In this, the second edition of our new series focusing on team rivalries in MLB, we’re looking at a rivalry between two proud Midwest cities.
That’s right, in this article, we’ll be looking at the rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and the St Louis Cardinals. After the London Series games, how could we not?
Cubs fan and Bat Flips and Nerds team contributor Sean Guest, along with Cardinals fan Mark Phillips, will break down the rivalry, what it means to each team, and why the London Series games were just the latest installment in one of MLB’s longest-running rivalry.
The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry took centre stage at this year’s London Series and while it may not have the ‘Sunday Night Baseball’ allure of Yankees-Red Sox, ‘The Route 66 rivalry’, as it’s known, dates back to 1892, making it one of the oldest rivalries in baseball.
According to author Buzz Bissinger, its origins stem from simple geography and territorial rights. However, it really gained traction during the middle part of the last century thanks to both cities’ far-reaching radio stations. The availability of Chicago’s WGN and St. Louis’s KMOX across the Midwest enabled both teams to amass legions of fans outside of their respective cities, fuelling the fire.
The Cubs have spent much of that time looking up to the Cardinals, who won eleven World Series titles and made 18 World Series appearances during the Cubs’ infamous 108-year World Series drought.
They did strike a significant blow in 2015 though, winning the first ever postseason meeting – in the National League Divisional Series (NLDS) – between the two teams. In what turned out to be a surprisingly lop-sided series, the upstart Cubs overcame their more seasoned rivals in five games, making history in the process: it was the first postseason series they’d ever clinched at Wrigley Field, not to mention the first time they’d progressed to the National League Championship Series (NLCS) since 2003. While they were eventually swept at that stage by the New York Mets, they did, of course, go on to win the World Series the following year, underscoring a temporary shift in the NL Central’s perennially predictable power balance.
Although the Cardinals got revenge in 2019, sweeping their bitter rivals in a painstaking four-game series at Wrigley Field that all but eliminated the Cubs from playoff contention, things haven’t been quite the same since and the recent revival of the Milwaukee Brewers would perhaps prompt anyone who’s become a fan of either team in the past five or six years to question who the true division rivals are.
You only have to glance at the history books to know it’s always been the Cubs and the Cardinals though: from the Fergie Jenkins–Bob Gibson showdowns of the late 1960s, to the Lou Brock–Ernie Broglio trade in ’64, the brawl between Al Hrabosky and Bill Madlock in ’74, the iconic ‘Sandberg Game’ in ’84 and, of course, the home run record chase of ‘98, the rivalry has featured some incredible moments.
Despite their comparative lack of success, the Cubs do have an overall record of 1270-1215 (51.1%) against the Cardinals though. This season, the two teams have played one another 13 times, with the Cubs winning eight of those games. At the time of writing, they are battling the Brewers for the NL Central crown and also occupy a Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, the Cardinals sit at the bottom of the division having sold at the most recent trade deadline.
Whether or not the Redbirds’ ‘Devil Magic’ has finally run out remains to be seen. It’s probably safe to assume they’ll be back to their best in no time though, breathing fresh life into this enduring rivalry.
Sean Guest is Bat Flips & Nerds’ Chicago Cubs contributor, and can be found on Twitter @SW_Guest.
St Louis Cardinals
Throughout UK sport, teams in red and blue are always rivals. Think of the Merseyside and Manchester derbies, or Arsenal and Chelsea in London. So too, it crosses the Atlantic to Illinois and Missouri.
The Cardinals and Cubs is a rivalry spanning just 300 miles, but over 130 years of hostility, starting in 1892, where the Colts and the Browns battled for supremacy at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.
Chicago is undoubtedly a sports town, from the all-conquering Bulls of the 90s, the Bears defence of the 80s and, more recently, the dominant Blackhawks winning three Stanley Cups in five seasons. In the Windy City, sports fans talk of Jordan and Pippen, Ditka, Dent and Kane, all-time greats in their fields.
Across the I-55 in St Louis, the Rams of the NFL moved to the bright lights of Los Angeles, the NBA never arrived and, in the NHL, the Blues have one Stanley Cup title since their inception in 1967. So, that just leaves baseball. Sports in St. Louis has two seasons; summer is for watching the Cardinals and winter is for talking about them.
Tickets for Busch Stadium are always at a premium, with the Cardinals only trailing the Dodgers in total attendance during the 2022 season, almost three quarters of a million more than attended Wrigley Field, during the same period. The Cubs may have the celebrity fans – Bill Murray, John Cusack and, as we saw in London, Nick Offerman (I will never watch Parks and Recreation again!) – but the Cardinals carry the mantle of ‘The best fans in baseball,’ due to their loyalty, passion and knowledge of the game.
The names of past Cardinal greats roll off the tongues of the Busch faithful, Musial and Hornsby, Gibson and Smith and, more recently, Pujols and Molina.
The overall regular season record between the teams is remarkably close, with the Cubs having the edge 1,267 – 1,214 and the Cubs also have a better head-to-head record in the post season, leading 3-1. The Cardinals lead in National League pennants 19-17, but success in baseball is measured by one thing, winning the World Series, where the Cubs simply cannot compete.
It started well for the Cubs, winning it all in 1907 and 1908, but their long-suffering fans had to wait a painful 108 years for their next success. The Cardinals, in the meantime, racked up 11 titles, the most in National League history and second only to the Yankees overall.
Wins in 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982, 2006 and 2011 have cemented the Cardinals’ dominance and garnered envy across the league, not least from our friends along the I-55.
So, Chicago can have their NBA titles and their ‘Best defence in the history of the NFL,’ but the Cubs still live in the shadow of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Earlier this year, we experienced the rivalry for ourselves, on the artificial turf of the London Stadium, where despite the unfamiliar surroundings, the passion of both the teams and fans was clear to see and it seemed only fair that each went home with a win. I even talked to some Cubs fans who were actually very friendly and not obnoxious at all, but please don’t tell them I said that!
As both Sean and Mark have shown, multiple factors, including relative proximity and contrasting fortunes, have contributed to what, at times, can be a fierce and violent rivalry.
Speaking as a third party, and having been lucky enough to visit both cities, there is some validity in Mark’s point – the Cardinals are much more the focus of St Louis sports fandom, as one of only two teams in America’s four major sports leagues, whereas the Cubs aren’t even the only MLB team in Chicago (a Cubs vs White Sox article will follow later in this series), and are also competing with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, NFL’s Chicago Bears and NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks for the attention and attendance of Windy City sports fans.
As storied and long-established franchises in their respective cities, both teams also have passionate fanbases, which adds an extra layer to the rivalry, as does both teams being in direct competition in the NL Central.
Given this, there is no sign of the rivalry letting up then, and it will be great to see how it continues to play out.
Check back next week for the latest edition of MLB Rivalries!
Brett is the Oakland Athletics team contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds, and can be found on Twitter @BrettChatsSport.
Featured image – John Zich/Getty Images