For the last few seasons, the rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals has been lightly simmering. After boiling over in the 2015 NLDS, in which the 97-win Cubs eliminated the 100-win Cards from the postseason, the passion stalled a bit. While the Cubs have averaged nearly 97 wins per season over the last three years, St. Louis comes in at just under 86 wins on average.
The last two seasons, they Cardinals have finished in third place. They were 6.5 games back of Chicago at the end of 2018, and that’s the closest they’ve been since 2015. But suddenly, after a winter of stagnation for the Cubs and some key moves by the Cardinals, the two teams find themselves preparing for what could be a close battle in the NL Central.
And now the rivalry is boiling over again … but for the dumbest of reasons.
From January 18-20 at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Chicago, the Cubs invited their fans to the annual Cubs Convention. Although it was more lightly attended than in recent years, no doubt due in part to the lackluster finish to the 2018 season and the frozen payroll, there were still some occasional fireworks. On Friday night, Kris Bryant was interviewed by former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster on a faux talk show, and he made a lighthearted comment aimed at the city of St. Louis.
“Who would want to play in St. Louis?” Bryant asked Dempster in front of several thousand cheering Cubs fans. “So boring. So boring. I always get asked like, ‘Where do you like to play, where do you not like to play?’ St. Louis is the place I don’t like to play.”
For his part, Dempster didn’t hesitate to pander to the crowd either.
“I remember when I was getting traded (by the Cubs), and they’re like ‘Hey, how ’bout St. Louis?’” said Dempster. “And I was like, ‘Zero chance, pal. No way. Won’t even go there as a free agent. Not happening.’”
Shots fired. The Cubs’ star third baseman – and a former pitcher known for his unfortunate Harry Caray impersonation – made comments at a fan convention at the expense of St. Louis, and now he will surely pay the price.
At the same time as the Cubs Convention, the Cardinals were taking part in their traveling caravan in Peoria, Illinois. Relief pitcher John Brebbia called Bryant a “loser” for his comments, despite the fact that the former National League MVP and World Series winner has yet to experience a losing season in the big leagues. Later, Brebbia clarified that he was just joking around.
But Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was not in the laughing mood. The former All-Star took to Instagram to pen out a few thoughts.
“All stars, elite players and leaders of their teams do not speak bad about any city,” Molina wrote. “There should be respect, and you should play and compete with respect. Only stupid players and losers make comments like the ones made by Bryant and Dempster.”
It would probably have been enough for a few Cards players to make some tongue-in-cheek jabs back at Kris. Maybe they could have focused on Bryant’s career .689 OPS in 130 plate appearances at Busch Stadium to explain why the Cubs star dislikes St. Louis so much. But Molina leaned in hard, touting a lack of respect and forcing readers to decide whether he thinks Bryant is stupid, a loser, or both.
Following up with Cardinals beat reporter Jenifer Langosch, Molina expressed that this major-and-very-serious beef will definitely carry into the 2019 baseball season.
“Oh, it will. It will carry [into the season],” Molina insisted on Monday. “I can’t wait to get on the field … St. Louis is home. If anybody says anything bad about my home, I’m going to be there for us. I said to the guys, ‘We are like a family. We have to stick together. We have to defend ourselves, and we have to defend our ground.’ Whoever says something about us, we are going to be there to defend us.”
Hopefully, Molina only means that he and his comrades will be extra motivated to beat the Cubs on the field, and not that Bryant or anyone else will be subject to punishment via violation of the Unwritten Rules. What, exactly, is the official punishment for calling a rival town “boring,” anyway? A fastball in the ribs? That would be a bit extreme.
But whether or not a beanball war erupts over Bryant’s silly comments and Molina’s need to defend the honor of his adopted hometown, one thing is for certain: The rivalry is back. It may be for a really dumb reason, but a little stupid won’t hurt them. Let’s just hope it doesn’t become anything more than that, and that the teams trade blows in the win column and not in any other unnecessary way.