If you’re a Cubs fan, you’ve probably hated the Cardinals all your life. With good reason. The Cardinals are Unlovable Winners: 11 World Series championships, second only to the Yankees. They swiped Lou Brock from the Cubs, in one of the most infuriating trades in baseball history. (We got Ernie Broglio, a former 20-game winner who won seven games for the Cubs over three seasons.) There was also the territorial imperative: the Cardinals were the closest National League team, 300 miles down Route 66, then Interstate 55. Downstate Illinois is a cauldron of Cubdom vs. Cardinalness. I once played miniature golf in Decatur, where putters were forced to sink their final ball into a hole labeled “Cubs” or “Cardinals.” The tally was 50-50. On Opening Day 2016, I met a man dressed in a St. Louis Cardinals suit outside Busch Stadium. He was from Litchfield, Illinois, which is only 55 miles from St. Louis.
“How would you feel if the Cubs won the World Series?” I asked him.
“Oh, that would be the most terrible thing imaginable,” he responded.
I’m happy to say that the man had a bad November.
The Cubs and the Cardinals have one of the oldest rivalries in professional sports. The teams first met in 1885. The National League champion Cubs met the American Association champion Cardinals in a precursor to the World Series. (The Cubs actually lead the all-time series, 1,253-1,196-18 — although it doesn’t feel that way.) That’s a lot of history, but the Cardinals should no longer be considered Cublic Enemy Number One. They’ve been replaced as the Cubs’ nemesis by the Milwaukee Brewers, who only joined the National League in 1998 — 106 years after the Cardinals.
Last year, the Brewers went 15-4 against the Cubs. This year is just as awful. I write this after a weekend of listening to the Brewers clobber the Cubs. I’ve never heard two baseball announcers sound as down-in-the-mouth as Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer describing yet another Hunter Renfroe home run. The Brewers won 11-1 on Friday and 9-1 on Saturday. On Sunday, Marcus Stroman — who was signed just so this rebuilding team will be watchable every four or five days — beat Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, 2-0.
There are a lot of reasons hating the Brewers now makes more sense than hating the Cardinals. Proximity is one: Milwaukee is 90 miles from Chicago. American Family Field (formerly Miller Park) is nicknamed “Wrigley North” because so many Cub fans road-trip there for cheap tickets and cheaper beer.
“To many Brewers fans, Cubs fans are often more rowdy and consume more alcohol than any other opposing team fans at Miller Park,” whined the Reviewing the Brew blog.
Wisconsinites can’t stand seeing someone from another state consume more alcohol. It wounds their pride.
To prevent their ballpark from being overrun by drunken, rowdy FIBs, the Brewers instituted a policy of giving Wisconsin residents first crack at Cubs-Brewers tickets: “Wisconsin, we’re counting on YOU to make sure the ballpark is LOUD especially on Opening Day and every time the Cubs come to town this season. We’re opening up tickets for all Cubs games and Opening Day at American Family Field to Wisconsinites only.”
That’s a shame, because moving the Brewers to the National League Central finally gave Chicagoans a reason to visit Milwaukee. (“It’s a big city on Lake Michigan, with a world class art museum and a tavern on every corner? Thanks, but we already live in one of those.”) It’s not necessary for the Cubs to retaliate, because most Wisconsinites are afraid to set foot in Chicago.
Adopting the Brewers as the Cubs’ chief nemesis also gives Wisconsin another chance to own us at something we care about deeply. Over the last 12 seasons, the Packers are 21-3 against the Bears. The Bucks just eliminated the Bulls in the first round of the NBA playoffs, 4 games to 1. With the exception of 2016, nobly enduring defeat has been central to the Cubs fan experience. No team defeats the Cubs more often, or as badly, as the Brewers. It’s a perfect fit in so many ways.
This rivalry, however, only applies to Chicago-area Cubs fans. If you’re a Cubs fan in Peoria, or Decatur, or Springfield, or Marion, you need to go on hating the Cardinals, since so many of your neighbors love them. That guy from Litchfield needs to suffer through another painful November.