I cannot tell you how to be a "better" fan. This is to imply that one style of fan is quantifiably better or worse than another. I'm doing this for myself.
I'm making these resolutions because, while 2015 brought my St. Louis Cardinals the first 100 win season Major League Baseball has seen since 2011, and the most successful regular season the perpetually prosperous franchise has had since 2005, I found myself a lot more frustrated and annoyed by baseball in 2015 than logic suggests I should have been. And with a new year comes an opportunity to change and improve, not just because it will make me a more tolerable fan to others, but because they should allow me to gain previously insufficient perspective.
1. Read more from the Golden Age of Baseball Analysis
As a personal aside, my first job out of college was very conducive to watching First Take on ESPN. And I watched it virtually every day. All of the common criticisms of it are absolutely fair--it relies primarily on the incendiary "hot take" rather than anything resembling intellectually honest analysis, and it devotes inordinate amounts of time to asking and then answering increasingly silly questions (Does Lebron James lack the clutch gene? Does Tim Tebow have the clutch gene? The now-satirized but once-sincere questions about if Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback). I didn't like First Take; I am positive that if you hooked me to a lie detector, it could confirm that I didn't like it. But it was on, so I watched it.
In retrospect, this was a ridiculous thing for me to do. My rationalization was that I like sports and even bad sports coverage is still sports coverage. But it ignores the fact that there is more intelligent, engrossing, and downright entertaining content about baseball, and every other sport for that matter, today than there has been at any other point in history.
Not only is sportswriting at its peak right now, but it's easier than ever to consume. When I was growing up, your choices for reading about baseball were limited. You had newspapers (or, if like me, you became a Cardinals fan after the end of the Globe-Democrat and before the ubiquity of the internet, you had newspaper) and you perhaps had Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News. Information was not omnipresent and democratized; it took an inordinate amount of effort (and at least some amount of disposable income) to have sports information beyond easily-digestible factoids and narratives.
Some people of a certain age pine for the simplicity of this (or an earlier) era, but I've never understood why. After all, the aforementioned avenues for obtaining baseball information still exist. But in 2016, you have Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, MLB Trade Rumors, and the whole gamut of SB Nation sites. Even just to keep things local, I'm as avid of a Viva El Birdos reader as anyone. There are writers on this site who have an incredibly deep knowledge of baseball history, a scout's eye for prospects, and a coach's eye for mechanics that I could only dream of having myself.
And this is still a small fraction of what's out there. There's just no reason in 2016 to bother with sports information entertainment which fails to entertain or inform.
2. Feed off the rawest emotions of fandom
Let me get this straight: Clayton Kershaw is REALLY good. Maybe the best pitcher in the history of baseball HE'S JUST AWFUL AND I HATE HIM— Sean Wachdorff (@Cardsnationjnky) July 12, 2015
This is one of my favorite baseball tweets of 2015.
It's not analytical in any substantive way. Nor is it supposed to be. It's an observation from a fan who, intellectually, knows that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is great. He knows that his impulse to root against Clayton Kershaw is not based in anything objective--he's a terrific baseball player, he is by all accounts a good person, and he almost certainly complements his natural physical gifts with a work ethic and drive to succeed that almost none of us can match. But that doesn't matter, because to the raw and unfiltered fan of a baseball team other than the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw is a sworn enemy.
And in a lot of ways, this id-driven shade of fandom is something that the most serious and stat-heavy fans should aspire to reach. It's a harmless brand of team support. There's a such thing as being rabid to a point of being dangerous (Harvey Updyke ruined it for everybody, I'm afraid), but assuming that the very basic threshold of "don't let sports fandom turn you into a criminal" is met, anything which amplifies one's intensity is a good thing. It's a good thing for the same reason that being a sports fan in general is a good thing: it allows us to funnel our raw emotions (and a lot of our idle time) into a cause which, at its core, absolutely does not matter.
I would love this tweet even if Sean did not make a concession to Kershaw's quality. As a fan, it's totally irrelevant to my experience as a fan if he thinks Clayton Kershaw is a bum. If a fan is so averse to Kershaw that he or she would not sign him for the league minimum, that's fine, since the fan is not actually the GM of the St. Louis Cardinals. If John Mozeliak were unwilling to make that move, I'd be concerned. But he's not, so I'm not.
In the dozen years since the release of Michael Lewis's Moneyball, there has been a constant battle of wills between two diametrically opposed parties, In one corner, you have sabermetrically-inclined fans: those who are versed in the writings of Bill James and his disciples, fans who favor context-independent statistics over more traditional statistics such as RBI, pitcher wins, and fielding percentage. In another corner, you have the fans who are opposed the so-called "advanced stats" and instead favor Triple Crown-contending hitters and win-accumulating starters.
And yet, these two camps represent a shockingly low number of baseball fans. For most people, it's more intuitive. Albert Pujols wasn't the best Cardinal of the first decade of the 21st century because he had 1,112 RBI nor because he was worth 70.6 fWAR. His greatness does not require explanation with any statistics because who in their right mind would argue against it? Just sit back and enjoy the show.
I have no studies or research to back this up, but I suspect the median baseball fan is within a standard deviation or so of this description: he or she grew up knowing about batting average and the other standard box score statistics and is now aware that a statistical revolution has taken place, and while this person does not dismiss that these statistics may have value if they were to research them a bit...life is short, man. It's 2016. Most of us have cell phones with more technological power than the previous generation's supercomputers. Virtually all of the popular entertainment of my lifetime is at my fingertips around the clock.
I care an abnormally large amount about the intricacies of baseball, and thus I devote copious amounts of time to learning about them. But I can't fault those who don't. It's a big world.
3. Appreciate the good times
If you are under the age of 57, the St. Louis Cardinals have not had full-length back-to-back losing seasons in your lifetime.
The second-worst season by winning percentage for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 21st century is .516. In that season, they won the World Series.
After 2015, two teams had won a World Series more recently than they had missed the playoffs: the defending World Series champions, and the Cardinals. The same was true after 2014. And 2013.
These are the glory days of the St. Louis Cardinals. In their worst season of the 2010s, the team won 86 games. The Colorado Rockies have eclipsed this win total two times in franchise history. The Cardinals have made the playoffs for five consecutive seasons; the previous franchise record for consecutive playoff appearances was three.
Over 25 years, the St. Louis Blues made the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs every season, the third longest postseason streak in major North American pro sports history, from 1979-80 to 2003-04. Over the next six seasons, the Blues made the playoffs once and won zero playoff games. In the final two seasons of the playoff streak, the team finished 5th and 6th in average NHL attendance. In the next two seasons, they finished 27th and 30th. Barely a decade ago, the St. Louis Rams made the NFL playoffs five seasons out of six. And they may be a few weeks from relocating.
Things change. Nothing is indefinite in the world, particularly in the often-haywire world of sports. And while a precipitous drop in attendance or a downward spiral into mediocrity (or worse) may seem inconceivable to a Cardinals fan base accustomed to perpetual success, there are no guarantees. Any notion of St. Louis baseball fans being immune to occasional bouts of apathy during rough patches is built on a leap of faith, as truly rough patches are not a thing most of us have experienced. This is not to say that fans cannot or should not scrutinize the Cardinals. The team, though very successful and certainly deserving of respect, is not perfect and it ought to be held accountable. But this doesn't mean that the past successes of the franchise must be ignored as some sort of means to avoiding jinxing the future.
Whatever will happen in 2016 and in future years in no way changes the overwhelmingly entertaining and successful nature of the recent past. The incredible ride may be ending soon, or it may just be getting started, but there is no reason to not enjoy every moment of it, however long it may last.