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A Cardinals Fan in Cubs Land

Contemplating rivalry—and envy and schadenfreude and life itself—amid the world's worst singalong

Illustration by Sam Washburn

(page 1 of 2)

"Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth ... "
—Proverbs 24:17

My memories of October 14, 2003, are stored with the lossless clarity and vividness special to moments of personal crisis. I can recall every nuance of the smell inside the Whirlaway Lounge of Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood, the pre-ban cloud of cigarette smoke mingling with the sweet, gently rancid tang of a young crowd's version of a very old anxiety. I was cramped on all sides by Cubs fans, all squinting at the old televisions mounted at either side of the bar that had, in the two months since I'd moved to Chicago, quickly become my favorite. I recall nervous chatter punctuating nervous silence, and my own clammy palms and dry mouth from the first pitch onward.

My nerves, however, were different than theirs, just as the beer label I picked at was different, and when Sammy Sosa, cheater, doubled home Kenny Lofton, egomaniac, in the bottom of the first, people nearby made certain I was watching.

"See that? You see what's up now?"

I did, and it was terrifying. So I breathed and counted silently and breathed more and ordered another Budweiser. I was of course wearing a Cardinals hat.

It was evening by then, as fall nights were creeping earlier into the day. Around me they hotched and leaned into one another for support. With every out they grew more energized, and this buzz, this cautiously hopeful charge among a crowd of long-frustrated Chicagoans, was turning the otherwise welcoming bar (and city, to be frank) into someplace that I in no way cared to be. By the end of the sixth inning, the score was 2–0 Cubs, Old Style was flowing, and Mark Prior had his team nine outs from its first National League pennant since 1945 (a reminder of which hung, faded and torn, behind the bar).

Outside, then. I couldn't watch.

What happened in the next hour was either a miracle or exactly par for the Cubs' course. I remember standing in the middle of my apartment, watching in gleeful dis(kind of) belief as the Cubs' World Series run fell to pieces. I watched Moises Alou flap his arms like a boy in tantrum. I laughed and called friends and yelled over the phone. I whooped and danced and danced.

Important here is a fact so basic it hardly bears mentioning: My team, the Cardinals, for whom I've cheered nearly as long as I've breathed, was not playing. On that night I was cheering failure, applauding the defeat of a team that for more than a century has known nothing but. I was devoid of pathos and empathy and have remained this way, on an extended Roman holiday. I smile with villainy and find comfort in Cubby misfortune. After six years, I've begun to worry that this isn't the healthiest way to live.


Outside of the realm of sport, to celebrate failure is at very least dishonorable. Our common term is "sadism," which at its edge blurs into sociopathy. The engine driving these disorders is the devaluation of another human being, a warning sign of potential harm to those around you, cause for padded cells or very restrictive jackets. And yet apropos of major athletics (excluding, I suppose, the Olympic Games, with their long, mostly good record of sportsmanship and mutual respect), the vilification of a key opponent is viewed as a badge of hard-core support among the most devout fanatics.

Framing this contempt is a thing we call rivalry, the confluence of historical fact and mythology, aggregate lore manifest as clear, focused distaste. If fandom is a spectrum, ranging from the shivering shirtless and face-painted at one end to, for example, my mom on the other, the borders of rivalry are more rigidly defined. Mike Salk, a displaced Bostonian who hosts an ESPN Radio show in relatively unrivaled Seattle, explains, "You can call it a rivalry without hatred and violence, but the difference comes down to history, which means some contempt." The noun itself, "rival," predates "fan" by roughly three centuries, and it is surely the more consequential of the two, entailing competition plus ongoing narratives and plotlines. And without a "friendly" there to qualify it, rivalry implies conflict and a certain trembling balance to provide each side reason to believe in its own, and dislike the other.

Rivalry distills the fan experience to its essence, transcending our current obsessions with statistical analysis. All of the complexities of faith and belief are subsumed into the single task of cheering for ours and against theirs. Rivalry simplifies. Reduces. Strengthens.

But if this makes sense on a semitheoretical level, it does little to ease my ethical concerns. I would like to believe that I am a good person who respects the opinions of others, that I've retained some of my parents' Mennonite values. Besides, if the Yankees/Red Sox and Giants/Dodgers are fistfight rivalries, bloody, impassioned battles on field and in stands, then Cards/Cubs registers as slightly more than something like a really firm hug. Former Cub Mark Grace has spoken of the warmth he feels watching Cubs and Cards fans share a libation. It's a rivalry of good nature and, barring the odd libationary dust-up, politeness.

And personally, aside from the time Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood had me removed from seats behind Busch Stadium's visitors' dugout (for the record, Kerry Wood has a terrible sense of humor), I've never been harmed by these people. They holler when I wear my red hat, yes. They tell me who sucks (my team sucks!) and where exactly Albert "takes it," which I'll leave up to your surnymic imagination.

And I suppose if we're making a list, I'm needled by the way many Cubs fans wear "loser" as a crown. Ask and they'll gladly explain: There are baseball fans, and then there are Cubs fans—toughened, weathered, and realer than the rest. They are the proudest losers you're likely to find.

Plus do you know that many Cubs fans own at least one replica version of the giant white "Win Flag" that the team hoists above Wrigley Field's historic and charming scoreboard every single time the team wins a game? It is true. Meaning that on an average of 84 days of each of the last six summers the city has unfurled in various sizes commemorations of a feat that for other teams is expected.

But the flags are mere hiccups compared to the song they play at Wrigley Field after a Cubs victory, which is variously called "Go Cubs Go" or "Go, Cubs, Go" or even "Go, Cubs, Go!" And would it surprise you to learn that the song's unreliable punctuation isn't even close to the most annoying thing about it? With a structure that makes "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" sound like Schoenberg, it pleads, "Hey, Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are gonna win today!" The whole stadium chimes in and across the city, too, everyone ignoring the weird inversion of verb tense that predicts exactly that which has just happened, the tune snaking through the city like a noxious odor or the worst sort of product jingle (which, turns out, it is: "Baseball time is here again. You can catch it all on WGN").

The true nausea of Cubs fans, then, isn't their almost Calvinist belief that continued loss somehow grants them chosen status, but rather how contradictory this behavior is to their onanistic responses to victory. To live here is to be continually reminded how much of the baseball cake Cubs fans want to both have and eat—and worse, to see that many of these people appear to not even really enjoy cake! And use cake as an excuse to skip work and get drunk in the sun! And oh God what a cute little baby bear you've got there ...

... Do you see?

These are friends and neighbors who hold doors, strangers at whom I smile while our dogs meet and play. People I would hope to respect and connect with, and certainly not feel morose delectation in their pain. Because make no mistake, I've reveled in all Cubs defeat, regardless of divisional standings. I want, it seems, for these people to suffer.

The similarities between us could well be part of the problem. As my historian friend describes it, "Chicago and St. Louis are two sides of the same coin: They sit at opposite ends of a more-or-less coherent cultural unit." Cubs and Cardinals fans reciprocally share a high degree of what neuroscientists call "high self-relevance of the comparison domain." In this case, there are essentially two ways my brain can respond to the Cubs. The first, which we've covered, is called schadenfreude, the sick habit of deriving joy from the pain of others. When I raise a toast to another Cubby loss, my ventral striatum is firing on all cylinders. But schadenfreude, a recent study finds, occurs most often as a kind of corrective process, a pleasurable sensation we produce to undo the emotion that corresponds to activity in the brain's dorsal anterior cingulated cortex. This negative emotion is envy.

Envy, oxygen to schadenfreude's flame. Envy, the true cause of laughter and sick joy, jokes, derision, and my entire personal essence as a Cardinals fan in Chicago.

Exactly the kind of answer that'll stop a man from asking questions.
 

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Comments, page 1 of 2 1 2 Next »
Mar 27, 2010 01:33 pm
 Posted by  Art Vandelay

Having gone to school in St. Louis for four years and being a lifelong Chicagoan and Cubs fan what fascinates me the most about Cardinals fans, which this article illustrates perfectly, is their utter obsession with the Cubs and their fans. A two page article about cheering against the Cubs, wearing your Cardinals hat all over Chicago, stereotyping Cubs fans, bashing anything Cubs as "the worst"? Really? There is nothing better to write about. Cubs fans care about the Cardinals 1/10th as much. This article shows the authors, and most Cardinal fans immaturity regarding the Cubs: one and half pages of bashing before finally revealing the existence of Cubs fans with knowledge, loyalty, sobriety, and humor. What a shock?!

Cardinals fans have this holier than thou attitude but yet they bash Cubs fans for following a team that has given them no championships to cheer. Would you be such great fans if you had the same championship drought at the Cubs? You call Sammy Sosa a cheater, what about Mark McGuire? He is cheered by your fans. Kenny Lofton is an egomaniac? Well Tony LaRussa is a drunk driver. You constantly throw stones when your own house is made of glass. Cardinals fans are incapable of complimenting anything Cubs. Forget that Wrigley Field has been called the best place to watch a baseball game by numerous publications, you point out the mesh netting. Grow up. I went to a Cards-Cubs game at the Old Toilet Bowl Busch and was spit on by a drunk redneck Cards fan. I guess that gives me the right to classify all Cards fans as redneck, white trash, drunks.

I think Cardinals fans hatred towards the Cubs stems more from their insecurity about their city. St. Louis is so vastly inferior; the Cardinals are all the city has. I feel bad that people have to live in St. Louis. If the Cards are not winning, what do the people have?

Apr 1, 2010 04:24 pm
 Posted by  chiguyinstl

I also lived in the St. Louis area for six years, and this comment could not be more accurate.

Apr 2, 2010 01:59 pm
 Posted by  Stephen Schenkenberg

Art Vandelay -- Assuming that's not your real name (and that you're not an architect) .... If you can provide me w/ your real name, I'd like to consider running your comment in the magazine. I'm at feedback@stlmag.com. Thanks. -- Stephen

Apr 2, 2010 02:10 pm
 Posted by  Detroit Redbird

As a lifelong Cardinal fan living in Detroit I fully understand what the author is going through.

I even attended a Cubs/Tigers game just watch the Cubs lose,which they of course did. In fact, I made a sign that said: "Can't we all just hate the Cubs".

Apparently we can.

Its a far cry from sitting at Busch drinking and Bud, but hey, if I can't cheer on the Cards with Cardinal Nation at least I can boo the Cubs with my adopted Tiger's fans.

Its amazing how deep the hatred for Cubs fans runs throughout baseball. I thought it was a STL thing.

Chi guy in STL, obviously that amazing city you herald as the best was too good for you to find a job.

It's not that we are holier than thou, its just that we have a culture of winning and no amount of money can create that. Sorry, its just the way we feel. But hey, a culture of lsing is still a culture, so kudos there!

How many of those losses would you trade for just one sniff of a championship? Really? But then you wuold lose your claim to fame and become another once a decade contender like the Marlins or Rockies.

No hard feelings. It is after all, just a game.

Apr 7, 2010 04:55 pm
 Posted by  stannate

Three things have come to mind here after reading Kyle's article:

1. There's a baseball team in Chicago that a) has won a World Series in the last few years, b) has no love for the Cubs, and c) celebrates their misfortune with an intensity that would be instantly familiar to any Cardinals fans. They have President Obama as one of their most notable fans, and yet, Kyle completely forgot to mention the Chicago White Sox. Much like how Cardinals fans can't bother themselves to note the other baseball team in Missouri, they can't fit the White Sox into their well-rehearsed scripts of calling the Mets pond scum, or referring to Brad Lidge whenever the Astros come up, or rattling off any number of insults about the Cubs. After hearing many of these worn-out lines, I often wonder if Cardinals fans are the baseball equivalent of those people who appear during midnight showings of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" with their lines memorized and practiced beforehand.

2. Neither my wife nor I are natives of Saint Louis. We moved here due to jobs, which makes us a rare breed indeed. We can't answer that stupid high school question, and when we give the answer to 39 + 1, it doesn't sound like we're talking about flatulence. Art's comments about the Cardinals being all Saint Louis has, to this outsider, hits closer to home than many people are willing to admit. Hockey and soccer will always have a deeply committed, yet relatively small, fan base. Thanks to Ozzie Silna, Saint Louis will never have another shot at the NBA. Football was largely mediocre with the old Cardinals, and with the Rams, it's a perfect bell curve ranging from the lowest lows, up to the highest highs, and back down to the current lowest low. The Cardinals are not just the only long-standing sports success in Saint Louis, they are a link back to when the city mattered, back to when Saint Louis could say that they were as important as Chicago or New York or Philadelphia. It still amazes me that the 1904 World's Fair has any sort of relevance, as constant reminders of Saint Louis' past glory comes across to me as a form of torture.

That being said, however, I'd caution Cardinals fans about bragging too much about their 10 World Series wins, as only two of them have happened within the last 40 years. This track record puts them on the same level as the Florida Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and many other teams. You'd have to go back 50 years to start talking about a better World Series record, which means that those who can remember those great 60s-era teams would have to be in their 50s (which also puts them square in the middle of this magazine's target demographic, but I digress). Much like Saint Louis' national relevance, the Cardinals started out pretty strong, but have faded in the modern era.

3. Now here's where I'll have all of the above discredited: I grew up in Chicago in a house that was split between Cubs fans and White Sox fans (remember, STL, that's the other baseball team in Chicago). My wife grew up in New Hampshire and honestly didn't care about baseball, though she does like to remind mouthy Cardinals fans about 2004. I picked up my Cubs allegiance from my father and his mother, while his brothers and his father were die-hard Sox fans. Thanks to my childhood, I've basically heard every Cubs insult prior to moving to Saint Louis. Also, thanks to my childhood, I recognized that it's much more effective to be a casual sports fan, as I didn't want my self-worth or collective fortune to rise and fall with the success or failure of a sports team. Living in Saint Louis has made me recognize that there's no way anyone raised here could ever be a casual Cardinals fan; it's an intense love or hate, with nothing in-between.

A lot of energy gets directed toward loving the Cardinals and hating the Cubs (or other teams), which is energy that, as Kyle mentions, can be negative and consuming. Maybe it would be good for the Cardinals to play like the Cubs or White Sox for a few years; even better, maybe the Cubs with their new ownership could play like the Cardinals. I'm not sure which would shake Saint Louis more, but in either case, I think it would be healthier for the city and region as a whole to do something more productive with this energy. After all, look at what having mediocre or bad baseball teams has done to Chicago's overall success as a city.

Apr 8, 2010 11:03 am
 Posted by  Arch Observer

@Art Vandelay

I have to completely disagree with you. As a person who has lived almost his entire life in Chicago I would say Cubs fans certainly care about the Cardinals more than you indicate. There's a reason vendors sell anti-Cardinals gear outside of Wrigley at all the games, let alone the games the Cardinals are actually playing in. They sell. Conversely, I'd be hard pressed to find a place anywhere in St Louis that sells anti-Cubs gear.

And the love affair with Wrigley was all just a marketing ploy that has worked insanely well. It wasn't that long ago that no one cared about that stadium. It's revered because it's old school - vintage baseball. It's from an era that people feel nostalgic about. What makes it great is the people themselves. Chicagoans are great no matter what stadium you seat them in. Take away the people and the nostalgia and what you have is an aged, disgusting place to sort of watch a baseball game.

Also, for talk of being childish, aren't your comments about what St Louis has to offer a little short-sighted? It's true there is a certain insecurity emanating from St Louis, but if you really do want to compare it to Chicago there are very few differences that aren't enjoyed subjectively. Honestly, the suburbs of each are a dime a dozen. I wish Chicago enjoyed St Louis's soft winters and non-existant traffic, as well as it's low cost of living. Perhaps, you enjoy having more restaurant choices or taller buildings? Or maybe you think Jewel kicks Schnucks ass. Subjective.

I assume when you ask "if the Cardinals aren't winning, what does St Louis have" that you mean "what do we have over Chicago?" I'd be able to give an answer one way or the other if I knew how to quantify it. What are we comparing here? Your experience in St Louis to mine?

Apr 21, 2010 03:56 pm
 Posted by  Sarah

@Arch Observer:

I grew up as a White Sox fan in a split house. Mom's favorites were Cubs fans, Dad's favorites, White Sox fans. I have lived in St. Louis for the past five years.

First of all, they sell anti-Cubs gear all over. They sell it near the stadium. They sell it in the malls. The Shell station at Grand and Forest Park. The 7-11 off of Morganford. They sell it at K-Mart (the one off of Manchester, by the greeting cards). They sell it EVERYWHERE, year round. Being that you've lived in Chicago (or is it the burbs? You sound like a burbian) all your life, I'm surprised you know so much about the local marketplace.

And two, if this wasn't a place to be subjective, then why are we adding "our" comments?

@ChiGuy I totally agree.

@StanNate Also agree.

When I'm asked the great St. Louis question, "Where did you go to high school?" I respond by, "I grew up in Chicago - but don't worry, I'm a White Sox fan." Last time I didn't add in my southpaw disclaimer, I got spat on. True story. Outside Bar Louie in the CWE.

What's funny is that I didn't even know there was a big Cards-Cubs rivalry until I moved to St. Louis. And I didn't realize how RIDICULOUSLY STUPID Cardinals fans are about it until Bar Louie. This is not a baseball town, as my native friends always say, this is a Cardinals town. If it was a baseball town, they'd have heard of my team.

Aug 13, 2010 11:22 am
 Posted by  CosStl

@Arch Observer: Two things: First, nobody mentions or cares about the White Sox because we like baseball, which means the pitcher hits. Whatever abortion you play on the junior circuit is not real baseball. I do like that Sox fans hate Cubs fans though. Second, you deserved to be spat on that night. Not for being an assumed Cubs fan, or for being a Sox fan. No, it was because you went to Bar Louie. The kind of people who hang out at Bar Louie are the kind of people who would spit on another human being. That's true for most of the CWE. Go to Morganford or South Grand, hell even the Loop. Bar Louie is designed for DB's and going there invites nothing but bad things.
This is a really interesting article, especially so because the author recognizes something none of the commentors seem to; namely that caring about sports (or the relative "better-ness" of one's city) is irrational.
Just as all Cardinals fans are NOT "the most knowledgable in baseball" (as evinced by the overwhelming number of Eckstein Jerseys to be seen on any given day at Busch, Eckstein is a mediocre player who doesn't play in STL anymore) all Cubs fans are not obnoxious drunken brutes (though most of the ones that make the road trips to watch Cards-Cubs games in St. Louis are). Cardinals fans and Cubs fans are all actually pretty stupid. Cardinals fans love to laugh at the "Bartman" fiasco, but these same fans still complain about "The Call." Neither Bartman nor Deckinger cost the Cubs or the Cards a series win. That Bartman situation was not going to be the last out of the series, the team, not the fan, lost that game. They suck. The Deckinger call similarly was not the last out of the game. The Cards still had to lose the rest of that game AND game 7 to boot. Get over it. See Cubs fans and Cards fans are generally stupid.
That said, I must admit that I am a Cardinals fan. I grew up in St. Louis and love for baseball and especially the Cardinals was something passed on to me by my parents. I can only assume that the loyalty of most Cubs fans stems from similar nostalgic places.
I also happen to love baseball, something I often doubt about most fans on either side of this rivalry. I liked Ryne Sandberg, I liked Andre Dawson. I admire Derrick Lee for sticking with his team despite the opportunity to go to a contender mid-season. I even like Sammy Sosa. As Cards fans and Cubs fans we should all agree that cheating saved this sport and that it was people from our teams that did it (the saving AND the cheating). Sosa did it better than McGwire. He seemed to like playing baseball, which Big Mac never did. I can admit to liking Cubs players and still, irrationally, hate the Cubs with every fiber of my being, because I love baseball. The Cubs would be much more respectable if they would stop signing jerk-wad players like Zambrano, Alou, and Soriano (I fully recognize that Tony La is every bit as egotistical and as much of a prick as those guys). But overall, I hate the Cubs because it's fun. It's a grown man caring so much about a bunch of millionaire grown men playing a children's game that he's willing to insult other grown men who love that game's mothers. I choose to make baseball mean something to me, even though, objectively, it is meaningless.

Aug 13, 2010 11:22 am
 Posted by  CosStl

@Arch Observer: Two things: First, nobody mentions or cares about the White Sox because we like baseball, which means the pitcher hits. Whatever abortion you play on the junior circuit is not real baseball. I do like that Sox fans hate Cubs fans though. Second, you deserved to be spat on that night. Not for being an assumed Cubs fan, or for being a Sox fan. No, it was because you went to Bar Louie. The kind of people who hang out at Bar Louie are the kind of people who would spit on another human being. That's true for most of the CWE. Go to Morganford or South Grand, hell even the Loop. Bar Louie is designed for DB's and going there invites nothing but bad things.
This is a really interesting article, especially so because the author recognizes something none of the commentors seem to; namely that caring about sports (or the relative "better-ness" of one's city) is irrational.
Just as all Cardinals fans are NOT "the most knowledgable in baseball" (as evinced by the overwhelming number of Eckstein Jerseys to be seen on any given day at Busch, Eckstein is a mediocre player who doesn't play in STL anymore) all Cubs fans are not obnoxious drunken brutes (though most of the ones that make the road trips to watch Cards-Cubs games in St. Louis are). Cardinals fans and Cubs fans are all actually pretty stupid. Cardinals fans love to laugh at the "Bartman" fiasco, but these same fans still complain about "The Call." Neither Bartman nor Deckinger cost the Cubs or the Cards a series win. That Bartman situation was not going to be the last out of the series, the team, not the fan, lost that game. They suck. The Deckinger call similarly was not the last out of the game. The Cards still had to lose the rest of that game AND game 7 to boot. Get over it. See Cubs fans and Cards fans are generally stupid.
That said, I must admit that I am a Cardinals fan. I grew up in St. Louis and love for baseball and especially the Cardinals was something passed on to me by my parents. I can only assume that the loyalty of most Cubs fans stems from similar nostalgic places.
I also happen to love baseball, something I often doubt about most fans on either side of this rivalry. I liked Ryne Sandberg, I liked Andre Dawson. I admire Derrick Lee for sticking with his team despite the opportunity to go to a contender mid-season. I even like Sammy Sosa. As Cards fans and Cubs fans we should all agree that cheating saved this sport and that it was people from our teams that did it (the saving AND the cheating). Sosa did it better than McGwire. He seemed to like playing baseball, which Big Mac never did. I can admit to liking Cubs players and still, irrationally, hate the Cubs with every fiber of my being, because I love baseball. The Cubs would be much more respectable if they would stop signing jerk-wad players like Zambrano, Alou, and Soriano (I fully recognize that Tony La is every bit as egotistical and as much of a prick as those guys). But overall, I hate the Cubs because it's fun. It's a grown man caring so much about a bunch of millionaire grown men playing a children's game that he's willing to insult other grown men who love that game's mothers. I choose to make baseball mean something to me, even though, objectively, it is meaningless

May 10, 2011 04:21 pm
 Posted by  leebyman1

Kyle-

Excellent article. Your writing was funny, intelligent, researched, and -unlike much of the opinionated drivel found on the interwebs- had a point. Kudos to you for all that.

However, in the end, you're still a Cards fan. Sorrs.

Cubs = winning. Duh!

Boom! Roasted!

Yours,

Cub Fan Caleb

http://calebshreves.blogspot.com

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