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A Storied Rivalry, Part I

The first part of a four part series chronicling the shared history of the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals

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When the Reds take the field against the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day, they will be facing the Cardinals for the 2306th time in their long history. The Reds have a 1111-1194 record against the Cardinals in 2305 regular season games going back to1882, scoring 10072 runs and allowing 10470. Over the past few years, the rivalry between the Reds and Cardinals has heated up considerably, but the histories of the two teams have been intertwined and closely connected for well over a century, to both teams’ founding and initial entry into the major leagues.

In 1881, neither St. Louis nor Cincinnati was represented in the National League. Cincinnati had been a National League city from the league’s founding in 1876, but was kicked out of the league for selling beer at games and renting out its ballpark on Sundays. The St. Louis Brown Stockings had also been a founding National League team, but folded after the 1877 season amid a game fixing scandal. In 1881, a Cincinnati sportswriter named O.P. Caylor organized a new version of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and took the team to St. Louis for its first game, an exhibition match against the newly reorganized Brown Stockings. The game, which Cincinnati won handily by a 12-3 score, was in many ways a proof of concept that a new league, catering to immigrants and working class fans and featuring cheaper prices and beer and liquor sales at the park, could be successful. A few months later, in November of 1881, the American Association was founded at the Gibson Hotel in Cincinnati. Brown Stockings owner Chris Von Der Ahe was instrumental in the league's founding and would remain the dominant voice during the American Association's existence.

In that first season, the Red Stockings went 10-6 against the Brown Stockings, scoring 103 runs and allowing only 43. Cincinnati won the American Association pennant that first year, while St. Louis finished in fifth place in the six team league. According to Edward Achorn's excellent book on the American Association The Summer of Beer and Whiskey, in May of the 1882 season, we have the first known example of a fan of the team now known as the St. Louis Cardinals criticizing fans of another team for their uncouth behavior. St. Louis fan John Cooney called Louisville fans "hoodlums," saying they "rent the air with blackguard words and hoots of disapprobation at every move made by the Browns." The vocabulary may have changed over the last 130 years, but the sentiment hasn't.

The 1882 season also led to the first major off-field conflict between the team now known as the Reds and the team now known as the Cardinals. The Red Stockings, as American Association pennant winners, decided to play a post season series against the National League pennant winning Chicago White Stockings (the franchise now known as the Cubs). St. Louis owner Chris Von Der Ahe and Pittsburgh owner Harmer McKnight, as the most powerful and outspoken owners in the Association, forbid the Cincinnati team from participating. The National League and the American Association were in direct competition at the time and Association leadership was opposed to any form of cooperation between the leagues. Cincinnati ignored the order and two games were played in October of 1882, marking the first time the champions of two leagues met in a post season series. The two teams split the two games, and rather than continuing, Cincinnati bowed to Von Der Ahe's threats of banishment from the American Association and halted the series. At the league's annual meeting soon after, Von Der Ahe and McKnight voted to expel Cincinnati from the American Association, but were voted down by the rest of the owners. For all the beanings, bench clearing brawls and insults that would come later, this is the only known instance of St. Louis trying to run the Reds out of business, and it came after only one year of coexistence. Subsequently, there would be peace between the National League and American Association, and a championship series between the two leagues' pennant winners would be sanctioned. St. Louis played in four of them, winning one, losing two and tying one. Cincinnati would not win the American Association again.

In November of 1886, the Red Stockings and Browns (the latter team having dropped the "Stockings" from its name) combined to make baseball history when the first ever player trade was executed between the two teams. Cincinnati sent catcher Jack Boyle plus $400 (some sources list the amount as $350) to St. Louis in exchange for outfielder Hugh Nicol. Neither player was particularly outstanding after the trade. Nichol was more well known at the time, but Boyle was younger and played much longer.

After the 1889 season, the Cincinnati team jumped to the National League and dropped "Stockings" from its name for good as well. In 1890 and 1891, the teams from Cincinnati and St. Louis were in separate leagues and did not play each other at all. Cincinnati went 61-71 against the St. Louis in their American Association years. The American Association went out of business after the 1891 season, and in 1892 St. Louis joined Cincinnati in the National League and their series resumed.

For many years after that, neither team was particularly good. The Reds consistently finished in the middle of the pack while the St. Louis finished at or near the bottom of the league. The St. Louis team finally became the Cardinals in 1900, but their luck didn’t change along with their name. The Reds consistently played particularly well against St. Louis, with the Cardinals only posting a winning record against Cincinnati once, in 1901, between their entry into the National League in 1892 and 1910. The low point for St. Louis may have been in 1896, when the Reds swept them on the season, winning 12 and losing 0.

In 1919, the Reds would win their first National League pennant on their way to winning the tainted Black Sox World Series. That year also saw the first no-hitter between the two teams, with Cincinnati's Hod Eller blanking the Branch Rickey managed Cardinals on May 11 at Redland Field by the score of 6-0. Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby was one of the three Cardinals to reach base via walk on the day.

In 1926, the Cardinals won their first National League pennant and World Series, defeating Ruth and Gherig's Yankees in seven games. This marked the beginning of a period of great success for the Cardinals, with Bill McKechnie managing them to a World Series loss just two years later, and three more pennants and two world championships in the first half of the 1930's. The Reds, meanwhile, finished dead last for four years in a row between 1931 and 1934. This would not be the last time the two team's fortunes diverged so dramatically. This period also saw the only time a player for one of these two teams would hit for the cycle against the other, with the Cardinals' Joe Medwick accomplishing the feat on June 29, 1935.

Next week, we'll have Part II, wherein the Cardinals will give a rude welcome to a man who would become a Cincinnati legend, and the Reds and Cardinals will execute a trade that would help change the course of baseball forever.

Other Sources:

The Summer of Beer and Whiskey by Edward Achorn

The Cincinnati Reds by Lee Allen

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