For better or worse, Cardinals fans are leaning into their reputation

Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals have intensified their affection toward their players — and toward those of opposing teams.
Washington Nationals v St. Louis Cardinals
Washington Nationals v St. Louis Cardinals / Joe Puetz/GettyImages

It's been well documented that St. Louis Cardinals fans like to applaud their players. Did a Cardinal make a great catch? Standing ovation. Did he hit a clutch home run? Curtain call. The passion and devotion of Cardinals fans toward their team is something that players on the Cardinals have noticed and appreciated.

In one of the best pitchers' duels of 2024, Paul Skenes struck out eight batters and didn't allow a run in 6.1 innings. When he exited the game, Cardinals fans showered him with applause. The only thing odd about that? Paul Skenes plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

This isn't the first time Cardinals fans have shown appreciation for an opposing player. In 2019, Albert Pujols, playing for the Los Angeles Angels, returned to St. Louis for the first time, and Cardinals fans went nuts. In the second game of the series, Pujols clobbered a home run, and Busch Stadium shook amid the celebration of jubilant fans. That series remains the best regular season series I have ever watched.

Fans' reactions to Pujols' return felt natural given his legendary status, but the ovation they gave Skenes after his performance didn't drape me with the same fuzzy feelings. It was a nice gesture, of course; Cardinals fans knew that he is on the way to stardom and wanted to recognize the moment. But it further aroused my suspicion that Cardinals fans have changed in recent years from a naturally warm and receptive crowd to one that's become more manufactured, and it could be having unintended consequences for the Cardinals.

The history of Cardinals fans being deemed the best fans in baseball can be traced back to 1992, but it wasn't until 2000 when more fans became aware of the term and adopted it as a source of pride. And who wouldn't? You take a compliment when you can get it and then try to become even better at that aspect of yourself.

Cardinals fans had a lot to cheer about in 2000 through the next decade-plus, but there was a change during that time: the rise of social media platforms. Fans of other baseball teams now had a chance to notice that Cardinals supporters often deemed themselves the best fans in baseball, and opposing fans would use any bit of ammo they could to attempt to prove it wrong. Accounts were created that were dedicated to finding nasty comments by Cardinals fans online and posting them for baseball fans to see.

Cardinals fans have naturally tried to push back against the narrative that they think they're above everyone else. So they've not only constructed countless curtain calls, they've amplified their adoration for opposing teams as well. What's making it awkward is that because the Cardinals are now — let's face it — a mediocre baseball team, the fans could be coming off as kissing up to the opposing team rather than displaying a sense of appreciation for a lesser opponent.

Cardinals players may feel less than enthused about this applause directed toward their competition. When fans celebrate players on the other side for performing well, it makes sense that those on your team would be miffed by an opponent receiving praise at your home stadium when you've failed to live up to your end of the bargain and succeed against the opposition.

I love Cardinals fans. I don't believe booing your own players is ever the right thing to do, and I can't remember the last time Cardinals fans did that. That being said, applauding opposing players for minor accomplishments might be a turn-off for those on the Cardinals.

The Cardinals have fallen off as a desirable team for players to be a part of, but the fans are doing their best to create a pleasant environment for the Cardinals and for opposing teams. Whether they're succeeding more with opponents than with their own squad is up for debate. Maybe when the Cardinals are good again, the applause at Busch Stadium won't feel so artificial.