A Seismic Shift Looming, Perhaps

All both the St Louis and national media seemed to talk about the past 2 weeks was Albert Pujols and his contract after 2011. It’s been discussed here on a couple of occasions. Many people have speculated on where Albert could land if he leaves St Louis, and some (including me) have suggested it could be Chicago. For some reason last night, the possibility of Pujols in Cubbie pinstripes reminded me of Lou Brock.

It does not make sense initially because the two scenarios are so unrelated. Brock came to the Cardinals via trade during the 1964 season, along with pitchers Jack Spring and Paul Toth, for outfielder Doug Clemens plus pitchers Ernie Broglio and Bobby Schantz. Pujols would join the Cubs via free agency, probably with the largest contract ever signed by a baseball player. Through the lens of history, Pujols joining the Cubs would be another seismic shift between the two franchises, a counter to the Brock trade, and not just because the move would simultaneously strengthen Chicago’s roster and weaken St Louis’.

The Brock trade marks a tangible point of divergence for the two franchises. From the beginning of the National League, defined for this post as 1901 since that is as far back as Baseball Reference takes me, until the end of 1963 the clubs were pretty similar. For both about 18 years had passed since their last World Series appearance (1945 for the Cubs, 1946 for the Cardinals). Yes, Chicago had not won the thing since 1908, but they had appeared in it 10 times overall and 7 times since that victory. St Louis had been in a total of 9 Fall Classics as the 1964 season started. St Louis had a much better success rate of course, winning 6 titles to the Cubs’ two, but Chicago had been more successful getting there.

Head to Head, the series was dominated by Chicago. The Cubs were 718-659 all time against St Louis, thanks largely to a .647 winning percentage at Wrigley (389-302). Note – to make the math easier I have included the entire 1964 regular season as pre-Brock, even though the trade occurred on 15 June of that year. Following the trade? The relationship turned in St Louis’ favor. St Louis holds a slight head-to-head series edge since 1964, 385-373. The Cardinals still do not win consistently at Wrigley, but at least they are not losing 7 of every 10 games there anymore (170-206 since 1964). Chicago has still not appeared in a World Series since 1945. St Louis has been in 8, starting with the 1964 season, winning four.

Granted, it takes a little bit of imagination to say signing Albert Pujols will lead to the Cubs making multiple World Series appearances and perhaps even winning one, and cause a Dark Age of Cardinal baseball not seen since the dead ball era. The prospect of adding the game’s best hitter, even if it means putting up with his waning production as he passes 40, and finally breaking out of the cycle of losing must be tantalizing to the Cubs. It will be interesting to watch the final act play out.

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