COMMENTARY | As the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals are busy "renewing" their age-old rivalry this week in St. Louis, looking back on the last 25 years or so makes fans wonder what rivalry it is that the teams are renewing exactly?
It requires no fan allegiance of any kind to realize that the Cardinals have been the horse to bet on in recent history -- for our purposes here we'll go back about 25 years to 1988, though the one-sidedness of the rivalry extends well beyond that. The all-time head-to-head record shows two teams that are about even (1174-1116 in favor of the Cubs), but we all know that isn't the case recently.
Each year we continually hear about how the Cubs-Cards rivalry is more like a sibling rivalry than it is a bloodthirsty one. That's true, but it's not because all of us Cubs and Cardinals fans are a bunch of happy-go-lucky people -- there's as much passion in these two fanbases as anywhere. It's because so little is actually on the line when these two teams routinely meet -- like most sibling competitions. Big brother wins and it's business as usual. Little brother wins and it's a fluke that's bound to happen eventually, but does little to shake the natural order.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not glamorizing everything that comes out of heated rivalries, it's just the Cubs and Cardinals don't have one. We've seen what happens in heated rivalries. I'm sure Cardinals fans have plenty of choice words for a number of Cincinnati Reds (and vice-versa). The Cardinals-Reds rivalry heated very quickly and for a very basic reason: Both teams have been good.
The Cardinals and Reds have finished first and second in the NL Central two of the last three seasons (they were second and third in 2011) and are once again in that position in 2013. The Cubs and Cardinals have been first and second only once since 1988 -- which was in 2009 and the Cardinals won by a distant 7 1/2 games. In that time, the two teams have combined for 11 division titles, so it's not like both teams have just been awful the entire time. It's no wonder this rivalry has gotten to the point of being almost non-existent.
As disappointing as it is, Cubs-Cardinals games are just another date on the schedule. Between 1988-2012, the Cubs were 191-196 against the Cardinals. These teams do play competitive baseball against one another, but over a long enough period, most teams play competitive baseball against one another. Playing spoiler late in the season might be a consolation prize to a lacking team, but it hardly creates a rivalry. Division races and playoff series create rivalries. The Cubs and Cardinals have rarely been competitive in the same years.
We see what happens in rivalries where there are major accolades routinely on the line. The previously mentioned Cardinals-Reds and of course the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox rivalries are both examples of this. There is plenty to like about how the Cardinals and Cubs usually conduct themselves against one another, so I am not advocating more questionable conduct (or worse yet, violence) in the rivalry, but lauding them for maintaining composure when little-to-nothing is on the line is the equivalent of saying someone is a great clutch hitter because he has .350 batting average in the third inning.
With all the tradition between these two teams, it will be a great day for baseball when this rivalry is actually renewed.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor and Yahoo! Sports . He is also a senior in college majoring in English and Creative Writing.
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