The Reds and their brethren in St. Louis have been battling on the diamond since the 1870’s the Cardinals (Browns) original owner Judge Orrick C. Bishop drew up the original National League Constitution, and by the end of the decade both were out of the league. Out of the league and without rivals two local sportswriters O..P Caylor (later the sports editor for the Enquirer) and Alfred Spink (the founder of The Sporting News) compiled town teams and played a challenge against each other to fill the void.
By 1882 both cities were charter members in the American Association, a league owned by brewers and folks who liked to watch the game be played on Sunday. The Reds jumped to the NL in 1890 and the Browns followed them in 1892, by 1899 they were known as the Cardinals and with the Cubs the three would hold down the western side of the National Leagues ledger alone for the next 57 years.
The Reds and the Cardinals have deep ties, they’ve shared managers (Charles Comiskey, Bill McKechnie, Fred Hutchinson and Vern Rapp) numerous players and a long line transactions over the years. Both humid river cities, both saddled by not being as rich as the big boys who usually won the league. Both towns gave the game innovators like Rickey and MacPhail, and both have been broadcast over the wide expanse of the middle of America.
Falling back to the here and now the Reds find themselves in a hunt they didn’t plan for, against a team they’ve been battling forever. Therefore lets roll back a hundred years to see where the Reds were with the Cardinals and check in at 10 year intervals, starting with one hundred years ago.
Upton Sinclair shocked the world with his graphic novel The Jungle, and the Reds and Cardinals emitted a stench that rivaled the meat packing industry, when the both finished more then 50 games back (Cards 63.5 and Reds 51.5) it would be 18 years before the Cardinals came in 1st and 12 for the Reds.
In 1916 the Great War was raging in Europe and in St Louis Browns owner Phil Ball was at odds with his General Manage Branch Rickey, this rift led to Rickey jumping to the cross town Cardinals and etching their name into National League history. Meanwhile the Reds turned their history around when they acquired Roush and Mathewson from the Giants, jettisoning Manager Buck Herzog in the process. The change in culture would be the pulse of both franchises futures. However both teams tied for 7th in the league, 33.5 games behind the champion Dodgers.
In Lee Allen’s book “The Cincinnati Reds” he titled the chapter about the 1926 season as “The Season that Brought Everything” In St Louis it will forever be known as the season that the Cardinals finally scaled the mountain and won it all and in Cincinnati it was the year that enough, wasn’t actually enough, as the Reds topped their all time attendance record with 672,987 paid. It would take 12 years until they topped that. In that span the Cardinals won 4 more NL championships and 2 World Series. By the end of the season the two games separated them was actually larger then it looked.
In 1936 both franchises were experiencing money problems. The Reds with MacPhail and Crosley had installed lights and were changing the face of the game. The Cardinals who didn’t own a stadium and thus had limited revenue had previously pondered moves to Detroit and Toronto found themselves chasing the Giants all year ending up in 2nd place. Baseball in 30’s tends to get lost in the world of New York, in the Mideast and the Midwest changes were being made. The Reds finished 18 games off the pace and the Cardinals 5 games.
The Reds were in the cellar and the Cardinals were finishing first again, but for the last time in some time. The war was over and the Reds were not awash in prospects due to their conservative signing approach during the war. The Cardinals had lost Rickey early in the decade and the rest of the league was catching up to them. The 1946 World Series revitalized the country and sent major league baseball into a burst of popularity that would pave the way to franchise moves and eventually expansion.
By now the pendulum had swung a bit, the Reds were a slugging team with league average pitching and they were raking in the station-to-station 50’s. In the mean time in St. Louis the Cardinals were searching for their mojo, they had chased the Browns out of town and yet all they seemed to be was Stan the Man and a cast of thousands. The Reds finished 3rd that season, 2 games back. The Cardinals were 4th, 17 games behind the Dodgers.
In the midst of the 60’s it was evident that both organizations were on an upswing, with the residue of Rickey permeating in the Cardinals organization more deeply they reaped the benefits faster, appearing in the World Series in 1964, 1967 and 1968. Meanwhile the Reds were still a bit in transition as they looked for ownership that would be as robust as the Cardinals Busch family. Also envied was the brand new park in St. Louis; in Cincinnati St. Louis was still the baseball town they looked up to. The Cardinals finished 4 games over .500 that season and in 6th in the 10-team league. The Reds finished 18 games back and 8 games under .500.
Watershed year in Cincinnati with the Reds finishing 178 runs above the leagues average, a number good enough for 7th in modern history. The Reds sealed their greatness that season with sweeps of the Phillies and the Yankees. Meanwhile the worm had turned in St. Louis as the Cardinals lost 90 games, the first time they had lost 90 games since 1913, the Reds had lost 90 games nine times in that same time period. I’d venture Branch Rickey had something to do with that.
The Reds were trying to find once lost glory and the Cardinals were redefining the game on the carpet with Herzog, Ozzie, Coleman and McGee. The Cardinals had one more run in them (1987) and the Reds were tuning up for the 90’s. Both teams would win a World Series before the strike and both teams would experience disappointment by losing at least 89 games in a season. Despite the Reds finishing better then the Cardinals in 1986 the Cardinals would achieve their championship faster then the Reds.
The Cardinals sell their team and Tony LaRussa arrives. In Cincinnati the glow of the 1995 NL Central Championship is a brief and bright flame as the Reds finish .500 and the slow descent into the Ray Knight years takes hold. 1996 in the NL Central required 88 wins to win the division; in 203 the Cubs needed 88 to win the division. Only one season required less since the NL Central started and that was 1987 when the Astros won 84. The emergence of LaRussa at the same time as the obnoxious Ray Knight laid a path for what we’ve seen the past 10 years in the NL Central.
History is often like rollercoaster, up and down, shaking you to the bone, it’s good to experience that with someone, for the Reds they can always look down south to their kindered spirit in St. Louis, because without them the Reds don’t exist and without us they don’t.
It’s almost parasitic.
Time for the Reds to feed.