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The best of Bad St. Louis Cardinals Writing

Something about the Best Fans In Baseball and the Cardinal Way tend to bring out the stickily over-reverent and overcompensating worst in sportswriters. Let's try it ourselves!

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation 2014 MLB Bracket

At this point, after four consecutive Octobers, it's barely even about the St. Louis Cardinals anymore. It is about the Cardinals for their fans, of course, both the awful ones and the far greater number that are just happy to cheer for a team that wins so much. But the Cardinals are just a baseball team, and while there is such a thing as an irritating baseball team -- the Cardinals are, in ways that incite both rank envy and righteous oh-come-the-bleep-on scorn, such a team -- the bigger and increasingly curdled National Cardinals Conversation is increasingly not about the Cardinals.

This is not really the Cardinals' fault, the way this conversation has drifted into choppier and more meta-everything waters. It may not even be the fault of the polarizing Best Fans In Baseball, who are indeed pretty great fans and can also indeed be irritatingly triumphal and bigoted and small-minded and maddeningly, backhandedly smug, all of which makes them no different than literally any other fans of any team in any sport.

No, the frustrating part about Our National Cardinals Conversation is how rote it is -- the annual hallelujah choruses from the Crustoid Sportswriter Men's Choir, the reflexive, overheated trashing of the city and its fans in the usual quarters, and the reflexive, overheated response. The conversation floats free of its ostensible mooring and is pulled irretrievably further out by various undercurrents until it sits, in distant waters, half-swamped at the center of a howling suckstorm. If this metaphor is not doing it for you, it is probably simpler and just as effective to say that Our National Cardinals Conversation stinks and is no fun for anyone.

In hopes of moving the conversation away from these astonishing/annoying Cardinals and their wonderful/horrible fans, I put out a call on Twitter for the most annoying Cardinals-related prose. The challenge: craft the opening or closing of yet another article hymning The Cardinal Way or The Best Fans In Baseball or some other exhausted aspect of this exhausted thing, and to make it as awful as possible -- either as thuddingly pompous in the glossy magazine mode or as locked into the dim one-sentence-paragraph certitude of olde-style sports columnizing.

St Louis Brewery 1900
"There is a story about a place where men play a game." - BREWERY AD C 1890-1900 (Getty).

The response was remarkable. While it is always fun -- and a nice writing exercise -- to either squint meaningfully like an Eminent Man Of Esquire or bash away at the "return" key like a turnt-up Woody Paige, it is equally clear that everyone who responded needed this in some way.

The Cardinals are just the Cardinals, and while it's of course our right to boo them if we want, it feels good to direct some jeers at the real enemy: strained bird metaphors and knee-jerk odes to scrappiness.

Bad Sports Columnist Division

"In October, the world becomes simple again, trees jettisoning their lurid leaves and the flashy colors of summer giving way to the basic browns and grays of the earth. Perhaps in summer we are distracted by brash interlopers, but here, in this autumn space, with a crisp wind running through our woolen coats, we may praise again the simplicity of the earth,  of men doing their jobs. A wagon-maker, or Wainwright. A Miller. A Lackey. And a Carpenter."  -- David Moran

"So, the bloggers aren't going to like this, but I've run the numbers and it turns out the only math that matters is Matheny."  -- Spike Friedman

"Scientists will try to tell you that the creation of a perpetual motion machine is impossible, that they're never truly perpetual and our rules of physics do not allow for such flights of fancy. But all we learn from such negativity is that maybe it's the Cardinals' front office who should be trying to unravel the secrets of the universe instead."  -- Marc Normandin

"If destiny wanted to ride in the carpool lane, she would almost certainly have the St. Louis Cardinals in the passenger seat. And now, together, they're on the road again. Player-first baseball is stuck in Los Angeles traffic, while the big red bus hits cruise control with its sights on another World Series."  -- Patrick Kearns

"They call Matt Adams 'Big City' even though he's from a city unmistakably not. Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania has 2,770 souls, 1,317 households, and 686 families. Adams could hear them all as he rounded the bases. Two-thousand voices -- not big city voices, but proud, relentless voices. Clayton Kershaw heard them, too."  -- Scott Rennie

"That's the thing about these Cardinals fans. They're blue-collar guys, the kind of people you'd imagine would be farmers or mechanics if they weren't cheering on their boys under the bright lights. The 'bloggers' and haters will probably nail me for this, but damn it, this is more than just a feeling. It's a movement, the energy and spirit of these St. Louis fans. They're protesting for the bold cause they believe in, taking to the streets and the stands and fighting for the 'other guys' - the welder, the rancher, the trucker. The kinds of guys you'd like to have a beer with, maybe. Domestic, of course." -- Noah Kulwin

Stan Musial
"In St. Louis, and in the red rings that ripple out from the center, every man has an uncle named Stan." - STAN MUSIAL 1947 (Getty Images).

"Against a perfect twilight sky, Indian summer shifting to brilliant autumn, the Gateway Arch joined the 46,906 Busch Stadium faithful who bore witness to another perfect moment of baseball history. Pure Americana distilled into one barrel-chested frame, Matt Adams launched a curveball from that would-be conquerer, Clayton Kershaw, deep into the night, etching himself into the history books -- and hearts -- of the proudest tradition in baseball: Cardinals October memories. As his wide frame skipped and bounced, he embodied the glee that all of us felt in our hearts. The Cardinals, once again, are back where they belong: challenging for a pennant, healing all of us who have been injured this tumultuous summer. Giving a nation hope, once again. Hope that the good guys can win."  -- Bill Hanstock

"The Cardinal perches himself above the Independent City and bides its time. He glides through the spring, lingers in the summer. Always in sight, never stirring suspicion. He is robust. His beak is strong. He waits.

In October, he flies."  -- Gabriel Baumgaertner

Bad Glossy Magazine Writing Division

"The man who picks me up at the St. Louis airport hides behind Ray-Bans, four-days' beard and a studied air of displeased inconvenience, and almost the instant after I fall into the front seat and he pulls the car back into traffic, he begins to tell me about his favorite bird.

It's a bird I know well from faint AM-station broadcasts in my youth, and the story he tells me of its song crackles through the distant electric haze of dimmed but thrilling memory. The bird, born every year not in springtime but in autumn, sings most brilliantly as the leaves change hue to match its feathers. It sings both from a region's folksong and from a Tin Pan Alley production by now long forgotten. It is a song both humbling in its profundity and humble in its harmony with the throats of thousands-a song of itself that nonetheless cries out for you to join it. It is a song that sounds natural coming from the man, who so keenly fears seeming immodest that he apologizes for singing it to me.

The bird is the Cardinal. The song is baseball. The man is Jon Hamm."  -- Jeb Lund

"I made a list of the things that I did not want. The clothes that I do not want to wear. The houses that I do not want to build or walk into. The roads that I do not need. The shoes that my feet feel trapped in. The laws that I had no need of writing for they were never broken. The goods that I did not crave.

And I made a list of the things that I wanted to keep. The sight that Tony La Russa has in the dark that I do not. My running that is faster than Vince Coleman. My wrestling matches with Matt Adams. My naked skin which does not feel the snow as cold or the frost as sharp as long as I reside in Busch Stadium. If these were mine to give I would give you, fallen Redbird that requires a nest. But I have no need of shelter. My home is Cardinal, which is everywhere and nowhere and here, in my heart, born of October's eternal glory. You will have the worst by my absence."  -- Robert Silverman

St Louis 1873
"The steamer captains knew. The humble fuel they needed was all around them. Captains like Mike Matheny." - ST. LOUIS 1873 (Getty).

"One detects the hand of destiny in the addition of St. Louis, and thereby the Cardinals, to the United States through the Louisiana Purchase, for both are emblematic of, if not identical to, what the young nation would become: A rising empire. It is only fitting that it was here in 1896 that the Republican National Convention nominated William McKinley, the president who would win the Philippines through a clash of arms against a decrepit European state, annex Hawaii, and make the nation for the first time a bi-oceanic power. The Cardinals would conduct their own relentless expansion from similarly humble roots. The Battle of the Bulge was won on the playing fields of Sportsman’s Park.

Perhaps St. Louis is not what it was. The same too might be said of the empire of liberty itself, both city and country respected more for the hopes and dreams they embodied, for what they were rather than what they are. Yet, the city’s ballclub is still the vital heart of the nation. The Cardinals remain the Cardinals, resolute and everlasting, living monument to liberty, progress, and self-sacrifice, noble values whose verity will never fade. Their empire long ago expanded  to reach its geographical limits. It has never ceased growing. The Cardinals are what America was, what it is, and what it might yet become." -- Steven Goldman

"What is a man but the grass he runs through, the dirt he packs with his cleats, the sweet air he breathes? What is a man but the worn leather he works, the sum of what he will sacrifice for his teammates? What is a man but one who goes out? Not so many years ago this very land was the edge of America's frontier, and the men -- the brothers -- who gathered here were setting out into a wild journey. Today, the Gateway Arch is not just an entry point to the land of the west -- it is the Gateway to the World. The World Series.

As always with these Cardinals, it comes back to fundamentals. Pitching, defense, running the bases, timely hitting. Believing in each other, as Americans do. The willingness to lay down your at bat for a teammate -- in baseball we call that sacrifice. And -- it can't possibly be a coincidence -- the beatific fabric that hangs over porches and hedges, most especially on Independence Day, to speak of America? We call that bunting."  -- Ben Adams