The state of Illinois has three baseball teams: the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox, and the St. Louis Cardinals.
As you can see from this map of baseball fandom, “The United Countries of Baseball,” the Cardinals’ home base is the Lower Mississippi Valley, which includes the southern half of Illinois. Geographically, the Cardinals claim more of the state than either the Cubs or the White Sox.
I lived for two-and-a-half years in Decatur, a city evenly divided between the Cubs and the Cardinals. The Cards fans love to gloat about the fact that their team has won 10 World Series -- second only to the Yankees. I remember a t-shirt with Fredbird, the Cardinals’ mascot, flat on his back, laughing “Cubs When? Cubs When?”
It’s pretty rare these days for a politician from southern Illinois to win a statewide election, but those who do tend to be Cardinals’ fan. Sen. Paul Simon grew up 10 miles from St. Louis, in Troy, so his allegiance was to the Cardinals’. (Gov. Pat Quinn, a lifelong Cubs fan, was smart to balance his ticket with a Cardinals fan by choosing Simon’s daughter Sheila as his running mate.) So is his successor’s, Dick Durbin’s. Durbin grew up in East St. Louis in the 1940s and 1950s, and told this anecdote about one of his boyhood idols, Stan Musial:
A St. Louis Cardinals fan since childhood, he shares a birthday with his favorite ballplayer, Stan Musial, but the two have never met, which seems impossible. Musial's photo graces an honored spot in Durbin’s office.
“Just by coincidence, we have the same birthday,” Durbin says. “So I spent my whole life bragging to the kids I grew up with that I had the same birthday, November 21st, as Stan Musial. And, I told everybody that story, but I have never met Stan Musial, never met him.
“And so, last November 21st, I’m having a little party out in Washington, D.C., with my staff, a birthday party. And my chief of staff comes and says, ‘You got a phone call,’ and I said, ‘I’m in the middle of this party.”
“He said, ‘No, no, you got to take it.’”
On the phone was Musial, who said: “Happy birthday, senator.” To which Durbin replied, “Happy birthday, Stan the Man.” Even a United States senator, a guy with some celebrity of his own, can be awed by a childhood hero.
Cardinals fan Glenn Poshard ran for governor in 1998, the year Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were competing to break Roger Maris’s home run record. Asked to pick a favorite, he tried to pass himself off as a White Sox fan: “Can I say Albert Belle?”
Tonight, it’s time for Cubs fans to overcome their grudge against the Cardinals and root against the Texas Rangers. Their biggest fan is George W. Bush.
Plus, the Cardinals may give you a heart attack, but unlike the Cubs, they'll never break your heart.
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