Ryan Theriot

Cubs Talk Podcast: Former shortstop Ryan Theriot on 2008 sesaon

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Former shortstop Ryan Theriot on 2008 sesaon

David Kaplan and Cubs insider Gordon Wittenmyer talk with former Cub Ryan Theriot about the 2008 team, the difficult decision the players face in trying to return to start the season, his potential career in broadcasting and his thoughts on the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry.

(3:45) - It was emotional for Theriot watching the 2016 Cubs win the World Series

(7:50) - Thoughts on what the players union should do

(13:40) - The difference between the Cubs and Cards

(18:40) - Could Lou Piniella have done a better job in 2008?

Listen here or below.

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Ryan Theriot understands Cubs-Cardinals rivalry — perhaps as much as anyone

Ryan Theriot understands Cubs-Cardinals rivalry — perhaps as much as anyone

When former Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot talks about Cubs fans and the city of Chicago, it’s all good vibes and the stuff of true love, even 10 years after the Cubs traded him to the Dodgers.

“That city put its arms around me and many other players, man, in a way that’s tough to describe,” he said. “It’s a special place for me.”

So obviously Theriot has reversed course since signing with the Cardinals the following season, in 2011, and changed his mind about telling St. Louis media how great it was to be “finally on the right side of the rivalry,” right?

“No, I’ve not,” Theriot said. “Because at that time, the St. Louis Cardinals were writing my paycheck. And if I’m anything, I’m smart.”

Theriot, the only starting shortstop for multiple Cubs playoff teams between Billy Jurges in the 1930s and Addison Russell in 2015-17, understands the complicated nature of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry perhaps as much as anyone.

RELATED: 7 significant Cubs who also played for Cardinals

A fan favorite in Chicago for Dusty Baker’s and Lou Piniella’s Cubs teams, he caused a stir with the “right side of the rivalry” comments when switching sides in 2011, stood by his comments upon his much publicized return to Wrigley Field, and then won a World Series that year with the Cards — followed by another in his final season, with the Giants, in 2012.

Theriot — who had the game-tying hit in the ninth against the Cubs in 2011 that led to Carlos Zambrano’s famous “we stinks” rant — is just one in a long line of players to experience both sides of one of the longest-standing rivalries in the sport, from Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean and Lou Brock to current-day All-Stars Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler.

“We stinks”?

Just last year a months-long fan-agitating stir was started by Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant joking that St. Louis “is so boring.” 

That almost put Theriot’s rivalry-stoking comments in 2011 to shame — though Theriot got booed at least as loudly upon his return to Wrigley that year as Bryant did in his first appearance in St. Louis last year.

Nothing new for a rivalry nearly 140 years old that took on an elevated tone when the Cardinals started winning championships under executive Branch Rickey’s direction in 1926.

Just ask former Cardinals hero Jim Edmonds, who signed with the Cubs 12 years ago this month with significant doubt about how much he had left in the tank — and then stabilized center field while going on a post-May tear that helped the Cubs to the National League’s best record. 

He got a standing ovation before his first at-bat as a Cub in St. Louis — then booed with the rest of the Cubs the rest of the game.

“Jimmy was just a wonderful teammate to be around,” Theriot said. “I still talk about his opposite-field power; in batting practice he would hit balls out to left field almost easier than he did to right field. Just bringing that winning mentality over, it’s a different perspective.”

Until the Cubs finally broke through to win the 2016 championship, that was distinct.

“Being in both cities and playing for both teams it was a little different, because in St. Louis with Tony [La Russa] and those guys, the whole ‘can we win’ question was never a question, because they had done it and repeatedly done it. It wasn’t an ‘if.’ It was almost like a ‘when’ — ‘when are we going to put our foot on the gas pedal and get this thing going and win this whole thing.’

“So Jimmy kind of brought that mentality and that aspect to the clubhouse, a calming feeling.”

MORE: Former Cubs SS Ryan Theriot to MLB players: ‘Stick to [your] guns’

The Cardinals’ championship in 2011 was the most recent of their National League-record 11.

But that team wasn’t as good as the Cubs’ 2008 team, said Theriot, despite its first-round loss to the Dodgers — Piniella later admitting the weight of 100 years contributed to playing tight.

“I agree with Lou,” Theriot said. “It got real tight that year in ’08. And I still say to this day, that was the best team I ever played on. That 2008 team was the best major-league team that I ever played on, top to bottom — ’11 was pretty close.”

Eight years later, at home with his son Houston “fired up” and sitting next to him in a Cubs jersey, Theriot was “locked into every game” of the World Series the Cubs finally won in 2016.

“It was pretty emotional for me to watch those guys,” he said. “I’m just so happy for the city, for all those die-hard Cubs fans that live right there around the stadium, that have the memorabilia on their windows, and you see the old-timers that wear pins all over them — it’s a dream for those guys to experience a championship.

“I know I wasn’t part of that team, but I had some pride when they won.”

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Former Cubs SS Ryan Theriot to MLB players: ‘Stick to [your] guns’

Former Cubs SS Ryan Theriot to MLB players: ‘Stick to [your] guns’

If baseball players don’t trust the owners as they try to hammer out a deal that will get a 2020 season started by early July, what else is new?

But players past and present say those well-earned trust issues are putting players disproportionately in a negative light as talks continue amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 90,000 Americans.

“I think the players are in a tough spot,” former Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot said on the Cubs Talk podcast on NBC Sports Chicago. “No matter what happens with this and how it plays out … if [players] don't concede and stand their ground, like they should, then they come out looking like the bad guys.”

RELATED: MLB and players 2020 season showdown comes from mistrust built in recent years

Theriot, a fan favorite and respected clubhouse presence during the Cubs’ 2007-08 playoff seasons, last played in 2012, when he won a World Series ring with the Giants (a year after winning a ring with the Cardinals).

But even now, as he trains and coaches young players, the ripple effects of Major League Baseball’s decisions during the pandemic are being felt at his Traction Sports Performance facility in Baton Rouge, La. — in particular, when it comes to the decision to shorten the annual 40-round draft to five rounds this year with $20,000 limits on bonuses for undrafted players. He estimates he has at least a few college players who will go undrafted despite being top-10-caliber players.

“I think it’s very unfortunate right now,” Theriot said. “I personally think because of the state of our world today you’re seeing some people taking advantage of the situation. I know the owners never wanted as many rounds in the draft. They never wanted as many minor-league teams as they had in the past. But that’s the way everything was set up.

“Some people are getting taken advantage of a little bit, I think, and I just hope that the players stand their ground and kind of stick to their guns for the guys coming up after them.”

That’s why there’s a collective bargaining agreement, said Theriot.

He also is among the chorus of current and former players who point out any MLB claims of losses or hardships are impossible to take at face value because owners have never fully opened their books to the players.

Never mind the fact that the union says the deal struck in March with MLB over pro-rated salaries in a shortened season settled the matter then — while MLB invokes a “financial feasibility” clause over the additional losses it expects to suffer with no fans allowed in stadiums.

“It’s a tough spot for baseball. And I get it,” he said of the business decisions involved on both sides. “But I hope the players stand their ground.”

The health-risk factors for players, managers, coaches and other essential personnel during any 2020 startup are as big a part of the equation as simple dollars and cents. Even if a deal is reached on all terms — health-related and financial — commissioner Rob Manfred told CNN no player will be forced to play.

RELATED: Rob Manfred 'hopeful' MLB will have 2020 season, lays out coronavirus plan

That could raise another list of issues regarding a given player’s contract if he chooses to sit out for health reasons.

“Look, it’s something we’ve never done before, never been through,” Theriot said. “But America needs baseball. America needs these guys to go out and play in a safe, responsible environment, and I have all the faith in the world it will happen.”

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