There was quite a disconnect Wednesday night between St. Louis Cardinals fans who showed the love to returning former players Joe Kelly and Allen Craig and a handful of folks in the stands who seemed to resent cheering for opposing players, no matter who they are.
While Kelly got a standing ovation while walking out to the left field bullpen to warm up, one fellow in my section bellowed repeatedly that Kelly was a nobody who has only won 17 games as a Redbird. As the cheers went on, he continued to belittle Kelly's baseball card statistics.
I think, however, that he failed to understand the point other fans were trying to make.
No one threatened to jump off a bridge at the loss of Kelly and Craig, even though they were popular players. Nobody pretended it was the end of the world. No tears were shed. The fact that people are largely in touch with the reality of the situation could be seen last weekend when fans gave a hearty welcome to the guy for whom Kelly and Craig were traded, John Lackey.
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If Cardinals rooters felt that the trade was a serious injustice, they might have booed Lackey. Well, maybe not in St. Louis. But they certainly wouldn't have gone wild for him.
The reasons St. Louis fans -- or at least THIS St. Louis fan -- cheered for Kelly and Craig (who the Red Sox classily allowed to take out the line up card at the beginning of the game to get his cheers even though he's on the disabled list) included a couple of important factors.
First, Craig was a huge World Series hero for St. Louis. He hit the game-winning home run in the deciding contest in 2011 and then caught the last out. If David Freese wouldn't have hit maybe the most dramatic homer in World Series history in Game 6 (apologies to Joe Carter), Craig could likely have been the MVP. He also put on an incredibly gutsy performance in the 2013 Fall Classic despite being seriously limited by injury. Those are things very worthy of Cardinals' fans appreciation.
The second reason is that both Craig and Kelly expressed great disappointment in being traded from St. Louis and great affection for their time here. It may be nostalgic and simplistic. But I appreciate players who appreciate the St. Louis fans. Neither players nor fans are machines. If not for the emotional attachment to the games and their personalities, why would anyone in their right mind pay a couple hundred bucks a night to go watch a bunch of people they don't care about try to hit a little ball with a stick?
I do think that the Cardinals made a mistake giving up on Craig who I believe has been injured all year, which likely explains a season that is severely sub-par by his standards. And I think Joe Kelly has the tools to be a very solid MLB pitcher. Because of those factors, I think the Red Sox got the better of this deal since Lackey is 35 years old and likely will be long gone when the guys for whom he was traded are still in their prime. But I understand that St. Louis GM John Mozeliak thought the Redbirds would have a better chance of making the 2014 playoffs and succeeding in them if they went out and got a front of the rotation quality starter. I can live with that decision.
This isn't the first time St. Louis fans have had an emotional response to the trade of a popular player and it won't be the last. After the Cardinals' first World Series win in 1926, player-manager Rogers Hornsby became involved in a contract dispute with the club and was subsequently traded to the New York Giants.
Fans became so emotionally overwhelmed that they picketed owner Sam Breadon's home, jumped on the running boards of his car as he traveled to and from work to shout threats at him, covered his car dealership with black funeral crepe and petitioned baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis to void the deal and send Hornsby back to St. Louis.
It didn't work. The Cardinals were "stuck" with the proceeds of the swap, Frankie Frisch, who would go on to help the Cardinals to the World Series in 1928, 30, 31 and 34, the last as player-manager.
Getting attached to players is something Cardinals fans do. But it doesn't mean they don't understand the game or the bigger picture. While some will mock the folks who cheered for their former Cardinals favorites, sarcastically asking "and THESE are the Best Fans in Baseball?" People on Wednesday got a chance for closure, and now we'll all move on.