Many baseball teams have unique names for their fan bases (i.e. “Red Sox Nation” and “Yankee Universe”). The St. Louis Cardinals are no exception as their fan base has come to be called Cardinal Nation. Where does that term come from? How did it come to be?
According to Douglas Feldman, author of Dizzy and the Gashouse Gang: The 1934 St. Louis Cardinals and Depression-Era Baseball, the term probably originated in the 1930s as the increasing popularity of radio made Major League Baseball available to millions of American Households.
Being a member of Cardinal Nation means that you are a member of a brotherhood and sisterhood of fans who have been joined together by the common bond of rooting for one of the most tradition-bound franchises in baseball – winners of 19 National League Pennants and 11 World Championship, making them (with the exception of the Yankees) the most successful team in baseball.
Even before the advent of Fox Sports Midwest, which brings 150 games a season into the living rooms of hundreds of thousands of Cardinal fans across the Midwest, avid followers of the Birds on the Bat were able to tune into all the action via the Cardinals Radio Network – a network of affiliated radio stations that stretches across eight states – Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee.
This is still a popular method for fans to be able to keep tabs on their favorite team and their favorite players. This is due in no small part to the late Jack Buck and the current “Voice of the Cardinals” Mike Shannon, a former Cardinal player and a broadcaster since 1972.
The flagship station of the Cardinals Radio Network is KMOX-AM 1120 out of St. Louis. Thanks to their 50,000-watt signal, they are able to reach much of the Continental United States on a clear night. Cardinal games can be heard as far away as Virginia.
Having lived in Virginia prior to moving to Missouri, many was the night I would be able to pick up Cardinal Baseball in Virginia Beach! Cardinal fans are everywhere! Because a significant number of fans follow their team on the road, chances are, if you tune your TV to Cardinals’ Baseball, you will see a group of Cardinal fans in the stands at the opposing team’s ballpark.
A prime example of this is Kansas City. Every year since the start of Interleague play in 1997, the Cardinals have played a home and home series against their cross-state rivals. Having attended some of those games myself and, speaking from experience, I have noticed that Cardinal fans usually outnumber Royals fans by an almost 2 to 1 margin. Looking around and seeing the “sea of red” in the stands made Cardinal games played at Kauffman Stadium feel like extra home games.
Cardinal fans pride themselves on being the most knowledgeable in baseball. So much so that not only do they appreciate a fine play or a milestone accomplishment achieved by one of their own players, but they are quick to appreciate the same when achieved a member of the opposition as well. Case in point, Cards vs. Angels, June 22, 2019.
Former Cardinal Albert Pujols, a longtime fan favorite during his years in St. Louis, came to the plate in the 7th inning against his former team and homered off Dakota Hudson. This was followed by a tremendous standing ovation. However, the Cardinals went on to win the game 4-2.
Over the years, many players have recalled with great fondness their time spent playing for the Cardinals and wearing the Birds on the Bat. One such player was Daryl Patterson (who had also pitched two scoreless innings for the Detroit Tigers against the Cards in the 1968 World Series).
Patterson would join the Cardinals on June 25, 1971. In an interview he granted me for the book Sock It to ’em, Tigers (published by Maple Street Press in 2008) on September 21, 2007, Patterson recalled his time with the Redbirds as “being very enjoyable” and the fans as “being very knowledgeable.”
He also fondly recalled that his locker was right next to that of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, saying, “He was tough to get along with, but he liked me.” Paterson’s time in The Lou was brief. On October 21, 1971, he would be sold to Oakland. In addition, a great many players have called the St. Louis area home after their playing careers were over.
Before spring training, many other teams hold pre-season conventions where the fans can gather and talk about the upcoming season and meet their favorite players and have a chance to get autographs. The Cardinals are no exception.
The Cardinals’ pre-season “Fanfest” and is held in the third week of January at the Hyatt Regency Riverfront in Downtown St. Louis. Fans have an opportunity to purchase autographs of their favorite Cardinal players for a fee. However, the proceeds derived from these sales go the Cardinals Care, the charity fundraising arm of the Cardinals organizations. There are some players who sign for the fans for free.
The rich history and proud tradition, which actually dates back to 1882, is a tremendous source of pride for Cardinals fans. Fans have expressed their pride in their wearing of Cardinals gear year-round. Citizens of Cardinals Nation have also been known to stay at Cardinal games from the beginning of batting practice to the last pitch of the last inning. This makes for tremendous fan loyalty.