Welcome to the first in a new series of articles focusing on team rivalries in MLB.
For this first article, we’re starting with the big one, the baseball rivalry that everyone knows about: the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
The latest edition was just last weekend, with the Red Sox sweeping the series 3-0 at Yankee Stadium, with the sides next playing each other in a four-game series at Fenway Park from 12-15 September.
In this article, Yankees fan and host of The Empire Strikes Back Yankees UK podcast Mark Blakemore, along with Red Sox fan and Bat Flips & Nerds team contributor Richard Banks, will break down what the rivalry means to them and their team.
New York Yankees
Tom and Jerry. Holmes and Moriarty. Blur and Oasis. All renowned fierce rivals seeking to usurp and defeat the other. In the sporting world, at least in the USA, perhaps the example most oft used is the intense rivalry that exists between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
New York and Boston – two cities located on the Eastern seaboard of the USA and competitors against each other economically and educationally. New York gained the upper hand in financial markets while Boston modelled itself as a heartland for technology. Sporting rivalry soon followed reaching a zenith when, infamously, Babe Ruth, a starting pitcher who could bat a bit, was traded to the Yankees for $100,000 to fund, somewhat ironically, a Broadway show (and not a very good one at that).
Ruth was the catalyst for almost 60 years of Yankee dominance in Major League Baseball and, along with legends such as Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzerri and, later, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, the Yankees set the standard for excellence throughout the league. Even Red Sox luminaries like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and peak Roger Clemens couldn’t stem the seemingly inexorable Yankees tide as they swept to title after title.
Indeed, after winning the title in 1918, the Red Sox failed to another one for the remainder of the 20th Century. Were they really cursed? Probably not. Did the Curse of the Bambino loom large in the minds of Red Sox fans during that period? Undoubtedly. Nowhere was this more pronounced when the Red Sox met the Mets in the 1986 World Series only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Yankees fans rejoiced in the Red Sox’s sorrows and chants of “1918” would echo around Yankee Stadium when the two sides met.
Between 1923 and 1978, the Yankees swept to 22 World Series titles while the Red Sox won none. But times change and, for the Red Sox, they changed in the most dramatic way in 2004.
Down 3-0 to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series (ALCS), the Sox launched an astonishing comeback, with Dave Roberts steal of second in the 9th inning the signature moment (and now constantly replayed on MLB TV mid-inning breaks), to take the series in 7 and easily overcome the Cardinals in the World Series. 86 years of pain ended.
Indeed, the story of the rivalry has been somewhat rewritten since the turn of the millennium. Since then, the Red Sox have won four titles to the Yankees’ two, and this season, thus far, has seen the Sox dominate the Yankees 8-1 in the head-to-head to date.
For a rivalry to be fuelled and in some ways fulfilled, it needs both the protagonists to be successful. As Holmes would not have excelled without the guile and cunning of Moriarty to oppose and challenge him, so too do the Yankees and Red Sox feed off each other and need the other to excel. Too one-sided games can become dull without much at stake. It needs the fire and competitive tension generated when the games mean something and sometimes that can ignite (think Varitek and A-Rod!).
That said this season neither team is especially good and both seem likely to miss the playoffs occupying the bottom two spots in an admittedly high quality AL East. This won’t be acceptable to either fan base, neither known for their patience and forbearance. Given the financial resources of both, changes will be made amid an expectation that both will compete again very shortly.
Neither fanbase will accept anything less.
Boston Red Sox
It’s April 11th 2018, top of the 7th inning. The Red Sox trail the Yankees by a score of 10-6. Joe Kelly is out of the bullpen and Tyler Austin is up to bat for the Yankees. On a 2-1 count, Kelly launches the ball for a direct hit. Austin charges the mound and the benches clear. The rest is history.
A scene that’s written into folklore for most Bostonians, not just because of what happened, but because of what it represented. They had just snapped off 9 straight wins after losing the opener to start the season and it was clear from that moment, this team did not like losing. The Red Sox of course went on to win the World Series that year and the Yankees? Well, they were soundly beaten on the way.
It’s moments like these which reignite the greatest rivalry in sports and the game of baseball is better for it. The Red Sox and Yankees, when put together, emote the strongest of opinions from fans, the highest viewing figures and the most discussion. Things which can only be seen as positive for the game.
It’s true, to an extent, that the fervour that surrounds the matchup has waned in recent times, but that’s only natural when one or both clubs are having down years. This weekend’s series, for example, may not have had the same juice as some previous ones, but was still a highlight of a tumultuous season for many.
On a personal level, it has provided me with some of my fondest memories as a fan and moments which were seminal to the franchise becoming what it is today. From the Curse of the Bambino to Dave Roberts’ steal in the 2004 ALCS, the team simply would not be what it is today without those snapshots through history.
Richard Banks is Bat Flips & Nerds’ Boston Red Sox contributor, and can be found on Twitter @GloveIsLife.
In the Yankees and the Red Sox, you have two storied franchises. Teams that everyone has heard of the world over, even non-baseball fans.
Given the frequency with which they meet during the regular season, and the chances for playoff matchups, as two members of the American League, it is natural then that a rivalry would develop between the pair.
Add to that arguably the greatest and best-known player of all time – Babe Ruth – being traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees, and that move coinciding with the teams experiencing contrasting fortunes, and it was all bound to pop off, as the kids would say.
In short, a rivalry for the ages.
Speaking personally, I’ve yet to experience a game at Yankee Stadium, but I was lucky enough to see the Red Sox play at Fenway Park last year – it was a wonderful atmosphere, and the passion of Boston’s fans was clear from the first pitch to the last.
With fans like them in your corner, and all the other factors both Mark and Richard have highlighted, no wonder the rivalry with the Yankees is so intense.
Check back next week for the next in the MLB Rivalries series!
Brett is the Oakland Athletics team contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds, and can be found on Twitter @BrettChatsSport.
Featured image – Ezra Shaw/Getty Images