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Cardinals-Cubs 1st-Ever MLB Postseason Matchup Revives Friendly Rivalry

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

So technically you could say that the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs are rivals. They are in two major cities that are about five hours apart. The thing is, it's always been a pretty one-sided rivalry. The Cardinals have won 11 World Series, and the Cubs have been, well, the Cubs. They haven't been to the World Series since 1945 and haven't actually won one since the discovery of fire - OK, 1908. Anyway, sports writer Will Leitch says that this rivalry could be forever altered starting tonight with game one of the National League divisional series between the Cubs and the Cardinals. And Will Leitch joins me now.

Welcome to the show.

WILL LEITCH: Of course. Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: You describe this rivalry mainly between Cubs fans and Cards fans up until now as a very friendly one. Could you explain that?

LEITCH: Yeah. You know, one of the things that I think differs about the Cardinals-Cub rivalry from say, the Red Sox or the Yankees rivalry - it's a little bit less provincial. You know, people from New York and people from Boston are naturally adversarial, and they're naturally very kind of isolated. They kind of like to hang out in their little areas among each other. But, you know, where I grew up is in Central Illinois. It's about two hours away from St. Louis, about four hours from Chicago. It's very mixed. I joked in my piece that it's basically like having a relative who you disagree with politics on. Like, you can't change it about them but you love them anyway. You just hope it doesn't come up over Thanksgiving. Obviously it's different in the actual cities themselves because they're far enough away. But certainly in that middle, the fans have to find ways to coexist even though they have this kind of general blood feud at the middle. And I think it's led - up until now - into a generally more cordial rivalry that maybe you see with the Yankees and Red Sox or the Dodgers and Giants.

MCEVERS: I mean, this is, after all, the Midwest, where we are cordial people. I mean - might be time for some full disclosure here. I mean, we're both from Central Illinois. You are an avowed Cards fan, and as is most of my family, but I'm with the Cubs. But this is how it works, right? I mean, we can still be friends. This is how it happens in the Midwest.

LEITCH: I'm sorry, this interview is over.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

LEITCH: No, no, of course. You're right, that is the beauty of it, you know? I feel like now sports has become more and more like politics in a way, that everything's very polarized and either you're with my team or you're against my team, and I'm cheering against you. And one of the great things I've always loved about the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry is certainly Cardinal fans want the Cubs to lose and vice versa, but there has not been this heavy vitriol that we've seen maybe in some of the other rivalries.

MCEVERS: But now you write that this series that starts tonight has taken a rivalry that's ingrained into the very fabric of the Midwest and has weaponized it. Can you please explain that?

LEITCH: Well, I think once you kind of take a step back from it, you realize one of the main reasons that the Cardinals and Cubs rivalry has been so friendly is there really have never been any major stakes between the new teams. This is the first time they've ever met in the postseason. For the past hundred years, the Cardinals have had a lot of success. All 11 of the Cardinals' world championships have come since the Cubs last one so it's easy as a Cardinal to be - to not really have that much hatred for the Cubs 'cause you can't be that upset at them.

But that's the thing is, now, you know, this is now the postseason. The postseason - the Cardinals have had such a history of success of postseason but also an expectation of success in the postseason, which I think has made them the bad guys for a lot of teams beyond just the Cubs, whereas the Cubs are this insurgent franchise. They're a very likable, young team. The fan base is - Eddie Vedder's in the dugout (laughter), like, everything is all kind pointing the Cubs' way. You wonder if the rivalry will be kind of fundamentally changed by this because the stakes are so high in this series.

MCEVERS: And quickly, what are we talking about here - bloodshed in the stands? What?

LEITCH: You know, it'll start out OK at first. You will always see a lot of Cardinal fans at Wrigley, you always see a lot of Cubs fans at Busch, and generally it's OK. It'll start out fine at first until things really start getting hectic. It gets fired up really fast. I have nothing against the city of San Francisco, but as a Cardinal fan, I've wanted to destroy their team and their stadium two of the last three years. It brings out the worst in you, the postseason. The Cardinal fans know this very well, and I think Cubs fans are about to find that out.

MCEVERS: Will Leitch is a senior writer for Sports on Earth.

Thanks so much Will.

LEITCH: Thanks for having me.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And in the first game of that Cubs-Cardinals series, after five-and-a-half innings, the score is St. Louis - one, Chicago - nothing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.