Question: If the New York Yankees have become the new Atlanta Braves then who are the new New York Yankees?
According to Will Leitch of Sports on Earth, the answer is an easy one: The St. Louis Cardinals have supplanted the Bronx Bombers as the franchise that everyone loves to hate because of their success.
As you might know, our lovably earnest friend Will is one of the world's biggest Cardinals fans. In his great piece, Leitch comes to the realization that the rest of the country did not feel as exhilarated after their NLDS win over the upstart Washington Nationals last Friday. He provides a nice lesson for any fan who thinks the entire world is as captivated with their winning team as they are — I was guilty of this during the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run in 2010 — and it's interesting to see one of the self-proclaimed "Best Fans in Baseball" suddenly get introspective in the middle of a wild playoff run.
Here's what Will writes:
In that ninth inning, my fellow Cardinals fans and I saw the grinding, fighting, clawing exploits of a team that simply continues to refuse to lose ... But no one else saw it that way. They saw a team that caught every break a team could possibly catch last postseason and was now doing it again, one that was hoarding all the good fortune from the baseball gods for themselves.
Will goes on to conclude that baseball fans have tired of the Cardinals in much the same way the country never really took to the prolonged success of the Indianapolis Colts or San Antonio Spurs — respectable but non-descript teams that overstayed their welcome for the short attention spans of the casual fan.
Perhaps that's the case for some, though I believe Leitch got closer to the point in the passage I blockquoted above. In the past seven years, the Cardinals have won a World Series with a 2006 division-winning team that won only 83 games, a 2011 squad that needed a historic collapse from the Atlanta Braves to reach October and might possibly win another with the first second wild-card team in National League history.
That would only make sense because, as I tweeted earlier Monday, the Cardinals have become the undisputed vultures of Major League Baseball.
Save your emails, St. Louis, because I bestow that title with a heaping measure of respect. The 2011 run was fun to watch, even from my perch up here in Chicago. Being at Busch Stadium for David Freese's ninth-inning triple in Game 6 will go down as one of the best sporting events I've ever attended — a scene I'll be telling my grandchildren (who will still not have seen a Cubs World Series) about. The Cardinals are also to be commended for a great front office that doesn't get the hype it deserves and the way they immediately bounced back from the departure of Albert Pujols by smartly signing Carlos Beltran, who is completely laying waste to any pitcher he faces this postseason.
There's admittedly a lot of jealousy being harbored out here, too. We see Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma in big postseason spots and just know that wouldn't happen with their team. We see the Cardinals squeeze into the postseason field and wonder why they don't follow the lead of our teams and consider that an accomplishment in itself before bowing out in the first round in unceremonious fashion.
It was different when the Yankees won all those rings in the '90s. Most of the baseball world watched the Big Apple from its much smaller burgs and saw Steinbrenner's team as monolith that could not be conquered, a resurrection of an unstoppable dynasty from the past. This Cardinals era is different because we're living in a 24/7 world of MLB.TV and baseball blogs. We're much more aware of the postseason's inherent random nature and we wonder how a team that doesn't bother to announce its World Series candidacy until Columbus Day wins so much.
And yet here we are. The Cardinals have overcome a lot of adversity to beat the National League's best team for one of the best comebacks in the sports history and now hold a 1-0 lead over San Francisco in the NLCS. The fans of most every team should be able to relate and appreciate a story like that, but the Cardinals are the guy who escaped the realities of a bad neighborhood and made something of himself. Those of us who were left behind after facing similar circumstances should want to feel good but, sorry, we just can't.