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.
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!