I’m back. Sorry for the extended absence. I had important real-life things to do. And still do. But I have a one-week break in between real-life things, so here I am trying to get an article in about a team that, I’ll be completely honest, I haven’t been watching.
That’s partially out of necessity. Traveling and working late while traveling doesn’t lend itself to watching Cardinals games. I physically could not watch most of the games that I missed. Sorry about that! I know it’s bad form for a baseball writer to not watch baseball, but you can blame Bally.
It’s also partially out of choice. I’ll admit that on a few of the days when I could watch a game, I elected not to. Maybe I flipped it on. Checked the score. But the TV didn’t stay on for long. Sorry about that, too. I know that’s bad form for a baseball writer to not watch baseball, and you can blame me for that one.
I feel like I have a good excuse though. You see, the Cardinals are bad.
And by bad, I mean bad.
Not like the “things should probably turn around in a week or so” kind of bad that we’ve seen here and there over the last few years.
Or even the “well, they’ll get healthy in a few days and e’rything will be a’ight” kind of bad that just about every team experiences every season.
No, the 2023 Cardinals are the “they were bad earlier in the season and we hoped it was a short-sample fluke, but now it’s after Flag Day and they’re still in last place” kind of bad.
And not only are they bad. They’re the worst kind of bad. The 2023 Cardinals are bad when they were supposed to be good. That’s just rude.
Thankfully, having not suffered through this debacle of a travesty that has been the last three or so weeks, I’m still able to have a little perspective on the season. I haven’t had my soul sucked out by blown saves, ineffective pitching, and miserable hitting. Yet.
Instead, when I have tried to follow and watch the games, I have found myself settling into some old but not forgotten habits.
You see, I learned how to watch bad baseball back in the late 80s and through the 90s. Those were the years that I cut my teeth as an “old enough to really pay attention” Cardinal fan. I had memories of ’85 and ’87 as a youngster. But it was probably 1990 or so – just entering my teen years – when I started engaging with the club on something more than a child’s level of interest.
Those clubs were pretty bad. Worse, expectations were pretty low. But somehow I watched, listened, engaged, and enjoyed it enough to stick around and become what I am now.
I learned very early how to watch bad baseball and enjoy it. So, to you suffering sots who have enjoyed the endless summer that was the 2000-2022 Cardinals, I offer these 4 ways to watch bad baseball and enjoy it!
1. It’s summer! Chill.
This is my first suggestion and it’s probably the most important. It’s summer, folks. The sun is out. The water is warm. The lake is calling.
You have something summer that you can do tonight and tomorrow and this weekend.
You don’t need me to make a list for you, but I will anyway. Hiking. Fishing. Camping. Lounging. Grilling. Kayaking. Canoeing. Floating. Boating. Hammocking. Grilling. Smoking. Jogging. Driving. Vacationing. Beaching. Golfing. Pickleballing. I could go on.
You only get one summer a year and only so many years. There is no reason to waste that summer obsessing over how terrible your baseball team is. Not when there is summer fun to be had!
Here’s what worked for me back in the Bernard Gilkey era. Go do whatever it is that you want to do with your summer. And have the Cardinals on in the background while you do it.
It’s that simple.
Back in the 90s, when the Cardinals were pretty bad pretty much every year, I had the Cardinals on all the time. The radio was tuned to the Cardinals when I was in the car driving to whatever fun thing I was about to do. They were on the TV in the background while I relaxed on our deck at the lake.
The Cardinals were always on but the game wasn’t the center of my time and focus. Jack Buck and Mike Shannon were the voice of my summer, but my time, attention, and joy came not from winning and losing. It came from all of the other fun things that I was doing with my free time while the Cardinals hung out there in the background.
It’s summer. Chill.
2. Pick your moments.
You can’t chill and enjoy your summer by obsessing over every losing Cardinals’ game. Equally important is realizing that your fandom is not dependent on how many games you watch. Or which games you watch. You don’t have to watch the Cardinals just because the Cardinals are on!
Take last night as an example. I had to sit down and write an article. The Cardinals are playing the Nats – a pretty bad team. They’ve come off some decent baseball for a few games. Maybe this would be a good game to watch?
I turn the game on in about the 4th inning. The Cardinals were up. So, I leave the game on but I leave it muted. I have two reasons for this. First, I can’t write and listen to the Chip Carey at the same time. Who knows what I’ll say. Second, see suggestion number 1 above. It’s summer. I’m chill. I have something else to do with my time. So, the Cardinals are on, but they are in the background. My engagement level is low. We’re going to see how this goes.
Fast forward a few innings. It’s now the top of the sixth. Carlson has two homers on the day! The offense is clicking a little. The pitching has been just fine. My engagement level is rising.
Now, late last week that wasn’t the case. Sitting in a conference room in a meeting, I checked the score. The game was going poorly. I clicked it right back off again and went on with my day oblivious to the pain many of you were suffering through.
Does that make me a bad fan? No. That’s how you watch bad baseball. Engage in the good. Let the bad watch itself.
When your team is bad, it’s perfectly acceptable to be a fair-weather fan. It’s really the only way to survive a season like this one. Embrace it.
3. Find a storyline/player you like.
This is the secret sauce to watching bad baseball. Having a reason – something, anything really – to watch for is enough to turn bad baseball into good baseball.
I mentioned growing up as a Cardinals fan in the 1990s. The club was routinely bad but there were storylines galore! Take the 1992 season, probably the first one that I vaguely remember paying some attention to. Donovan Osborne. Lee Smith. Andres Galaraga. Todd Zeile. I was interested in those players. So I followed their stories, checking box scores in the morning. Catching at bats on the radio when I could.
Later on, it was Gilkey, Lankford, and Jordan. I was so excited when Ron Gant came over to the Cardinals. As a former TBS-on-cable Braves fan, I followed his play like he was a superstar. I used to try to catch every Alan Benes start. Matt Morris. Juan Acevedo. Manny Aybar.
There are a lot of losses represented by that group of names over that decade. Some of the players I followed performed well. Some were Manny Aybar. But they kept me engaged and interested at the time. It kept me watching and listening even when the score wasn’t pleasant.
Ultimately, it’s winning and losing that means the most in this game. But the players play the game and they’re the ones that we root for. You can root for them even when the club is losing.
What should you root for this season? Anything you want!
Dylan Carlson has two homers tonight.
Jordan Montgomery is cruising.
Jordan Walker is worth watching every night.
Paul Goldschmidt. Nolan Arenado.
Adam Wainwright and his pursuit of 200 wins.
It doesn’t matter who you pick or why you pick them. But find something about the season that catches your interest and watch that with interest!
4. Remember baseball exists outside of St. Louis.
1994. Before I knew anything about a strike, I knew everything about Tony Gwynn and his pursuit of hitting. 400. Every morning I would check the box scores in the paper to follow his batting average and how many hits he had the night before.
Some – many – of those hits came against the Cardinals. I watched those, too, and couldn’t help but cheer him on.
I became an instant fan of the Colorado Rockies when expansion brought them into the league. I loved watching that 1995 team with Andres Galaraga, Larry Walker, Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, and Elis Burks. Hated it when they played the Cardinals. But they were so fun to watch.
Before he roided up, I loved to hate Barry Bonds. But I watched!
I was a Cardinals fan, but I was a fan of the entire game.
The Cardinals might be bad, but there’s a lot of good around the game of baseball. Have you been following what Shohei Otani is doing? Corbin Carroll of the Diamondbacks? Acuna and Murphy on the Braves? Zac Gallen? You could have a summer just following former Cardinals, so long as you could do so without getting too depressed. (See suggestion 1.)
Not that you need to go and watch D-Backs games. Or pay the extra money for the MLB package so you can watch the Angels.
But when the Cardinals face some of these players on these other teams, pay attention to them. Enjoy good baseball when you can. It’s perfectly ok to follow excellent players on other teams. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
There you go! Four ways to watch bad baseball and enjoy it.
I could probably list a few more. Like staying off social media, where Cardinals’ angst is a way of life. And focusing instead on sites like Viva El Birdos, where we’ll at least be interesting and occasionally humorous while talking about bad baseball.
Speaking of which, I have more traveling to do. That means that the VEB podcast won’t return for a few more weeks. It’s impossible to record with any quality assurance while in hotel rooms and campgrounds. So, I’m not going to try! When I get back, though, we’ll have some first-half analysis, some trade deadline speculation, and maybe an All-Star game extravaganza!
And look at that! The Cardinals won. They are bad. But that game wasn’t. Following my suggestions worked. For tonight, at least.
Happy Wednesday, Viva El Birdos!