The Cubs and Cardinals have one of the best rivalries in sports and that means every time these two teams come together there is the potential for some seriously entertaining baseball. There is also always the potential for drama. After all, playing meaningful baseball against each other for decades means there are relationships, there is history, and every now and again, tempers flare.
This was all readily apparent as the most recent Cubs/Cardinals series kicked off in St. Louis yesterday. It started with a very unfortunate (and frankly, nauseatingly dangerous) accident in the top of the first when Ian Happ’s long back swing hit Willson Contreras in the helmet and mask. As Willson tried to gather himself it was clear that he was bleeding from the incident. The Cardinals trainers and medical staff tried to get it under control, but it was obvious he would need to leave the game.
As Willson left the field, he gave Happ a quick hug. I couldn’t help but think about this time last year when those two were hugging it out in the Cubs dugout before a trade deadline they were both clearly worried about:
And to be clear, seeing Willson take a bat like that and have to leave the game sucked. I don’t want any player hurt on a backswing (or any other way on a baseball field), especially not my favorite player. But it was clearly unintentional. Happ obviously felt awful. The Cubs broadcast knew it, the fans of other teams watching the game knew it. Almost all of sports media knew it.
I say almost, because St. Louis Cardinals media — yes, even the parts of that ecosystem I generally find to be fair, wonderful sources of information, did not, apparently, know it. Let’s start with the TV call [VIDEO].
This starts out as a perfectly reasonable reaction to an unfortunate situation. Then St. Louis exceptionalism starts to creep in. First of all, the broadcast’s claim about 45 seconds in that the Cardinals might be able to “stitch Willson up and get him back in the game” is ludicrous on its face. In baseball when a player is substituted in for another player the original player is not allowed to return to the game under any circumstances [emphasis mine]:
Teams are permitted to substitute players any time the ball is dead. The manager must immediately notify the umpire of the switch and substitutes must bat in the replaced player’s batting-order position. Once removed, players are not permitted to return to the game in any capacity. Types of substitutions include pinch-hitting, pinch-running, a pitching change and a defensive replacement.
So the Cardinals’ media wishcasting here began early, but it’s the second half of this call that is truly off the rails. Miles Mikolas throws up and in on Happ and misses, he then hits him and the Cardinals broadcast believes Mikolas “hit him the right way” and now “warnings” might be issued. Meanwhile, the rest of baseball reality sees Mikolas throwing intentionally at Happ and believes an ejection is at hand.
Spoiler alert, non-St. Louis baseball was right.
But it wasn’t just the TV call, listen to this from the radio commentary on KMOX as Cardinals manager Oli Marmol was ejected not long after that:
And it wasn’t just the broadcasts. Katie Woo is one of my favorite writers to read at The Athletic, her Cardinals coverage is generally fair and thoughtful, her baseball analysis is on point. But Katie was in the exact same place as the rest of St. Louis last night — on an island where somehow the aggrieved parties here are Mikolas and Marmol:
Personally, I can't believe this resulted in an ejection. No warnings issued to either side, just an immediate toss of Mikolas. https://t.co/CeShaYyWOD— Katie Woo (@katiejwoo) July 28, 2023
A take she insisted on doubling down on — which was just wild to me:
To be clear: I'm not debating the definition of the rule. I'm aware warnings aren't necessary if intent was deemed by the crew. What baffles me is the scenario. Everyone seemed to understand what was happening here, including Happ. https://t.co/3lhbCE8mcB— Katie Woo (@katiejwoo) July 28, 2023
It is rare that all of baseball Twitter agrees on anything, but pretty much all of non-Cardinals baseball Twitter agreed with the umpires in this situation, but don’t just take my word for it. Here’s a sample from the people I follow on Twitter last night.
Awful Announcing had a write up almost immediately criticizing the Cardinals broadcast along with this tweet:
Miles Mikolas throwing at Ian Happ, and then being ejected, as seen and heard on Bally Sports Midwest (Cardinals).— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) July 28, 2023
"COME ON! YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME! YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! HAVE A LITTLE FEEL FOR BASEBALL! HAVE A LITTLE FEEL FOR THE GAME! THAT'S AWFUL"- Brad Thompson https://t.co/y3cTZo1OiN pic.twitter.com/IUTU4ij8pV
Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs quote tweeting the excellent Tipping Pitches podcast:
You can't drill a guy with blatant intent and then "who me?" it when you get ejected. Yeesh. https://t.co/t5PecUXZ93— Jay Jaffe (@jay_jaffe) July 28, 2023
Or Chris Towers, who covers fantasy baseball for CBS Sports:
If you throw at someone intentionally, you should be thrown out of the game. Complaining about this is stupid when there’s no question about what he was doing. https://t.co/wefLo06DMo— Chris Towers …Is A Real Boy (@CTowersCBS) July 28, 2023
It was a wildly diverse set of people who all agreed that Mikolas was in the wrong here — as long as they don’t make their living covering the St. Louis Cardinals.
I know it’s been a rough year of baseball for the Best Fans in Baseball™ but I didn’t realize we’d gotten to the point where not only are the unwritten rules of baseball unique to St. Louis, apparently the most basic rules of the game like substitutions are also up for debate. Here’s hoping the drama stays contained to Thursday night’s game — the Cubs have baseball games to focus on winning if they’d like to avoid a selloff at Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.