“Finally on the right side,” of the Cubs/Cardinals rivalry. – Ryan Theriot, upon his trade from L.A. to St. Louis in 2010.
That’s the day many Cubs fans stopped caring for the man we’d once called “The Riot.” In 2016, Theriot went on Twitter to predict a Giants victory over the Cubs in the NLDS. The retired ballplayer apparently wasn’t hoping for a Cubs Convention invite that year. Most recently, he ripped the Cubs for letting go of Joe Maddon, which is understandable. But he also ripped his old manager, Lou Piniella. It all happened on what seems like a tortuously unlistenable ESPN podcast.
The Piniella shade I found curious. I’ve long held the opinion that Lou Piniella wrecked Theriot’s career by advising the slap-hitting singles machine to try and hit for more power. Big mistake.
The Riot used to direct base hits to right. His opposite-field approach made him into a .300 hitter. He was clutch and achieved crowd favorite status for the back-to-back division champs in ’07-’08. Defensively, he was a decent 2nd baseman-playing-shortstop who didn’t make too many errors. Girls thought he was cute.
In 2009, after an 0-for-5 in St. Louis, Lou Pineilla pulled The Riot aside. Sweet Lou advised the little guy to try and drive the ball.
Theriot took the advice to heart. He ended up hitting 7 home runs that season – matching his career total up through that point. He drove in 16 more runs than the year previous. Problem was he struck out 93 times after only whiffing 58 in 2008. He also drew significantly fewer walks (51 in 2009 after 78 in 2008.)
The change in Theriot’s approach didn’t hurt his stats per se the rest of 2009. But fans watching noticed The Riot’s indefinable “clutch factor” dissipating. By 2010, it was clear he was trying to hit everything onto Waveland. Gone was the guy rifling base hits through the hole at 2nd. The Cubs were a mess and they shipped Theriot to the Dodgers along with Ted Lilly for Blake DeWitt and a pair of minor leaguers.
After the season, Theriot was traded again. St. Louis sent pitcher Blake Hawksworth to L.A. for The Riot. That’s when Theriot dropped that bullshit rivalry line and burned the bridge back over the Mississippi. Theriot praised the Cardinals for the value they placed on winning and diminished the Cubs as a franchise who considered championships “an afterthought.”
“There’s probably a decent chance he’s going to feel how hard the dirt is around the home-plate batters’ box,” Cubs catcher Koyie Hill told the Chicago Tribune. “At least once, maybe once an at-bat. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I want to get an apology out of him, and until the whole team, the whole organization kind of feels satisfied.”
Carlos Zambrano called him “the enemy now.”
Other guys have played for both teams. None of them felt the need to spout bitterness or alienate fans. There’s no love lost if you do it right. I’d drop everything I’m doing and pick up Dexter Fowler at O’Hare right now if he called me.
Theriot earned a World Series ring with the Cardinals that year. He may very well have had an OK year at the plate, too. I don’t know off hand because…because, well, fuck him. I’d probably remember if he had a really good year or really shitty year. A glance at baseball reference confirms he was OK.
I always wonder what makes a player torch a town who once loved him. Bitterness? Hurt feelings about a trade? Didn’t see eye-to-eye with teammates? Anger about a negative article? A chorus of boos stuck in the craw?
The Riot will never be invited to a Cubs Convention again. After a ballplayer hangs ’em up – I imagine it’d be impossible not chase that old feeling of glory and fan worship. Why cut ties with a rabid fanbase who might honor you when they catch you having a steak at Harry Caray’s? Might feel pretty good when you’re a 65-year-old Ryan Theriot. Reckon he can spend time in St. Louis and feel some love from Cardinals fans for being part of a championship team. The punishment fits the crime.