The Cardinals. The White Sox. No true Cubs fan really needs to be told what to think of those teams. They’re the rivals. Sure, sometimes there is some grudging respect for how they run their franchises, but without question, they’re the enemy. The Brewers are a younger rivalry, but it does seem to be a natural one between the two National League Lake Michigan teams.
Some rivalries are born. Others are made by circumstances. I’m here to talk about a new rivalry that for the next few seasons, is likely to be far more important than the other three. The Cubs’ biggest rival at the moment is the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Al did a preview of the Dodgers last week and called them a “formidable foe.” That’s an understatement. While the preview did (in my opinion, correctly) note that there would likely be some regression from last year’s Dodgers team that won 104 games, they are still a threat to win the World Series, They still have a young, powerful lineup and a solid pitching staff, anchored by the greatest pitcher of his generation, Clayton Kershaw. They’ve also got a large, brilliant front office and a smart field coaching staff. They have a deep-pocketed ownership group. They’re the defending National League champions.
Of course, you know what other team you can say that about? The Chicago Cubs. (OK, the Cubs don’t have Clayton Kershaw. But they do have a very deep starting rotation at the moment.) The Cubs are young and still hungry. This group of players isn’t going to be content with just one World Series title.
The Cubs and the Dodgers have met in the past two National League Championship Series, with each team winning one and losing one. With all due respect to a very good Nationals team (as well as the rest of the National League), the Cubs and the Dodgers are the favorites to meet again in the NLCS this season. And while it’s too early to start making predictions about 2019 and beyond, both teams are built to last. Both teams have gotten new ownership groups in the past decade and both sets of owners decided to rebuild the franchise from the bottom up. Both teams have large front offices and big scouting staffs. Both teams have found new sources of revenue to fund a first-class organization. Neither team is going anywhere.
It may be hard for anyone under 40 to believe it, but once upon a time, the New York Yankees and the Kansas City Royals were big rivals. Not as big as the Yankees and Red Sox, of course, but the Royals were probably the Bronx Bombers second-most hated team. The two teams faced off in the American League Championship Series four times in five years: 1976, ‘77. ‘78 and ‘80. The Yankees won the first three. The Royals won the final one. This moment in the 1976 ALCS is still one of the most famous moments in the Yankees storied history.
Yes, the legend of that home run is enhanced by the fact that Chris Chambliss had to knock several fans on their ass just to get around the bases and score the winning home run. (Baseball sure was different in the seventies, wasn’t it?) But it was a walkoff home run that sent the Yankees to their first World Series in 12 years, which at that point had been the longest drought in their history after they played in their first one.
Conversely, this home run by George Brett is still one of the most famous home runs in Royals history. (No! Not that home run! More on that later.)
It wasn’t a walk-off, but it was the home run that sent the Royals to their first-ever World Series.
It was in this light that the 1983 Pine Tar Incident took place. I know it seems hard to believe now, the Yankees and Royals of that era hated each other. Yankees manager Billy Martin would have called out any team on pine tar if it meant winning a game, but you have to believe he took a perverse delight in pulling it against the Royals and Brett.
But back to the Dodgers and Cubs. Throughout most of their histories, the two teams have regarded each other with a sort of indifference. In part, it’s because the two teams were never really good at the same time. For the most part, the Dodgers were a pretty bad team before 1947 and the Cubs were pretty good. After 1947, their positions reversed. (Gee, what happened in 1947?) Sure, Midwestern Cubs fans who found themselves transplanted in California tended to either embrace or scorn their Dodgers fan neighbors, but for the most part, the two fanbases tended to bleed their own shade of blue in seperate parts of the country.
I’m telling you that’s going to change. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager are going to the the Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant of the Dodgers for years to come. While most of the Cubs young stars are already in the majors, the Dodgers have two more potential stars in the minor leagues in pitcher Walker Buehler and outfielder Alex Verdugo that should be able to take the jobs of some aging veterans in the next year or two. The Dodgers have also shown repeatedly that they are willing to spend what it takes to put together a strong pitching staff. They’re not going away anytime soon.
Neither are the Cubs. In fact, the Cubs signed two free agents away from the Dodgers in Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow. Both players have said that the two teams they wanted to play for were the Dodgers or the Cubs. The two teams (along with the Nationals) could be the major bidders for free agent outfielder Bryce Harper next season. A lot of people seem to think so. The rivalry will continue on and off the field.
The two teams have already met twice in the NLCS and I expect that they will meet again over the next four or five years, maybe multiple times. It’s impossible for two teams to meet so often with so much on the line without some bad blood developing. It’s coming.
Maybe this rivalry won’t last forever. After all, most rivals have some sort of geographic connection, and the Cubs and Dodgers really don’t. The rivalry could fade like the Royals and Yankees rivalry of the 1970s and ‘80s. But for now, there’s only going to be enough room for one shade of blue in the National League and both teams are going to want to make sure it’s theirs.