130 years in, Cards-Cubs rivalry still fierce

January 19th, 2021

One of the oldest and most iconic rivalries in baseball is Cardinals vs. Cubs. It’s had its share of intense moments on the field and off the field and hasn’t lost any of its edge in 130-plus years.

How did it begin, and how has it sustained for all this time? Let’s take a closer look at the history and the top moments that have defined one of the best rivalries in all of sports.

The St. Louis franchise’s official record against the Cubs is 1,186-1,244, according to Baseball Reference; this includes the St. Louis Brown Stockings, the Perfectos and the Cardinals. In his book, "Three Nights in August," author Buzz Bissinger wrote about how the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry is centered around geography and territorial rights. Two cities in close proximity were natural economic trade rivals in the late 19th century, and some have speculated that the St. Louis Brown Stockings (eventually becoming the Cardinals) were organized to be a formidable rival for the Chicago White Stockings (eventually the Cubs).

The Cardinals and Cubs have long-time and passionate fans, not just in their city but spread throughout the Midwest, South and West thanks to their far-reaching radio stations. Chicago’s WGN can be heard crystal-clear in Iowa and up through Wisconsin and the Dakotas -- until the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953, no other National League team was in the upper Midwest. The Cardinals, meanwhile, were baseball’s westernmost and southernmost team until the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958. KMOX’s signal rolled south and west from St. Louis, amassing fans from all over.

Until 2015, the two teams hadn’t met in the postseason, when the 100-win Cardinals faced their archrivals in the National League Division Series. The Cardinals have owned the last century, with 11 World Series titles and 18 World Series appearances in the 113 years after the Cubs’ 1908 championship. The Cubs have the most recent title after their 2016 victory.

So the rivalry doesn’t have the October history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, instead relying on pivotal moments to fuel the fire.

There were the showdowns between the Cubs’ Fergie Jenkins and the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson in the late 1960s and early '70s. Rogers Hornsby was an MVP and manager for both teams. The famed Lou Brock-for-Ernie Broglio trade in '64 sent the Cardinals toward the pennant and is remembered on one side as the greatest trade in club history. Bruce Sutter won his Cy Young Award as a Cub and a World Series as a Cardinal, and he wears a Cardinals hat on his Hall of Fame plaque.

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Tempers have flared many times between the two clubs, perhaps none so much as the brawl between Cardinals reliever Al Hrabosky and Cubs infielder Bill Madlock. On Sept. 22, 1974, Madlock wasn’t having any of Hrabosky’s antics. Every time Hrabosky would go through his lengthy routine and get set for his windup, Madlock would step out of the box. When he stepped back in, Hrabosky insisted on doing the routine again, and Madlock stepped out. On and on it went. The home-plate umpire ordered Hrabosky to start pitching regardless of whether Madlock was ready, prompting Cubs manager Jim Marshall to come out and argue. While Madlock and Marshall stood near home plate, Hrabosky delivered strike one -- and the benches cleared. A few innings later, Cards catcher Ted Simmons hit a walk-off single.

On June 23, 1984, a midsummer’s game at Wrigley Field became the iconic Sandberg Game in front of a national audience. The Cardinals had taken a 7-1 lead thanks to Willie McGee’s heroic day, including four hits, six RBIs and the Cardinals’ first cycle since 1975. Then in the ninth, Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg hit a game-tying homer off Sutter, followed by a shot in the 10th, this time a two-run blast off Sutter. Sandberg, who went on to win NL MVP, finished the game with five hits and seven RBIs.

The summer of 1998 featured the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa chasing Roger Maris’ home run record, and when McGwire hit No. 62 to break the record, he did so against the Cubs -- because of course.

In September 2019, another moment was added: The Cardinals swept the Cubs in a four-game series at Wrigley Field for the first time since May 1921. Each game was won late and by one run, and it sent the Cardinals to the playoffs while effectively eliminating the Cubs from postseason contention.

“Bye, Chicago,” Jack Flaherty sang happily as he ran up the steps into the clubhouse following the final victory. The ever-present rivalry has stood the test of time, through generations of players, managers and fans -- and it’s unlikely to simmer down any time in the future.