Just think of the possibilities.
This is the foundation books are written on. It is what makes one city hate another regardless of how closely its citizens follow sports. This is how the ideas are born for great 30 for 30s, ESPN’s acclaimed sports documentary series that has already featured the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry and the Chicago Cubs’ losing history.
But the Cubs are not losers at present day. They are aimed dead straight toward the postseason, and for the first time since Steve Bartman sat along the left field foul line, they are legitimate threats to take the National League pennant.
That does not sit well with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs’ chief rival. For the past 15 years, the Cardinals have been godlike in the National League Central, having won the division eight times and expected to win a ninth within days. The Cardinals have a way, and it has taken them to the postseason a dozen times in the past 16 seasons, including this one, where they have made four World Series and won two.
So on a mid-September afternoon, a baseball game was played between these teams inside confines that are supposed to be friendly. Things turned hostile, though. The contenders took exception to pitches hitting their teammates, and Joe Maddon, in his first year writing out lineups for the Cubs, took exception to the "Cardinal Way,” which has several tunnels to explore through the power of search engines—everything from winning to luck to computer hacking shows up on the first page of Google's results.
And just like that, this rivalry has hit a new level. The teams are good. They will be so for years to come, we think. There is animosity, which makes it more intriguing. There was a comparison to the mob and a sweet, old-timey “Who died and made you God?” kind of burn.
The salvo has been unleashed.
Joe Maddon goes off on Cards for throwing at Rizzo. It's on.— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) September 18, 2015
Here is a quick refresher of the talking points:
- Cubs pitcher Dan Haren, whose average fastball is 86.1 MPH and slow enough for third-lowest in the majors among starting pitchers, hit Cardinals slugging star Matt Holliday in the helmet in the fifth inning. Watch the video, check the situation and you can clearly see it was unintentional.
- In the seventh inning, Cardinals reliever Matt Belisle intentionally threw at Cubs star Anthony Rizzo. Watch the video and there is little doubt it was purposeful, despite Belisle’s poor attempt to mask the intent. He was ejected, and so was St. Louis manager Mike Matheny.
- After the game, Maddon went off.
"Right now, that really showed me a lot today in a negative way,” Maddon said in his postgame press conference. “I don't know who put out the hit. I don't know if Tony Soprano was in the dugout, but I didn't see him in there. But we're not going to put up with that. I'm going to say that. From them or anybody else.''
Maddon also said:
That is ridiculous. I don't want to hear that. I don't want to hear about [Belisle] pitching inside. I don't want to hear any of that crap. The pitch that Danny hit their guy with, absolutely a mistake. And Danny...it was just a mistake. It just happened. It was awful. We hated it. We all hated it in the dugout. I'm happy that he's fine, absolutely. ... We don't start stuff, but we will finish stuff.
Part of what has become known as the Cardinal way over the past decade is that the team polices the game and opposing players as if it wears a badge, though that reputation was born and bred mostly under former manager Tony La Russa. Other players do not approve, obviously, and St. Louis’ former players, like Haren, understand this is how the club goes about its business.
Both teams have plenty on the line this season. The Cardinals are trying to hold on to the division, and the Cubs are trying to overtake the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first wild-card spot. So this thing might be over for this season, or it might not be. We’ll see over the weekend.
What we do know now is this will make for a heated future between these teams. The Cardinals cannot like the idea of being threatened by a young, talented team that should only get better and has the money to fill whatever holes might be uncovered. And the Cubs surely don’t like being talked down to in the form of fastballs intentionally thrown at them.
The windows to win for both franchises are wide open, meaning this rivalry has staying power. And it appeals on a national level, not quite as much as Yankees-Red Sox, but probably more so than Dodgers-Giants.
This is not over—the trash talk, the despising and, unfortunately, the hitters being thrown at. And if you’re a fan of baseball, lock into this thing for the next several years, because this was just Chapter 1.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.