Thursday, April 30, 2009

So...who is the Cardinals biggest rival?

Welcome to United Cardinal Blogger Debate Day!

Today our various member blogs take an issue of interest to the average Cardinal fan and provide a definitive answer. The roll call of issues and debaters can be found here.

For your reading enjoyment, the opposing viewpoint to this argument can be found at Redbirds Fun. Before digesting it, please ponder the position of Jim Trotter III, esq. Mr. District Attorney:

"Cubs are our rival. It's a concept that comes from Old England, and all our little ol' ancestors."

Thanks Doc.

Feel free to peruse Dan's position, and then hurry back.




(Ok, they're back now)

I'm sure he had a cogent argument as to why the Chicago Cubs are the Cardinals biggest rival. However, it's completely wrong.

"You want answers?" "I WANT THE TRUTH!"

In order to be a rival, the following things need be true:

1. You must play often enough to sow the seeds of dislike.
2. There must be on field events that resonate with the fans.
3. You must play with something on the line besides bragging rights.

The Houston Astros have played the foil in these three areas far, far more often than the Cubs have. It may have been, deep in the forest primeval, that the Cubs were our on-field rival, but no more.

On, Contraire, you say? Consider the following:

1. You must play often enough to sow the seeds of dislike. Houston joined the NL in 1962, and played the Cardinals often enough until 1969, when expansion forced the splitting of the leagues into divisions. Houston (who had been the site of a Cardinal AA farm team, by the way) went to the NL West, the Cardinals to the NL East. As a result, the teams played 12 times a year, often enough to breed some dislike, but not often enough to forge a rivalry. And, because they played for/in separate divisions, there was never really anything on the line.

That changed in 1994 with the 3 division concept and unbalanced scheduling. Now, like the Cubs, they play the Cardinals anywhere from 16-18 times a year. That's plenty of times to sow some seeds of dislike.

2. There must be on field events that resonate with fans. This moves past the 'Rich Harden threw at Pujols on Sunday', 'Dusty Baker is an ass for arguing with LaRussa during a game', 'Wandy Rodriguez shot off his mouth at Pujols during BP'. No. There has to be something that happened that left a deep impression on both fan bases.

What do you come up with for the Cubs? The Cardinals comeback on 20 July 2004? Three Nights in August? You're grasping at straws.

Try these four events on for the establishment of a rivalry:
September 2, 1996:
Houston is in first place, starting a critical series against the second place Cardinals. Houston jumps out to 3-0 and 7-3 leads in this one, on a day when Donovan Osborne doesn't have it. The Cardinal bullpen throws 6 2/3 scoreless, while the offense ties the game at 7 in the bottom of the eighth and wins 8-7 in the tenth when Willie McGee singles in Ozzie Smith with the winning run. Houston gets swept and never recovers as the Cardinals win the NL Central.

October 5, 2001: Cardinals lead the NL Central by 1 with 3 to play, starting a series, at home, against Houston. Cardinals lead 1-0 after 7 behind Woody Williams. Houston scratches out a run in the eighth (remember Jeff Tabaka?) and in the ninth, and win 2-1. Each team wins one of the remaining two games, so they end the season tied; but Houston is awarded the division based on head-to-head record.

If that weren't bad enough, the following year the Houston Press Guide is titled, "2001 NL Central Champions". The Cardinals title theirs, "2001 NL Central Co-Champions", fanning the ill-will between the clubs.

Game 7, 2004 NLCS: Do I need describe Jim Edmonds' catch?

Game 5, 2005 NLCS: Pujols vs Lidge. Enough Said.

Game 6, 2005 NLCS: Roy Oswalt would have blown away the 27 Yankees that night to win the National League.

So you see, we have a lot more recent history with the Astros than with the Cubs, especially of the 'I'll never forget that game' variety.

3. You must play with something on the line besides bragging rights. Here's where it gets ridiculous.

I took a look at the entire history of the Cub/Cardinal, and Astro/Cardinal, rivalries based on records and when they played in the same league or division. Basically I was looking for how many times one team finished ahead of the other, and how many times the teams were involved in a pennant race. For Cubs/Cardinals, developing the data set was easy. They've played in the same league, and same division, since 1892. For Astros/Cardinals, it was a little bit more difficult. They played in the same league since 1962, but only from 1962 to 1968 was it one league. They played in separate divisions from 1969-1993, before they were both assigned to the NL Central starting in 1994.

Here's a breakdown, by decade, of how many times the Cardinals finished ahead of the Cubs (read: Cards finished higher - Cubs finished higher - ties. Yes, they did sometimes finish with the same record).

1892-1900: 2-7-0
1901-1910: 1-9-0
1911-1920: 2-7-1
1921-1930: 7-3-0
1931-1940: 4-5-1
1941-1950: 9-1-0
1951-1960: 7-2-1
1961-1970: 8-2-0
1971-1980: 7-3-0
1981-1990: 6-4-0
1991-2000: 8-2-0
2001-2008: 4-3-0

Here it is for the Astros.

1962-1968: 7-0-0
1994-2000: 2-5-0
2001-2008: 5-2-1

For Cubs/Cardinals, since 1940, it's LOPSIDED in favor of the Cardinals. For Astros/Cardinals, it's even since 1994.

Drilling down even further, I did a look at pennant races over the lifetime of the rivalry. A pennant race was defined as (a) one team must have finished either first or second in their division or league, and (b) they must have finished within 5 games of each other.

Based on these definitions, in the HISTORY of their rivalry the Cubs and Cardinals have been in a pennant race together a total of 6 times. Four of those events occurred between 1928 and 1945. In fact, the Cubs and Cardinals have only finished one-two three times; in 1930, 1935, and 1945. It's safe to say the glory days of this rivalry on the field are well in the rear view mirror.

The Cardinals and Astros have been in a pennant race three times since 2000, most recently 2006.

Yep; Cubs/Cardinals are such huge rivals they've fought each other for a pennant 6 times in 116 years; the Astros/Cardinals have done it three times in 15.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

It's time we all admitted the only reason Cubs/Cardinals can even be considered a rivalry is because one can drive to Chicago in 5 hours, and for historical reasons St Louis always compares itself, favorably or unfavorably, to Chicago.

The actual rivalry, based on on-the-field play, is Cardinals/Astros.


Cardinal70 said...

Good argument. It was one thing that I noticed while reading Doug Feldmann's book, how the major rival for the Cardinals only became the Cubs fairly recently, that it used to be the Dodgers. I think the Astros would fill that spot pretty well, though I will say I don't dislike the 'Stros--it's a classy team for the most part.

Stephen said...

A well-reasoned argument, mon frere. I, of course, can't stand the Cubs, and it is much more of a rivalry for me in exile at the end of Chicagoland. But you can't really hate the Cubbies, and my feelings oscillate from Schadenfreude to patronizing. The point about the Dodgers is a good one, and I think it an old and heated rivalry done it by the unbalanced schedule. I think we saw some of the last vestiges of this rivalry in the late 80s and early 90s at Dodger Stadium. But there are other data points. Everyone remembers the Lou Brock trade, but how many Cardinals have been connected with the Dodgers? I can think of a few: Leo Durocher (Dodger manager/Gas House Gang Cardinal), Joe Medwick, Branch Rickey. Remember as well that the epithet "The Man" was coined in Brooklyn. Finally I vaguely remember Dad saying that in the 40s and 50s the Cardinals routinely finished 2nd or 3rd to the Dodgers (particularly from 47-63).

With all that being said. I think it's a shame the Dodgers are no longer our rival (again on account of the schedule more than anything else). I think you're correct that the Astros have filled that void most recently. The problem of course is that it is much harder to have a rivalry that will compare to the Yankees-Sawx. Chicago and St. Louis are not like Boston and New York, and it is less likely two National League teams are going to start funneling money into the organization at the same level as the Sawx-Yanks to fuel a competitive and heated rivalry for many years.

The Cubs are more laughable than worthy of disgust.

Mike said...

One of these days I'll write about how great that Dodgers/Cardinals rivalry was in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. It's truly too bad they only play two series a year now.

gforce said...

As much as Houston gets under my skin, it is more like a paper cut. The Cubs will always be hated, no matter how bad their team is.

I break it down this way. My fiance asked last night if we were on our way to the playoffs. I told her we were leading the division and as long as Chicago is behind us -- that is all that matters.

Mike said...

See, that's just urban envy. There's no competitive baseball reason for outright hatred of the Cubs.

In terms of baseball success, it's no contest. We're better than they are. Period.

Maybe if I had spent a good chunk of my life in the Midwest, I'd feel differently, but from the shores of the Pacific, I just shrug.

The Cubs mean nothing to me. Even the Mets raise my ire more than Chicago.

Unless we start discussing who's the better second baseman, Sandberg or Herr...

aaron said...

Sorry, Mike. Sandberg was the better ballplayer.

That said, as a Cards fan for life from Central Illinois, the Cubs are the most hated rival. If you had to go to school, practice, work, etc. with Cubs' fans, day in, day out, you'd most certainly agree. Especially if you lived in a family of divided loyalty like mine. Two uncles, die hard Cubbie fans. Disgusting.

There's a reason the classic saying goes "My two favorite teams are the Cardinals and whoever's playing the Cubs."

Deaner said...

Great argument!