The baseball playoffs are underway and in baseball-crazy St. Louis the Cardinals are center-stage

The Takeaway
Busch Stadium

The Major League Baseball playoffs are in full swing with the first two games of the American League Division Series Thursday night and the first two games of the National League Division Series tonight.

And for the fifth-straight season, the St. Louis Cardinals will be among the teams vying for a trip to the World Series. And while the Cardinals are a favorite to win it all, fans aren’t placing their bets yet.

“We’re desperately worried and nervous,” says Joe Holleman, a columnist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “We always see the sky falling — even when we win the World Series.”

The Cardinals are slated to face off against the Chicago Cubs in a playoff game tonight. The Cardinals are defending a strong reputation as winners — they’ve secured 11 World Series titles, more than any other team in the National League. While their record over time and this season — the best win-loss record in baseball — could give fans some faith, Holleman says Cardinals fans never get too confident.

“St. Louis fans fret over the Cardinals. It doesn’t matter how many successes we have, we wait for that other shoe to drop — it’s just what we do,” he says.

Baseball is an essential element of life for St. Louis residents. Holleman has some theories as to why this palpable excitement over the sport exists.

“One reason is the fact that we had no other major professional sport in St. Louis, like football, until 1960, when the Chicago Cardinals moved to St. Louis,” he says.

Besides causing the extreme confusion that comes with both teams having the same name, many St. Louis residents considered the Cardinals football team “Chicago’s rejects.”

“We had a 60- or 70-year head start, where baseball was the only sport in town,” Holleman adds. “That’s one thing — Pittsburgh has the Steelers, or the Bears in Chicago — we had nothing to split our allegiance. It was baseball.”

And then there's the connection with America's other national pastime: drinking beer. In the 1950s, the St. Louis-based brewing company Anheuser Busch acquired the team. The company employed many blue collar workers in the community who closely followed the Cardinals.

“It’s a combination of a team that we’re proud of and a business that we’re proud of — there’s this kind of symbiosis that was created,” says Holleman. “And the third [reason]: We’ve been really good over 80 years.”

But will the Cardinals be able to make it to the World Series? Holleman hopes his hometown will get a slot over the Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodges and the New York Mets. Especially the Mets.

“We have a bad history with The Mets from the 1980s — they are affectionately known in St. Louis as ‘pond scum,’” he says. “We kind of like playing the [L.A.] Dodgers because A. We beat them a lot, and B. I think it’s the only team in the National League that can rival us. ... And that’s what I think it will be — The Dodgers and The Cardinals in the NLCS.”

This story first aired as an interview on PRI's The Takeaway, a public radio program that invites you to be part of the American conversation.

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