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Ranking baseball's 5 best rivalries

September 5, 2018

With respect to Cole Hamels, he's entitled to his view of the Cubs-Brewers rivalry. Or non-rivalry, to be more precise. That's the beauty of rivalries. They're whatever you or I want them to be.For instance, there was a time not that long ago when the Rangers and Blue Jays were

With respect to Cole Hamels, he's entitled to his view of the Cubs-Brewers rivalry. Or non-rivalry, to be more precise. That's the beauty of rivalries. They're whatever you or I want them to be.
For instance, there was a time not that long ago when the Rangers and Blue Jays were as good a rivalry as there was in sport. One Jose Bautista bat flip -- and you have to admit, Texas fans, it was a thing of beauty -- in the 2015 postseason hurt some feelings.
Some of us never understood why the bat flip was such a big deal. If you can't show a little emotion at that time, when can you ever show it?
• Watch FREE on MLB.TV: Cubs vs. Brewers tonight, 8 p.m. ET
The Rangers said it was that the bat landed a little too close to their dugout, that it was a little too in their face. OK, whatever.
Flash forward to the next season when Rangers reliever Matt Bush drilled Bautista with a 98-mph fastball. Interestingly, Texas waited until the final inning of the final game between the two teams.
And then came Bautista's hard slide into second base, and Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor delivered an earth-shaking punch to the jaw.

If you're running down a list of things that make for a great rivalry, you might want to start with two teams that learned to hate one another's guts.
That might not constitute a real rivalry because it was a short-term thing. All that was forgotten, if not forgiven, by the time Texas and Toronto met in the 2016 postseason.
Real rivalries must have something much more basic, and it really doesn't have all that much to do with the players in many instances: It's the fans.
"Rivalries are normally created by fan bases and I know the proximity is there," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The best I can describe it is, I think it's legitimately the Cardinals and Cubs, they've created that [rivalry]. I've been involved in the past in different organizations with the Dodgers and Angels and it's a different feeling.
"You can go back to your high school days, you know what that feels like. It was a great game, both teams are playing well. It's something that could build into something over time. You just can't create a rivalry by writing that it is. It has to be felt, it has to be proven over time."
Or as Brewers manager Craig Counsell put it so eloquently: "Rivalry? Whatever, man. Put me in the building and let me enjoy the game, I'm good."
Kids in Boston learn to dislike the Yankees almost before they can walk. Kids in New York learn that it's not business as usual when the Red Sox come to town.
While there's decades of history between the two clubs, it's still about the fans. They make it happen.
And that's why we beg to differ with Hamels about the Brewers-Cubs rivalry. He said it couldn't be a real rivalry because when the two teams played at Miller Park this week, there were just too many Cubs fans in the house. To Hamels, that took something away from a potential rivalry.
Actually, it's easy to argue that all those fans wearing Cubs gear, and all those cheers for the Cubs at a Brewers home game, just serve to stir the pot.
We acknowledge the Cubs have bigger rivals than the Brewers. But because Chicago and Milwaukee are so close, and because Brewers fans are white hot to beat the Cubbies, that's all the ingredients needed for a great rivalry.
To ramp it up another notch or two, let's have the Cubs and Brewers meet in the postseason next month. Let's let Milwaukee eliminate Chicago and then do it again next season.
When the Brewers show up at Wrigley Field, we'd find out that suddenly they'd managed to work up a sincere dislike of Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and friends.
With this week's Cubs-Brewers dustup in mind, let's rate baseball's five best rivalries:
1. Red Sox-Yankees
I know what you're thinking. Don't you ever get tired of hyping this one? Actually, no. There's no better rivalry in sports because the fans care deeply and the two teams are competitive most years and the games have a crackling intensity to them. There's years of history, from Aaron Boone and Bucky Dent to Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer to Dave Roberts and Curt Schilling. Sports simply does not get any better.
2. Dodgers-Giants
Some of the same dynamics. These two clubs have been playing for more than a century, and where they once both called New York home and played a few miles from one another, there always seems to be something on the line when they play.

3. Cubs-Cardinals
There was a time a few years ago when the two managers -- Tony La Russa of the Cardinals and Dusty Baker of the Cubs -- disliked one another so much that the series got scary.
So many pitches were thrown inside, so many fights and near-fights, that it would have been appropriate to have had the managers meet in a parking lot to settle things while the players played baseball. Besides that, yes, Cubs-Cardinals games mean something in both cities.
4. Braves-Mets
Did you know that Tom Seaver's first pro contract was with the Braves? That was in 1966, and when it was ruled invalid, the Mets ended up with the future Hall of Famer. And then, wouldn't you know it, Seaver won Game 1 of the '69 Braves-Mets National League Championship Series.
This didn't really become a rivalry until the Braves were shifted into the NL East in 1994 at a time when they were making 14 straight postseason appearances. While the '99 NLCS -- where the Braves beat the Mets in six games -- was the highlight, Braves-Mets games have had a big edge to them.
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5. Cubs-Brewers
Why not? There are two necessary ingredients to a great rivalry: Proximity, and fan interest. So many Cubs fans live in southern Wisconsin that the demarcation line between Cubs territory and Brewers territory is blurred at times. But Brewers fans enjoy nothing more than beating the Cubs, and that's where great rivalries always start.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.