The recent news of the passing of former Chicago Cubs third baseman and broadcaster Ron Santo brought back memories of a next door neighbor from my childhood. He was a bit older than my dad and had grown up in the Chicago area. Ron Santo was one of his favorite players, along with Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert and any one of a dozen other Cubbies . This neighbor also represented what makes the Cubs-Cardinals rivaly one of the best in sports. If I was out mowing the lawn, he would yell “Cardinals stink”. If he was grilling hamburgers in the summer, he would be met by a robust “Cubs stink” from my side of the fence.
Once or twice a year he would come over with bag containing packs of baseball cards. He would give them to me with the sole stipulation that I must give him any Cubs that I find in the haul. The Cardinals, since they stink, would be mine. As requested, I would set aside Billy Williams, Ernie Banks or any of the other Cubs players of the era, but he never came back to claim his prize. One of the packs turned out to be very special – it contained a Nolan Ryan rookie card that I still own today. Every time I look at it, my inner monologue softly says, “Cubs stink.”
So what makes this rivalry so special ?
Proximity may not be the only factor, but it does play a big part in this rivalry. St. Louis and Chicago are separated by just a bit over 300 miles and Interstate 55 basically connects the two baseball stadiums. A Saturday or Sunday road trip just to catch a game is not out of the question, and fans of both clubs frequently do just that. At the Hilton, across the street from Busch Stadium, you are likely to find as many Cubs fans as Cardinals fans. And I have learned that they love their Cubbies just as much as we do our Redbirds.
WGN and KMOX
Two of the biggest contributors to this storied rivalry are their respective flagship radio stations, WGN in Chicago and KMOX in St. Louis. Prior to the two New York teams moving west and expansion in the early 60s, the Cubs and Cardinals were the western border of the National League. By the time the Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City, the powerful transmitters of WGN and KMOX had already divided a generation of baseball fans from the Ohio Valley to the Pacific Ocean, and many of those family loyalties (or feuds) continue to this day. During the summer, when the AM radio band opens up, KMOX can be heard as far away as Vermont and Phoenix. I’ve been driving in both places at night, listening to Cardinals broadcasts in the car. WGN’s clear channel is just as potent.
To add an extra element, baseball’s biggest fan, Harry Caray is associated with both clubs. He was the voice of the Cardinals early in my life, and after a sudden departure in 1969, resurfaced a short time later in Chicago, first with the White Sox and then with the Cubs. When WGN became one of the big Superstations on cable and satellite TV, Caray became the face of the Cubs with his effervescent smile and gigantic glasses. If you are under 40 years old, you can’t think of the Cubs without seeing the face of Harry Caray. If you are of my generation, Caray is still the voice of the Cardinals.
For any good rivalry, there has to be some genuine intrigue. The Cardinals and Cubs have that in abundance, and in many cases it has helped fuel a feud that would have otherwise faded into the past. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
1960’s – 190 Games, Cards win 114, Cubs win 73
This was the golden era of the Cards-Cubs rivalry, despite being one of the more lopsided decades in their win-loss records. It was one of the best eras in Cardinals History, rivaling that of the Gashouse Gang. While the Cardinals were retooling and playing in the post-season, the Cubs struggled throughout the first part of the decade, finishing just ahead of the expansion New York Mets. The Cubs had a lot of talent, but were still missing a few pieces to enter the top half of the National League.
Larry Jackson was the ace of the Cardinals staff, but was entering the final part of his career. In a precursor to the now famous Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio deal, the Cardinals and Cubs swapped a number of players following the 1962 season. The main players in the deal were Larry Jackson and the Cubs outfielder, George Altman. Altman had a good season for the Cardinals in 1963, but the power he had shown in Chicago didn’t seem to follow him to St. Louis. Alman would be traded the following season for Roger Craig, who would play a big part in the Cardinals 1964 pennant race.
Meanwhile Jackson’s career took off in Chicago. He pitched well in 1963, but an underperforming Cubs team left him with a losing record. Everything would come together for Jackson in 1964. As the Cardinals chased the Phillies, Jackson chased Minnesota’s Dean Chance for the Cy Young Award. His nearly 300 innings pitched and league leading 24 wins earned him second place behind the Twins hurler. Three years later, each league would issue their own Cy Young winner, but in 1964, there was just a single winner between both leagues.
The Lou Brock – Ernie Broglio trade is regarded as one of the most one sided deals in baseball history. In 1964, the Cubs thought they got the better part of the deal. Broglio had replaced Jackson as the ace of the Cardinals staff, and since Jackson was working out so well, why not go back to the well for Broglio. In Chicago, Brock was somewhat expendable in the outfield. The only spot he could really play due to his defense was left field, and that was already occupied by future Hall of Famer Billy Williams. The deal was done in June 1964. . Brock not only helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 1964, he would go on to a Hall of Fame career himself. Up north, Broglio would soon be shut down due to arm troubles.
Another piece of intrigue involves former Cardinal, Leo Durocher. When Johnny Keane left the Cardinals after winning the 1964 World Series, Leo Durocher was the favorite to take his job as manager of the Cardinals. New General Manager, Bob Howsam, eventually went with home town hero Red Schoendienst. A couple of years later, Durocher would end up in the windy city and lead a rather remarkable turnaround of a once hapless club.
Even the utility players got into the competition. Ted Savage had been a bench player for the Cardinals in the mid-60s. Coming out of spring training in 1967, Savage failed to make the team and refused reassignment to AAA. The Cubs purchased his contract and he soon found himself playing in the major leagues with some of the games greatest players. He would be involved in one of the most exciting plays in the decade. On July 25, the Cardinals were in a tie for first place. They had built a slim lead in the game that was fading quickly in the 9th inning. With Ted Savage on first base, pinch hitter Al Spangler hit a ball into the gap. Savage had been running on the play and tried to score the tying run. A great throw from Bobby Tolan and strong relay from Julian Javier caught the speedy runner at the plate. That win would put the Cardinals in first place, and they would not surrender it for the rest of the season.
Nothing says Cards-Cubs rivalry like a Bob Gibson – Ferguson Jenkins matchup. One of the best was on June 20, 1968. Both Jenkins and Gibson brought their A games to this contest. In 2 hours of some of the finest pitching, the Cardinals would come away with the win. The lone run in the game came on a Curt Flood single with 2 outs, following a triple by Lou Brock. Otherwise both pitchers were throwing zeros, and still might be if the Flood had not gotten that hit.
The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) must also think this was a special time. From this period, three Cubs would be inducted into the Hall of Fame: Billy Williams, Ernie Banks and Ferguson Jenkins. Ron Santo may join them in the coming years. From the Cardinals side, Ken Boyer (although more associated with the previous decade), Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Orlando Cepeda and Steve Carlton are in the Hall. Maybe some day, Curt Flood will join the others. That is a tremendous number of players from just two teams and over such a short period. Yes, we were fortunate to see some of the best play the game each those summers.
1970’s – 180 Games, Cubs win 93, Cards win 87
League expansion and a new divisional system introduced in 1969 changed the competition in the decade of the 70s. The Cubs and Cardinals were originally to be part of the NL West, but a compromise to the New York Mets kept the Cardinals in the NL East. Not wanting to break up the great rivalry, the Cubs also landed in the NL East. For this to happen, the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds would play in the NL West, even though both clubs are well east of the Cubs and Cards, so much so that they are in another time zone.
The decade would not be kind to either club. Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins would continue to thrill fans of both ballclubs, but by 1975, both would be gone – Gibson would retire and Jenkins would be traded to the Texas Rangers.
Jose Cardenal would soon jump into the rivalry. Cardenal came to the Cardinals in 1971, as replacement for Curt Flood who had just been traded to the Phillies. He was a good hitter and turned in a solid 1971 campaign. He got off to a slow start the following season and would soon be traded to Milwaukee. Cardenal would spend most of the rest of the decade with the Cubs, terrorizing us every time we played. For the next six years, he reminded us that he was one that got away.
1980’s – 171 Games, Cards win 89, Cubs in 71
The Cubs-Cards rivaly heated up on December 9, 1980 when the Cardinals sent Ken Reitz and a promising young slugger named Leon Durham to the Cubs for closer Bruce Sutter. Sutter was already established as the best closer in the game, so the Cardinals had to give up a lot to get him. It was worth it as Sutter continued his dominance of the National League as was a huge part of the Cardinals 1982 World Series championship. Durham played well for the Cubs, but a defensive miscue in the decisive Game 5 of the 1984 NLCS allowed the Padres to win the game and go on to with World Series. To add to the irony, Durham had been moved to first base to replace Bill Buckner, who would be similarly victimized in the 1986 World Series.
The highlight of the decade, perhaps the entire rivalry came on June 23, 1984. On a nationally televised game, the Cardinals would build up a huge lead, as much as 9-2 in the sixth inning. Willie McGee was the offensive hero, or at least to that point. He would finish the game going 4-6 with 6 RBIs. Those four hits would complete the cycle as McGee would single, double, triple and hit a home run. Bob Costas would announce him as the “NBC Star of the Game”, but that turned out to be premature. The Cubs had beaten up on Cards reliever Neil Allen, and were down by only a single run as they faced Bruce Sutter in the ninth inning. Ryne Sandberg led off the inning with a long home run, tying the game at 9 runs each. The Cardinals would get to Lee Smith in the next inning, but Ryne Sandberg would tie the game again with another home run, also off Bruce Sutter. The Cubs would finally win in the bottom of the 11th inning in one of the most exciting games I’ve ever seen.
Don’t worry Cards fans, revenge would come later in the decade. On September 8, 1989 to be specific. It was an afternoon game at Wrigley Field in Chicago and after 4 innings the Cubs were thrashing the Cardinals 7-1. But the Cardinals would peck away, inching ever closer. In the top of the 8th the Cubs still held an 8-6 lead. With Vince Coleman at second and Ozzie Smith at first, in steps a very hot Pedro Guerrero. Knowing that a double would tie the game, the Cubs would counter with their closer, Mitch Williams. And The Wild Thing tries to put his best fastball past Guerrero and big Pete deposits the baseball somewhere far over the right field wall. He hit the ball so hard that I’m surprised it held together long enough to reach the bleachers. But it did and the Cardinals had a 9-8 lead that they would not surrender. The Williams meltdown was not over. He would walk the next batter and then Terry Pendleton would imitate Guerrero and put a Williams fastball in nearly the same spot for an 11-8 lead. There was not much to cheer about in 1989 – but this comeback was our version of the Sandberg game in1984.
1990’s – 138 Games, Cubs win 71, Cards win 67
A player’s strike and some poor performances in early in the decade cooled off the rivalry to a large degree. That would all change in the summer of 1998 when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire fought for the single season home run record. All across America, people were following what was happening with these two ballclubs. McGwire would eventually set the record, but it would be the Cubs that played in post-season. The two titans would again battle in 1999, rekindling the feud just a little bit longer.
2000’s (including 2010) – 181 Games, Cards win 91, Cubs win 90
Once the McGwire – Sosa competition cooled off, the Cards-Cubs rivalry took a backseat to some others, like the Cardinals – Braves. This would all change with a bang in 2003 when Dusty Baker took over the helm of the Cubs. Baker had played for Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, and the two had some bad blood resulting from Baker’s time in San Francisco. Things would escalate during Baker’s tenure in Chicago and these two proud competitors single-handedly brought back a level of interest not seen since the 1960s.
Baker’s replacement, Lou Pinella, could not have been a better choice to keep the fire stirred up between these two franchises. Pinella and La Russa have history that goes back to their school days in Florida, and neither is willing to give moment of peace to the other. Even though Lou Pinella is no longer with the club, some of his players, like pitcher Carlos Zambrano and outfielder Alfonso Soriano continue to give Cardinals fans something to shout at. As we look to the future, maybe Cards newcomer Ryan Theriot might provide a catalyst to keep these two teams feuding for some time to come.
We cannot forget the individual battle between the Cardinals Albert Pujols and the Cubs Derrick Lee. Both men would compete for MVP and Golden Glove honors for a good part of the decade. Both men would represent their organizations with class and dignity. And to add a bit more intrigue, Lee’s uncle Leron had come up through the Cardinals system.
Beyond their geography, an unforgettable cast of characters and some of the most exciting games for both franchises, the two teams will be forever linked in tragedy. On June 22, 2002, the Cardinals lost pitcher Darryl Kile. It was a tragic situation for the Cardinals, and the Cubs organization showed a tremendous amount of class and compassion as they allowed the game later that evening to be rescheduled. The Cardinals would face tragedy again on April 29, 2007 when pitcher Josh Hancock died in an automobile accident. Once again, the scheduled opponent was the Chicago Cubs, and for the second time in the decade, they allowed a nationally televised game to be postponed.
Cubs vs Cardinals is much more than just two teams that play each other 12 to 18 times per season. There are other teams that are just as close in geography, but none have the number of ties that bind these two franchises. If one of the teams were enjoying a period of success, it would not be long before the tables were turned and the other would be doing well. The Cardinals had Brock, Cepeda, Javier, Maxvill, Gibson and Carlton. The Cubs would counter with Williams, Banks, Beckert, Jenkins and Holzman. And then there’s Harry Caray. These two clubs have had some of the greatest characters in the game, and fans of both clubs have been fortunate to have been able to watch them play the game.