Those early Browns, name shortened after just one season, proved to be a fine club. In fact, they won the American Association title four consecutive seasons, from 1885 through 1888. Their player-manager was future Hall of Famer Charlie Comiskey, best known for his later ownership of the Chicago White Sox.
Eighty years before Interstate Highway 55 was completed, the makings of today's I-55 Rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago began. The precursors to the Chicago Cubs, the White Stockings, had already been playing ball in the National League since 1876.
Though post-season games held prior to 1903 were considered exhibitions, the Browns played in the World Series after each of the 1885 though 1888 seasons. In both 1885 and 1886, their opponent was none other than the White Stockings of Chicago, led on the field and managed by another future Hall of Famer, Cap Anson.
That's right. Before the two clubs came together in the National League in 1892 in a direct competition that continues through today, the predecessors of the Cardinals and Cubs faced each other twice in the World Series. In the disputed 1885 match-up, the clubs split seven games (one was a tie), while the Browns prevailed the next year, four games to two.
That was it for titles on the banks of the Mississippi for a very long time. In fact, for the first 34 years the Browns-Perfectos-Cardinals toiled in the NL, an amazing run of futility was demonstrated. Not once from 1892 through 1925 did the club finish higher than third place. Their win percentages in these decades were sad - .361 in the 1890's, .395 in the 1900's and .440 in the 1910's.
On the other hand, the White Stockings, who became the Cubs in 1903, took the NL pennant four times between 1906 and 1910, adding another in 1918. As even casual fans know, the Cubs were World Champions in 1908. In fact, it was their second consecutive World Series victory, but also their last.
Through 1925, the Cubs owned the Cardinals, holding a huge 407-247 (.622) advantage in head-to-head NL action. The intervening 80-plus years have been a different story, however. Not only have the Redbirds amassed ten World Championships since 1926, during that time they carry a 98-win advantage over the "Lovable Losers", whose most famous cry undoubtedly remains "Wait ‘til next year!".
From 1926 through today, the Cardinals have built an 818-720 edge over the Cubs. The bulge has increased during the Tony La Russa years (1996 through current), as his Redbird clubs have won 94 games versus 76 losses.
The rich history of these clubs are well-documented – from Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey's development of the farm system concept to Wrigley Field's ivy, planted by Bill Veeck, and Chicago's long-standing love affair with the bleachers and baseball under the sun, not lights.
Like in other rivalries, families, co-workers, neighbors and people from all walks of life don their colors and get behind their favorite team, whether red or blue. Unlike some other rivalries, both sets of fans travel often and in large numbers. The toughest ticket all season long in either Wrigley Field or Busch Stadium is usually when the other is in town.
Whether WGN or KMOX, the strong signals of the long-time radio homes of these clubs would carry from Canada in the north to Mexico in the south and beyond. Until the Dodgers and Giants abandoned New York for California in 1958, St. Louis and Chicago were the two western-most cities in Major League Baseball. As a result, they were more than local teams – they were truly regional teams, claiming multiple states as their own.
Over the years, there have been many prominent names in the booth covering the rivalry and at times, participating in it. Ford Frick Award-winning announcers Jack Buck and Harry Caray spent 15 years together in the Cardinals radio booth before divorcing and prior to the latter becoming a true icon in the Windy City.
More recently, the teams' star third basemen from the 1960's, competitors on the field, now serve as the most-recognizable voices behind the microphone for their respective clubs – Ron Santo in Chicago and Mike Shannon in St. Louis. Each unabashedly backs their team every single day and is adored by thousands and thousands as a result.
Over the years, a number of Hall-enshrined players wore both uniforms, including Rogers Hornsby, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher, Dennis Eckersley and Bruce Sutter.
Each of the clubs struggled during the 1950's and early 1960's, yet had a high-profile player recognized as one of the best of all-time. Yet, there was one major difference between Ernie Banks and Stan Musial.
While "The Man" played the final 17 years of his career on non-pennant winners, he appeared in four World Series during the 1940's, with his club winning three. On the other hand, "Mr. Cub" was never able to taste the post-season despite his 19 superb seasons.
The one-sided trade of future Hall of Famer Lou Brock by the Cubs to the Cardinals in 1964 fueled the growing frustration of the Chicagoans as Brock not only became baseball's leading career base stealer at the time, but he also led his club to three pennants and two World Championships during the subsequent five-year period.
The memorable 1998 home run race between Chicago's Sammy Sosa and St. Louis' Mark McGwire is a good indicator of the tenor of the rivalry – fierce, but still friendly. As the two battled all summer long, they continually demonstrated their sportsmanship and friendship. When McGwire first set the new MLB single-season record of 62 home runs, the opponent at Busch Stadium that day was none other than the Cubs.
In spite of the fact that the Chicagoans have only made the playoffs twice during the La Russa era (the Cardinals have seven appearances, including the 2006 World Championship), the rivalry is as hot as ever. In fact, famed author Buzz Bissinger made it the subject of his best-selling book, "Three Nights in August".
Though former La Russa player Dusty Baker has moved on from the Cubs manager's seat, the Northsiders were able to find a way to replace him with a man even closer to the Cardinals' skipper. La Russa and the new Chicago manager, the fiery Lou Piniella, were childhood friends in Tampa.
The unbalanced schedule currently in vogue across MLB assures these two clubs will continue to face each other roughly 18 times each and every season. This familiarity only further fuels the Midwest's best rivalry – whether White Stockings and Browns way back when or Cubs and Cardinals today.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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