In order to have a rivalry in professional sports, you need a few things.
The first requirement is geographical proximity. Boston and New York come to mind, and they are separated by just over 200 miles. But if proximity was the only issue, Tampa and Miami – separated by not quite 300 miles – would be big rivals. And maybe they are, but I haven’t heard anything about it.
A second requirement is a frequent recurrence of games against the other team. This means playing in the same league or conference as your rival. Those 19 games a year played against divisional foes can certainly help fan additional flames of passion.
But the third, and perhaps most necessary element for a successful rivalry, is a sense of civic competition. And that’s where Chicago and St. Louis come in. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. In the early 1900s, Chicago and St. Louis were competing not only on the baseball diamond, but for recognition as the capital of middle America. Chicago hosted a World’s Fair in 1893, and St. Louis hosted one of its own in 1904. After Chicago was named as the host city for a new spectacle called the Olympic games, St. Louis took it away and hosted them, instead.
A symbol of this rivalry, at least in my eyes, is the “Allegorical Window” in downtown St. Louis’ Union Station. When it was created in the 1890s, it was a bold statement of St. Louis’ arrival as a city on a par with New York (on the right, draped in the green that symbolizes money) and San Francisco (on the left and wearing gold to symbolize, well, gold). In the middle is St. Louis, draped in Cardinal red with the Missouri capital dome behind her, in case anyone missed the symbolism being conveyed.
If you want analysis of how the Cardinals pitchers will stack up against the Cubs’ hitters, clearly you’re in the wrong place. But it’s interesting to me, as a Chicagoan, that the heart of middle America is located not along the Mississippi River, but three hundred miles to the northeast, at the other end of Interstate 55. And if there is any question about the truth of this statement, did the Grateful Dead play their farewell shows in St. Louis last summer? I rest my case.
St. Louis fancies itself a baseball town, and they’re probably correct about that. But Chicago is the cradle of professional baseball, with dozens of claims on the game that neither St. Louis nor any other city can make. Yes, the Cubs have not won a World Series in over 100 years, but that’s going to change very, very soon.
The Cardinals and Cubs are a reflection of two cities that have always been in competition with each other. And this weekend, the rest of the world gets to find out why it’s the best rivalry in baseball. Let’s play ball!