This series of articles has looked at the origins of the rivalry, some notable games and now we are going to focus on those characters on and off the field – real and made up – who have brought this rivalry to life and continue to sustain it.
First off, we are going to look at THE trade which may have changed the fortunes of both these ball clubs.
Brock for Broglio
As the two teams have been around for so long and know each other so well, there are quite a few players that have been traded between both teams. As with all trades in sports, some turn out to be better than others. However, there was one trade between the Cubs and Cardinals that is so infamous it is now simply known as the ‘The Trade’. It also went so badly that the trade itself – ‘Brock for Broglio’ – is now a phrase that people in baseball use to describe any trade that goes spectacularly wrong.
At the time, this was considered to be a win for Cubs, but Brock experienced a rebirth in St Louis – he went from being a consistent .200 batter for the Cubs, batting .251 before the trade, to batting .348 in St Louis. He also went on to lead the Cardinals to a World Series win that year – 1964 – as well as in 1967. He also became baseball’s all-time leader in stolen bases and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1985. Meanwhile, Broglio’s career in Chicago petered out and was over completely by 1966.
This trade had such an impact on Cubs fans that they have created an organisation called the Emil Verban Society in Washington D.C, which have given out the Brock for Broglio Judgement Award to people who have made terrible choices. Former winners include Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait in 1990 and future President George W Bush for trading away Sammy Sosa as the President of the Texas Rangers.
The 1998 Home Run Title Race
Don’t get me wrong, Sammy Sosa was a star, but this home run chase seemed to be a bit of a surprise. While Sosa did become the twenty-second baseball player in MLB history to have a 30-homer, 30-steal season in 1995, he normally hit 30-40 homers a year, nowhere near the 62 required to break the record.
On the other hand, McGwire had gotten close before, hitting 58 home runs in 1997. However, once Sosa hit 20 home runs in the month of June 1998, the chase was on, and it was all anyone could talk about.
In a year where the World Series between the Yankees and Marlins had one of the lowest viewing numbers ever, the Cubs vs Cardinals game on 7 September when McGwire finally broke the record had 10.6 million views, which in 2020 was still the most-watched regular season baseball game ever on ESPN.
By the end of the season, not only were Busch Stadium and Wrigley Field sell-outs for every game, but the Cardinals and Cubs were ranked first and second in away attendances that year as well. This shows that while it was a rivalry between these two teams, it was one that caught everyone’s attention.
This is an odd moment to look back on because it was the height of the performance-enhancing drugs (PED) era in baseball, and many people view this chase very differently now to how they felt at the time. ESPN made a documentary called Long Gone Summer, which feels very dark compared to the jubilance and excitement at the time. Regardless of how you feel now, this is another example of where this rivalry outgrows itself and becomes nationally significant.
While we are talking about the late nineties/early noughties, it seems like I should mention the rivalry between Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and Cubs manager Dusty Baker. Now while they certainly went at each other as Cardinals and Cubs managers, it feels disingenuous to say that their rivalry was a Cubs vs Cards rivalry as it started well before they managed these two clubs and continued long after. They did certainly have spicy moments in these teams’ uniforms though, including during the tight pennant race of 2003 when Baker barked after an especially spicy match, “If you’re going to bark, you have to be ready to bite too.”
Another instance of this rivalry being more about off-the-field shenanigans has to do with the baseball announcers. Baseball announcers are hugely important cultural figures in the US, as their voices become the soundtrack to summer and the background of life in Chicago and St Louis from April to October. For example, if you go to Chicago and ask someone in Wrigleyville who the voice of the Cubs is, there is only one answer; Harry Caray – the famous son of St Louis.
Yes, believe it or not, the voice of the Cubs was born and raised in St Louis. Caray actually spent over twenty years from 1945 calling Cardinal games, but he was unceremoniously fired in 1969 by then-Cardinals owner August A Busch Jr (allegedly for having an affair with Busch’s daughter-in-law). After one year with the Oakland Athletics, Caray began his Chicago career with the White Sox before moving to the Cubs in 1982, where he became a beloved figure famous for his renditions of Take Me Out To The Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch.
Don’t worry though Cardinal fans, we survived as the amazing Jack Buck took over. You may recognise the name here; Jack’s son Joe followed in his dad’s footsteps and is now a leading American sportscaster, covering Monday Night Football games for ESPN, having also previously covered Super Bowls and World Series for FOX.
This rivalry has also found its way to into popular culture; in the TV series Ozark, one of the main characters is a Chicago native – Marty Byrde, played by Jason Bateman – who moves to the Ozarks region in south Missouri. As he has moved into Cardinal country, there are often references to the rivalry throughout the first season. Perhaps the best of these is when a Cardinals fan says to him, “I was raised to hate the Cubs” and he replies “And I was raised to hate the Cardinals.”
Whether the people are real or imaginary, the rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and the St Louis Cardinals is not only real, but one that is bigger than what happens on the field. This is a rivalry that is fierce, tough and one that endures, mostly along I-55, and that, along with everything else I’ve documented these past four weeks, is what makes the Chicago Cubs vs the St Louis Cardinals The Best Rivalry in Baseball.
Jennifer Annely is Bat Flips & Nerds’ St Louis Cardinals contributor, and can be found on Twitter @jenniferbarnes8.
Featured Image – John Zich/Getty Images