Ryan Theriot: Let the Flamewar Commence!

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.

Flame on!

(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.)



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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Rui
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Rui
5 years 6 months ago

…you may want to reread the fielding range quote on VEB. That’s not what DanUp was saying at all

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 6 months ago

“I’m finally on the right side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry,”

I’m going to sound like an arrogant prick on this one, but oh well … I think the data/facts back me rather well … just some will take my tone as brash.

[1] There’s not a cubs player on their roster that wouldn’t think the same thing.

[2] To me it’s NOT a rivalry, it’s hatred, bitterness, or jealousy. A rivalry implies that both teams compete for the same thing. One side has won the most world series titles in the NL, the other hasn’t won one in 100 years. That’s not a rivalry (FWIW, I said the same thing about NYY-BOS before 2004).

My big thing is “Why the hell would the Cardinals want Theriot?” Many players go back and forth between the Cubs and cardinals. My guess is that almost all of them would say StL is the better franchise/situation. It’s kinda one of those obvious things … just look through history for mounds of evidence.

So yeah, let the “Flamewar begin”. It better get started now, it’s often over by June. Yeah, i said it. *grin*

Marl Grace v. Frank Dipino, Mark DeRosa, etc … there have been quite a few players play for both (Jim Edmonds recently). I haven’t seen too many cases where the Cubs have been on the “good” side of it.

At some point, I would like the Cub fans to get the team they deserve (sincerely). Contrary to the stereotype, they know baseball rather well.

Steve
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Steve
5 years 6 months ago

The Cardinals/Cubs have won 6 of the last 8 NL Central titles – i think you would have to consider, at least recently, that would constitue a rivarly.

Steve
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Steve
5 years 6 months ago

*** sorry 7 out of the last 8

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 6 months ago

Only one of those teams celebrate a division championship as if it were something.

You won’t find many Cardinal fans wearing “Division Champs” t-shirts.

That’s the difference.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 6 months ago

I get your point. One thing that bugs me is that the two teams are ralrey good in the same year.

It’s not like BOS-NYY where they will often finish 1-2.

I cannot recall a Cubs-Cards season in my lifetime (73-10) where they were competing for the division title against each other, down to the wire. That would be awesomely awesome.

81
Member
5 years 6 months ago

The Cubs–Cards rivalry didn’t just pop up because they were in the same division, it’s been around since before the “Cubs” and “Cardinals” even existed.
Jim Edmonds had a highly publicized fallout with TLR and Jocketty, and there was plenty of bad blood between him and the Cardinals organization. Mark DeRosa had a career season with the Cubs publicly stated how much he enjoyed playing in Chicago and didn’t want to be traded. He gave the Cards 1 WAR in an injury shortened season.
blah blah
Important thing to note: Neither of those players, or any of the other Cesar Izturises or Aaron Mileses or Jason Marquises or whoever fanned the flames like Theriot did, because it’s a classless thing for a mature person to do.

If your argument is organizationally based, then you mitigate the importance of winning the world series. Admittedly the Cards have taken the trip far more often than the Cubs, but there’s also a territorial rivalry, which is played out in merchandise revenue, ticket sales, etc. In this sense the Cubs are easy winners, with one of the more prolific and dedicated fan bases in all american professional sports.

So counterpoints:
1) Not every Cubs player feels the same way as Theriot. Common sense.

2) It’s a legit rivalry and one of the oldest in professional sports.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 6 months ago

Actually, the Chicago-StL rivalry started in the NFL. The StL cardinals (football) were originally the Chicago Cardinals. Relocated to StL, Bears were formed, city rivalry started.

There was the Lou Brock trade, Bruce Sutter thing, etc. The Regional thing fuels it (cities 3 hours apart), but in terms of “who beats who” or “who wins what”, it’s a laugher. As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of players that have played for both … so the familiarity often breeds contempt.

Blackhawks and Blues aren’t exactly freindly as well.

In this sense the Cubs are easy winners.

Way to go Cubs. In a population of ~7M, you out-earn a team in a city with 1.5M.

I concede that it’s a regional rivalry. CHI is the closest NL city to StL. They’re also in the same division. HOU and CIN are NL West teams reorganized to the central. PIT is PIT, and MIL was an AL team. There’s really no other rivalry option (LA and StL have played almost 1700 games and are right about .500, with both teams winning A LOT of WS … but nowhere close to each other in terms of location).

The Cubs are rivals by default … not by merit. But, if rivalries are fueled by hate, rather than playing meaningful games that decide important stuff, then it is a rivalry … much like the Michigan-Ohio State “rivalry” is becoming.

I know we can, and do, call everything a rivalry .. it’s great marketing. But really, the StL-CHC rivalry is one team winning everything and the other team not liking it. Very similar to BOS_NYY before 2004. It wasn’t a rivalry, it was a lot of ass-kicking and a lot of whining about it.

jlive2003
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jlive2003
5 years 6 months ago

Circle,

No, the Chicago – St. Louis baseball rivalry goes back to the 1880s, when Chicago was the powerhouse and St. Louis mostly fielded poor teams year after year. It has absolutely nothing to do with football.

Being close cities that were historically isolated (no other large cities anywhere nearby at the end of the 19th century and through much of the 20th), the rivalry between the cities was natural (although they are closer to six hours apart by car, unless you are driving like a maniac). The rivalry between the sports franchises, starting with their baseball teams, grew out of that. In most ways, especially early, Chicago dominated. And it is in the long-run that I (a Cardinals fan) think about the rivalry. What makes it a rivalry isn’t anything that’s happened in the last hundred years. It’s older than that.

Stan
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Stan
5 years 6 months ago

To say that Theriot played so badly that the Cubs had to include Lilly just to get the Dodgers to take him is just false. No one made the Dodgers play Theriot every day after the trade and its not like Theriot made enough money (was Milton Bradley) such that a team would be motivated to dump him. Did his performance fade after that magical 2006? Sure. However, he was still an average major league starter in 2007-2010.

There’s enough material to use to enflame Cubs and Cards fans already without you making up new stuff.

D4P
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D4P
5 years 6 months ago

Agreed. I have no doubt that Ned Colletti thought Theriot was a good player.

CanMan
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CanMan
5 years 6 months ago

Whether Colletti thought Theriot was a “good player” holds very little water. Ned is a dunce. Theriot was horrendous for the Dodgers. The reason he was playing 2nd was due to the Dodgers lack of options at the time. The Dodgers wanted Lilly. Cubs wanted a 2B to replace Theriot and to cut some payroll.

GZ
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GZ
5 years 6 months ago

The author at Viva El Birdos does not believe this:

“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.”

The author actually believes the opposite. The above quote was from an article in the Post-Dispatch that Danup was ripping to shreds.

RiverRat
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RiverRat
5 years 6 months ago

Your quote about the World Series and Eckstein was from Jeff Gordon. Dan corrected it to read:
“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 17 fewer games.”

Doogolas
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Doogolas
5 years 6 months ago

As a Cubs fan I can say I’ve never liked Theriot. He was always one of those guys that just looked like a giant douche bag. I’m sure he’s not. But he looked the part and I hated him for it.

All the same though, he was an OK player for a couple years.

Last thing I’m going to say is, Cardinal fans DO wear Division Champ shirts. I see them all the time. Hell, one of my ex girlfriend’s entire families have them from each of the last 5 times they’ve won the division. And her dad wore them constantly, as did his wife. Go to Cardinal games and you can see them all over as well.

The real difference comes from Cardinal fans having a “WS Champs” shirt to wear. So if both are there, they’re going to choose the WS Champs one. Because, well, it’s better. Cub fans don’t have one to trump the other with.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 6 months ago

The real difference comes from Cardinal fans having a “WS Champs” shirt to wear. So if both are there, they’re going to choose the WS Champs one. Because, well, it’s better. Cub fans don’t have one to trump the other with.

That’s the point of not wearing a division champ t-shirt.

I’m sure some Cardinal fans do wear a division champ t-shirt. Did anyone really take my comment as an all encompassing factual statement that no Cardinal fan has ever worn a divisional champ t-shirt?

My point was “Why would you if you don’t have to?”, and that was in response to the idea that the Cubs and Cards battle for division titles. It’s unfortunate the the teams are rarely good at the same time.

GrouchoM
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GrouchoM
5 years 6 months ago

And the award for most arrogant and imbecilic poster on Fangraphs goes to …. CircleChange

Yup, 4 out of the last 10 years is a very rare occurance.

2009 Cards were 7 1/2 games better (1-2 finish)
2007 Cubs were 7 games better (1-3 finish)
2003 Cubs were 3 games better (1-3 finish)
2001 Cards were 5 games better (1-3 finish)

Anybody with a IQ under 50 will look at the WC totals and say there can’t be a rivalry. Yet, those with brains know the playoffs are a crapshoot and that while the Cards have 21 pennants, the Cubs have 16. Their W% is nearly identical (.518 to .514). They’ve also send about the same number to the HOF too (42 – 40).

Anyways, thanks for showing your bias and stupidity. I won’t waste another second of my life reading your drivel.

noseeum
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noseeum
5 years 6 months ago

“If you’re in California, you know that Giants and Dodgers fans still hate each other”

Not from what I saw. I lived in SF for 12 years. I’m a Yankee fan who grew up in New York. I went to a few Dodgers games in SF, and it was like a high school reunion. Fans of each team were chatting it up with each other and having a grand old time. It was deeply disturbing. I’m not quite sure I’ve recovered from the lameness of that rivalry yet.

I saw far more hatred in Oakland at Yankee games than I did in SF at Dodgers games. A’s fans HATE the Yankees!

Bigmouth
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5 years 6 months ago

I’m gonna guess these games weren’t at the ‘Stick. I was there the night they threw batteries at Kirk Gibson.

Ted
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Ted
5 years 6 months ago

I disagree about the cards-cubs being so hateful. After a lot of games, beers, and conversations/arguments, I think the rivalry is fierce but civil. Both sides allege hate, but the hate is different from the yanks-sox, Kansas-mizzou, or celtics-lakers. Those rivalries are violent often. In Boston and new york I have repeatedly heard fans seriously threaten violence or brag about beating up someone with another team’s hat or colors. Cubs-cards events usually are somewhat good-natured and often end in grins. The result is great. Games in both cities are a blast for everyone.

I love the birds, and the idea of the cubs winning a world series in my lifetime is disproportionately repulsive to me. However, I love wrigleyville (though the stadium is somewhat subpar once you get past the history) and I accept cubs fans (just not in my family).

This arrangement/co-existence leads some to think the rivalry is not as good. I think it makes it better.

Cheers

Jon B.
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Jon B.
5 years 6 months ago

I don’t think there will be much of an uptick in the flamewar between Cubs and Cardinals fans. The reality is, Ryan Theriot just isn’t good enough to spark it. It’s just a transparent attempt to ingratiate himself to his new team and fans. It’s not worth getting worked up over.

The frustrating thing about Theriot is how mediocre he is. He has some tools, but it’s like he doesn’t know how to use them. He hits for a decent average, but has almost the same ISO and OPS+ as Juan Pierre — in The Hardball Times’ words, owner of the emptiest .300 average ever. And though I hardly thought it was possible, he actually makes Pierre’s SB% look good too. I seem to recall reading somewhere that you have to succeed about 75% of the time in order to help your team more than you hurt it with steals. Theriot does not fit this definition, making his speed–at least on the offensive side of the ball–something of a non-factor. His play won’t hurt you too bad, but it’s nothing to write home about either.

Good enough to start a flame war? Nah. If the Cubs or Cards need ammunition to flame each other with, they’ll find something better than this.

Bad Bill
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Bad Bill
5 years 6 months ago

You draw (although you do not complete) an important and insightful distinction here between a rivalry between _teams_ on the one hand, and _fans_ on the other. I grew up almost exactly half way between the two cities (Bloomington-Normal) and have been to a lot of games in both places, frequently between the two teams. The teams have generally behaved quite respectfully toward each other — remember, for example, the genuinely classy way the Cubs handled the Darryl Kile horror? That hasn’t been forgotten, either by the Cardinals team or by Cards fans. However, the interactions among the fans haven’t always been so benign, particularly involving the bleacher creatures at Wrigley.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Theriot comes out of one of the early Cubs-Cards games with a baseball stuck in his ear.

Ted
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Ted
5 years 6 months ago

Actually, I’m only concerned with the fans. I think team rivalries have faded greatly with free agency, shared agents, and such. For instance the cardinals really seem to hate the reds the most. Before that, the brewers and their shirt antics were enemy number one. These rivalries seem to stem from actions by the teams rather than by the name or jersey.

I have seen ugliness at cards cubs games. There are always knuckleheads everywhere. My point probably should have been about a cumulative difference in atmosphere. I concede that this is essentially anecdotal, and my experiences now at age 30 might be weighing more heavily. Considering all that, I still feel the cards-cubs rivalry is less violent but just as good.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 6 months ago

IMO, the Cubs-Cards rivbalry is more of a “fan rivalry” than it is a “team rivalry”.

The fans go back and forth all summer long, and both enjoy it.

The teams rarely play for something meaningful.

It’s not UNC-Duke, Miami-FSU (of old), BOS-NYY.

In other words, there have been quite a few times where one team will win thehead-to-head series, and the other team wins the division. It’s kind of hard to treat the games as being very important when that happens … unlike rivalries such as those in college football, where winner goes on, loser goes home.

But, I do agree that to the fans, it is a rivalry … namely due to region. Cardinal and Cub fans live on the same turf (Southern/Central IL v. Northern IL & Iowa).

NBarnes
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NBarnes
5 years 6 months ago

Do the Blues and the Blackhawks still occasionally have hockey games break out when they get together for a running series of fistfights-on-ice?

Kevin (Large Mouth) Bass
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Kevin (Large Mouth) Bass
5 years 6 months ago

David Eckstein reminds me a lot of the actor Tony Cox from Bad Santa.

The only difference is David Eckstein isn’t black.

MDB
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MDB
5 years 6 months ago

Theriot has a .348 career OBP. He’s clearly a substantially better hitter than Brendan Ryan. This is why the Cardinals added him.

If the Cardinals feel the need to play Brendan Ryan for his defense every day they can r/l platoon Schumaker and Theriot at second. Theriot is a career .346 wOBA against lefties. Schumaker also has a career .346 wOBA against righties.

Together Schumaker and Theriot combine to form a good hitter.

Side note: Cards and Cubs is a great rivalry with passionate fans on both sides.

Bigmouth
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

Actually, it’s a quick shot from LA to SF on the plane. Faster than taking the subway from Brooklyn to the Polo Grounds!

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