CINCINNATI — Mocking t-shirts are available online. Deprecating jokes are making the rounds. Social media is saturated with derogatory lines about the latest embarrassing predicament involving a model sports franchise.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots? Nope. Football deflation is old news. This time, one of baseball’s top teams is the bull’s-eye of caustic tweets and gloating posts.
The St. Louis Cardinals have some explaining to do. And some ribbing to take — good-natured and otherwise.
Revelations that federal authorities are investigating whether the 11-time World Series champs hacked into another team’s database have provided an opening for those who enjoy seeing a successful team put in an awkward spot.
“Just like the Patriots, I feel,” said Jack Sauter, a White Sox fan from DeKalb, Illinois, attending Chicago’s game against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. “That really hurt them with Deflate-gate. They’re still feeling that.”
Yes, the spill across league divides. AL fans also have many reasons to dislike the Cardinals, who beat the Tigers to win the 2006 World Series and the Rangers to do it again in 2011.
“The Cardinals seemed to do everything right and now they got caught,” said Toby Grudzinskas, 52, a Tigers fan from New Boston, Michigan, attending an interleague game in Cincinnati. “They should be punished and made an example of.”
For now, they’re getting made fun of.
A company that sells Pittsburgh sports merchandise has added a shirt that reads: “99 Problems But The Feds Ain’t One.” Jokes are making the rounds, like the one about how the Cardinals are known for going up there hacking.
And the Cardinals’ boast that they have “the best fans in baseball” seems to rankle a little more.
“Obviously, the rivalry we have affects how I look at them, but they act like they’re better than everyone else because the Cardinals win a lot,” said James Battle, a 52-year-old Cubs fan wearing an Ernie Banks jersey to a game against the Indians. “If the hacking stuff is true, I hope baseball nails the organization. It would be great to see their fans get taken down a couple of notches.”
While fans simmer, the players shrug. That’s just the way it goes whenever a team that wins more than most get caught in a misstep.
“When there’s breaking news, fans are going to be on it like white on rice,” Reds third baseman Todd Frazier said. “That’s social media today. It’s going to blow up.”
Frazier understands where they’re coming from. He was an avid Red Sox fan growing up in New Jersey and would look for any reason to dislike the Yankees even more. As a player, he appreciates what it takes to win consistently like the Cardinals or the Patriots.
“People talk about the deflated ball, but you’ve got to practice, hit the weights, study,” Frazier said. “You appreciate the teams that win. Their legacies are going to go on forever.”
Same thing in the NFL, where the Patriots’ run of success hasn’t been diminished in the opinion of players who see more than a football’s air pressure at work.
“It’s unfortunate that some people like to throw shade on that and say, ‘Well, it’s just because of this,’” said Bengals offensive tackle Eric Winston, who is head of the players’ union. “I can tell you firsthand it’s not. I’ve seen how those guys work, how they operate. It’s the reason they’ve won so many games.”
In the Patriots’ case, it wasn’t their first time breaking a rule. The investigation of the Cardinals was unexpected news.
“I was very surprised to read it because the Cardinals are like the class act in the National League,” said Ed Liebelt, a Mets fan from Verona, New Jersey attending a game in Toronto. “They’re the Cadillac of the league.
“That’s the kind of cheesy stuff you’d expect from the Yankees, not from the Cardinals. It’s like ‘Really, the Cardinals?’”
AP sports writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and freelance writers Gary Schatz in Cincinnati, Ian Harrison in Toronto, Steve Herrick in Cleveland, Mark Perlman in Chicago, and Harvey Valentine in Washington contributed to this report.