Some salient facts about me:
* I’m two inches shorter than the average American male and weigh about eight pounds less. I have straight brown hair, brown eyes, and no facial hair.
* I make about the average Illinois income.
* I have no distinguishing characteristics; people I know don’t notice me on the bus, on a weekly basis. On Monday there were two people on the bus I knew who didn’t notice me.
* I’ve never been overseas; under most circumstances I don’t have a recognizable accent; I don’t eat spicy foods; I don’t speak any foreign languages; I don’t play any instruments; I don’t really have any hobbies, besides drinking too much coffee.
In short, I’m a pretty boring person. My only defense for this, when a girl whom I had a crush on told me I was boring, was that if I was more interesting, she and the people around me would be more boring by comparison.
I say this to explain why, in the city of Chicago, I remain a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and why I recommend being one to most people. If the best thing about being a sports fan is identity politics, being a Cardinals fan is a good solid existence.
I’m not bragging, or indulging in shopworn sports stereotypes. I have science:
I was born in 1980; since the world revolves around me, we’ll use that to begin our statistical sample. Since then the Cardinals have finished last or next-to-last in their division four times in 31 years.
The Cubs: 15 times (!). Pirates: 15 times. Brewers: 10 times. Reds: nine times. The Astros: five times, somewhat to my surprise.
The Cardinals have appeared in the playoffs 12 times during that period, appearing in the World Series six times and winning twice, with this year still undecided.
Astros: Nine times, one World Series. Cubs: Six times, no World Series. Brewers: Four times, one World Series. Reds: Three times, one World Series. Pirates: Three times, no World Series.
In the past decade, in terms of normalized cost per win, they’re about average. In terms of payroll vs. attendance, they’re above average. Here’s a portrait of stolid consistency:
The Cardinals appear a lot in that upper-right quadrant. It’s a good place to be. It indicates that the Cardinals have a good, reliable ROI: they invest an above-average amount of money in the team, and get above-average results year in and year out. Other teams may win a lot of games for a lot less money (A’s, Rays) or a lot of games for a lot more money (Yankees, Red Sox), but the Cardinals have struck an efficient balance between payroll, wins, and attendance that’s appropriate to their status as a successful mid-large market team.
Which, in terms of narrative, makes them a boring team. No one’s written any books about how their sophisticated Wall Street strategies led to their success; Buzz Bissinger, author of the masterpiece Friday Night Lights, wrote a book about the Cardinals a few years back, but it was… kind of boring. If this 2004 interview with current GM John Mozeliak is any indication, they don’t have a particularly arcane strategy. World Series ratings this year are expected to be low. If Grantland and Deadspin are any indication, the cool kids of sports journalism could care less; neither site has anything about the World Series so far today, though the devout nerds at Baseball Prospectus have a good rundown. Theo Epstein’s dance with the Cubs is really the big story in baseball this week.
And that’s okay; I wouldn’t want it any other way. Stolid consistency is underrated in sports. It’s an achievement in and of itself, if not a dramatic one. What the Cardinals lack in juggernaut teams and self-mythologizing fans, they make up for in comfortable reliability.
Game One starts in six hours. It’s not too late.
Photograph: Chicago Tribune