The Boston Red Sox knocked off the Detroit Tigers behind Shane Victorino’s seventh-inning grand slam Saturday, cementing their third trip to the World Series since breaking the 86-year-old Curse of the Bambino all the way back in 2004. That year, the Sox knocked off the St. Louis Cardinals, coincidentally the team they will face when the World Series begins Wednesday at Fenway Park.
Plenty has changed since then — the Sox and Cardinals, both at that time plagued by championship droughts — have each won two World Series titles, and the Cards have won two extra National League pennants to boot. If you’re a Boston or St. Louis fan — or a follower of their biggest rivals — your choice on who to cheer for is easy. If you’re like me, someone with no real opinion about either of them and whose team is no longer playing, it’s a little bit harder, especially since I agree with HardballTalk’s Craig Calcaterra, a fellow Braves fan, who wrote before the playoffs that these were the two least likely teams to earn his support.
But baseball, like any sport, is more fun to watch when you have some sort of rooting interest, rational or irrational as it may be. So here’s a comparison of the two teams on all the issues that don’t really matter, and hopefully by the end I’ll have made up my mind too.
The Red Sox and Cardinals are about as evenly matched as we could get — each won 97 games and finished with the best record in their league. They both boast solid lineups and top-tier pitching staffs, they both have quality bullpens, and they can both hit. Really, they both do just about everything well. The Cardinals have the obvious feel-good story of the postseason in Carlos Beltran, who is making his first World Series appearance in his excellent 16-year career, and the most exciting player of this postseason too, in young pitcher Michael Wacha, who nearly no-hit the Pirates and didn’t give up an earned run in two NLCS starts. But while St. Louis has stars like Beltran, the Cardinals are really just the San Antonio Spurs of baseball, a buttoned-up team with little outward personality that shows up and wins and wins and wins and drives everyone crazy in the process. If there’s a team that will act like it has been here before, it’s St. Louis.
The Sox don’t necessarily have the feel-good story, unless it’s closer Koji Uehara turning into one of the best closers in baseball at 38 years old, or the fact that they won the ALCS despite atrocious hitting because of two huge moments: a grand slam from David Ortiz that produced the lasting image of Game 2 (and probably of the year) and Victorino’s decisive Game 6 bomb. The Sox definitely don’t share St. Louis’ vanilla approach to the game. The chicken-and-beer crowd of two years ago is still well-represented, and they have those beards. Those terrible, awful beards. The Red Sox at least look like they’re having fun, and this team looks a lot like the “bunch of idiots” that broke the Curse in 2004.
The Cardinals are as business-like as a baseball team can be. The Red Sox are a bunch of guys who’d probably be kicked out of most non-Boston, non-alcoholic beverage serving business establishments in America. It all depends on your style, but I’m taking Boston.
It’s hard to argue with an organization that has produced two World Series titles and three AL pennants in 10 years, but the Cardinals have been even better, winning two World Series and four National League titles in that span. Plus, the Cardinals have built a team largely from scratch, through homegrown talent and the organization Baseball America rates the best in baseball. The loss of Albert Pujols was supposed to devastate the Cardinals in 2012, and all they did was go to the NLCS. Then they let 16-game winner Kyle Lohse walk after the 2012 season, and here they are, back in the World Series again. Everything the Cardinals do seems to work, which means it’s probably not luck.
Boston, meanwhile, finished in last place in 2012 and fired their manager, so the Red Sox weren’t supposed to be here either. The Sox made a risky but ultimately smart move to dump salary last July, sending Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles in return for prospects. And nursing a narrow division lead in July, they gave up shortstop prospect Julio Iglesias to bolster the pitching staff with Jake Peavy. Those all look like savvy moves, especially considering they have paid off. It’s possible, though, that they don’t tell the whole story and that the Sox were never as bad as they finished last year.
Both took some chances that paid off. But as a guy who appreciates the art of building a team from the ground up, I’ll take St. Louis here, especially because having the confidence to allow one of the best players of the last decade walk away and following it up with consecutive NLCS and World Series berths is a major league power move.
The Red Sox have been playing baseball since 1901 and have called the amazing Fenway Park home since 1912. During that time, they’ve won seven World Series and 13 AL pennants, even though they had an 86-year drought that most of Boston blamed on a dead guy. The last 10 years have been ultra-kind to Boston across the sporting spectrum, which makes it easy to forget that the moment that defined the franchise for years before 2004 was one of the most gut-wrenching plays in baseball history, and that two of the best moments in Curse-era Red Sox history involved a) a home run in a World Series they still lost or b) Pedro Martinez promising to wake up Babe Ruth and “drill him in the ass.” Of course, that’s selling Boston short: it’s a franchise with an amazing amount of history that includes one of baseball’s first juggernauts, one of baseball’s best hitters, and a long list of accomplished players. And the last decade has certainly made the painful aspects of that history much more bearable for Boston fans.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, have been playing baseball since 1882, and along the way, they’ve amassed 11 World Series titles (most in the NL) and 19 NL pennants. Their franchise is defined by more amazing moments — “Go crazy, folks!” — than bad. Branch Rickey, later famous for bringing Jackie Robinson to the majors, created the farm system in St. Louis, and even though the specter of steroids clouds it now, the city was the center of baseball’s home run chase in 1998, when Mark McGwire broke the most prestigious record in the sport. St. Louis also played an accidental role in the creation of the modern baseball economic system. After the Cardinals traded Curt Flood in 1969, he sued Major League Baseball and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. Flood lost, but his case eventually paved the way for the creation of free agency, giving players rights they’d never had before.
If you go based solely on history, it’s hard to go wrong. The Red Sox are one of the most historic franchises in baseball in basically every way. If you like winning, though, only one franchise has done it more than St. Louis, and the Yankees aren’t here.
Let’s start with the caveat that judging any fan base requires painting with a brush that could paint the Arch in a day, and that most fans of both of these teams are probably exceedingly pleasant people. Now that that’s clear, let’s have some fun. If you decide who you’re cheering for based on whose fans you’d rather see celebrate, you have a tough choice, because both of these fan bases have seen plenty of success that make them feel less deserving of any more and both of them have their insufferable elements too. Everyone outside of St. Louis and New York was right there with Red Sox fans in 2004, but nearly a decade and a second World Series later, it’s a little harder to feel sympathy for them, especially since their success isn’t limited to baseball. The Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins have all won titles since 2004 too. It’s impossible not to be obnoxious as a fan base when you’ve seen that much success in every sport in your city.
But I’ll give Boston fans this: they don’t seem to care much about what you think of them. The same can’t always be said for at least the faction of St. Louis fans who want everyone to know that they are the Best Fans In Baseball and that the Constitution requires you to love them for it. Raise hell in their presence and you’re guaranteed to get scolded about the “right way” to both play and cheer for baseball, which is, obviously, The Cardinal Way™ to play baseball. And The Cardinal Way™ is the only way. Just ask them, or read the incessant columns that crop up this time of year that would seem designed to make everyone else feel wrong about how they watch, play, or enjoy the game except that the people writing them aren’t even aware of what they’re doing. Add in that we’re guaranteed to hear plenty about The Cardinal Way™ from Fox broadcasting crew Joe Buck (who grew up in St. Louis) and Tim McCarver (who played in St. Louis), and it all has the potential to get very annoying very fast. If David Ortiz or anyone else celebrates the wrong way, we’re in for a long series.
Both fan bases are passionate and generally knowledgeable about baseball, and both pretty much reflect the types of teams that are on the field. Me personally? I’m partial to Boston fans, and I’m not just saying this because it will make it easier to watch this series with friends (and an editor) who are a part of Red Sox Nation (I can’t believe I just used that phrase). Not at all.
St. Louis got rid of its awful, cookie-cutter era stadium, and though I haven’t visited Busch Stadium III, it’s supposed to be nice. But Fenway Park is Fenway Park. If you’re choosing for the odd reason that one team has a better place to watch baseball, Boston is the easy pick, as long as you’re not behind a pole.
Some people only pick based on uniforms. If that’s your only method of choosing, the Red Sox have a great uniform. A really great uniform. It’s basically the same look they’ve had since they started playing baseball in Beantown. But the Cardinals have the best uniform in baseball and have used some version of their classic Birds On Bats logo since 1922. If you like uniforms, cheer for the Cardinals.
The Political History
Maybe you want to cheer for the team that most closely matches your political leanings. Red Sox owner John W. Henry has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates, almost all of them Democrats, and was a big supporter of John Kerry when the former Massachusetts senator ran for president in 2004. The Red Sox also made an “It Gets Better” video to support LGBT teens and held an LGBT Pride Night at Fenway during the 2013 season. Massachusetts is a pretty liberal place, I’ve heard. And if you’re not a fan of using public subsidies to build sports stadiums, Fenway Park was 100 percent privately-financed when it was originally constructed for a cost of $650,000 in 1912, though the Sox have gotten other forms of public subsidies since.
The Cardinals owners, meanwhile, stand on the other side of the political plate. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. was business partners with George W. Bush and served on his President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. The DeWitt family donates its political money to Republicans and DeWitt gave $5,000 to Mitt Romney. The Cardinals got a loan and some tax breaks to help pay for the new stadium, and then had a murky situation in which they might have owed the city extra money a few years ago, though the city didn’t seem to care. The Cardinals, like the Red Sox, have hosted an LGBT pride night at Busch Stadium.
So yeah, if you want to choose who to cheer for based on politics, it seems these two teams offer a clear contrast of choices.
The Facial Hair
Now that you have the information to make your decision, the rest is up to you. I think I’ll start out the series cheering for St. Louis, if only because I’m a National League guy at heart. The Cardinals spend less money (albeit still in the top half of the league) and build from the ground up, a strategy the Braves fan in me appreciates. But Boston’s loose approach is more my style, especially after the Cardinals turned into the fun-police during the NLCS. My main rooting interest, though, is prolonging the end of baseball season for as long as possible, so who I’m cheering for will probably change throughout the series in the direction of outcomes that will give us seven great games and a classic World Series. The good news is that these are the best two teams in baseball, evenly matched at most positions and equipped to provide exactly that sort of series. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at who I think will win.