Why Royals-Cardinals “feels” like a rivalry (even if it may not be one)

One of the challenges of being a Kansas City Royals fan is that the Royals really have no “true” rivalry in their division. Sure, battles against the Twins, White Sox, Tigers, and Indians can feel heated every now and then. But a rivalry with any of them? That seems tougher to justify, especially now with the division changing in terms of power demographics.

Last year, I was advocating that the White Sox and Royals had an underrated “rivalry”. However, with the White Sox winning seven out of 10 and now sitting 2.5 games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins, it seems like the Royals-White Sox games this year will lack in anticipation and luster, especially with the Royals sitting in last place in the AL Central.

That being said, if there is one team that gets Royals fans heated at least somewhat, it may be the St. Louis Cardinals, whom the Royals play Monday-through-Wednesday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Kansas City and St. Louis have a weird “sibling rivalry” beyond the diamond, as they are situated on opposite ends of the state of Missouri, and share some mutual dislike of one another in different areas of culture. To Kansas City folks, St. Louis residents are snobby, and out-of-touch, as their city is not quite the “booming metropolis” that people from St. Louis think it is (the city itself has a smaller population than Kansas City). To St. Louis natives, Kansas City is a “cow-town”, more country, and less sophisticated than their Eastern Missouri brethren (it feels like another “cow-town”, Sacramento, which is where I am originally from).

And that “sibling” dislike carries over to the baseball diamond as well: Kansas City considers St. Louis their primary “rival” and Royals fans seem to “amp” themselves up for games against the Cardinals, even if these Interleague games are ultimately meaningless in the end. As for Cardinals fans and their feelings on the Royals-Cardinals “rivalry”? Well, this Tweet kind of sums it up (from a Cardinals fan, nonetheless).

And I get that. As someone who grew up in Northern California and whose family is primarily San Francisco Giants fans, the Giants’ rival is the Dodgers, not the Oakland Athletics. Yes, the Athletics are closer distance-wise (just across the Bay), and the games can be intense (one of the most fun baseball games I ever went to in person was a Giants-A’s game in 2009 at the Oakland Coliseum; half the crowd was split in half and it was fun to see the banter back and forth). However, the Giants-A’s series feels more like a novelty rather than a “rivalry” and I’m sure to Cardinals fans, it’s the same deal: the Cubs from the North Side of Chicago are the Cardinals’ real rival, not the Royals out west off of I-70.

However, while the Royals and Cardinals may not be an “actual, official” rivalry in the grand scheme of Major League Baseball, the series does resemble a rivalry of sorts…

Especially from a Royals fan’s perspective.

There’s no question that the Cardinals hold the upper hand in this so-called “I-70” rivalry. The Cardinals have 11 World Series titles, 19 National League Pennants, and 11 Central Division titles on their resume. As for the Royals? They only have 2 World Series titles, 4 American League pennants, and 1 Central Division title.

Yes, the Royals have only been around since 1969 (while the Cardinals have been since 1882…so yeah, nearly 100 more years). However, despite St. Louis’ longer existence as a baseball franchise, there is no question that the Red and White ball club in Eastern Missouri have dwarfed the Blue and White boys in Western Missouri by a considerable margin when it comes to record as well as accolades. After all…it’s hard to argue with 11 World Series trophies.

The laundry list of “Cardinal Success” can be tough for Royals fans to stomach. It’s difficult to see a metro that’s not much bigger than Kansas City not just be more successful on a regular basis, but do so in such an effortless manner. The Cardinals don’t rebuild as expected for a “small-market club”, they re-load, thanks to a deep farm system, a strong history of scouting (I mean, they did invent the modern day farm system after all), and a fan base that treats baseball as the number one sport in the Spring, Summer, and Fall (only the Blues own the Winter). As much as it pains Royals and Kansas City denizens, St. Louis is a baseball city through and through, and while Kansas City’s baseball history and lineage is underrated (mostly due to the Negro Leagues), it always seems to take a backseat to the Chiefs, Arrowhead and NFL Football, especially if the Royals are not in the playoff race (which has been mostly the case since 1995).

So, this natural “advantage” St. Louis has with the Cardinals gives Kansas City and Royals fans a “chip on their shoulder” when these two meet. It’s like Boston-New York BEFORE the Red Sox snapped the curse in 2004. Much like the Yankees didn’t feel the Red Sox were at their level until New York’s epic collapse in the ALCS when up 3-0 (I remember an ad when Alec Baldwin told Jim from “The Office” that “grass doesn’t have a rivalry with a lawn mower”), Cardinals fans think of the Royals as a “diversion” not a true “rival.” And that only adds to those insecure feelings Royals fans have, especially as they see their Eastern Missouri neighbors compete for Central titles and NL Pennants year after year.

And yet, the Royals have ammunition against the Cardinals.

Which team has won a World Series most recently? The Royals! Which team has won a Pennant most recently? The Royals! When they faced off in the 1985 World Series, who came out victorious? Kansas City! Which stadium is constantly being listed as one of the most underrated venues in baseball? Kauffman Stadium! Which team had a cadre of well-known comedians who support their hometown team with charity events? Which franchise has gained fervent support in baseball circles during COVID for paying their Minor League players and team employees, while the other had an owner that said “baseball franchises weren’t profitable” even though he owned one of the most lucrative teams in baseball?

I think you know where I’m going with this.

The Royals may not have that rich history of success on the field like the Cardinals. But they have the most recent success in terms of championships and are looked at more favorably than their Eastern Missouri rivals in the public eye outside of Missouri. A baseball fan from California or Colorado or Washington or Arizona or New Hampshire will cheer for the Royals on occasion. But to see them cheer for the Cardinals? That seems like a more difficult thing to imagine.

The Royals are the plucky underdogs in the eyes of baseball fans everywhere, and even though Kansas City’s baseball team may not be the more successful numbers-wise, Royals fans will will relish in the little success we have had, especially when it comes to our edge in World Series head-to-head matchups, as well as recency of World Series titles and Pennants.

There is no question that the Cardinals hold the edge over the Royals currently and are in a better place in terms of “winning in the future”. After all, the Cardinals smoked the Royals on Monday, and even though the Royals are tied with the Cardinals in the bottom of the 6th in Game 2 of the series, there is that lingering feeling that the Royals will fall short again at Busch Stadium* (Update: the Royals actually came back! Take that, St. Louis!)

To make matters worse, Kansas City Royals fans will constantly hear this week from Cardinals fans residing around the KC Metro that “Royals-Cardinals is not a rivalry”. They will hear that Royals fans should just get rid of this notion in the heads and accept that the Royals don’t have a legitimate rival, like many Major League Clubs (Mariners, Rays, Rockies, Brewers, etc.). The Royals-Cardinals series is just like any other Interleague one, much like Mets-Yankees, Dodgers-Angels, and White Sox-Cubs, just to name a few.

And Cardinals fans may be right. Interleague contests aren’t genuine rivalries, and the Cardinals’ true rivalry is with the Cubs (who also have a more recent World Series title than the Cardinals).

But Royals-Cardinals still, despite it’s “unofficial” nature, “feels” like a rivalry in the moment and whenever the two clash against each other whether it’s at Busch Stadium or Kauffman.

And at the end of the day, that’s probably what’s most important to us as Royals fans. Even if it doesn’t make sense, most Royals fans can’t help but feel disdain for that StL red hat and birds on the bat logo…

To hell with rivalry formalities…

And of course…as always, St. Louis…Orta was safe…

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