Cardinals fans annoyingly, and for reasons that defy logic, have a reputation as the “Best Fans in Baseball.”  Where did that ludicrous and baseless proclamation come from?  I have no idea.  Perhaps it’s that longtime Cardinals employee Joe Buck so often has a national mic in front of him, or that informal polls of baseball players often rank St. Louis as one of the most proud and loyal road destinations?*  Whatever the reason, it’s a reputation that Cardinals fans love to flaunt.

*What’s funny is that so often the praise for Cardinals fans includes the fact that St. Louis doesn’t seem to care about their other teams.  Somehow their indifference toward the Rams and the Blues is spun as a good thing.  So am I a better Cubs fan because I couldn’t care less about the Bulls?

Which makes this article from Jim Caple (written days after the Rangers gave away lost the World Series this past November) all the more entertaining.  In it, Caple looks at some of the potential evidence in favor of St. Louis’ claim.  But he also punches some significant holes in their manufactured notoriety.

I’d like to add one more piece of evidence to Caple’s deconstruction of St. Louis’ vaunted reputation: the blind, seething vengeance they’ve shown for Albert Pujols.

No group was more invested in Pujols’ season-opening homerun drought than Cardinals fans.  No one is quicker to do the math on how much his meager homerun and RBI totals have cost the Angels.  And nobody has been following his career-low stat line with more unsuppressed glee.  Frankly, Cardinals fans are showing a level of contempt for Pujols that I could barely muster for him when he was still one of their beloved Redbirds.

And I’m not talking about something that’s hidden away in obscure chat forums or at the Cardinal-centric counterparts to VFTB, where only hardcore baseball fans frequent.  I’m talking about regular conversations I’ve had with Cardinals fans I encounter on a daily and weekly basis.  Across the board, they’re at least as invested in Pujols’ struggles as they are in their own team’s success–and frequently far more interested in the former.

Honestly, I consider myself to be a die-hard Cubs fan in every sense of the word.  But that’s a kind of mania that I simply cannot understand.

I’ve asked these Cardinals fans to explain their jilted-lover syndrome.  It often comes down to supposed dishonesty or disloyalty on Pujols’ part.  “He said he wanted to stay and he didn’t.”  “He could have stayed if he really wanted to.”  “How much more money did he need to make?”  “He said it wasn’t about the money,** but then he chased the highest price tag.”  When I mention to them that he helped them win another World Series on his way out the door, I’ve been rebuffed with “Yeah, but he didn’t really do much.”  It’s as if his move to Anaheim was an irrevocable turn to the dark side–one that burned up eleven years of history, three MVPs, and two World Series rings.

**I’ve got news for you angry, jilted Cardinals fan–no matter what either party says, a contract negotiation is ONLY about the money.  Don’t be mad at someone else for your naiveté.

I don’t know one Cardinals fan who still likes Pujols.  They’ve taken all his pictures down, thrown away his jerseys, and scrubbed him from their memories.  He’s like their disowned child.  Actually it’s far worse than that–you’d never openly and boisterously cheer against your disowned child; you’d simply ignore his existence.

But St. Louis fans can’t seem to do that, and I can’t understand why.  Losing star players over money is not really something we Cubs fans have had a lot of experience with.  I know at least some people still harbor a grudge against Greg Maddux for his departure to Atlanta.  But when you consider the small difference in the Braves’ and Cubs’ offers, your gripe has to be at least as much with the Cubs’ then-front office honchos.

But even if I go beyond the paycheck-chasing, I can’t really think of any former Cubs I eagerly and gleefully cheer against.  Milton Bradley came to mind as a potential object of wrath, but the dude is such a trainwreck of a person that cheering for him to fail and/or corrupt his subsequent teams is a lot like cheering for cancer to kill people.  I really can’t think of a former Cub*** whom I would angrily pursue the way the wrath of St. Louis fans has dogged Pujols all season.

***Here’s a few other potential candidates who fall just short in the Pujols Loathe-o-Meter.  Frank DiPino might have been one of my first baseball enemies–the brawl between Mark Grace and him in St. Louis in 1989 was one of the highlights of my early love for the Cubs–but that was mostly due to the fact that he went from the Cubs to the Cardinals, and that he tried to hit Grace.  I never liked Rafael Palmeiro, but that had more to do with his off-the-field behavior than anything he did after he left the Cubs.  And I only really cheered against Ryan Theriot after he shot his mouth off about preferring the Cardinals to the Cubs.  And even that anger subsided when he left St. Louis–that he’s now scuffling for the Giants does nothing for me.   And while I never hated Carlos Zambrano, I know many Cubs fans who did, and I doubt any of them hate him more now as an opposing player than they did while he was still a Cub.

Sure, there are plenty of opposing players I don’t like.  I’ve always found it easy (and often satisfying) to root against Roger Clemens, Will Clark, Mike Piazza, Jeff Kent, Roberto Alomar, Josh Beckett, A.J. Pierzynski, Jose Valverde, and Ryan Braun.  But for whatever reason–whether it’s a proper upbringing, a sense of perspective, or simple, common decency–I just can’t stir up the motivation to hate a particular player or players.

I guess that’s why I’m not one of the “Best Fans in Baseball.”

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