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Imagining a Cardinals move from St. Louis

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The NFL is setting a dangerous precedent regarding St. Louis. Could what is happening with the Rams eventually happen to the Cardinals?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It shouldn't exactly be surprising that the predominant St. Louis sports story on a weekday in January is not related to the Cardinals. But the buzz out of Houston about the potential relocation of the NFL's St. Louis Rams has dominated local sports media.

Of course, this is a Cardinals blog, and in theory, what happens with one local team has minimal effect on another. But it's worth wondering if what is happening, a St. Louis sports franchise adamantly trying to flee the city under grounds of the area's supposed financial ruin, could happen to the Cardinals.

Now, to assuage inevitable fears of click-baiting: this isn't going to happen tomorrow. The ten-year old Busch Stadium should easily have another couple decades before anyone tries to mention a replacement. Unlike the NFL, there isn't an enormous market in the United States nor Canada that illogically lacks a team. And the Cardinals consistently rank near the top in MLB attendance.

Infamously, in the Rams' case to leave St. Louis, the team argued that the city's dwindling population makes the city untenable going forward. While this seems to have been an attempt to play off a persistent inferiority complex in the area, anyone even remotely familiar with population shifts in Greater St. Louis can identify the fallacy here: while the city has had dips in population, it is largely due to migration to surrounding counties, not due to a mass exodus away from the metropolitan area.

But if one league can take such a claim at face value, what reason is there to believe that another would not, especially given the Cardinals organization's overwhelming advantage in general competence if they were to decide they wanted to seek greener pastures?

The population trends are more alarming for a sport dependent on routine attendance rather than a weekly pilgrimage: it's one thing for a fan to drive an hour or more to attend a football game at noon on a Sunday, but for a game at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday? I'm not saying it can't be done (I bet a lot of people reading this do it already), but it requires a few more factors for it to happen on a consistent basis. Like winning.

My favorite Cardinals statistic, one which I've cited in previous posts and will continue to cite until it stops being true, is that the most recent back-to-back seasons in which the Cardinals played a full schedule of games and had a losing record were 1958 and 1959.

While fans will occasionally point to the 1970s or 1990s as bleak periods in Cardinals history, the "futility" which these valleys marked are not comparable to what, say, the Kansas City Royals are just off the heels of experiencing. Attendance was generally poor in Kansas City during the lean years and rebounded in the last few. Some call this bandwagoning; others call this baseball tickets being expensive and the season being too long to go every day for a team that isn't performing.

Is there reason to believe that St. Louis would overcome the pitfalls of baseball mediocrity? There's not really any precedent to suggest that it would. Does St. Louis truly have a particular love for baseball which transcends love of its ultra-successful Cardinals? Maybe, but that would just be an uneducated guess at this point, since the Cardinals have not been truly bad in the mass media age. Hopefully, the Cardinals will continue their preposterous half-century of on-field affluence and we won't have to find out. But the Cardinals have no divine right to this.

Sixteen years ago, when the TWA Dome was the hottest ticket in town, it seemed inconceivable that the loudly cheered home team would ever leave. When I was in fifth grade, nobody I knew was concerning themselves with the minutiae of the Cardinals bullpen (does Ricky Bottalico have closer potential? Inch closer to learn more!), but everybody cared about Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, and company. Nobody was propagating a message that St. Louis was just "a baseball town". The idea of relocation of the Rams seemed preposterous. But it appears increasingly likely that this is going to happen.

Anybody who knows me knows that I'm a huge, huge, huge fan of all St. Louis sports teams, not just the Cardinals. I don't want this to happen, to the Cardinals nor the Blues. And it would take a lot for it to happen. But I also didn't want it to happen to the Rams. Unfortunately, it would be naive to believe that any team in any market in any sport which has profit-driven ownership is above leaving for a few dollars more.