Why are there Cardinals fans who don't value making the playoffs anymore?

For some fans, the idea of making the playoffs is not good enough. Why is that? I have some theories...
Jun 22, 2024; St. Louis, Missouri, USA;  St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Alec Burleson (41) congratulates teammates after the last out. He hit two home runs during the game against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Vizer-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 22, 2024; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Alec Burleson (41) congratulates teammates after the last out. He hit two home runs during the game against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Vizer-USA TODAY Sports / Tim Vizer-USA TODAY Sports

During the offseason, I was one of the more optimistic than most regarding the state of the St. Louis Cardinals, but even I did not see them as a World Series contender.

Sure, I subscribe to the notion that anyone can win once they get to October (as history has proven time and time again), but it doesn't mean I love the idea of it. I'd much rather see a team build itself up to be a favorite in the National League than sit in the 85-win range and "see what happens".

Still, I'm excited to watch a team make the postseason and see what comes next.

Why are there so many fans that do not feel the same?

Some theories on why some Cardinals fans don't value making the playoffs anymore

I've been pondering this question for a bit now. When I've had conversations with people regarding the playoff potential of this team, even if they agreed with me (or let themselves wonder what a playoff team would be like), many people were not content with the idea of not being in the same class as the Dodgers or Phillies.

Now, I'm not trying to say people shouldn't want this team to be great. I'll always want this team to keep getting better too. I'm talking about people who would say it is a failure or continued disappointment to make the playoffs this year.

I have some ideas on why that narrative exists...

Reason #1 - Sports fans in general have begun to adopt an extreme "championship or bust" mentality

Think about it. Almost all of our sports rhetoric these days (especially in the other major sports in America and global soccer) revolves around the idea of whether or not your team is a championship contender.

That's always been the end goal of professional sports from a fan perspective - try to be the team that lifts the trophy in the end. But over the last few decades, we have seen the erosion of long-term team success and fans enjoying the ride of a core trying over and over again to get over the hump.

Instead of basketball teams in the 80s or 90s trying to beat the reigning champion year after year, the entire NBA seems to switch teams over a three to four-year period. Just go look at where players were playing just five years ago. A lot of that is based on player empowerment, but fans and media continuously drive the narrative that if a team doesn't win the championship or isn't close, they might as well blow it all up.

Growing up, I remember NFL quarterbacks basically staying with one team their entire career, barring some late-career move after they were no longer great players. Now you see guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, and Russell Wilson change teams all the time.

In Major League Baseball, the league has had to take "anti-tanking" measures in recent years to avoid teams following the formula of the Chicago Cubs or Houston Astros. Instead of consistently being good like the Cardinals, teams saw the incentive of just being bad for half a decade or more in hopes of acquiring enough talent to be a World Series contender. They'd rather be bad for multiple presidencies and potentially have a "better" shot of winning the World Series for a two to three-year window than to actually be good consistently and see if any given year could be their time.

For Cardinals fans who want to go full-scale rebuild rather than be just good enough to make the playoffs, I think it is important to remember that for every Cubs or Astros, there are the Athletics, Tigers, Marlins, Angels, White Sox, Pirates, or Reds that never really get out of that cycle, or teams like the Blue Jays, Mets, Brewers, or Mariners who rise from their rebuilds and end up being knocked out early in the playoffs just like the Cardinals have been.

Even the Phillies, who a lot of fans point to as the team they wish the Cardinals were more like, had the longest playoff drought in baseball from 2012 until they finally made it again in 2022. That team has been fun and exciting to watch in recent years, but that ten-season gap between making the playoffs has resulted in one World Series appearance thus far.

Theory #2 - Some Cardinals fans just want to see major changes made, and don't believe that will happen if they are winning

I get it, the latter part of John Mozeliak's tenure as President of Baseball Operations has not been as fruitful as the beginning of his time running the club, and he really has made a lot of mistakes running this team. The time for leadership change is rapidly approaching, and Mozeliak is as aware of that (and for that) as much as anyone.

There is a strong possibility that, no matter how this season goes, Mozeliak's role will change after the season concludes. If it does not, then you can bet your house that he is done running baseball operations when the 2025 season is over. I'm not sure how many people truly realize that, and if they did, maybe they wouldn't be so fixated on blowing up the team as they have been in recent years.

It is also fair to say that there are a lot of fans who want ownership to go out and spend more money. I've seen people say that it will take the Cardinals finally losing to get them to spend, and so they hope this team falls apart to teach ownership a lesson. Look, I'm not saying it's wrong to feel this way at all, I also think the Cardinals need to spend more money, but being top 10 in payroll on any given year does not make you a World Series contender.

In fact, this year alone, six of the top ten teams in payroll are currently out of the playoff picture, and only three teams in the top ten even lead their own division. Spending more money is helpful, but it is how you spend your money that matters most

Yes, new leadership is needed soon and it is time to catch up with the league's spending, but losing I don't think cures either of those issues.

Cardinals fans are right to demand excellence, but let's not just throw out the value of being consistently competitive in the process

What makes Cardinal Nation so great is the demand for excellence. But what makes Cardinal Nation truly special is their dedication to a brand of baseball almost no other organization can measure up to.

I don't know about you, but I enjoy the fact that almost every single season I can remember following this team (2004 is the first season I have any memories of...yes I know, I'm not that old), I can expect the Cardinals to be in the playoff picture. They've won two World Series since 2006. Only the Giants and Red Sox have won more and the Astros are the only other team with two. They've had multiple great teams that fell just short (2004 and 2013) and many others that were in the conversation for a championship (2012, 2014, and 2015 really come to mind).

I know, most of these dates are at least a decade old now, which is another reason why change is coming soon. But I want Cardinals baseball to look more like what I just ran through than the blow-it-up rebuilds that other organizations take. This city deserves much more than a team that is going to mail it in and lose 100 games for multiple seasons in hopes of returning to prominence. This fan base deserves an organization that is at the cutting edge of the sport, fielding competitive teams year in and year out that build up to championship windows without having to tear things down ever.

Somehow, this organization has found a way to get back to that kind of baseball any time the luster has begun to fade, and I have faith that the city of St. Louis will see that brand of baseball again soon.

For now, try and enjoy watching a competitive team. It's okay to point out the flaws, but why is it so bad to want this team to play some playoff baseball, even if the odds are stacked against them?