With Spring Training now in full bloom, we will see a lot of new faces in new places, as well as emerging changes in the game itself. However, there are some traditions that go back more than a century. The smell of the ballpark. The teams’ bright colors and catchy logos. And especially, the spice of the sport: The rivalries.
While MLB can boast of such all-time classic feuds as the Dodgers vs. the Giants and the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, there is perhaps one that stands above all the rest. A battle of wills that best exemplifies the beauty of America’s Past Time.
The Cubs and Cardinals have the kind of storied history that is passed on from generation to generation to generation. It dates back to the days of ‘transportation-by-train’ and has been known to cause a small-town scuffle or two over the years.
Having said that, it’s really more about competition than conflict when it comes to Cubs vs. Cards. And any game between the two will see either Wrigley Field or Bush Stadium fully represented by both sides. Many followers make the trip between the two cities for a weekend series; Chi-Town and The STL are only a little over four hours from each other via Interstate 55.
Here’s a close look at why this midwest match-up is so special, and why it’s such a great part of Major League Baseball lore.
Why the St. Louis Cardinals vs Chicago Cubs Rivalry is Special
#1 – They have a truly generational rivalry that has evolved over time
For some odd reason, these two divisional rivals are the perfect foils for one another, both in playing style and pop culture. The Cardinals, kingpins of the National League, on one side against a club that became for being hard-luck underdogs, the Cubbies, on the other. And even though the red and the blue don’t always intend to be such polar opposites, it just seems to keep on working out that way. No matter what era we’re in.
For example, in the 1980s, the Cubs lineup was stacked with guys capable of knocking the ball out of Wrigley Field. It was a smaller stadium, so the team naturally filled the roster to fit that strength. The Cardinals, on the other hand, played in monstrous Busch Stadium (the second version), and it had a cavernous outfield. So, they recruited slap hitters and base stealers, incorporating ‘Whiteyball’.
The classic match-ups of that era are an example of how the two squads always seemed to line up as polar opposites. In this case, it was speed vs. power. But in many other instances, it may have been a wealth of pitching vs. instant offense. No matter what, the Cubs and Cards just seem to be the perfect foil on the opposite side of the other. The Yin and the Yang, so to speak.
#2 – Both franchises have featured some of the most fun and fascinating personalities to ever take the field
Whether it was the iconic images of Stan Musial and Ernie Banks trading laughs, or the keystone combo of Ozzie Smith and Ryne Sandberg playing together in the All-Star Game, the stars always just seem to line up.
Even in the broadcast booth, venerable voices like Jack Buck and Harry Caray gave their own timeless twists when it came to calling the action. They would be joined by former players (and classic characters) Mike Shannon and Ron Santo as celebrated voices of the rivalry.
They’ve both had their share of oddball pitchers (from Dizzy Dean to Mitch ‘Wild Thing’ Williams), gritty postseason players (David Eckstein and David Ross), and big hitters (Andre Dawson and Albert Pujols).
Bet perhaps it’s the connection to certain ballplayers – for whatever reason – that makes these two fanbases so uniquely special. Athletes such as Willie McGee and Shawon Dunston, while maybe not quite Hall of Famers on the field, were celebrated stars who become beloved, local heroes. That’s added to the majesty of their intermingling.
#3 – Regardless of how we view it today? The two teams were involved in one of baseball’s most magical seasons ever: 1998
The Home Run Chase of ’98 is definitely looked at in a negative light by many baseball historians now. But at the time – with the nation’s attention fully focused on the battle – St. Louis’ Mark McGwire and Chicago’s Sammy Sosa gave us a run to remember.
Many TVs and radios were tuned to every inning and every pitch. And as the summer got hotter, the number got bigger and the race grew tighter. It made the two sluggers the stars of cereal boxes and magazine covers, and it helped revitalize interest in the game. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not the two warriors helped bring baseball back to life.
By the way?
McGwire’s record-breaking 62nd blast would come against – you guessed it – the Cubbies.
#4 – The list of great moments between the franchises could fill volumes
Aside from the titanic tussle for the home run crown between the two teams, there’s over a century of showdowns that can be examined.
The colossal clash between the clubs in June 1984 is just one of those contests. Often referred to as the ‘Ryne Sandberg Game‘, it saw Chicago never stop battling in a nail-biting victory. They kept the pressure on Cardinals Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter, who just couldn’t slam the door.
Sandberg – on his way to the National League Most Valuable Player Award that year – went 5-for-6 with game-tying home runs against Sutter in both the ninth and 10th innings. Those two bombs over the ivy helped lead Chicago past St. Louis, 12-11 in 11 innings.
That’s just one of many times that the two franchises have left it all on the field. They always seem to give each other their best, and no game ever truly seems over until it’s over. Just ask Bruce Sutter.
#5 – For the most part? Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs have a friendly and informed rivalry
Maybe it’s the ‘aw-shucks’ midwestern charm, but this rivalry isn’t as ugly as most in sports. Sure, there are the occasional squabbles, but there’s also genuine and healthy respect between the two fanbases.
Many a tavern or pub in southern Illinois or eastern Iowa will be filled with a lot of trash talk by fans of these regional powerhouses. As the two most popular MLB franchises in the region for decades, the two have acquired a large surrounding area of followers. Some states (and even some families) are divided by Cardinal red and Cubs blue.
The fact that these teams also have had several minor league affiliates sprinkled through this area doesn’t hurt their fandom either. And the Cardinals being broadcast for over 50 years on a giant radio network also helped add to the nostalgia of it all.
Unlike New York and Boston, the feud is much more low-key. The odds of there being a knife fight or any other felony committed at Busch or Wrigley are relatively low in comparison to their east coast contemporaries. In fact, most games between the two teams feature spectators in both teams’ colors, sitting side by side and talkin’ baseball.
Likewise, the two franchises also have incredibly knowledgeable followers who thirst for baseball knowledge. As storied as the Giants-Dodgers series is, a good portion of its most important history took place when the teams were still playing in New York. And the west coast folk, while they may love their teams, aren’t the ‘hardcore’ stitch heads that you find in smaller cities.
So with the 2023 season soon upon us, the Cardinals and Cubs will take to that shiny carpet of emerald grass for another majestic year. With the pop of a glove or the crack of a bat, another chapter in this story will be written. Since 1885, there may be no more regal rivalry in all of Major League Baseball.
And for fans on both sides? It’s an absolute Grand Slam.
Main Image: Joe Puetz-USA TODAY