So, um, I know this is a St. Louis Cardinals blog, and as such I am expected to maintain a certain Cardinals-centric #brand, but I have to level with you guys about something…
For most of my life, I haven’t hated the Chicago Cubs.
Why would I? Rarely have the two franchises been successful at the same time, and as somebody who tends to align himself with the overlooked underdog more often than not in life, it never felt right to be part of a “rivalry” in which my side constantly bragged about its success (while personally contributing nothing to it) while the other side was left to wallow in its misfortune.
But in 2015, things changed. The Cubs won 97 games and defeated a 100-win Cardinals team in the National League Division Series. Two months later, it was the Cubs who signed highly-coveted ex-Cardinal Jason Heyward in free agency, and eleven months later, it was the Cubs who won the World Series.
That the Chicago Cubs suddenly became the chest-thumping, obnoxious, sore winners that they had long (accurately) accused Cardinals fans of being proved what should have been long ago obvious–that baseball fans are inherently stupid and what separates the lovable losers from the obnoxious jerks is the on-field success of twenty-five men who are not actually the fans.
Below is a list of the ten most fun Cubs of the twenty-first century to hate. Hate, of course, is a strong word, and I should be clear–these are players who are fun to hate in the context of a baseball rivalry. Objectively, Aroldis Chapman should be on this list if the criteria is “least likable players”. But Chapman wasn’t “fun” to root against. He was (and is, but now for the New York Yankees) a miserable miscreant who should be ostracized from baseball. Even most Cubs fans would agree here. Anyway, here’s video of Aroldis Chapman blowing a save in Game 7 of the World Series.
Extremely good. Anyway, Aroldis Chapman sucks and he doesn’t deserve a place on this list. These ten players, however, have earned the contempt that I, a St. Louis Cardinals fan, have for them, and which I can freely admit has been invented, or at least intensely magnified, by my arbitrary team of choice.
10. Kris Bryant: Aside, I guess, from his milquetoast, corporate personality, I don’t have any good reason to find Kris Bryant even remotely annoying (and I don’t find Mike Trout annoying, despite the same lack of quotability). I find myself mostly noting silly things, like the degree to which his blue eyes pierce through all observers, or how perpetual his smile is. The only reason to hate Kris Bryant is the actual reason I do–he’s extremely good. Not only that, but his career with the Cubs correlates almost to the day of them becoming a juggernaut. “Loveable losers” absolutely does not apply to Kris Bryant, who has never experienced failure as a professional baseball player. Hating him is pointless, but so are rivalries as a whole.
9. Jake Arrieta: Arrieta, now a Philadelphia Phillie, went from an inevitable journeyman with the Baltimore Orioles to one of the game’s best pitchers with the Chicago Cubs. And while he has some notorious tweets to his name (a quick Google search will garner them pretty easily), I prefer to focus on the utter humorlessness of the man. You see, Arrieta is what one might generously call “fun police”, threatening to hit opponents with fast-moving projectiles if they flipped a baseball bat. The horror! It is the sort of thing Cardinals players are routinely accused of doing, and if this were actually the case, it would annoy me when they do it too.
8. Moises Alou: I have what I think is a unique perspective on Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS–I watched it with the sound down. Well, not the whole thing, but the parts everybody remembers. I was in my bedroom and I was supposed to be going to bed, so I watched it covertly. And I saw the ball off the bat of Luis Castillo which headed in Moises Alou’s direction before a Cubs fan named Steve Bartman snagged the ball, but I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t hear Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons describe what happened. It wasn’t until the next day I realized that the headline was not “Marlins stage incredible rally to win game”, but rather that some poor civilian had become Public Enemy #1 among Cubs fans. And it was entirely Moises Alou’s fault. He had no chance of catching that ball, and the Cubs players have no excuses for falling apart as dramatically as they did, but because Alou so loudly refused to accept even a sliver of responsibility (it was a difficult play, and had he been able to whiff on it, nobody would have remembered that moment), Steve Bartman had to go into hiding, saddling with all of the drawbacks of fame without any of the fortune.
7. Javier Baez: According to MSNBC host Chris Hayes, “Javy Baez at his best is the most exciting player in the majors.” Baez has become a living legend for his defensive prowess. The numbers say Javier Baez is…pretty good? He’s off to a strong start this season, but prior to 2018, Baez has never produced an above-average season at the plate, and while his defense is good, it is hardly otherworldly looking at the numbers–Baez ranked 11th in Ultimate Zone Rating rate among the 35 second basemen with 500+ innings at the position in 2017. He’s a fine player who has done nothing to earn scorn, but it is impossible from a Cardinals perspective to not see a fairly ordinary player being artificially elevated by those looking at the game through Cubbie Blue-colored glasses.
6. Carlos Zambrano: Undeniably talented but excruciatingly demonstrative, Zambrano was suspended on multiple occasions throughout his career for tirades following poor performances on the mound for the Cubs. As it pertains to the Cardinals, on July 19, 2004, Zambrano infamously hit Jim Edmonds with a pitch in the first inning, screamed at Edmonds after the Cardinals center fielder hit a fourth inning home run, and then hit Edmonds again in the eighth inning one pitch after surrendering a home run to Scott Rolen. Zambrano was rightfully ejected.
5. John Lackey: Lackey had a very successful year-plus with the Cardinals, and even then, most fans didn’t really like John Lackey. It was more of a grudging acceptable because he helped the Cardinals reach the conclusions that fans wanted. For the same reasons, I cannot blame Cubs fans who embraced John Lackey following the 2015 season when the veteran signed a free agent contract with the Cubs. But he was a noted crank, and in what will probably be his final MLB season, Lackey cemented his reputation by arbitrarily accusing noted Player Who Beat Him At Baseball Eric Thames of using steroids.
4. Kyle Schwarber: This is another one of those cases where I can’t fully explain it. He’s probably an okay guy; at least I have no evidence to suggest he isn’t. And he can’t help that he looks clumsy in the field, or that his nearly season ending injury in early 2016 was mourned more rigorously than almost any death. And it’s not his fault that he began to take on a Babe Ruth-ian level of mystique following the 2015 season (after which point he had 273 career plate appearances). I just thought his mustache-less goatee looked stupid, okay? I tolerate him much more now that he’s gone to the full beard.
3. David Ross: David Ross played in parts of fifteen seasons in Major League Baseball and, according to Baseball Reference, was worth 10.2 Wins Above Replacement. In his two seasons with the Cubs, Ross was a solid backup catcher, but he still only accumulated 387 plate appearances. While his defense was solid, his offense was poor–his Cubs career AVG/OBP/SLG was .203/.304/.351. And yet not only was David Ross a fan favorite, he was endlessly a fan favorite. Remember when watching this that Cubs fans relentlessly mock Cardinals fans for overly praising noted starting catcher Yadier Molina.
David Ross had no business getting a cushy ESPN announcing gig, nor did he have any business being on Dancing with the Stars, where even by Dancing with the Stars standards he had mediocre credentials. The 2016 Cubs were a great team but they were also a painstaking marketing machine. From a Cardinals fan perspective, it was excruciating. Just give credit to (deserving MVP) Kris Bryant instead, you dorks.
2. Anthony Rizzo: He’s a terrific player. I can’t deny this. Is he overrated? Maybe a teensy bit–he’s not quite as good of a hitter as Joey Votto nor Paul Goldschmidt nor Freddie Freeman, but that’s an unfair standard. The problem with Anthony Rizzo is that he makes a mockery of the hit by pitch. Hit by pitches are a skill–players (like Jon Jay, to use a recent Cardinals example) are able to accumulate an above-average total by not flinching when a ball comes their way (call it grit; call it insanity; I won’t argue with either). But Anthony Rizzo has made a career of crowding the plate to a hyperbolic extent. Rather than detail his gamesmanship, here’s an early look at the modern HBP king. From a Cubs fan perspective, Rizzo is doing what he can to win, but from a Cardinals fan perspective, Rizzo is exploiting an unwillingness among umpires to not aware players hit with 90+ mile per hour baseballs with a free base for their pain.
1. Joe Maddon: He wears a uniform, so he counts. Joe Maddon has a reputation as one of the game’s best managers, and while I cannot argue that he is not tactically superior to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, much of his reputation has come about not by his superior talent, but by his capacity to be an incorrigible try-hard. Maddon’s obvious shortcomings as Cubs manager have manifested on enormous stages (his overuse of Aroldis Chapman in a Game 6 blowout in the 2016 World Series, which may have directly led to his blown save the next day in Game 7; going with John Lackey instead of Wade Davis in Game 2 of the 2017 NLCS for the Matheny-esque reason that “he was saving Davis for the save”), and yet, he has somehow (impressively, I should say) manipulated most sports media into believing that he is the smartest guy in the room implicitly. If you want more criticism of Joe Maddon, check out what Chase Woodruff had to say about him two years ago.
Anyway, I’m earnestly glad I have these ten guys in my life, because hating the Cubs is fun. It’ll be even more fun the next season they win 86 games and narrowly miss a Wild Card berth because the Cardinals swept them on the season en route to a division title.