Baseball has historic rivalries outside the New York-Boston corridor, though you wouldn’t exactly know it from SportsCenter. If you’re in California, you know that Giants and Dodgers fans still hate each other, a half-century after the teams left New York, even if the commute from NoCal to SoCal takes a bit longer than the old crosstown subway. And if you’re in the Midwest, you know that there’s no love lost between the Cubs and Cardinals. But it’s easy to miss that genuine disgust if you live outside those media markets, particularly since those rivalries can feel a little tame compared to those two AL East squads who combine every year to spend more than $300 million. Fortunately, Ryan Theriot has taken it upon himself to reinject a little genuine venom.
“I’m finally on the right side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry,” Theriot said on the radio. And many Cubs fans couldn’t wait to tweak their former hometown hero. “He’s full of the false hustle and overrated grittiness that you seem to hold so dear in your baseballers,” Andy wrote in an open letter to Cardinals fans on Desipio.com. “He’s on the right side alright. Yours.” Another Cubs blog, Tales from Aisle 424, published a post titled “Theriot’s Best Skill is Pandering,” and said, “I’m glad he turned on the anti-Cub sentiment so quickly because I no longer have to dread the standing ovations the guy would have inevitably received every time he stepped out of the Cardinals dugout.”
Every amateur team needs a bench jockey, the guy who can’t really play and so instead devoted himself to the sacred arts of nicknaming his teammates and trashtalking opponents. (Okay, that kid was me.) It’s a little harder to justify making a guy with that skillset a millionaire, let alone a starting player, but whatever Theriot’s flaws at the plate and in the field, he’s proving a superb lightning rod. He first came up with the Cubs in 2005, and an uncharacteristic hot streak in 2006 endeared him forever to Cub fans, who in turn lovingly mispronounced his French last name as “The Riot.” Then he played so poorly for the next three years that the Cubs had to include Ted Lilly in a deal just to get the Dodgers to take him. Tuesday, the Dodgers traded him to the Cardinals… and the sparks began to fly.
Theriot wasn’t done with the Cubs, either. He identified a lack of chemistry as the reason the Cubs missed the playoffs in 2009 and 2010: “If you don’t have that cohesiveness, the friendships among players, the camaraderie, guys in the clubhouse joking around, playing cards, going out to dinner, hanging out in each other’s hotel rooms — if you don’t have that, you’re not going to win. In ’07 and ’08, we had it.” Ace at Bleacher Nation simply titled his post announcing the trade, “Sweet Jesus No: The Cardinals Have Acquired Ryan Theriot.”
We haven’t seen this much blood raised or ink spilled over a scrappy middle infielder since the halcyon days of Craig Counsell and David Eckstein. (Note to readers in the future: In case you do not know who David Eckstein is, this glossary definition from firejoemorgan.com may be helpful: “David Eckstein is 4’10” and appears to suffer from borderline albinism. Despite this, he is a mediocre MLB shortstop. After he throws the ball to first base, it looks like he needs to lie down from exhaustion. He also runs hard to first base, as most baseball players do.”)
But Viva El Birdos denies that comparison vociferously.
For one thing, Ryan Theriot wouldn’t even fit in the David Eckstein mold. David Eckstein—how long has “Just Enough” been a nickname on his Baseball-Reference page?—is listed at 5’8″, while T.H. Eriot (i’m officially moving to cut Theriot’s name up in as many different ways as possible, so that The Riot doesn’t seem so out of place) is listed at 5’11”. Suggesting he fits into David Eckstein’s mold is—is it racist? Is gritty a race?
What’s more, they conclude, the argument is moot: “This team will sacrifice fielding range if it uses Theriot as the everyday shortstop. But the team sacrificed fielding range by replacing Edgar Renteria with Eckstein and won a World Series.” Boo-yah. Any time a Cardinals fan wants to make a Cubs fan angry, he can just mention winning the World Series with David Eckstein.
Joe Pawlikowski didn’t help matters with his uninflammatory post on Tuesday that “Theriot makes a degree of sense” and the trade “it was a sensible one for both sides.” But with any luck, Cubs and Cardinals fans will be able to stoke the flames of ire so high that not even Joe will be able to throw water on the bonfire.
(UPDATE: Reader GZ was kind enough to point out that Viva El Birdos’ DanUp — a very smart writer — didn’t actually write the sentence about winning a World Series about David Eckstein. He merely quoted a sentence from the local beat writer.)
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.