One strange element of St. Louis Cardinals fandom, to me, is pointing out how the team has won 11 World Series championships. There is, of course, the “we won 11 rings!” obnoxiousness, which implies that I, a fan, had anything to do with such jewelry acquisitions, but additionally silly is that I, and most Cardinals fans, don’t remember the vast majority of the Cardinals’ World Series titles. The median championship in Cardinals history occurred the year Bill Clinton was born.
The second-most annoying part of the 2004 World Series to me, as a Cardinals fan (behind “how bad the Cardinals played”), was hearing so much about the plight of the Boston Red Sox fans who had endured 86 years of heartache. I didn’t think about the elderly men and women in New England who had devoted their lives to the team, hoping their entire lives that they would live to see their beloved Red Sox win a World Series. I thought about the fellow fifteen year-olds, complaining about how tortured their sports fandom was, when they had seen as many World Series titles for their favorite team as I had.
Cardinals fandom is considered this grand embarrassment of riches, but I saw the Florida Marlins win the World Series twice before I saw the St. Louis Cardinals so much as participate in one. In my world, the Cardinals had never won a World Series. Neither had the Red Sox, of course, but this was their problem. I had only watched four different teams win a World Series in the time that I had followed the sport, which meant twenty-six clubs waiting for their first championship.
The next Cardinals World Series appearance after their lackluster 2004 trip came just two seasons later, against the Detroit Tigers. Coming off consecutive World Series in which a team snapped an 86-year and 88-year World Series-winning drought, respectively, the 24-year drought of the Cardinals and the 22-year drought of the Tigers seemed tame. But if you were a college-aged or slightly older fan of either team, you’d seen as many titles as Chicago Cubs fans. And when you’re younger, the droughts seem longer.
When the 1999 St. Louis Rams shocked the sports world and went from 4-12 NFL doormat the season before to Super Bowl champions led by journeyman backup quarterback Kurt Warner, it felt like redemption for me, a long-suffering Rams fan. And as it turns out, the long drought of success I had experienced was three years (the Rams had been in St. Louis for four years, but I didn’t begin to pay attention until my age-7 season).
The back end of my St. Louis Rams fandom was, of course, pretty not great, and it seems impossible to think that it would be nearly seven years later until one of my teams won its next title. But eventually, it happened in a manner even more absurd than the 1999 Rams. The 1999 Rams were a surprise, but they were a juggernaut–to this day, they are recognized as an important evolutionary step to the formation of the modern NFL offense. The 2006 Cardinals were not a surprise–this was a team which had won 205 games in the previous two regular seasons. But the Cardinals had a disappointing, injury-plagued season in 2006, winning just 83 games.
I remember the important details of the 2006 Cardinals’ improbable postseason run. I remember savoring every update I could get during the final Sunday of the regular season–I had to work that day, and I did not yet own a cell phone, so I had to savor the tidbits I overheard. I remember the classic, unlikely NLCS home runs from So Taguchi and Yadier Molina. And, of course, I remember Adam Wainwright’s series-ending strikeouts, looking to Carlos Beltran in the NLCS, and swinging to Brandon Inge in the World Series.
But I liked 2004 more.
Not the final, final result. That part was awful. But the pursuit, the sense of greatness and the sense of anticipation that, for the first time in my life, I would get the chance to watch my favorite team compete for a championship. As thrilling as Super Bowl XXXIV was, I might prefer the week before, when the Rams defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. There is something about knowing you’ve reached the final level that can be reached, even if that level has not yet been conquered.
Tonight, the St. Louis Blues, for the first time since 1970, will compete in the Stanley Cup Finals. Although they are slight underdogs in the series against the Boston Bruins, the city which is 3-0 against St. Louis in my lifetime (St. Louis is 3-0 against every other city), they made the Finals. They are heavy favorites to, for the first time in franchise history, at least win a game in the Finals. A St. Louis team is in unchartered territory.
The middling nature of the St. Louis Cardinals to this point in the season makes me think they probably won’t go to the World Series this season, but they certainly could. And if they did, I would be happy, but I don’t think I can ever be as happy about it as I was at fifteen, when the Cardinals beat their hated rivals, the Houston Astros, to win the 2004 National League pennant. There is a certain excitement that cannot be reclaimed. This doesn’t mean you don’t root for your team every single chance you can–it just means that there are certain diminishing returns.
Boston is unique in that their success is so overwhelming. But not every Bruins fan has experienced a title–as with the Cardinals, their last championship came in 2011, which means that somebody as old as I was in 2004 would have very little memory of the previous championship. Though, of course, the St. Louis Blues have fans in their seventies and eighties (and nineties, and one-hundreds…) who have watched since the franchise began who have never seen a Blues title. And if the Blues win tonight, they’ll see something they’ve also never seen.
Even if the Blues lay an egg in this series, they’ve given scores of local fans a memory they’ve never experienced. And hopefully future generations won’t have to wait so long for that to happen.