I realize that it’s the middle of the off-season so there aren’t any questionable decisions being made by St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny for fans to complain about.
But is that any excuse for the outpouring of vile on social media pages the last few days because the Redbirds’ top free agent acquisition, Dexter Fowler, chose to go to the White House instead of heading to St. Louis for the Winter Warm-Up? People seem to be utterly outraged that the newest Cardinals outfielder hasn’t severed ties with everyone who has anything to do with his former organization.
I thought Fowler handled the awkward situation quite well when he tweeted: “What an honor to be at the White House with my Cubs family. Can’t wait to go back next year with my @Cardinals.”
But the remark touched off a Twitter war with more than 6,000 comments back and forth between Chicago fans (who apparently don’t know much about the World Series prior to 2016) and Redbirds rooters who thought, by inking his deal with St. Louis, that Fowler was passing on further Fall Classic accolades.
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“Dex could be working on his swing or spending time with cards fans...is he?” one person tweeted. “No. Instead he’s out partying with his old team. Ridiculous.”
I totally get the anti-Cubs sentiment. I just think Fowler didn’t do anything wrong. He’s our guy now. Let’s treat him like it.
It’s tradition that the winners of the World Series are invited by the president for a congratulatory trip to the nation’s capitol. For Major League Baseball players, it’s likely a once-in-a-lifetime trip at best. A lot of pretty good players never get a World Series ring before it’s time for them to hang up their spikes and glove.
It’s an unfortunate that the Chicago Cubs’ invitation to Washington, D.C., fell on the same weekend when St. Louis players usually appear to sign autographs and maybe have a question and answer session with the fans. But Fowler didn’t have anything to do with the scheduling. If I was in his shoes, no matter which team I used to play for or who was in the White House, you’d better believe that I would be there if I was invited.
There are few more partisan Cardinals fans than me. I don’t like anything to do with the Cubs. But I don’t get the fact that so many people on social media pages are offended that Fowler, in their words, chose to hang out with his Chicago buddies as opposed to getting to know his new teammates. From everything he’s said so far, Fowler seems to be pretty jazzed about coming to St. Louis. And, despite the wrath he knew he’d get from Chicago fans by inking with a Cubs rival, he doesn’t seem to be shying away from his excitement.
I’m pretty old school by nature. I like the fact that Bob Gibson plunked his former road roommate, Bill White, the first time he played against him just to let his former bestie know they were no longer pals after they started to wear different uniforms. But that’s just not the way major league ballplayers are wired anymore.
Maybe it’s free agency. Few players spend their whole career with one club anymore. So they’re interchangeable parts as opposed to dyed-in-the-wool Cardinals or Cubs or Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers or Giants. I’ve said it before and I still believe it: The fans in the stands care more about rivalries these days than the guys down on the field.
You can’t go too long into a Cardinals-Cubs game before St. Louis broadcaster Al Hrabosky starts to spout off about his disdain for the Cubs. But he played just as the free agency era began. He bled Cardinals red because that’s the team he came up with -- despite the fact that he later played for the Royals and Braves. But the baseball record books are filled with modern day players who wore both St. Louis and Chicago uniforms — and didn’t feel even slightly conflicted about it. Fowler, John Lackey, Jason Heyward, Jon Jay, Jim Edmonds, Aaron Miles, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Theriot, John Mabry are just a few.
The shoe was on the other foot in 2006 when Jason Marquis was a member of the World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals, then he signed a free agent contract the following off-season to play for the Cubs. Marquis didn’t decide to retire when the Birds decided he didn’t fit their plans anymore. He went to Chicago and signed on the dotted line.
I’m a lot less interested in what Fowler did in the past than I am in what he will do for the next five seasons. If he does what’s expected of him, gets on base a lot at the top of the order, provides some spark on the bases and in the clubhouse and plays good defense, I couldn’t care less who he hangs out with in the middle of January.
For the record, it appears Fowler originally intended on coming to both the Winter Warm-Up in St. Louis and the Chicago trip to the White House. It was the Friday ice storm that changed his plans, not a decision to party with his Cubs pals.
“All flights were canceled,” Fowler tweeted Friday. “Next year, I’ll come a week early just in case.”
He continued: “Love you all and can’t wait to meet you. I can’t tell u how much I was looking forward to introducing myself to you. I even had some good jokes lined up.”
So let’s give the guy a break. The result of this is that Cubs fans are criticizing the 3.4 million people who spun the turnstiles at Busch Stadium as hot-headed fair weather fans. The best answer to this kerfuffle would be to see Fowler prove he was the magic ingredient and watch him follow ending the Cubs’ 108-year World Series drought by ending St. Louis’ five-year dry spell of winning the Fall Classic and three-year absence from it.
The Cardinals knew when they signed Fowler that he was a part of the ultimate moment their primary geographic rival enjoyed in the last century. While it may have caused a bit of a stir now, I wouldn’t be surprised if St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak is betting on Fowler being motivated by the fact that the Cubs turned their back on him once he appears once the games start to be played.
While the St. Louis club seemed to value Fowler greatly, offering him a hefty paycheck to defect, it appears Chicago didn’t value him nearly as highly as Fowler’s Cubs teammates did. So, while he may enjoy spending time with his friends who wear blue, I have little doubt the speedy center fielder will remember who butters his bread when it’s time to go to work.