I don't hate the Cardinals. Hate is such a strong word and a terrible thing. It should only be used to describe one's feelings toward ISIL or the Dodgers or other nefarious groups. No, I don't hate the Cardinals, but they're as close to generating a negative emotion as a Midwest team is going to get. Let's call it a strong, determined, sustained dislike.
For most Giants fans, 1987 was the year. That was my second season as a Giants fan, and one October afternoon, when my mom drove me to soccer practice, my coach met us in the parking lot to inform us practice was cancelled. Giants v. Cardinals, NLCS, he said. My mom laughed a knowing laughed and we headed home and turned on Channel 2. When the adults change up, you know it's a big deal.
And it was. It was only the third playoffs for the Giants since they moved from New York. It was the first since 1971. And since '71, it was the first time the Giants finished above 3rd place. But more importantly to me, it was the first post-season that me and my friends had known--we needed one of the older brothers to explain this whole playoff thing to us.
That NLCS belonged to our Jeffrey Leonard, the Hac Man. He homered in the first game. He homered in the second game. He homered in the third game. And each time he did, he'd round the bases while leaving one arm dangling down by his side. This "one flap down" trot really, really upset the Cardinals' Midwestern sensibilities--so on Leonard's next at-bat, they sent a pitch into his ribcage. Then Jeffrey hit a homerun in the next game. The Hac Man won the NLCS MVP award--it was the second and last time the award went to a player on the losing side. Yep, the Giants lost that series in seven games. My first sports heartbreak came courtesy of the Cards, and for what? The Twins beat them in the World Series. Losers.
The next year, though, cemented it. Just months after their NLCS matchup, the Giants and Cards, in a ho-hum mid-summer game, went at it. All-time Giants great Will Clark (why isn't #22 retired?!) slid hard into second base to break up a possible double-play. Standing over him was second baseman Jose Oquendo and shortstop Ozzie Smith. Oquendo kicked Will. Will got up. Quendo slapped Will across the head. So did Ozzie. It was on. Four Cardinals mobbed Will. Will got Oquendo into a headlock and pummeled him. Gloves flew. Fists flew. Then something else flew--Candy Maldonado. Candy, who got the whole thing started when he hit the groundball, came screaming in from first-base, leaped, got horizontal, and planted a flying fist of fiery fury on Ozzie's face. Violence is terrible, but this was beautiful. I will always, always love Candy for that punch.
The Giants did eventually avenge 1987, defeating the Cards in the NLCS in 2002 and 2012, en route to a World Series defeat and a World Series win, respectively. And, as these things tend to go, Will Clark would later become a Cardinal himself, though, thankfully, he is back on our side. Oquendo, meanwhile, remains with the Cards, as their third-base coach. So things are as they always were, it seems.
King Kaufman, one of my favorite sports writers, in an article on the bittersweetness of leaving San Francisco for St. Louis, quoted his father's description of those who lived in the Gateway to the West: "These are the descendents of the people who said, 'Eh, this is far enough.'" That always cracked me up. Let's remind them of that. As San Francisco does battle with the St. Louis over the next six straight days (including the Rams on Monday Night), let's draw a line at the NLCS and tell them, "this is far enough."
Giants v. Cardinals, NLCS. Cancel your kids' soccer practices. This is a big deal.
Game 1, Saturday: at St. Louis, 5:07 PM
Game 2, Sunday: at St. Louis, 5:07 PM
49ers v. Rams, Monday: at St. Louis, 5:30 PM
Game 3, Tuesday: home, 1:07 PM
Game 4, Wednesday: home, 5:07 PM
Game 5, Thursday: home 5:07 PM
Game 6, Saturday: at St. Louis, 1:07 PM
Game 7, Sunday: at St. Louis, 4:37 PM