Did you know that the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals have only met twice in the playoffs before this year’s National League Division Series? No? Well let me tell you a funny story about one of the fiercest rivalries in sports history.
First, a little background on the franchises in this rivalry. The Chicago Cubs began their existence as the Chicago White Stockings in 1870. They played in the National Associaton for a year before taking a 2 year hiatus in 1871 and 72 because of the Great Chicago Fire. They returned to the National Association in 1874. They joined the National League as a founding team in 1876, and have played in the NL ever since.
The St. Louis Cardinals have a more complicated origin story. The St. Louis Brown Stockings began play in the National Association in 1875. They joined the National League the next year when the NA folded after 1875. They recorded a successful first year, including the first No-Hitter in National League history, against the Hartford Dark Blues. They lost their National League affiliation in 1877 because of a game fixing scandal. The team continued to play as a barn storming team, but went bankrupt by 1881 and were on the verge of not existing when Chris von der Ahe purchased and completely reorganized the club. In 1882, the team joined the American Association, a rival to the National League. They picked up Charles Cominsky as a new manager, changed their name to the St. Louis Browns and turned into the most successful franchise in the league, winning 4 consecutive league pennants.
With the success of the American Association, the owners of teams in both leagues decided to put on a series to decide the champion of professional baseball in the United States in 1885 They called this series the “World Series”. The Brown’s opponents? The Chicago White Stockings of course.
They arranged to play a best of 7 game series to determine the winner, and the series actually failed to do so. One game was called due to darkness and ended in a tie. In the second game, the umpire made a hugely controversial call, and Browns manager Charles Cominsky pulled his team off the field in protest, thus forefeting the game to the White Stockings. The remainder of the games were played and the series ended tied 3 wins a piece with one tie, the only series to end in a tie, and it is bitterly disputed to this day who actually won the series. This remains the only time a “World Series” was played and ended in a tie.
With bitterness towards each other, the team’s won the pennants on their respective leagues and met one more time in the World Series.
There was a clear winner this time, St. Louis won in 6 bitterly contested games. The final game of the series was quite exciting! The Browns tied the game at 3 in the bottom of the 8th inning, and forced the games into extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th inning, Curt Welch got on base, then came around to score on a wild pitch. His slide home was called the $15,000 dollar slide because winning the series earned the Browns about $15,000 dollars in prize money. It ended up being the most famous play in 19th century baseball, and another piece of the building rivalry between Chicago and St. Louis.
This was the last time the two teams met in the post season for 119 years. The World Series was played until 1891 when the American Association folded. When the Association folded, several teams, including the St. Louis Browns, were absorbed into the National League. The NL remained the only major baseball league until the American League was founded in 1901, and the rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago remained intense and personal. The clubs changed names a few times over, but the animosity remained. The White Stockings became the Colts in 1889, then the Orphans in 1898 before becoming the Cubs in 1903. The Browns became the Perfectos for one year, in 1899, then became the Cardinals in 1900.
The rivalry from the Cardinals rejoining the National League as the Browns in 1892 was one sided. The Cubs were much more powerful and dominated the Cardinals early one. The Cubs won most of the games and when the modern World Series began, the Chicago Cubs won 3 consecutive NL Penants from 1906-1908, and 2 straight World Series, in 1907 and 1908. They won 7 more NL Penants from 1910 until 1945, making it 10 NL Penants in the modern era. The Cardinals didn’t win a Pennant until 1926, and it took them until 1931 to tie the Cubs in World Series championships. But when the tide started changing, it shifted rapidly. To this day, the Cardinals have won a total of 19 NL Penants and 11 World Series titles. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, and haven’t even won a Penant since 1945. The teams still draw huge crowds, increased attention for their meetings, and the upcoming meeting is the most significant in a long time.
I think the Cardinals are the better team of the two this year, but the Cubs will give the Cardinals a difficult match up in their 3rd ever post season match up. It’s quite striking that the first two meetings were in the original World Series. They couldn’t have met in the playoffs from 1892 until 1968 because there was no National League Championship Series yet, and they couldn’t match-up in a playoff series until 1995, when a 3rd division and the Wild Card slot were added. This is so far the only time the teams have met in the modern era of playoff baseball. It should live up to the rivalry the clubs and cities have built over the years, and should provide people like me, who don’t really have that big a rooting interest in the series, with some high quality baseball! They’ve made for some memorable fights from the 19th century to the modern day.
And that’s the story of the rivalry you never knew!