsburgh mode: a 19th century wonder dying a slow death in a different economy. Interestingly, St. Louis is usually mentioned as an example of "white flight", while KC is chided as another sprawling freeway city (only one of the non-growing, non-Sun Belt variety). From above, there isn't much difference between these two characterizations, save that one veers towards an implied racial critique, while another suggests environmental damage. A certain strain of Kansas Citians seem to think St. Louis is some kind of liberal hellhole, while the western side of the state is closer to Bible Belt values. How the fact that the estimable series Mama's Family was set in a KC suburb effects this argument is anyone's guess. Occasionally, the culture/quality of life debate will also slide into irresolvable debates about which place has better restaurants or attractive women. One thing is certain, Kansas City has much less traffic.

Bo Versus Bo

3.5) The Best Fans in Baseball: Cardinals fans are incessantly praised as one of the most loyal, supportive, and intelligent fanbases in the game. You can throw "classy" in there as well. Even as a Royals fan, I'm willing to grant them loyalty and dedication - just look at the attendance and merchandise figures - and without a bit of qualification either. The question of fanbase intelligence is another matter however since I wholeheartedly reject what the mainstream sports media defines as intelligent baseball. Going gonzo over a weak grounder to second in the fourth inning because it "moves the runner over" is not a supreme sign of intelligence, nor is a love affair with sacrifice bunting or an executed hit and run. Moreover, it hasn't been my experience that Cards fans are actually more attuned to these supposed subtleties than any other fanbase. Its ignorant (and arrogant) to suppose that somewhere - probably in Texas I guess - theres a group of fans who only cheer strikeouts and home runs, while you, and only you, knowingly get off on bunts and double switches. Its essentially the same everywhere, and you could make the case that a smarter group of fans is probably those schmucks watching the Nationals, Devil Rays or (cough) Royals, since there isn't a very large "its cool to be at the game" vibe amongst non-baseball fans (i.e. females on dates) in those cities. Finally, whatever might be said of the mythical "average fan", the Royals can claim Bill James, Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski and Rany Jazayerli as their own. Certainly some baseball brains there.

4.5) Tangled up in Powder Blue: In the minds of Royals fans the powder blue road uniforms of yesteryear remain a strong part of the team's platonic ideal, even if year after year the team keeps them in the closet. Although more underground, there also exists a similar movement in St. Louis, especially amongst fans in their thirties. From  1976 to 1984 the Cards sported baby/powder blue road uniforms, despite the fact that blue had absolutely nothing to do with their color scheme. Yet weirdly enough, it seemed both logical and visually appealing.

5.5) Whitey Herzog: The White Rat made his name in Kansas City, going 410-304 with the Royals from 1975-1979, winning the AL West three consecutive years. Three times during Whitey's reign the Royals stole over 200 bases as a team with team triple totals often veering quite close to the number of homers. Herzog then moved east to St. Louis, going 822-728 with the Cardinals between 1980-1990. Of course, the Royals faced their old manager in the 1985 World Series, which fans of both teams may slightly recall. While the real key was fantastic pitching, the emphasis on the speed game was certainly entertaining in its own way. Whiteyball wouldn't make much sense given the dimensions and natural grass at today's Busch or K, (to say nothing of the 2000s run environment) but the game is more tasteless and boring without someone making a full commitment to it.

6.5)  Beyond I-70: Sure, you can drive from St. Louis to Kansas City on I-70. But both teams claim fans across a wide range of territory, especially the Cardinals (just ask them). While the Royals control Kansas and the civilized outposts of Nebraska, the Cardinals are quite strong throughout the "Mid-South", with footholds in Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Southern Illinois. Iowa is floating around there as a weak secondary market to the Cards as well. If the Royals hadn't spent the last decade (and more) being criminally awful, Royals-Cards might have ended up as a massive battle for Midwestern supremacy. Instead, only about 10-20 counties in Missouri are truly battleground areas, as the Royals have been almost totally routed along the southern front, i.e. the Oklahoma and Arkansas area. In the same study by Nate Silver referenced above, the Cardinals have claimed two-thirds of Missouri as well, giving the Royals the smallest true market of any Major League club. Thanks to the Cardinal strength in the westerly cities of Springfield and Joplin, you'd be hard pressed to find a large-ish Missouri community outside the KC Metro that is loyal to the Royals, with the Cardinals claiming Columbia, Jefferson City, Springfield, Joplin, Cape Girardeau, Hannibal, Rolla and on and on...

7.5) Royals Fans Are _ Cardinals Fans Are _: Someone living in Boston, Atlanta or San Diego would be pretty shocked to here the elaborate stereotypes each side has managed to develop about one another. Admittedly, most of this seems to be coming from the KC side, since, as mentioned above, many Cardinals fans adopt a "we don't care" attitude towards the entire enterprise. Moreover, it is possible that many Cardinals fans in Illinois, Tennessee and Arkansas have never seen a living Royals fan anyway, making it hard to generalize about them. Here at Royals Review the rundown of Card-Fan Stereotypes painted the enemy as old (living in the past) guy in a RV wearing a too-tight red t-shirt. The typical Card-Fan has a too fond memory of Jack Buck (who, we should always remember, begat a son who now tortures us during the MLB and NFL seasons) and an inflated sense of Cardinal greatness. He's also enamored with all things "small ball" and feels that his love is also a Gnostic wisdom of sorts, showing just how much he knows about the game (see above). A love of small ball also facilitates an ability to cherish Bo Hart, Joe McEwing and Mike Matheny. Interesting, younger Royals fans also have a side-stereotype for younger Cards fans: a kind of preppy frat guy with red polos and or popped collars. Either way, they're relentlessly bragging about their team and slagging off on all things Royal. The stereotypical Royals fan is a less-developed concept, although he would certainly have less baseball "knowledge" than the denizens of the Red and White and would be viewed as something boorish, since we all know how "classy" St. Louis fans are. Beyond that, probably the best line afforded the other side would be something like, "The Typical Royals fan? Whats a Royals fan?"

Much like the 2006 Cards, the Royals of the late 70s and early 80s finally broke through to WS glory with one of their weaker teams.

8.5) 1985 and Denkinger: You know this, but... To lead off the 9th inning (the Cards led 1-0) of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta safe at first. While a close play, the consensus was that Orta was out. Much like the supposed blunder of Bill Buckner, it's a gross simplification to say that the play "cost" anyone anything, but it certainly hurt. (The Buckner game was already tied when the ball went through his legs.) Still, whenever the '85 series comes up, Denkinger is usually topic A, although I think more thoughtful fans on both sides can acknowledge that "The Call" has been overblown, especially by a national media largely uninterested in Missouri squabbling and more interested in producing endless variations of "Biggest Heartbreaks/Controversies" countdown shows. On balance, 1985 stands as one of the better Fall Classics of the past 30 years, as many other things happened beyond Game 6. The Royals come back from 0-2 and 3-1 deficits (after losing the first two games at home). The Royals blew a 2-0 lead in the 9th inning of Game Two, but also stormed back to stave off elimination in Game Five, in St. Louis. And then theres the matter of Game 7, and on and on... Too many good players battled in that Series for it to be reduced to "The Call" or "Denkinger", but that's the world we live in. Nevertheless, as Viva El Birdos puts it, Denkinger's call lowered the Cardinals Win Expectancy from 90% to 68%, no small matter. After Balboni's single that WE% dropped to 46%, although Sundberg's bunt brought it back up to 61%. Well, we could go on and on, couldn't we. Lastly, 1985 didn't exactly bring out the best qualities in Whitey Herzog, who was still seething during his conciliatory phone call from Ronald Reagan.

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