Cubs-Cardinals is more than a rivalry. It’s a clash of cultures.
Illinois is a blue state, Missouri a red state. The baseball uniforms follow suit.
The Cardinals are as old school as Oxford. The Cubs feel like a hot start-up run by guys with big ideas and big beards, despite the club having been around since the late 1800s.
The two franchises have always done their own thing, but Cubs skipper Joe Maddon has changed the texture of the comparisons. Can you imagine a Cardinals manager bringing zoo animals to the ballpark, as Maddon did before a game last season? No, you can’t. Farm animals, maybe. Zoo animals, no.
Anyone can see that the Cubs have become the darlings of the baseball world. You don’t have to be particularly perceptive to see that this irritates the bejesus out of the Cardinals and their fans. It’s hard to blame them. St. Louis has a long history of success. The Cubs have a long history.
The Cubs signed Jason Heyward and John Lackey away from the Cards in the offseason, adding more fuel to the bonfire. But this rivalry really has become about Maddon, at a very deep, philosophical level. The two teams open a three-game series at Busch Stadium on Monday night, and everything will be in sharp contrast, thanks to the guy wearing the thick black glasses.
The Cardinals are rooted.
Maddon is a free spirit.
The Cardinals are red.
Maddon is tie-dyed.
The Cardinals are a three-hour church service.
Maddon is the circus roaring into town.
It’s no secret that his act has launched eye rolls around major-league baseball, but probably no more so than in St. Louis, which takes its baseball Very Seriously. It’s not that there aren’t hipsters in St. Louis. It’s that St. Louis wouldn’t want one as its manager. If Maddon ever were named the Cardinals manager, their fans would want to know who gave the apostate a key to the church doors.
Maddon doesn’t take himself as seriously as Tony La Russa did – a bomb defuser doesn’t — but he wants to be a trendsetter the way La Russa was. He wants to have an effect on the game, the way La Russa did. Five relievers in the last two innings of a game? Maddon says, “Yes, please!’’ So did La Russa, but without the exclamation point. Or the “please.’’
This series and this season should be a lot of fun. You can thank Maddon for that.