ST. LOUIS — The beer-cradling Cardinals fans should have been celebrating. Dustin Pedroia was trotting back to the dugout, called out when he clearly had been safe.
A few hesitant, half-hearted, half-guilty cheers rose in a cavernous sports bar. And then, in the shadow of Busch Stadium, the unthinkable occurred.
“They should drug-test that ump — now! That’s not cool,” bartender Dominique DiGregorio yelled during Game 1 of the World Series.
Up and down the long bar at Paddy O’s, in a scene hard to imagine at Boston’s Cask ’n Flagon if the situation were reversed, the heads of red-clad faithful bobbed in solemn agreement.
Boston had been robbed, they said, and that’s not fair — even in the World Series.
The call was overturned, but a selfless point had been made. “This is a different breed of people, and they have a lot to be happy about,” said Tom Grieshaber, a stadium security guard standing near the bar.
Eleven world championships, second only to the New York Yankees, has something to do with that. But decades of success seem to have bred amiability instead of arrogance.
So when the World Series shifts to St. Louis on Saturday, don’t expect the game to sound the same, Cardinals fans said over and over in this unpretentious city.
If a boo is heard, blame a rare malcontent. If a Cardinals pitcher is roughed up, expect applause when he is given the hook. And if the Red Sox win, well, more power to them.
“Believe me, we’re very competitive, and we want to win,” said Jean Musial Edmonds, the youngest child of the late Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinal of them all. “But if they do bad, it’s like, you’ll do better next time.”
Cardinals fans often are called the best in the game. Interactions with dozens of them in St. Louis this week did nothing to dispute that notion. But few of them had visited Fenway Park, either, where the full-throated fervor of Red Sox fans is a legendary staple.
New Englanders pride themselves on being students of the game — albeit sometimes boisterous ones — with a deeply honed appreciation for strategy, personality, and detail.
Cardinals fans consider themselves no less knowledgeable. And if their passion seems obscured by politeness, they said that’s the way their mothers raised them.
“We care about our family, and we treat everyone as we want to be treated,” said Edmonds, whose Hall of Fame father died in January at the age of 92. “My dad used to say, ‘I love St. Louis, and St. Louis loves me.’ This was the perfect place for him.”
Musial played on the 1946 World Series team that beat the Red Sox and Ted Williams in seven games. And he was general manager for the 1967 team that defeated Boston again. The Red Sox finally turned the tables in 2004, when they swept the Cardinals in four games for their first world title since 1918.
That history is ingrained here, but respect for the tradition-proud Red Sox trumps any thought of revenge.
In an era when baseball has lost ground in many cities to the sensory, amped-up overload of pro football and basketball, the sport remains king here. Like New Englanders, Cardinals fans are bound by a treasure trove of memories collected over generations.
“The Cardinals are a central pillar to everyone’s life. We all get that we’re supporting them, and they’re supporting us,” said Michael Kelley, a 38-year-old from St. Louis, who watched Game 1 at a steakhouse owned by Mike Shannon, a longtime Cardinals broadcaster and former player.
Their allegiance is unique, Cardinals fans said, because the city stood for decades as the remote, westernmost outpost of Major League Baseball until the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
Much of the rural Midwest was Cardinals country, as was vast swathes of the South and the West. The legendary play-by-play voices of Harry Caray and Jack Buck on KMOX Radio became the soundtrack of summer for countless families.
“It’s kind of a religion. It can be a little frightening, but it’s true,” said Leslie Gibson McCarthy, a former longtime editor at The Sporting News who lives in suburban Crestwood. “It was just part of the fabric of how you grew up.”
At the team store at Busch Stadium, plenty of Cardinals fabric was being pulled from the shelves this week. John and Marsha Kittel, fans from nearby Belleville, Ill., piled jerseys and other paraphernalia over their arms.
John Kittel attended Opening Day this year only one month after heart bypass surgery. Years ago, while stationed in San Antonio for the Air Force, Kittel bought a satellite dish he could barely afford so he could follow the team.
“It was a pretty penny back then, but I got to watch Cardinals baseball, and it was all worth it,” said Kittel, 59.
Across the store, Todd Thomas tried on a few caps in preparation for Game 3. Thomas is the team’s “in-game emcee,” a job in which he interviews fans who are shown on the giant video screen in Busch Stadium.
Thomas bristled when asked whether St. Louis fans, for all their devotion to the team and the game, are guilty of being too polite. After all, isn’t a little over-the-top human frailty sometimes a good thing?
“When you’re in the Northeast, it’s a different culture. Here, it’s go ahead and cut in front of me,” said Thomas, a wide-eyed 43-year-old who made a fist to show off his World Series ring.
“If I could be one thing, I’ll be too nice. There’s no turning cars over here, no riots in the street. That’s just the way it is,” he added. “We may just hug someone to death, though.”
Outside the ballpark, Greg Craine of Edwardsville, Ill., carried a life-size cardboard cutout of a St. Louis player, adorned with a Cardinals scarf, beads, and oversize red-foam finger.
But instead of the face of Craine’s favorite Cardinal, the cutout showed the smiling mug of his brother-in-law, Bud Foster, who is defensive coordinator for the Virginia Tech football team.
“Since he can’t get to the game, we’re taking him by proxy,” Craine said.
At Paddy O’s, general manager Eric Nemens seemed to prepare for the World Series with nary a care in the world. The bar — actually a string of six connected bars — will have 70 bartenders serving drinks to an overflow, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd on Saturday.
Donald Keener, a 29-year-old bartender there, said he can count on one hand the number of unpleasant incidents he has witnessed this season.
When pressed for an episode, Keener put his chin in his hand, leaned on the bar, and thought for almost a full minute.
“Nothing really comes to mind,” Keener said. “Wait, I’ve got one. When Texas Rangers fans came up here this year, the Cardinals fans started high-fiving them. ‘You guys are the best team in baseball,’ they said. ‘You let us win the World Series in 2011.’ ”
Toto, we’re not in Boston anymore.