The offseason is finally underway and it’s beginning in a similar fashion to the regular season: the Red Sox have failed to accomplish anything worthwhile. All these contract talks and claims of being “all in” on players are just lip service until I see numbers, years, and fresh new Red Sox uniforms. Considering the lack of action on the free agent market, the most interesting thing in baseball right now may be the the distribution of awards (I know, snore, but it’s all we got). But, what I took away from the awarding of the Most Valuable Player wasn’t who won (Mike Trout in a unanimous decision? Never saw that one coming) but rather who was omitted from the race for MVP. For the first time in the 103 year history of the Most Valuable Player, there was not a single vote cast for a Red Sox OR Yankees player. None. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Bagel. Goose egg. Not even a farewell 10th place pity vote to the indomitable captain Derek Jeter.
And as I thought about the futility of these fabled franchises, I began to think about how far the rivalry between these two teams has regressed over the past decade. I mean what the hell happened to these teams? We’ve gone from dropkicking each other at home plate to giving each other an old fashion handy dandy every time a player retires. To truly appreciate how diluted this “rivalry” has become, we need to look back at how nasty and hate-filled it once was.
As we all know, the rivalry began with the trade of Babe Ruth by the Sox to the Yankees. Years of Yankee domination followed, which also included more that its fair share of bad blood. Following the Ruth trade, many more Red Sox followed him to New York, including team captain Everett Scott, manager turned GM Ed Barrow, and in 1930 via trade, Hall of Fame pitcher Red Ruffing. The first documented violence between the teams came in 1938, when Joe Cronin beat the crap out of OF Jake Powell on and off the field. Of course there’s no video evidence of this, but I choose to believe that the greatest player-manager in Major League history would have sh*t-stomped some no-name putz from New York.
The height of the rivalry came in the 1970s. 1973 marked the first major brawl between the team since Jim Piersall tried to tangle with the human powder-keg that was Billy Martin in the 1950s. On a failed suicide squeeze attempt, Thurman Munson came home and plowed into Carlton Fisk, causing a benches clearing brawl. But the best fight in BOS-NYY history was easily the 1976 brawl. Once again it was a Fisk collision at the plate, this time with all-around sweetheart (lol jokes) Lou Piniella, causing one of the greatest baseball brawls of all time:
Then 1978 happened. More specifically that sh*t sipper Bucky Dent happened… yeah… that’s enough of that. On to this century. 2003 arrives and the rivalry is renewed. In Game 3 of the ALCS, geriatric Don Zimmer takes a run at Pedro Martinez. Unfortunately, little old Icarus was flying to close to this fiery Dominican sun, and was dealt with swiftly and harshly. Was it overkill? You bet your sweet ass it was overkill. But it was also enough to send Joe Buck and Tim McCarver into a self-righteous tail spin so thumbs up for that.
But my favorite period of the rivalry came the following season in 2004. Why? Because it was the first time Boston had the upper hand since Ruth was a pitcher and the Yankees were the Highlanders. Now I already wrote a full retrospective on the 2004 season a few weeks ago, so I’m not going to rewrite all of that. But other than the World Series victory, the most important thing to happen in the 2004 season was when captain Jason Varitek face washed human pincushion Alex Rodriguez after he was hit by a Bronson Arroyo pitch:
Why was this significant?
Well, other than being a key turning point in Boston’s season, it was also the last brawl between these two teams. Yeah that’s right, these two teams haven’t had an on field altercation in literally over a decade. This was the beginning of the decline for the once fabled rivalry. Of course there were still some off the field shenanigans. In 2007, Owner’s son and personification of nepotism Hank Steinbrenner went off on a rant that would make a conspiracy theorist cringe, claiming Red Sox Nation was a synthetic ESPN creation and that America was a “Yankee country”. News flash Hanky boy, ESPN is based in Bristol, prime Yankee territory in Connecticut. And if the dirty four letter network bit down on your team’s shaft any harder you’d probably need stitches, so don’t try and paint them as Red Sox rah-rahs. As for saying America is a “Yankee country”, that’s like saying Columbia is a cocaine free country: You’d either have to be ignorant or high (possibly on cocaine) to believe so. Maybe you can’t see the lay of the land from way up high on your daddy’s throne, but I can assure you, a Yankee country we are not.
You know the saddest part about this, other than the fact I just spent a paragraph ripping some do-nothing douchebag for something he said seven years ago, is that ripping some do-nothing douchebag for something he said seven years ago is just about the only thing this rivalry has given us to blast for the past decade. Seriously what the f*ck happened to these teams? There used to be so much animosity–it seemed like every offseason was a battle to see who could steal more players out from under the other. When the Yankees pilfered A-Rod in 2004 it felt like a swift kick in the groin. Then the Sox beat out the Yankees for Curt Schilling and we all know who won that offseason arms race. Even after the World Series victories, the teams still competed for players. I remember waking up December 23rd 2008 on my 14th birthday to find the Yankees had gift wrapped a sucker punch to the face and left it on my door step in the form of an 8-year 180-million dollar deal for Mark Teixeira, who was all but set to sign with the Sox.
But now? Red Sox and Yankees players are buds. They act like the relationship between these teams wasn’t founded on a century of hatred. David Ortiz is d*cking around with Jeter during batting practice and we’re all supposed to sit here with our thumbs up our butts and sing Kumbaya. Even the front office doesn’t seem to care about the rivalry. Jeter and Mariano Rivera retire in consecutive years and John Henry takes the opportunity to spend an hour before game time to massage their egos and give them both a happy ending? Come on. If I wanted to watch grown men stroke each other like that I’d watch wrestling. For God’s sake I haven’t seen a Yankee even try to fight a Red Sox since elementary school. Do want to know how many times the Red Sox have cleared the benches against the Rays since the last time they did against New York? Four time. FOUR TIMES! Twice in one game too. And the Rays suck, so what the hell guys?
You know, this used to be the pinnacle of sports hatred. Lakers vs Celtics. UNC vs. Duke. Ohio State vs Michigan. Bruins vs Canadiens. Harvard vs Yale… Some extraneous soccer rivalry. They were all measured by how they stacked up to Red Sox vs Yankees. Now, as @MLBMeme so eloquently put it:
Do you know what the worst part is? They’re right. And honestly, it makes me sad. 2004 was probably the best year of baseball I’ve ever been alive for. And it was almost solely because the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was on another level of contentiousness. And I don’t know if I’ll ever see that level of hate between these two teams ever again. They’re almost completely separate entities now. They’re barely even battling for players in the offseason. Jon Lester is a Yankee fan’s pipe dream, and at third they’re not in on Pablo Sandoval, and we’re not in on Chase Headley (yet). When the Sox-Yankees rivalry suffers, baseball as a whole suffers. Baseball is at it’s best when these two franchises are battling for playoff spots deep into September, and we haven’t seen that in a while. So barring a big step up from both of these franchises in 2015, we might be in for another year of lackluster baseball.