The St. Louis Cardinals are having a rough year, unable to break out of .500-level play and unable to make up ground in the NL Central. The offense has struggled and now, at the trade deadline, there’s an open question as to whether they should be selling off parts. Just not their season, it seems.
Manager Mike Matheny has remained optimistic, however. That’s part of his job. He apparently thinks, however, that it’s part of a baseball fan’s job description to be optimistic about the Cardinals as well. Indeed, he thinks Cardinals fans who are critical of the team are “bitter” and somehow will not be able to enjoy it if the Cardinals turn things around and win.
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which quotes Matheny’s comments from before yesterday’s game:
“Just the general baseball fans, it’s a shame when they make up their mind and make strong statements about where our club’s going to go, because they don’t get to be really an active part of when something really cool happens. I think about how many people must have done that in ’11. They’re just so bitter — this team, this, that or the other. And kind of had their mind set. So when everything started to go well, did they truly get to enjoy what happened from there on out? I think that’s part of the excitement of the entire season. Stick it out, ride it out. You never know what you’re going to see.”
Matheny apparently doesn’t know how fandom works.
When things go bad, fans are allowed to be critical. When they go good, they’re allowed to be happy. They can go from one state to another, in fact, as the situation with the team changes. They are not contractually bound to remain happy no matter what is going on on the field and they are not obligated to remain unhappy if the team changes course and starts playing well.
Matheny references 2011. That was definitely a roller coaster year for the Cards. They held a division lead for much of the first half before some uneven play in the middle of the season. Then the Brewers caught fire and the Cardinals found themselves more than ten games back in August. They eventually finished a distant second and only made the playoffs because the Atlanta Braves collapsed. Yet, once October hit, everything clicked and they won a thrilling and magical World Series.
Does Matheny think that Cards fans who were unhappy in July or August of 2011 did not enjoy October? Or that they somehow should not have been allowed to? Does he think that fans who, at the moment, are justifiably grumpy about how the Cardinals season has gone will remain grumpy if they turn things around and make the playoffs? Does he think that they should somehow be required to? If so, that’s sort of messed up.
It’s Mike Matheny’s job to manage the team and to stand responsible for the results. Fans do not have such a formally vested interest. For them the Cardinals are entertainment. When the team is entertaining, they are allowed to be happy. When it is not, they are allowed to be sad and even bitter if they’re that wrapped up in things. No one, last I checked, is only allowing the eternally optimistic or always blindly supportive into the big party tent at the end of the year if there is, in fact, partying to be had.
There is no loyalty test for fans, nor should their be. You want them to be happy, Mike? Get your team to play better. It’s that simple.
(h/t Chuck Brownson)