ST. LOUIS, Mo.(Cubbie Tracker)-- People ask me all the time, when did I start hating the Cardinals? Actually, it took a long time.
Born and raised near Chicago, I started hating the White Sox around the minute the doc cut my umbilical cord. And for the first 16 years of my life, I barely knew the Cardinals existed. They were no different than the Phillies or Expos of Braves. And they were certainly easier to swallow than the Mets after 1969.
And then my family moved south.
You hear about how southern Illinois is split, half Cub fans and half Cardinal fans (there are no White Sox fans south of route 80.) I found that not to be true. Where I landed in the central part of the state, I was the Lonesome Cub. It was Cardinal territory, but I was up for the challenge. After all, with the Sox in my rear view mirror, I need somebody else to fight with.
And it happened in 1974.
The Cardinals and Pirates came down the stretch neck and neck in 1974. They hit the final week of the season tied for first. The Cubs were in a typical late season free fall (I know, hard to believe), and as fate would have it, closed the season at Pittsburgh. The Cardinals were desperately cheering for the Cubs to win. What was I to do? Previously, I would not have cared. But now, after all the abuse my new "friends" had piled on me, I became a Pirate fan for a few days. And on that final, fateful series of the year, when the Cardinals just needed the Cubs to beat Pittsburgh one time, the Cubs were not about to oblige in the Steel City. Not sure what I had for dinner last night, but I can remember 40 years ago like it was yesterday.
On Monday night, the Cubs just couldn't buy a hit. Just three of them on the night, and lost a "heartbreaker" 2-1. For once, I shed no tears. The Cardinals won in Montreal, so the two teams remained deadlocked with two games left in the season.
On Tuesday, with Bob Gibson on the mound (just the thought of him scares me to this day), the Redbirds could not hold a late lead, and the Expos won 3-2. All eyes were now on Three Rivers, where the Lonesome Cub had turned coat. A win by the Pirates would clinch a tie for the division. The Cubbies had the lead 5-4 in the eighth, and it looked for sure like they would be helping their old friends, the Cardinals out. But incredibly, right on cue, things began to fall apart. There was an untimely error, a hit by pitch, and then a pinch hit home run by that big, slow, and old Bob Robertson. When it was said and done, the Cubs had let the Cards down, and lost another heartbreaker 6-5. Pittsburgh had clinched a tie, and the Cardinals needed to flip games on the season’s last day.
Here's where it gets real good. For all you Cardinal fans reading, this one is for you!
Winter came early to Park Jary in Montreal that year. It was a cold and snowy Wednesday, too cold for baseball. So the Cardinals and Expos sat in their clubhouse and waited to see what happened down south in lovely Pittsburgh. One game back with one to play, it was over unless the Cubs knocked off the Pirates. And they tried…….oh how hard they tried. The Cubs jumped all over Jim Rooker for four big ones in the first. With Cub "ace" Rick Reuschel on the hill, surely the Cubbies would take care of this one, forcing the Cards and Expos to play in the snow. One thing about Rick Reuschel, he was an outstanding fielder. Won a pair of gold gloves. I mean, he was just tremendous when it came to fielding his position.
Amazing he made two errors that day, allowing the Pirates a pair of unearned runs. I mean, what are the chances of that?
But the Cubs still led 4-2 (it could have been more, but Rob Sperring was caught trying to steal home. Those silly Cubs!) But the bottom of the ninth turned into a Shakespearean tragedy for the Cubbies. The Pirates scored another run to make it 4-3, and got a runner to third base. But with two outs, big, slow, and old Bob Robertson struck out to end the game. Cubs win! Cubs win! Cards alive!
Cubs catcher Steve Swisher has dropped the ball, and can’t find it. Big, slow, and old Bob Robertson is running down to first base! And the tying run is coming in from third!
So we're going extra innings in game 162, with the season on the line, and the Cardinals receiving updates like we used to, via a pigeon. And the pigeon was about to make a dropping. Now that’s a real bird on the bat.
Having seen a few thousand Cub games by now, I sort of knew at this point things wouldn’t end well for my Cardinal friends.
I'll be brief here, because I just can't contain myself any longer. After the Cubs, shockingly, went meekly in the top of the 10th, Al Oliver gets a one out triple into the corner. The Cubs intentionally walk the next two batters to load the bases. This is very sound baseball strategy by the Cubbies. Manny Sanguillen then hits a dribbler to third that the Cubs just can't make a play on, and the game, and the season were over.
Me and my Cardinal fans would eventually move beyond this, but it took a few years. And to be sure, they give it to me whenever they get the chance, and the chance is usually 162 times a year. But that’s okay. All I have to do is say that magic word, and I can feel their pain.
About the author: Bob Cyphers has 35 years of experience as a journalist in newspaper, radio and television. Sadly, he has even more experience as a die-hard, heartbroken, beaten down Cub fan. And although he promises that his beloved Cubs, as Ernie Banks predicted, will be "Supreme in 2015," deep down Bob understands that life, and the Cubbies, offers no guarantees.