Has there ever been a more difficult time to be a sports fan in St. Louis?
When a fanbase experiences suffering, it’s typically a result of the hometown team’s poor performance on the field, court or ice. Those feelings are universally shared: from Browns fans to Cubs fans, Knicks fans to Oilers fans, most everyone who has invested emotionally in a sport team has experienced this sorrow at one time or another.
But I’m here to talk about a different type of pain—the type that takes hurt, sorrow and disgust—and extends it well beyond what happens on the field of play. Over the course of the past 15 months, folks in the Gateway City have been subjected to an inexplicable variety of misfortune.
It began innocently enough: on a brisk night in October of 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals quest for consecutive NL pennants was squelched as Travis Ishikawa deposited a Michael Wacha fastball into the right field seats at AT&T Park. The Giants went to the World Series, and the Cardinals went home.
These things happen. Contrary to some opinions in Cardinal Nation, you can’t win it all every year. Life goes on.
That winter should have been about second-guessing Matheny’s decision to give a pitcher his first outing in three weeks in the most critical moment of the season. It should have been about discussing the hot stove. It should have been about anxiously anticipating the day pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Florida.
Instead, the winter was spent mourning the losses of Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo. They died in a car crash in the Dominican just ten days after Ishikawa ended OT’s rookie season. This was about more than just sports.
Fans mourned the senselessness of the deaths; from a baseball perspective, immeasurable potential unfulfilled. The frustration of knowing Taveras’ poor decisions caused the incident only further complicated matters.
Outsiders criticized us. How could we eulogize him? He was responsible for this. He caused their deaths by driving drunk. They scoffed at our OT18 patches. In such an unimaginably horrific ordeal, St. Louis fans were disparaged for their mourning.
With heavy hearts, the Cardinals trudged on. The team acquired Jason Heyward to man right field. Despite myriad injuries and setbacks, it emerged with a hundred wins and an NL Central crown. In another example of on-field despair, the season ended bitterly as the rival Cubs upended St. Louis in the NLDS.
To add insult to injury, the Cubs poached Heyward and John Lackey away this offseason, leaving Cardinals fans to wonder how the team will replace their production and compete with the new world-beaters on Chicago’s north side.
Then there’s that pesky hacking scandal. When Deadspin told us Houston Astros internal data was leaked to the internet in June of 2014, we had no clue the Scouting Director of the St. Louis Cardinals was involved. But amidst a federal investigation of corporate espionage (!!!), Chris Correa pleaded guilty to hacking the Astros last week.
The fallout for this one is not yet known. We’re hearing speculation that MLB will hit the Cardinals organization with a significant fine and loss of draft picks/international bonus money in order to send a clear message that spying on other teams isn’t okay. Roger Goodell has made no such declaration to his league.
For Cardinals fans, this situation is difficult. It offered a delectable dose of schadenfreude to those who have come to loathe the perceived faux-righteousness of the ‘Cardinal Way’. There’s no denying the beloved Redbirds are culpable for some shady dealings here. Even if it was confined to one rogue agent, that agent was employed by the team. Feigning ignorance won’t absolve their responsibility.
When the hammer finally drops, it will be yet another bombshell to rock the Twittersphere at the expense of St. Louisians.
Speaking of Twitter, the only organization whose turmoil in the past year rivals that of the Cardinals can be found just a short trek westbound on I-70.
The University of Missouri has had a rough go of it lately. Remember back when Maty Mauk’s suspension(s) was the juiciest story in Columbia, Mo.? Pepperidge Farm remembers. So do Mizzou beat writers.
Those days are but a distant memory. Since, the Missouri football team announced—via Twitter—a boycott of football activities in conjunction with the Concern Student 1950 movement. This move would have cost the university over a million dollars if not for the prompt resignation of UM System President Tim Wolfe, allowing Jonathan Butler to eat, and the team to return to practice.
Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin then stepped down for good measure, ending a tumultuous week in CoMo.
…Except it didn’t. Because just when you thought things couldn’t devolve any further, Twitter explodes again with the news that Gary Pinkel—the winningest head coach in the history of Missouri Tiger football—was resigning, too.
Not because of team performance, or even in relation to fallout of the boycott. Gary Pinkel was resigning because he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Cancer. It just wasn’t fair.
I now realize I’ve spent nearly 200 words talking about Missouri football without a mention of its on-field performance. That’s because we’re all still trying to forget it. The offense averaged 13.6 points per game (127th out of 128 FBS schools), so despite the best efforts of the defense, the season was a vexation culminating in a 5-7 record and a rejection of a bowl game invitation.
Mack Rhoades must feel like he’s been hit by a Mack truck after the year he’s had. He never could have imagined the trials ahead when he replaced Mike Alden as athletic director last March.
And we haven’t even discussed the shell of a Power Five basketball program on display at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers went 9-23 last year in Kim Anderson’s first season as head coach. Though this season offers an opportunity for improvement, they were blasted by Mike Anderson’s Arkansas Razorbacks 94-61 Tuesday night.
It was the worst Missouri basketball home loss since 1957, yet wasn’t the most troubling news of the week for the program.
News broke Wednesday that Mizzou was self-imposing sanctions on the program for violations committed during the Frank Haith era. That means vacated wins, scholarships and a postseason ban for this season.
Though banning Missouri basketball from the postseason is akin to prohibiting their residence on Mars, this is still bad news. More sanctions could be coming from the NCAA and you can pretty much kiss goodbye any delusions of keeping Michael Porter Jr. in Boone County for his collegiate career.
Yet of all the above misfortune, perhaps nothing was as gut-wrenching to the region’s sports fans as the events of Tuesday night, when the inevitable departure of the St. Louis Rams became official.
Much has been written about this in recent days, so I’ll attempt brevity in discussing it here. To speak volumes on this tragedy only serves to further mangle the hearts of St. Louisians.
There is no use in debating those who don’t full comprehend the transgressions of Stan Kroenke. You’ll never convince the witless trolls that the St. Louis fans weren’t
responsible for this. The fans have been steamrolled by an entity too powerful to necessitate organizational accountability, and it sucks.
The fix was in from the moment Shad Khan was denied majority ownership of the Rams. The tireless efforts of Dave Peacock and the Stadium Task Force will be for naught. But all we can do is recognize that it’s not a reflection on their work that the Rams are heading to Los Angeles. The cronies with money dictated it, so that’s what happened. The great city of St. Louis is not liable for the outcome of the whims of an infantile billionaire.
In addition to the trials of Cardinal Nation, True Sons and the Ramily, St. Louis endured the losses of respected sportswriters Bryan Burwell and Joe Strauss. Both of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Burwell and Strauss have been prominent voices on the St. Louis sports scene for decades. Both were tremendous losses to the sportswriting world, and will be sorely missed in St. Louis.
The Blues choked away another opportunity in postseason play, despite a first-place finish in the Central division. The Note boasts just one playoff series victory since 2002, and it has made first-round playoff exits in each of the past three seasons. This season will probably be the same.
And with St. Louis looking to support its remaining teams, the local soccer team, STLFC, must deal with the aftermath of flooding that left hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages at Worldwide Technology Soccer Park. If it’s not one thing, it’s been another for St. Louis sports.
So it’s not just you thinking it: there really have been a lot of insanity around here lately. The pain of being a sports fan in St. Louis recently is unprecedented. I can’t think of an example of so much strife on one region’s sport scene in such a condensed period of time comparable to what we’ve experienced. If you have any that come to mind, let me know in the comments, it could make for an interesting discussion.
I’m going to do my best to continue throwing my support to our local teams, and hope our luck starts to turn sooner rather than later.