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Baseball's best rivalry

Here's a little something I wrote for the News-Democrat's Everyman Magazine earlier this year:

The Cardinals' rivalry with the Chicago Cubs is one of the oldest and most storied in the history of Major League Baseball.



In more than 100 years of battle, Cubs fans can claim a slight edge in regular season results. Their team has won 1,091 of the games - or 51 percent - of the 2,135 tilts. But it’s not like St. Louis fans have no ammunition in the bleachers. The Cardinals have won 10 World Series - while Chicago has managed two - and none of those have come since 1908.



While Yankees fans and Red Sox rooters get along about as well as the Hatfields and the McCoys, St. Louis fans and the Chicago faithful have something more of a brotherly rivalry. Boston and New York fans are confined by strict boundaries. But Cardinals and Cubs rooters often mix together.



Politcal pundit George Will talked about growing up among a mix of red and blue during a 1998 commencement address at Washington University in St.Louis:

“I grew up in Champaign, Illinois midway between Chicago and St. Louis. At an age too tender for life-shaping decisions, I made one. While all my friends were becoming Cardinals fans, I became a Cub fan. My friends, happily rooting for Stan Musial , Red Schoendienst, and other great Redbirds, grew up cheerfully convinced that the world is a benign place, so of course, they became liberals. Rooting for the Cubs in the late 1940s and early 1950s, I became gloomy, pessimistic, morose, dyspeptic and conservative. It helped out of course that the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, which is two years before Mark Twain and Tolstoy died. But that means, class of 1998, that the Cubs are in the 89th year of their rebuilding effort, and remember, any team can have a bad moment.”



TURNCOATS

Several Hall of Famers have worn both Cardinals and Cubs uniforms including Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Lou Brock and Bruce Sutter. But only two players have played in the both uniforms on the same day.



Max Flack and Cliff Heathcote were traded for each other in between games of a double header at Wrigley Field on May 30, 1922.

Both outfielders, Flack was a Belleville native who was a lefty swinger. He hit .283 in 1,003 games with the Cubs from 1915-22. Hitting .222 at the time of the swap, Flack hit .292 with the Cardinals for the rest of the season and finished his career with St. Louis, retiring after the 1925 season.

Heathcote was a righty hitter. He broke in with the Cardinals in 1918 as a 20-year-old outfielder and hit .270 in his time with St. Louis. After the swap, he played nine years with the Cubs, batting .280 in 856 games.



While Flack didn’t help the Cardinals to the World Series, he did help prevent the Cubs from winning the 1918 Fall Classic. His throwing error against the Red Sox allowed the deciding runs for Boston. It was the BoSox most recent win before 2004 and 2007 World Series titles. The Cubs are still searching for another chance at post season glory.





LET'S MAKE A DEAL

What many people consider to be the signature moment in the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry didn't even take place on the field of play.



In 1964, with the Cardinals floundering in the middle of the standings and the Cubs looking for a starting pitcher to bolster their pennant hopes, Chicago offered a .257 hitting fly chaser for a starting pitcher who won 18 games in 1963 with a 2.99 ERA.



The outfielder, Lou Brock, hit .348 for the rest of the season and sparked the Cardinals into being contenders that season and beyond. The Redbirds won the 1964 World Series, took the world championship again in 1967 and won the National League pennant in 1968. Brock was a Cardinal until his retirement in 1979 and finished his career as the major’s all-time stolen base champ and member of the 3,000-hit club.



He made the Hall of Fame in 1985 He's still the National League’s all-time base burglar with 938 swipes. Meanwhile the pitcher, Ernie Broglio, went 4-7 with a 4.04 ERA the rest of the way in 1964 as the Cubs sagged to eighth place by the end of the year.



Wait ‘til next year, the Cubs fans said... Well, Broglio was 1-6 with a 6.93 ERA in 1965 and 2-6 with a 6.35 ERA in 1966. A 70-55 hurler with a 3.43 ERA with St. Louis, he retired with a 7-19 mark and a 5.40 ERA after two and a half seasons with the Cubs.





MR. 3000

Brock helped cement his legend in his last season as a player when he faced the Cubs Dennis Lamp with 2,999 career hits. Lamp brushed back Brock with a pitch and, undeterred, Brock dug in. He took the next offering right back up the middle, hitting Lamp. The line drive fractured Lamp’s arm as Brock scampered to first for his 3,000th hit.



The greatest Cardinals of them all also got his 3,000th hit against the Cubs. Stan Musial was on the bench with 2,999 hits for a May 13, 1958 game at Wrigley Field. Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson tried to hold Musial back so he could reach the 3,000 mark in front of his hometown fans. But the Birds needed a pinch hitter in a close match and Hutchinson called on The Man.



Down 3-1 with a man on second, Musial doubled with longtime Cardinals - and future Cubs - broadcaster Harry Caray making the call: “Line drive. There it is, into left field, hit number 3,000! He came through!” The double made the score 3-2 and a pinch runner for Stan the Man scored the tying run, leading the Birds to a 5-3 win.





IT MIGHT BE, IT COULD BE

While the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been a thorn in the Cardinals¹ side at moments.



In 1984 Chicago, with former Cardinals prospect Leon Durham anchoring the infield and the batting order from first base, the Wee Bears won their first division title since baseball realigned in 1969.



While the Cubs played well all year, it was wasn’t until June 23 against their arch rival Cardinals that Chicago announced their arrival during a nationally telecast game.

In what came to be known as “The Ryne Sandberg Game,” the Cardinals appeared to have matters well in hand, chasing Chicago starter Steve Trout as they built a 7-1 lead. The margin was 9-3 after the Cardinals batted in the sixth. But the St. Louis bullpen blew up and the Cubs cut the advantage to 9-8. Redbirds manager Whitey Herzog had seen enough and called for closer Bruce Sutter, a former Cy Young Award winner with the Cubs.



Sutter, the best reliever in the National League that season with 45 saves, faced the young Cubs second baseman and Sandberg tied the contest with one swing of the bat.



NBC, broadcasting the tilt, had already named St. Louis centerfielder Willie McGee the star of the game based on the fact that he had hit for the cycle with six RBIs. But the real action had only just begun.



The Cardinals scored two runs off of the star Chicago closer Lee Smith – who later played for the Cardinals – to lead 11-9 after the top of the 10th.



Sutter retired the first two Cubs batters easily then appeared to strike out outfielder Bob Dernier with a full count pitch that the home plate umpire called a ball. Sandberg came back to the dish and burned Sutter for a second time with a game-tying homer.



Durham walked in the 11th and stole second, taking third on a throwing error. After Herzog walked the bases full, pinch hitter Dave Owen singled home the winning run and Sandberg – 2-for-12 against Sutter in his career – ended the day 5-for-6 with two homers and seven batted in.





BACK AT YA

Dramatic comebacks work both ways. The Cardinals got a little bit of revenge for the Sandberg game on July 28, 2002.



Trailing 6-0 after 5 1/2 innings after starter Matt Morris was roughed up, the St. Louis bats woke up and the Birds cut their deficit to 6-4.



But the rally seemed like it would be a waste when the Cardinals allowed a pair of Cubs runs in the seventh and another in the eighth to create a five-run Chicago cushion.



In the bottom of the ninth, Fernando Vina led off with a single and Miguel Cairo, a former Cub, doubled him home. Jim Edmonds, a future Cub, singled to score Cairo and cut the Chicago lead to 9-6. Albert Pujols walked and J.D. Drew struck out before Tino Martinez singled Edmonds home to make it 9-7 and bring the go ahead run to the plate. Edgar Renteria didn’t disappoint with a three-run homer that gave the Birds a 10-9 decision.





BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

It hasn’t always been the stars who have decided the games between the National League foes.



In 2006 back-up catcher Gary Bennett delivered ninth inning heroics on consecutive nights to help the Birds to two very valuable wins in their march to the World Series.



On Aug. 26 the Cardinals were tied with Chicago in the final frame. Preston Wilson singled with one out and stole second. Ronnie Belliard popped out to the catcher to follow, bringing Bennett – who carried a .239 batting average at the time - to the plate with two out. He singled to center to drive home the winning run and the Busch Stadium crowd went wild.



Little did the audience know what was in store for the next night.



On Aug. 27, The Cardinals led 6-3 behind Jeff Weaver as they roughed up former St. Louis farmhand, Les Walrond. But the St. Louis pitching faltered and gave up a run in the fifth and two in the seventh to knot the game at six.



With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning of the tie game, Bennett needed another timely base hit to pull the game out of the fire. But he did better than that. Bennett connected for a grand slam against reliever Bob Howry and propelled the Birds to a 10-6 win.



“It’s 4-years-old on Christmas morning, that’s the feeling,” Bennett told CBS after the game. “You’re rounding third and you see everybody jumping up and down.” He said it was about the greatest feeling he could imagine.



“Other than the World Series,” Bennett allowed. “I guess that would feel better.” Fortunately he would soon get a chance to find out.



St. Louis native Kerry Robinson was a lightly used reserve outfielder on Aug. 23, 2003 when manager Tony La Russa - who has had many a run in with then Wee Bears skipper Dusty Baker - sent him to the plate in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth.



The Cardinals trailed 2-0 until the sixth inning but scored one in the bottom of that frame and another in the seventh to set the stage. Robinson, who hit three major league homers in seven seasons, hit a full count pitch over the boards to win the game 3-2.





PARDON ME WHILE I STAND UP AND APPLAUD

In 1998, the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry took center stage nationally when Mark McGwire took on Sammy Sosa in a battle to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record of 61.



The drama was credited for attracting fans, who were embittered by a 1994 work stoppage, back to baseball. McGwire and Sosa traded the major league home run lead throughout the season. But as they neared the record the teams faced each other head-to-head at Busch Stadium. McGwire finally broke the mark with his 62nd homer on Aug. 8 when he hit a ball just over the wall down the left field line against Cubs starter Steve Trachsel with the Maris family watching from box seats on the first-base side.



 McGwire eventually hit 70 homers to raise the bar on the homer record that had stood for 37 years. And while the record was short-lived - and later tainted by steroid allegations against both McGwire and Sosa - the impact on the game can’t be denied.

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