I used to hate the St. Louis Cardinals. Like, really hate them. I hated their Best Fans in Baseball Schtick. I hated their “aw, shucks, me?” attitude. I hated the bewildered confusion that showed on the faces of fans when you explained how and why you hated the Cardinals, as if it was your fault that you choose to be angry about something so pure and good. Cardinals fandom functions no different than New England Patriots fandom, except the Patriots fandom knows that people don’t like them and understands why. The Cardinals...not so much.
But when the Kansas City Royals started winning in 2013 and were 90 feet away from winning the World Series in 2014—come on, there’s no way that team would have lost in extras at home if they tied it up—I realized that some of my hatred of the Cardinals came from simple jealousy. They were good; the Royals weren’t. And when the Royals were good national media sort of woke up to the fact that, hey, Kansas City was a really great place for baseball, that was a huge ego boost.
Observed from time there during the ALCS and watching last night: Kansas City is the baseball town St. Louis thinks it is.— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) October 28, 2015
And then, of course, the Royals won it all. For once, the Royals and Cardinals were on equal footing. My hatred of the Cardinals went to an all-time low.
In the years since, however, the Royals and the Cardinals have gone separate ways. The Cardinals have remained largely relevant, posting winning seasons every year. The Royals have yet to post a single winning season.
But my hatred for the Cardinals didn’t truly dissipate until this year. It was bizarre, and I wasn’t totally sure why. When the Cardinals made the playoffs for the 13th time in the last two decades, I was prepared for a surge of annoyance and anger. It never came.
Why did this happen? Partially, it’s because it’s been a hot minute since the Cardinals were in the playoffs. After making five consecutive playoffs from 2011 through 2015, winning two World Series, they had definitely worn out their welcome, whereas the Cardinals did not make the playoffs the previous three seasons.
But it’s also in part because I finally understood something in the Cardinals fandom, media, and front office than those in Kansas City do not: an expectation to win.
I’m pretty hooked up to the pulse of what Royals fans are thinking. I see your tweets. I see your comments. I get asked questions about the Royals all the time. The fascinating thing about Royals fans, despite suffering two consecutive 100-loss seasons and going through four years since the last time they had a winning season, is that nobody’s really worried. In 2017, nobody was really unhappy that the Royals missed the playoffs. In 2016, nobody shed any tears that the Royals missed the playoffs.
In addition, this year our FanPulse results have shown that 60% or more of fans have been confident in the team for a majority of the year, with about 75% confident of fans confident at the end of the season.
Why has this happened? In my view, Royals fans are, broadly, content to watch losing teams. Attendance may fall, yes, but that’s simply the result of a worse on-field product, not because of confidence or a breach of expectations. But it’s not just the fans. Media is reluctant to be critical. And, perhaps most of all, management has convinced itself that three good years justify a dozen where the team doesn’t even sniff contention.
Again, take a look at the Cardinals. The Cardinals and their fans were unhappy with a .500 team last year. The result? They fired Mike Matheny midseason. Meanwhile, the city, the fans, and the media in Kansas City have been, thus far, content to give Royals management a pass.
This is odd, because while the Royals did get that World Series win, Kansas City has only had four winning seasons in the last quarter century. That should be flatly unacceptable for the Royals. And yet it’s not. This does not mean that Moore, Ned, and company didn’t do good work. They did. It’s not that winning a World Series doesn’t amount to anything. It does. But it’s stunning to me that the Royals have been held to so little accountability since the moment they hoisted the trophy.
Can John Sherman and new ownership bring in some expectations? I certainly hope so. You just have to turn your TV on to watch a city whose media, fans, and management have high expectations for their club. That team, St. Louis, is in the NLCS—again. Meanwhile, the Royals were out of playoff contention three weeks into the season.
I don’t want to remember 2015 for another two decades until the Royals make the playoffs again.