I've been batting this article around in my head since literally the night playoffs ended for the Blues. Do I write it here, do I write it at my site? Do I write it at all? Am I the only one who has noticed a huge cultural difference between the Blues and Cardinals and how they handle disappointment?
Of course, while thinking on this, Bernie Miklasz kind beat me to the punch a little bit. That'll learn me to worry about if bringing the Cards up on Game Time is a good idea or not. In today's post, he wonders why the Blues are so satisfied - they didn't play as well this year as last, they didn't win a single playoff series, and yet Ken Hitchcock and Doug Armstrong put a positive spin on things. In his post, Miklasz writes:
Hitchcock seemed offended by the post-series criticism of the Blues. I don’t know why. They blew a 2-0 series lead and lost four consecutive games. The Blues were up by two goals in Game 4 but squandered the lead, the game and the opportunity to go ahead 3-1 in the series.
But Hitchcock emphasized that the Blues – after being swept by LA last season – were more competitive this time around.
Do you get a trophy for that?
"To write off the playoffs and just say it was not good is really not fair to this team," Hitchcock said.
I’ll write it: It was not good. Your team had a 2-0 series lead and didn’t win again.
And I’m not sure why Armstrong thinks it’s so terrible for fans and media to link the present-day Blues to the franchise’s history of postseason futility.
"That’s somebody else’s issue," Armstrong said. "To live in the past and try to exorcise ghosts is irrelevant."
Simply correct. The Blues seem to be caught up in this culture of participation. "We did well!" Yes, you did. Making the playoffs should never be a team's goal - winning the Stanley Cup should be. Sometimes you need to be realistic about expectations, sure, but doing so means not building up expectations during the year and then justifying when they fail. Your fans expect you to compete for the Stanley Cup every season.
Of course, being Blues fans, we're a realistic bunch. We know what the front office is doing, and for the most part we just accept it. The team's just kind of "happy to be here," and so are we. Believe me, that attitude isn't the best to have, but it's next to impossible to shake.
During game five of the NLCS last year, when Lance Lynn beaned the hell out of second base on a botched throw to God-knows-where, I turned to my friend that I was watching the game with and I said this: "Well, that's it. They're done, but they never should have made it this far, so I'm happy."
During game six of the 2011 World Series, I kept thinking "well, the Cards tried. This was a really great series, win or lose."
In one of those situations, I was spot on. In the other I wound up being pleasantly surprised. In neither was I thinking like the Cardinals organization - I was thinking like the Blues.
Later on in his article Bernie, who must be a mind-reader, because I was thinking this same thing writes:
The Cardinals have won 11 World Series championships, including two since 2006. And after the Cardinals blew a 3-1 lead to San Francisco in the 2012 NL championship series, manager Mike Matheny and his players were furious and inconsolable.
That hasn’t changed. Mention the NLCS to Matheny, and a cold, hard look of disgust appears on his face. Adam Wainwright frequently discusses the anger that remains from losing the NLCS, and how the players use it for motivation. They want to make amends.
There’s a profound difference in the standards that the Cardinals and Blues set for themselves.
The Blues always promise to do better next year. The Cardinals, even after a situation that in any other season before last year would have been impossible for the team (the second wild card helped), want to make things better. So far this season they've come out swinging with the best record in the National League and best winning percentage in baseball at the time of this writing. They don't make excuses. They fix things, because they have a dedication to excellence.
The Blues have a dedication to existence.
One of those two things wins championships, the other wins the occasional division. If the Blues want to stop being the little brother of St. Louis sports teams, they need to take a look at their neighbors around the corner. Having a Stanley Cup isn't a prerequisite to winning one - they can start a culture of winning any time that they want to. Stop trying to make fans feel better, and start making fans expect good things.
Cardinals fans enter nearly every season with a reasonable expectation: that the team will contend. More often than not, they're rewarded. Blues fans dare to enter a season with that expectation, and they get the roller-coaster ride that was this shortened season. This needs to change.