A Gentlemen’s Duel

by on February 17, 2011 · 2 comments

Aaron Burr (Cardinals fan) shoots Alexander Hamilton (Cubs fan) with paint pellet gun.


The Versus network was showing “Greatest MLB Rivalries: Cardinals vs Cubs” the other night, and I happily volunteered one hour of my life to watching the show.  I pretty much know the contents by heart, but I never pass up the opportunity to listen to a retelling of the “Curse of the Billy Goat“.  For some strange reason, it magically warms the cockles of my heart, and I don’t even really know what that means (I suspect feelings are involved, though).  After watching the first 15 minutes of the show, I began to contemplate the stature of the Cards vs Cubs rivalry and its place among the great rivalries of all-time.  It’s up there.  Way up there.  It’s at or near the top of the list, regardless of how you define “greatest rivalry”.  I’ll explain.   

When people speak of great rivalries, they usually speak of longevity, championships, intensity, intrigue, drama, good guys, bad guys, characters, big trades, missed opportunities, big wins, and heartbreaking defeats.  Some of the best rivalries have several of those components or even most of them.  The Cards/Cubs rivalry has all of them and then some.   

Has it been going on a while?  Yeah, it’s only been running since 1885.   

Have the teams played a lot?  Well, it depends on what you consider “a lot”.  If over 2100 games qualifies as “a lot”, then the answer is “yes”.   

Have the stakes been high?  Definitely.  The two teams have gone head-to-head in division and pennant races many times.  In both 1989 and 2003, the Cubs came away with the division title.  Then again, it’s not like a division crown must hang in the balance for a Cards/Cubs game to take on a playoff vibe.  The match-up is always intense and heated to the point of spilling over in some shape or form.  The players sense it from the crowd.  The crowd often senses it from the players.  It’s not that both teams are just a pitch away from a basebrawl, either.  It’s that each game and series seemingly takes on more importance than the standings would otherwise indicate.  May it always be that way.    

What about big trades?  How about Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio?  Ouch, that hurt.    

Good guys, villains, characters, and famous names?  Try Grover Cleveland Alexander, Bruce Sutter, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson, Mordecai Brown, Rogers Hornsby, Fergie Jenkins, Dizzy Dean, Rabbit Maranville, Leo Durocher, Dennis Eckersley, Lee Smith, Burleigh Grimes, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, Ernie Banks, Curt Flood, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, and Ozzie Smith.  Think Dusty Baker, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre, and Whitey Herzog.  Sure, there might be a few of those guys in Cooperstown.    

Of course, you could say these same things about a lot of really good rivalries.  There is something intangible that makes the Cardinals vs Cubs rivalry stand out just a bit.    


It’s mutual.  It extends from the fans to the players and throughout the two organizations.  Yes, we (the fans) absolutely belittle each other to pieces on Twitter at every opportunity, but we wouldn’t have those opportunities, if we didn’t follow each other there.  Either we’re all gluttons for punishment (possible), or we all enjoy the friendly banter (more likely).    

Admit it right now.  You watched Sosa and McGwire and enjoyed it.  It wasn’t just about the home run chase, either.  It was the mutual respect between the two men that was equally fascinating to behold.  Two sluggers from completely different worlds coming together for a storybook season is compelling enough to create drama.  When those two players happen to play for the Cubs and Cardinals respectively, then you’ve just added the ideal catalyst for must-see television.  The respect was genuine.  Maybe each one knew how difficult the task was and was happy to have the other along for the ride.  Who knows?  All I know is that if Sosa had ended with 70 home runs instead of McGwire, it wouldn’t have lessened my enjoyment of the season by a whole lot.  Of course, the Cubs made the playoffs that year, so trading 4 home runs for a playoff berth would have been fine with me as well.  (not that anybody asked me)   

What’s theirs is ours and vice versa.  Harry Caray is a Cubbie legend, but he started in St. Louis.  He’s a big reason why Cardinal Nation is as large as it is today, and he’s remembered fondly among Cardinals fans, even though a substantial portion of the fanbase never heard him call a game for the Cardinals.  After Caray passed away, the Cardinals legendary broadcaster (and former broadcast partner of Caray’s) Jack Buck paid tribute to Caray during the 7th inning stretch of a Cardinals game at Wrigley.  I challenge you to watch without tearing up just a little bit.  Jack Buck at Wrigley (YouTube)   

DK57.  Think back to the horrible moment when you learned about the death of Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile.  Recall Joe Girardi walking to the microphone to address the faithful at Wrigley to announce the cancellation of the game due to a death in the Cardinals family.  The Cubs fans reacted pretty much the same way the Cardinals fans reacted.  Classy move, folks, classy move.    

It’s that class which is rooted deeply in respect that gave inspiration to the title “A Gentleman’s Duel”.  No matter how great the desire to strike the final blow, there are some unbreakable rules that govern the act of dueling.  Some boundaries simply may not be crossed.  Think of it as civilized violence.  In similar terms, the Cardinals/Cubs rivalry is essentially a well-organized feud where the fans on the winning side buy the first round of cold ones.   

TIDBIT:  The Cardinals lead in the World Series department 10 to 2.    

Like it?  Have a better clip of Jack Buck during 7th inning stretch at Wrigley?  Follow gr33nazn on Twitter and let me know!

Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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E.E. RIPPER February 17, 2011

Hello Dennis, Thanks for providing that 10 W.S to 2 W.S. tidbit..OUCH!!
This article is very good but I don’t think I would rank this rivalry nearly as high as you do. Plus I do enjoy a good friendly debate LOL!!
TIDBIT: I am not sure if Cardinal fans are aware of this, but there are two villains that every hard-core Cubs fan truly hates: Tommy Herr & Tony LaRussa. I can’t quite put my finger on the specifics (La Russa did manage the White Sox so that doesn’t help) other than both of them had/has what seemed/seems to be an intolerable smugness about them. Lee Smith once said that Tommy Herr was the only player he intentionally hit.
My partial list of better rivalries with a total disregard for class or respect. (in no particular order)
Dodgers/Giants: More years with more at stake. Same city for a long time, then they went out west at about the same time & continued where they left off. Shot heard around the world…Marichal’s bat vs Roseboro’s head.
Dodgers/Yankees: Same city (for a long time). How many times did these two face off in the world series?
Yankees/Red Sox: Bucky Dent, Aaron [bleeping] Boone, Don Zimmer (who was manager w/Sox for Bucky Dent’s shot) then w/ Yanks for “fight” with Pedro LOL,. ’04 ALCS, & a guy named Ruth..I know, I know a lot of years the Sox weren’t really in the pennant race with the Yanks.. But during most of the ’70’s the Cubs & Cards both stunk..
Celtics/Lakers: More championships between them than I care to count. Russell & Cousy vs.Baylor & West, Bird vs. Magic doesn’t get any better.
Packers/Bears: Long time.. lots of championships. Too many characters to mention. Plenty of ill-will.
Blackhawks/Red Wings: Bitter, bitter rivalry in a rough and bloody sport. Long time lots at stake. Genuine hatred.
Michigan/Ohio St.: Long time, lots at stake Big Ten Titles, #1 rankings etc… Each school measures the success of their season based on the result of this one game. Enormous dislike- especially among the older fans.
Duke/North Carolina: Long time relative to the sports’ popularity. Lots at stake? Check. How many miles between the schools??? Legendary coaches..Great players? I would say so.
Auburn/Alabama: Only game in town. Bragging rights for a year. Entire state shuts down. College football in the deep south…doesn’t get any better.
List of Honorable Mentions:
Bulls/Pistons: Lots at stake. Bull’s fans loathed the Pistons (and I mean big time). Bill Laimbeer thug, public enemy # 1. Isiah Thomas, Chicago kid playing for the enemy!!! Ugly, Ugly games..Major hostility. (This is a regional thing)
Albert Belle/Trick-or-Treaters: Just kidding..I think.
Miami (Fl)/The World: The team most everyone loved to hate.
Notre Dame/The world: The team everyone else loves to hate, myself included.
Tiger Woods/Little Black Book: The pen is indeed mightier than the club.
Muhammad Ali/Joe Frazier: Ali called Frazier a gorilla.. “Down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier”, one of the most iconic calls of all-time. Some real bad blood for a long time after.
Army/Navy: One of the greatest sports traditions of all-time. Not much at stake nationally these days, but the thing oozes nothing but hard nosed competitiveness, class & honor. Transcends sports..

As I mentioned in the beginning, all lot of these rivalries are not particularly classy, but Bob Gibson had no qualms with planting a fastball in many a poor hitter’s ribs…
Any & All Comments Welcome.. Let the debates begin!!

Dennis February 17, 2011

As always, thanks for reading and commenting. In my defense, I did write “at or near the top”, and I didn’t specifically choose.

I actually was aware of the tidbits about Herr and LaRussa, and I can vividly recall a couple of incidents involving LaRussa yelling from dugout to dugout at Dusty Baker. Good stuff. Some of the rivalries that you mentioned are definitely up there in my top 10, but several have fallen off in terms of intensity or caliber of play in recent years.

Dodgers/Giants is a great example. It’s just not quite the same anymore, and I’d argue that the Giants/Padres rivalry is currently a better one to watch. Same with Bulls/Pistons. That was great years ago, but it hasn’t been played at that same level for a while.

Auburn/Alabama has some staying power, although I really expect Alabama to be right back on top of that one again next year. At least that matchup has the same intensity every year.

Blackhawks/Red Wings is up there, although it really seems to go up and down a lot right now. Same for Duke/UNC in basketball as well. Michigan/Ohio St has the history, but it’s been mostly Ohio St. for the last few years, and I don’t see that changing right away with all the turmoil at Michigan.

I’d still say that the closest to Cards/Cubs is Red Sox/Yankees, and 2010 was a great example of that. Even with the Red Sox likely out of the playoffs, they were throwing everything they could at the Yankees to play the spoiler role. The Cubs would do the same thing to the Cardinals, if they had the chance. The thing that separates baseball rivalries from the rest is the frequency of play in my opinion. When you have that near-playoff atmosphere 15 games a year, you’ve got something special.

In my mind, the Lakers/Celtics rivalry had the best decade-long run of any rivalry ever in the 80’s. It’s heated back up the last few years, but I find the NBA style painful to watch right now. Too many free throws.

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