November 1, 2014

St. Louis vs. Cincinnati

May 18, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

How exactly did we get here?  How did we come from St. Louis and Cincinnati having just a passing thought in each other’s minds to a knockdown, dragout rivalry between the two squads and the two fan bases?  And, honestly, why is there such a rivalry, Johnny Cueto notwithstanding?

The history of Cardinals and Reds is as short as possible.  The two teams weren’t even in the same division (once divisional play was introduced in 1962) until 1995 when the three-division format was introduced.  While the Reds did win the wild card in 1999, I really don’t think there was much memorable about the two teams getting together until last year, save for a few Jim Edmonds highlight-reel catches.  He always did love robbing the Reds, for some reason.

So last year the Reds capitalize on their young talent, ride some great years, and win the NL Central, along the way earning the enmity of many a Cardinal fan.  Yet it’s not like it was the first time a team had taken a divisional title away from the St. Louis nine.  Even the Cubs have won the NL Central in the last decade, and the hatred of the baby bears isn’t anywhere close to that of the Reds, and the Cubs have the “head-start” of a long-time rivalry.

As a person who is related to a Reds fan, I’ve often followed the Reds over the last decade.  Even so, this hatred and vitriol has really blown up quickly, like one of those many severe spring thunderstorms that we’ve had recently.  Really, it doesn’t make much sense.

Oh, I know there were the comments from Brandon Phillips which threw fuel on the fire last year and sparked the conflagration that happened in Cincy last August.  However, it seems like that fire was already burning on some level, he just added to it.  Now you have Bernie Miklasz asking the Reds to shape up and Marty Brennaman calling the Cardinals “the most disliked team in baseball” (though, as Dennis from Pitchers Hit Eighth pointed out, it was actually the Reds coming in high on the Hatred Baseball Team Index last season), and you wonder just exactly why we are here.  I wonder if it might be something very unexpected.

The teams are just too alike.

It really is like the two teams come from the same tree, with a dash of sibling rivalry tossed in there.  We’ve gone through the names before, but just look at the Cardinal influence that’s currently on the Reds roster.  Scott Rolen, Edgar Renteria, Miguel Cairo.  Last year the Reds even had Jason Isringhausen and Russ Springer in the organization.  It’s obvious that the Reds tend to look at the same type of players that the Cardinals do, which is not surprising with former Cardinal GM Walt Jocketty now holding those duties for the Reds.

With their youth and relative inexperience and success, the Reds are like the little brother, trying to adopt some of the habits of their older brother in an attempt to knock him off.  As anyone that has had a sibling knows, those are not peaceful transitions.  The older will continue to try to keep the younger down, which will keep the younger fighting that much harder to assert himself.

Both teams come from smaller markets.  Both teams are Midwest teams with Midwest values and Midwest sensibilities.  They both have a rich tradition of baseball and they have a loyal fan base.  (Though, if attendance numbers are to be believed, perhaps St. Louis’s is a bit more likely to make it through the turnstiles.)  There are a number of good Cincinnati blogs and, though I’m biased, the Cardinals have one of the best blogging communities out there.

It’s sad, though, that the teams and the fan bases can’t seem to get along and have competition without conflict.  Reds fans say that if Chris Carpenter has a complaint about the mound, he’s whining.  (Reds fans generally say that if Carpenter opens his mouth at all–I’m really not sure who is held in higher disdain in Cincinnati, Carp or Yadier Molina.)  They throw around the “whining” card so often that Cardinal fans come back and note that, boy, it sure sounds like Reds fans are whining about whining.  It’s a never ending circle.

Is it going to get any better?  Probably not for a while.  The Reds won the Central last year and that gives them bragging rights.  They took the series this weekend, so that adds to it.  Yet Cardinal fans will point out that last year’s title is all well and good, but call us when you’ve actually won a game in October.  (The fact that it took two games for them to get a hit in the NLDS might be brought up occasionally as well.)  One year of winning vs. a decade and a half of success—older brother and younger brother yet again.

It’d be nice to see the fan bases bring a little more friendly to this rivalry, but I’m not seeing that happen either.  Cardinal fans won’t forget that Jason LaRue’s career ended because Cueto fought dirty or that the whole thing started because of Phillips’s words and actions.  Reds fans have gotten the idea that the Cardinals are a bunch of, well, you know, in their mind set and there’s little that this current squad of Redbirds can do to remove it.

For the record, I really do have some good relationships with Reds bloggers and they all seem like great people.  We’ve had Shawn from Cincinnati Reds Blog on the UCB show often and he’s done the Playing Pepper series quite a bit.  I’ve interacted with others on Twitter and they are able to take a joke and dish it right back.  While they may not like the Cardinal fanbase as a whole, they are able to like (or at least respect) individual portions of it.

The other portion of this rivalry that could use some examination is the relationship between Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa.  Wherever Dusty goes, his teams tend to start being confrontational with the Cardinals.  Whether it is something TLR does or Dusty does or the fact that teams take after their manager to some degree, the issues have gone back all the way to Dusty’s days with the Giants.

It’s strange because, at least in public, the two managers talk like they respect each other.  Tony’s recently made mention that one of the regrets he has was not hiring Dusty as a coach when his career was done, a career that ended on a TLR-managed team.  It is true that Dusty played in 111 games his first season with the A’s, a number that dropped to 83 the season TLR joined the squad, but La Russa didn’t join the club until mid-summer.  He did seem to play less in August and September that year, but not that significantly.  It doesn’t seem like it was another Ozzie Smith-type of situation, where he alienated a long-time veteran.

When one team or the other slips from the ranks of the contenders and when Baker and La Russa have moved on, it’s likely that things will get back to normal.  Just look at some of the past rivalries–the Brewers aren’t nearly the ire-inducing that they used to be, the Cubs are back to the more general rival type, the Giants are hardly seen and more respected than despised.  Even the Houston rivalry, which was a professional one that never seemed to get too heated, has dwindled with their slide down the standings.

This season has a long way to go and little brother still has a lot of hurdles before he can take down big brother again.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams don’t have the July 4 weekend circled on the calendar, ready to set off their fireworks yet again.

Comments

4 Responses to “St. Louis vs. Cincinnati”
  1. Jeff Polman says:

    Nice piece, Daniel. Certainly is refreshing to see a new baseball rivalry come to the fore. Pittsburgh and Milwaukee have also been brewing, so to speak.

  2. stratobill says:

    “The history of the Cardinals and Reds is as short as possible”.

    Yeah, they’ve only been playing in the National League together for 120 years now.

  3. Jim Leefers says:

    Divisional play started in 1969, not 1962.

  4. Mike Lynch says:

    Nice catch. Thanks!

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