Exultation knows no bounds in Kansas City this week, as the town basks in the victory of the Royals over the New York Mets. But they’re not the only ones cheering. In cities all over America, baseball fans can dispel some of the clouds of disappointment with this silver lining: at least the World Series champions are not the St. Louis Cardinals.
You see, according to a Reddit survey last summer, St. Louis is one of the most hated teams in major league baseball.
But what is it about the St. Louis Cardinals that piques the ire of so many spectators? After all, the squeaky-clean, wholesomely Midwest ball club has earned every right to be admired, if not adored. In June 2004, St. Louis fans gave Ken Griffey, Jr., a standing ovation when he hit his 500th home run off Cardinal pitcher Matt Morris. Griffey later said that if he couldn’t reach that milestone in his home town of Cincinnati, he’d hoped it would happen in St. Louis.
That was the same year Larry Walker joined the team and struck out his first time at bat. Cardinals fans rewarded him with a standing ovation as well, as if to say, “Welcome to the team, Larry.”
A couple of months after that, Cardinals and Dodgers players shook up the sports world by shaking hands after the Cardinals won the playoff series, inspiring astonishment and almost universal commendation.
So why isn’t St. Louis feeling the love?
D.J. Gallo of the Guardian suggests that there are three reasons: 1) the franchise seems to possess some secret, Zen-like discipline for winning — the Cardinal Way; 2) St. Louis fans believe their team “has the market cornered on scrappiness and grit and heart and other baseball clichés and immeasurables;” and 3) they win.
Simple logic suggests that reasons 1 and 3 go together. A long-established system of scouting, recruiting, training, mentoring, attitude, and team spirit have enabled the Cardinals to overcome injuries, to transform lackluster players into superstars, and to consistently outperform every other team in the league with half the payroll of the L.A. Dodgers.
It’s hard to argue with success. Indeed, you could even try following their example. But that never seems to happen. So the haters keep on hating.
In other words, the St. Louis Cardinals are the latest victims of anti-Semitism.
Which brings us to the age-old question: why does the world hate the Jews? We aren’t imperialistic. We don’t force conversion at the point of the sword. We don’t proselytize. As a rule, we mostly just want to live peacefully and be left alone.
But there’s one thing we do that the world can’t stand: we succeed.
It’s hard to argue with that point, either. In a 2005 article titled, “Are Jews Smarter?” New York Magazine reported:
Though Jews make up a mere 0.25 percent of the world’s population and a mere 3 percent of the United States’, they account… for 27 percent of all American Nobel Prize winners, 25 percent of all ACM Turing Award winners for computer science, and 50 percent of the globe’s chess champions.
And worse than that, Jewish success is often attributed to some mystical-cultural discipline that most Jews don’t even understand, an indefinable but unique relationship with the Creator of the universe that affords us our title as the chosen people.
According to the Talmud, however, the term “chosen people” refers not so much to the Almighty having chosen the Jews but to the Jews having declared their loyalty to the Almighty. If so, it would seem that the privileges of being G-d’s people might be open to any who are willing to make the commitment.
And there’s the rub that brings us back to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Everyone wants to be a winner. But not everyone wants to put in the hard work necessary to succeed. Just look at the profusion of diet books on the market, every one promising weight loss miracles. Books promise success in business, in relationships, in every field of human activity and endeavor.
They all work; and they all don’t work. Because in the end, the only formula guaranteed to work is hard work, which too many people simply are not willing to do.
So instead of emulating the Cardinals, people hate them. Instead of living up to the moral values and personal discipline intrinsic to Jewish tradition, people hate us. It’s just easier.
Of course, we often don’t help our own cause. Every misstep in ethics or legality committed by a Jew attracts notice, all the more so if it is a Jew who attests to religiosity. It’s okay for ordinary people to give in to moral lapses, but never a “chosen people.”
The fallacy is that systems are not developed and employed to ensure perfection. Just the opposite: they are designed to compensate for imperfection, whether intellectual, athletic, or moral. We invest in a system because we know the system will help us develop our best selves and rein in our baser inclinations.
When we make a system work, we inspire some to follow our example. Inevitably, we provoke others to try to tear us down every way they can.
So whether or not they made it to the World Series this year, there’s no denying that the Redbirds are a class act on and off the field, they way they play, the way they recover from adversity, the way they give back to their community. And the way they succeed.
Who is wise? asks the Talmud. One who learns from every person.
Even when that person is wearing a Cardinal jersey.