Pretty much everyone hates the Cardinals, right?

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Will Leitch is probably the most notable Cardinals fan in the little corner of the Internet a lot of us call home. And something dawned on him over the weekend:

I have spent so much time watching the Cardinals, reveling in their victories and agonizing in their defeats, that I had forgotten that the rest of the world was watching them, too … And the rest of the world, to my astoundment, hates the Cardinals. The rest of the world was cheering for the young, likable, fiery Washington Nationals, with their superstar youngsters and their facial hair and their natty natitude. The Cardinals weren’t the heroes to them; they were the brutish villains, the Cobra Kai, the Empire, stomping on the dreams of the upstart rebellion.

“Hates” is probably too strong a word. I don’t think people truly hate them. If anything, they have become incrementally more likable now that Tony La Russa is gone and don’t have many personalities — apart from maybe Chris Carpenter — who tend to draw the ire of fans in any notable way.

But people are certainly tired of them. Tired of them in much the same way people are tied of the Yankees. If you’re not a fan of either of those teams you almost always want to see them lose. Not because there’s anything wrong with them in and of themselves, but simply because we’re tired of the stories about them told during the postseason. Tired of the late comebacks which, no matter how exciting they are in any given moment, have some dispiriting element to them for anyone who doesn’t cheer those teams on.

It’s probably because the Cardinals and the Yankees are the ultimate overdogs.  They have attained that status for very different reasons, of course. They have different financial structures and fan bases and press coverage and general attitude surrounding them. But they are both considered the gold standard of their respective leagues for whatever reason and they both can never, ever be counted out.

Folks don’t like that much. If their own team can’t be in it, they prefer that just about any other team move on before the Cardinals and the Yankees do.  They either want to root for underdogs or, if there are no underdogs around — remember, the Nationals won way more games than the Cards did — they at least want the new stories and faces on their TV screens in October.

All of which makes this postseason rather dreary.  We were a couple of random bounces, key hits and close calls away from the A’s, Orioles, Nationals and Reds playing in the ALCS and NLCS. That may have been ratings poison for Fox and TBS, but it would have been refreshing for people who were watching.  Now we have those two always-theres in the Yankees and the Cardinals.

And really, the other guys aren’t a ton better.  The Giants don’t have that same feeling as the Cardinals, but they did just win it all in 2010. Saving them, I reckon, is the fact that Brian Wilson can’t pitch this year, which goes a long way to combat the annoying familiarity.  The Tigers are no Yankees and are not even as ubiquitous and tired a story as the Rangers have been, but they do have the Cabrera-Verlander duo which have consumed an awful lot of media oxygen when it comes to MVP arguments and such in the past two years.

So, nope, we really don’t have any fresh faces or exciting new stories this postseason.  Those of us who aren’t Yankees and Cardinals fans are probably settling on rooting for the Tigers and Giants, but it’s not that satisfying.  I suppose the best we can root for is high-quality baseball over the next two weeks and change. Which, given how sloppy and ugly so much of this postseason has been, would be a refreshing storyline of its own.

Sigh.

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.

As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.

Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.

As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.

While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.

Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.