St. Louis Cardinals: Revive that Reds-blooded rivalry

St. Louis Cardinals-Cincinnati Reds hostilities have ebbed in recent years. It’s time to re-spark that fire as the Reds have been aggressive this winter.

In the good ol’ summer of 2010, the St. Louis Cardinals loathed the Cincinnati Reds — and vice versa. The feud ignited with a bloody Cards-Reds brawl in August. Then came two-plus years of sniping, insults, and accusations.

Ah, those were the days.

Calmer and friendlier Redbirds and Reds teams will open the 2020 baseball season in Cincinnati on March 26. Yadier Molina, a key participant in the 2010 melee, will likely get booed by the Great American Ball Park crowd, and maybe they’ll hoot Miles Mikolas, who screeched at the Reds’ Freddy Galvis for stepping on his pitching mound a year ago but don’t expect to see many death glares between the opposing players. Which is too bad.

While brotherhood is all well and good, baseball is more fun when two teams and their fan bases detest each other. Cardinals Nation has that dynamic with the Cubs, of course, and maybe the Dodgers and Braves.

They used to see red about the Reds as well, but the hostility has waned in recent years. Cincy’s Brandon Phillips, who helped instigate the brawl by saying “I really hate the Cardinals” and calling them “little (bleeps),” is long gone, as is pitcher Johnny Cueto, who received a seven-game suspension for kicking at heads and faces during the 2010 dustup. Bickering managers Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker are also out of the picture.

Even Hall of Fame Reds announcer Marty Brennaman is missing, having retired after last year. The elder Brennaman (son Thom still does Cincy radio and TV games) stirred the Cards-Reds venom in 2011 by calling Chris Carpenter a “whiner and excuse-maker,” pitching coach Dave Duncan “infantile,” and saying the St. Louis club “might be the most disliked team in baseball.” Those are fighting words!

But then, in August of last year, Brennaman told Dave Clark of the Cincinnati Enquirer, “For my money — I hate to say it but I think the Cardinals fans are probably the best fans in baseball.”

How sweet (and true) is that! And what a way to chill a once-fierce rivalry. How can we hate the Reds when the long-time voice of the team is singing our praises?

Back in 2011, David Schoenfield of ESPN wrote that the Cards-Reds umbrage had created the “new most-heated rivalry in baseball.” The unasked question: “What took so long?” These two ancient franchises, separated by just a five-hour, twenty-minute car ride, had been NL adversaries since 1892, yet they’d rarely played mutually meaningful late-season games, and they’ve still never met in a playoff (by contrast, the Cards have played the Padres in three postseason series).

The Cards and Reds did compete in the late stages of 1926, with St. Louis overtaking Cincinnati in the final 11 games. The Cards finished two games up on the Reds and beat the Yankees in seven games for their first World Series championship.

Thirty-eight years later, in 1964, the Redbirds got hot late to eclipse the Phillies and Reds (who were in first with five games left) in one of baseball’s most-storied pennant races. Eleven games back on Aug. 23rd, St. Louis went 28-11 the rest of the way, winning the pennant by one game over Philadelphia and Cincinnati. Again, they followed by defeating the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.

When it comes to trades and sales, the Reds have been good to the Cardinals. In 1910, Cincy sent standout second baseman, and future Hall of Fame manager, Miller Huggins to St. Louis. In 1935, the Reds returned 22-year-old first baseman Johnny Mize, who they’d purchased the year before, to the Cards. Cincy deemed Mize too hurt to be of any value, but the Big Cat recovered from a pelvic injury and went on to a Hall of Fame career.

In 1957, the Reds made a five-player deal that gifted the Cardinals with 19-year-old Curt Flood, who played 12 seasons and won seven Gold Gloves as a St. Louis center fielder.

Until 2010, St. Louis fans had little reason to dislike the Cincinnati club, but that brawling year ended with the Reds winning the NL Central, five games up on the Cardinals. Two years later, the Reds’ Baker accused La Russa of intentionally excluding Cueto and Phillips from the National League All-Star roster, insisting the retired rival manager was still stewing over the role those two played in the 2010 rumpus.

In 2017, Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote that Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart “wanted to hire Baker” as Arizona skipper in 2015 but La Russa, his boss, “refused to let him because of their managerial feud.”

In 2015, Molina was lustily booed by Reds fans during All-Star Game introductions.

All was going fine, rivalry-wise, but then the Reds lost Phillips and Cueto as well as a whole lot of baseball games. From 2014 on, they’ve had six straight losing seasons, and they’ve been particularly feeble against St. Louis, winning just 40 percent of their games (46-68) against the birds-on-the-bat team in that stretch.

The Reds’ most glorious anti-Cardinals game occurred when Scooter Gennett, of all people, slammed four homers in a 13-1 trouncing of Mike Matheny’s boys on June 6, 2017. But how mad can you get at a fellow named Scooter?

There’s a chance the Reds will be a way better team in 2020. They’ve quietly assembled some fine hurlers and added solid lefty starter Wade Miley and slugging third baseman Mike Moustakas (35 HR, .845 OPS a year ago) through free agency. USA Today has picked the Cards and Reds to finish one-two in the NL Central. Baseballprospectus.com has the Reds in first, the Cards in third. Oddshark.com has the order reversed, with the Cards in first, the Reds in third.

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If the 2020 Reds play winning baseball, that could re-stoke hostilities with their Missouri foes. A return to competitive rancor might be a blessing for both fan bases.

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