St. Louis Cardinals: The Dexter Fowler Winter Warm-Up Case

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 6: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals returns to the dugout after a rain delay was called in the third inning during the game against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on May 6, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 6: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals returns to the dugout after a rain delay was called in the third inning during the game against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on May 6, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up isn’t for another month, but the topic is already hot after Dexter Fowler was scheduled to appear at a pro-Cubs memorabilia store in Illinois the weekend before, yet wasn’t attending the event itself. His plans were soon changed, but not after some enlightenment for Cardinals fans.

St. Louis Cardinals fans of all shapes and sizes had a strong, visceral reaction to hearing the news that Dexter Fowler was going to miss the Winter Warm-Up after announcing a appearance in Illinois the weekend before. A quiet sentiment among Cardinal fans — the idea that Fowler didn’t want to play for the Cardinals — began to bubble over.

The Winter Warm-Up is the annual ceremonial start to the 2019 season, and is a event for fans to interact with players. Normally, there are plenty of players that miss this event, and not a peep is heard. But this isn’t just any player to St. Louis Cardinals fans, and the frustration doesn’t just come out of nowhere.

There are quite a few layers to peel back to peel back to properly understand why Cardinals fans were so upset by something that seems so minor, and not all of them are even Fowler’s fault. Each layer tells a piece of the story that is just as crucial as the next one, and today provided the thickest layer of them all. Let’s take a look at how we got here with Fowler, and piece together the facets that make up Fowler’s relationship with Cardinal fans.

Thin Ice

The most obvious part of the frustration with this is the on field struggles that have caused general discontent with Fowler. While a player struggling is rather common, the contract that Fowler received makes his lack of production far more frustrating than other players.

On top of that, a more recent addition to the list of reasons St. Louis Cardinals fans were upset with Fowler is the perception that he seen as the primary obstacle in the way of the Cardinals going all-in for coveted free agent Bryce Harper.

Another aspect to this was Fowler’s perceived lack of hustle, which is 100% understandable. Several times, videos of Fowler going after balls in the outfield were criticized as having a lack of energy or drive around Cardinals Twitter. Quite frankly, many fans believed Dexter Fowler didn’t want to play with the St. Louis Cardinals.

However, it wasn’t just a guy doggin’ it. Some light was shined on the reality of that situation recently, as an article by Derrick Goold enlightened Cardinal fans to the off field struggles that Fowler was dealing with last season.

There’s a quote from Fowler himself that really sums out his state of mind in 2018 for me. He said to Goold, “I was depressed. That’s what I was. I got mad that I let it get to me. I should be mentally stronger than that. I shouldn’t have let it weigh me down as much as it did. But I was. I was depressed. I was depressed.”

I am not going to pretend that I was a huge Dexter Fowler supporter before all of this; I was against the signing from the moment it happened. But hearing things like this really provides some much needed perspective that can be lost in the mires of a poor season.

Sometimes, it’s hard to see a player as a person behind the numbers that they fit into on a team and the performance they have on the field. With Fowler, the numbers $16.5 million and .180 are numbers that overshadow the person that he is in many situations for St. Louis Cardinals fans. But we have to remember that at the end of the day, these are human beings who feel as we do.

It’s not like Fowler is purposefully sabotaging the team, and if that point wasn’t clear enough to Cardinals fans before today, it should be clear now.

Finding an Explanation

This leads into the next point: the fact that Fowler’s perceived lack of effort was translated by many fans as him not wanting to play in St. Louis. While we know differently now, it’s hard to fault fans for correlating what looked like Fowler not giving effort to him not caring or wanting to play for the Cardinals.

In a way, that correlation had merit, but it had nothing to do with the Cardinals. Depression can be a debilitating mental disorder, and a common misconception is that the things that a person has makes them immune to it. People just can’t seem to understand how a man making millions of dollars could feel depressed, and that misconception is the gap that needs to be filled not just in Fowler’s situation, but for all athletes dealing with depression.

In my personal experience, some of the worst days can come when they shouldn’t. When you have everything that you could want, when you know you should be happy, that’s when being depressed can be at it’s worst. It’s that knowledge that you have the things you need to feel happy and that experience to endure and make the best out of strife that makes it so much worse when you can’t.

That is the feeling that I got from Fowler today. This wasn’t a man who needed to be told he wasn’t doing well, or attacked because people feel like he wasn’t trying hard enough. He knew that better than anyone, and you can feel that helplessness in what he said.

I know that no matter what I say, there are some people who will not accept a player making more than they would in 100 lifetimes not performing because of mental challenges. I know I won’t be able to convince those people, but I at least implore those fans to separate the performance from the person.

It is rather frustrating to see a player who is getting paid so much produce so little, but whenever you heckle or slander a player on your own team, do you honestly think it will change things? Hostility from random people isn’t going to suddenly turn Fowler into an elite player again, nor will it suddenly galvanize him into playing hard again. Fowler will never be a productive player in St. Louis if the only thing he receives from fans is vitriol.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t reflect negatively on a player’s performance or decisions. Expressing the fact that you are upset with Fowler not attending the Winter Warm-Up was productive, but attacking Fowler as a person because of it is not.

Fowler’s End

Fowler certainly heard many of the frustrations held by Cardinals fans over what seemed to be him prioritizing fans in Chicago over those in St. Louis. While it wasn’t entirely because of fans, it’s hard to believe that fan backlash on social media didn’t play a part in Fowler’s decision to skip his friend’s wedding to attend Winter Warm-Up

It was honestly a pretty thoughtless move by Fowler to not expect people to react this way. The fact that it was just revealed today that Fowler had originally been planning on attending a wedding was a poor decision. If people had known that before the information about the signing was released, this wouldn’t have been nearly as much of an issue, if it was a story at all.

The way things played out, his lack of effort on the field and disregard for Winter Warm-Up seemed to be evidence pointing towards Fowler not caring about the Cardinals or their fans, to the point where he valued seeing fans of the Cubs over the Cardinals. Obviously, this is the biggest sin any Cardinals player could commit.

With how heated the rivalry is between the Cubs and Cardinals, and how much he has struggled with St. Louis, this was a boiling point for many people, and he should have seen something like this coming.

Even so, the reaction was still rather overblown. I get being angry, but shipping him off over missing an event that isn’t mandatory the weekend after he went to sign autographs for his previous team is a little much. However, there’s no reason that Fowler should not have an understanding of the Cubs’ and Cardinals’ rivalry, so there is certainly a reason to be irritated.

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If he were going to some store in Castle Pines, Colorado, I don’t feel like people would be that upset either. It’s just the fact that his previous team and the one he won a World Series with just so happens to be St. Louis Cardinals fans’ most despised organization.

I feel your frustration with Fowler, and I agree that this situation could have been handled much better. But his opening up to St. Louis Cardinals fans today was an important step towards reconciliation, and fans should take a step back from their distaste of his play to appreciate that.

The St. Louis Cardinals believe in Fowler, and hopefully that belief will pay off. Whether or not you hate him or you love him, the best thing we can do for the Cardinals at this point is to give Fowler a chance, and show him why Cardinal fans are considered some of the best in baseball.

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Fowler made a couple of big steps in showing that he cared about the St. Louis Cardinals. Opening up about depression is no easy task, and canceling a wedding to attend Winter Warm-Up is definitely worth something too. He showed he is listening to fans, and Cardinal fans should allow him a chance to show them a redemption story in return.