If you are a baseball fan, the odds are you probably hate me. And quite frankly, I understand why. I am a Yankees fan, a supporter of the most evil franchise in all of sports.
But while I came by this fandom honestly — my Dad was raised in the Bronx and therefore fittingly plopped a Yankees’ hat on his Brooklyn-raised son before he could even walk — the stereotypes would have you believe that I am necessarily:
a) A proponent of buying championships (I actually believe that a salary cap should and must be installed in order to hold GM’s properly accountable for performance),
b) A product of the ruthless “If you ain’t first, you’re last” New York fan culture (truly, every real fan feels this at heart, but it just so happens that New York has more media outlets to opine),
and c) An embodiment of the typical bad-mouthed, bad-mannered New Yorker who believes New York is more important than every other city.
In truth, however, I admit to fitting only one Yankee-fan stereotype: I am spoiled by my team. (OK, maybe I’m also a little bit of stereotype c.)
Oh, how I am spoiled, though.
I won’t brag about the achievements I have witnessed during my lifetime; we already know what I’m talking about. You know, the five championships, the seven World Series appearances, the three-peat, the 14 playoff appearances, the 11 AL East titles, the 125-win season. You know, stuff I don’t even need to mention.
But what spoils me most is both entirely separate and entirely inseparable from the success I just mentioned. It is, rather, the element of Yankee fandom that transcends the game itself: Yankees versus Red Sox, the greatest rivalry in all of American professional sports.
(Note: If — for all non-Yankees and non-Red Sox fans out there — you resent the idea that I think you care even a little bit about this topic, let this be yet another reminder that this is a rivalry you can’t escape. It will be on SportsCenter again. And again. And again. And again. And then it will be on Baseball Tonight right after.)
But what makes and has made this rivalry so unique? And why do the media feel the need to devote so much attention to these two teams, so much so that Brett Favre and Tiger Woods are almost forgotten? In no particular order, these reasons include:
1. Tradition/Historicism. This is almost self-explanatory, so for the sake of space and sparing non-rivalry fans from having to read about a history completely irrelevant to their own teams, I will summarize it in a handful of quick phrases: The Ruth Trade in 1919. The Williams-DiMaggio rivalry of the 1940s. 1978: the Red Sox Collapse, the Boston Massacre and Bucky Dent. The birth of the 1918 chant in 1990. The 2003 ALCS. The 2004 ALCS. The Red Sox finally wining the World Series. Jimmy Fallon consequently starring in “Fever Pitch” and delegitimizing all Red Sox fans. Sox fans being too drunk on happiness to realize. The 2005 Division Race. The Red Sox winning again in 2007, while the collective Yankees population dies a little (I am spoiled. I admitted to this already). Essentially, the history is more than there, and you can’t think Yankees without Red Sox (much like you can’t think of the Nationals and think, “Wait, who?”).
2. The Hatred of the Other Teams’ Fans. This is an intense hatred, one as strong as the hatred of the opposing team, but stronger. There is nothing more loath to a Yankees fan than a Red Sox fan and vice versa. Yet the irony is that while Red Sox fans used to just be Yankees fans with inferiority complexes (as said by ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” host Tony Kornheiser last week), the past decade has caused this inferiority complex to vanish. Which leaves us with the following reality: Red Sox fans are now the exact same as Yankee fans. Look at the three above stereotypes and insert Boston in for New York. Which stereotype don’t they fit? The only discernible difference is that Boston fans say words funny. This is a fact. You can look it up anywhere.
3. The Players We Love to Hate. The rivalry would be nothing if not for those players who, year after year, torture your team. These players add continuity and familiarity to the rivalry, and, in addition to allowing the players to develop bad blood and resentment toward one another, the fans grow to understand whom they are rooting against. (This inherently intensifies the rivalry. There were multiple brawls between 2003-2005.) As a fan, you love to hate these players. You’re given the unique opportunity to plant seeds of a superficial hatred and watch these seeds blossom into a beautiful, vindictive, deep-rooted hatred over the course of multiple years. The fact of the matter is that you grow to love to hate these players so much that you don’t really know what to do with yourself when they’re gone. (See Ramirez, Manny.)
4. The Drama. And there is plenty of it. Since 1998, the Yankees and Red Sox have finished either first or second to each other in the AL East every year except for two. And while the regular season is always competitive, often taking on an October feel (the Pedro-Zimmer brawl in 2003, Jeter’s catch in the stands in 2004 and the A-rod-’Tek altercation two weeks later, Sheffield’s altercation with a fan in 2005), the past decade has featured two of the best playoff series in the history of the sport. The 2003 ALCS (Boone walk-off to win the series) and the 2004 ALCS (Yankees blow a 3–0 lead, and, no, that’s not referring to one game) speak for themselves.
However, these two series, in my opinion, mark the apex of the rivalry, and it has been slightly downhill since. Despite the fact that the regular-season record between these two teams since then is 49–43 in favor of the Yankees, a pretty competitive record over a five-year span, as Dane Cook once told us (may his career rest in peace), “There is only one October!” Unfortunately, these teams haven’t met in the playoffs since 2004, and although the regular-season games are still incredibly competitive — demonstrated by Sunday’s game — as we saw last year, the urgency isn’t necessarily always there. (The Yankees lost the first eight and then went on to win nine of 10). Furthermore, it hasn’t helped the drama any that the rivalry has seen the mass exodus of Manny, Schilling, Matsui and Damon (the rivalry hermaphrodite of the decade) and the diminishment of players like Mike Lowell and David Ortiz in recent years.
Am I saying the rivalry is weak right now? Absolutely not. Both teams have the talent to win it all this year. But let me say that a new, 2003-’04-type peak is approaching. 2008 was an off-season during which the Yankees locked up three marquis-free agents for the long-term; you can bet the Red Sox will break the bank in a stacked 2010-2011 free agent class to match them.
But in the meantime, Yankees and Red Sox fans can hope that on Oct. 1, the teams will be within three games of each other.
Because those three games in Fenway could be the beginning of a new era of drama. And if that’s the case, you non-rivalry fans better find a new SportsCenter.
David Helene is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.