“Cardinal Nation” is the way that fans of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team collectively describe themselves. The group seems to be so closely-knit and loyal that not only have they succeeded in creating a community for themselves, but also disdain from different quarters of the land where people are not necessarily Cardinal fans.
The team is one that plays “head’s up” baseball. The players clearly get along, and the pitchers in particular are exceptional in helping one another out. That doesn’t always happen on professional sports teams.
However, there was a time before the term “Cardinal Nation” was invented when the Cardinals were more than a sports franchise. The team was an agent of social change; reflective of how America could bind together with people of different colors, races, and nationalities.
Bryan Burwell has written about the 1964 Cardinal team just as the Cardinals’ World Series opponent of that year, the New York Yankees, were in town for a rare three game series.
In style and substance, they were a team that was difficult to forget. Calm, cool veterans who roared through September and won the pennant on the last day of the season. And if you’re into the sociological spin, it’s unmistakable how they were a team that did not necessarily fit the contemporary mood of St. Louis in the early 1960s. Like most of America, we were a city and a region that struggled mightily with racial progress. Yet the Boys of ’64 were a melting pot clubhouse of black and white and brown, a roster filled with strong-willed, diverse, colorful and socially conscious men from every walk of life. From Gibson to McCarver, Bill White to Bob Uecker, Mike Shannon to Julian Javier, from Brock and Groat to Curt Flood, this was as eclectic a baseball bunch as you could imagine. There was a social harmony on this Cardinals team that did not necessarily reflect the turbulent times surrounding them.
Those were days when I took a different kind of pride in St. Louis and the Cardinals. I loved seeing the team reflect the racial harmony for which many in America were striving. It was not just any group of black, whites, and Hispanics; it was an exceptional collection of men who were exceptionally intelligent and well-spoken in expressing their ideas. They are still that way.
I only wish that I could be a fly on the wall when they privately meet and discuss the paucity of African-Americans in Cardinal Nation, especially on the field.