Constable: Pirates good appetizer, but Cards the dish Cubs fans want
Now fully immersed in playoff baseball, we Cubs fans take deep breaths and try to match the calm, even detached, demeanor of St. Louis Cardinals fans, who expect to be here every October. Instead of lamenting, "Wait till next year," we're shouting, "Wait till Friday night!"
That's when our Cubs, led by Dexter Fowler, Kyle Schwarber and Jake Arrieta in their impressive 4-0 victory Wednesday night over the Pittsburgh Pirates, will open the National League Division Series in St. Louis. Pittsburgh is such a nice city, with cool bridges and an Andy Warhol museum, that we almost feel bad for those mourning Pirates fans.
But there is no pity in baseball. Hatred, however, thrives.
"The hated Cardinals -- Satan's messengers on Earth," Cubs fan Bill Murray opined after a Cardinals fan heckled him during a golf tourney this summer.
We don't hate just the Cardinals players. Their fans are hard to stomach, too. Arrogant Cardinals fans basically are New York Yankees fans, without the Big Apple polish. Yankees games have bright lights and Jay-Z. St. Louis games have big mosquitoes and memories of Ozzie Smith back flips.
My wife, normally a kind, gentle soul, hates everything about the Cardinals, beginning with their logo, which looks to her to be a teeter-totter for birds. Her assertion that bright red is not a flattering color for most Cardinals fans rings true for me, since I try to wear muted colors that don't bring attention to my physique. Generally depicted as pudgy, white and dressed poorly, Cardinals fans look like the evil Dudley Dursley family in those "Harry Potter" movies.
Everybody who doesn't live in the 314 area code (and it says something that I had to look up St. Louis' area code) is sick of the Cardinals.
The rivalry began on April 12, 1892, when Chicago spanked St. Louis 14-10. Since then, the Cubs actually have had success against St. Louis, winning 1,197 games while the Cards have won only 1,147. But in the two most-recent centuries, the Cardinals have won more titles.
I used to give St. Louis some credit for winning 11 World Series Championships in a small market. The city's second-greatest claim to fame, now that the bowling hall of fame left town, is the quirky and fun City Museum, where adventurous visitors seem likely to pile up more injuries than this year's Cardinals team.
Hate for some fans goes back to 1964, when the Cubs traded future Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock for aging pitcher Ernie Broglio. Others trace their hate to another former Cub who went on to fame with the Cardinals. A poor baseball player, Tony LaRussa pinch-ran for Cubs legend Ron Santo on Opening Day of 1973 and scored the winning run on a walk with the bases loaded. It was his last appearance in a big-league game, until the White Sox signed him as manager in 1979. After Chicago, LaRussa went on to win one world championship with the Oakland A's and two more with the Cardinals. LaRussa did it all with muscled sluggers during the steroid era, distractions that included his own drunken-driving episode, and a haughty arrogance that made Cubs fans love to loathe him and his teams.
The hate escalated this season after the Cardinals hit Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo with a pitch. Cubs manager Joe Maddon fired back, dismissing the so-called Cardinals Way, and compared the infamous pitch to a hit ordered by former TV mob chief Tony Soprano. The Cardinals are a "vigilante group that all of a sudden wants to get their own pound of flesh," Maddon said. "That's absolutely insane, ridiculous and wrong."
Now all that bad blood is coming to a boiling point. It won't be decided with pithy quotes and clever Facebook memes. "We don't start stuff, but we will stop stuff," Maddon said last month.
Maddon started the high hopes for Cubs fans before the season began.
"We're going to set our mark high, and I'm going to talk playoffs and World Series this year," Maddon promised, "and I'm going to believe it."
Everyone believes it now, Joe.
Cubs fans who've always hated watching the Cardinals in the postseason now have the chance to watch their team do something about it.