Friday, March 26, 2010

No. 6: Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Uni!

In this post: Yankees/Red Sox Fan Commandment #6; ESPN's Matthew Berry hates on the Yanks; and today's Rivalry Rundown.

Of all the things complete strangers can do to make a Yanks or Sox fan despise them, the hierarchy looks something like this:

1. Physically or emotionally wound a loved one.
2. Sign with the Sox or Yanks.

Don't believe me? Let's try a mental exercise.

I want you to picture your favorite Boston or New York player in uniform: heroic, radiant in that white and red or proud in those pinstripes, ready to do battle for the good guys.

Now, picture them wearing the other jersey. Envision Derek Jeter with two red stripes down his chest. Picture Big Papi stomping to the plate in Yanks gear. If you can resist the overwhelming urge to claw at your temples with a rake, imagine that player wearing that jersey against your team...18 teams a year.

Horrifying, right? Your stomach does somersaults. Quick, here's a picture of Heidi Klum to make you feel better..

That was close. Anyways, the jersey remains the single most transformative piece of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry -- you need look no further than Johnny Damon, who can only now wear both World Series rings he won (one with each team) but who was hated by each side at one point and loved by the other, simply because of his jersey.

Players about whom you have no opinion (or even a favorable one) become instant enemies with the letters across their chest. Sorry, Mike Cameron -- I'm sure you're a nice guy, but you're now one of the 25 most evil men in America to millions of people.)

Nothing is worse, however, than a player who changes sides. David Cone and David Wells come to mind as Yankees who "crossed over".  Eric Hinske and Damon won rings with both teams, while neither side will ever forget Boston fan favorite Wade Boggs and his epic ride around Yankee Stadium on a police horse after winning as a Bomber.

We'll refer to switching sides -- perhaps the ultimate rivalry sin -- as the Doc Adkins. Doc was a pitcher who began with Boston in 1902 and switched sides the next season, becoming the first known player to change jerseys.

I'll leave you with this: there is one player in the history of baseball who, though he played for one side (Boston), can incur no consistent hatred. No matter how red his Sox uniform glowed, a Yankees fan's blood simply won't boil. That Dick Pole.

Yankees/Red Sox Rivalry Commandments

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rivalry Rundown: Sox Projected to Stink?

Okay, so the Sox aren't projected to be a terrible team, per se. But by Yankees and Red Sox standards, would finishing third in the division qualify as a major disappointment? In a word, yes. In two words, hell yes.

And in a word Homer Simpson made up, unpossible!

It's worth noting in today's age of infinite metrics in sports (a topic for another post) that  a mathematician has calculated the final standings for each division. He projects the Sox to finish just behind the Rays in the AL East, in third place and out of the playoffs. 

This is notable for three reasons. First, it can't sit well with Sox Nation to hear that, especially given that Theo Epstein loves his baseball data to make decisions (Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro -- all prime examples).

Second, this mathematician is actually accurate with his predictive formula. He's beaten the odds in SIX of eight seasons (and yet somehow he hasn't exploded onto the gambling scene?).

And third, his method could and should be used by the MLB if it continues to prove itself. It'd be a great asset to Bud Selig's panel of experts as they discuss options to level the playing field. They've talked about overhauling divisions by allowing teams to float across them, all in the hope of giving everyone a fair chance at winning -- why not use this predictive formula to help?

Here's some more goodness from today from around the rivalry:
  • offers five things to know about Nomar and his illustrious career.
  • Here's a  rundown of the top 10 pitching performances in Yankees history. One enormous oversight: Jim Abbott's 1993 no hitter against the Indians. The man had one arm! How does that miss the cut??? There are two-armed pitchers that allowed several hits in the slideshow, and Abbott can't crack the top 10??? I literally read this list four consecutive times because I thought I'd missed it. Unbelievable.
  • NESN reports that the Sox are interested in bringing back lefty reliever Alan Embree. As a Yanks fan, I can only pray they bring back Mike Timlin with him. Or sign Kyle Farnsworth to a minor league deal.
  • Phil Hughes is making a strong case to claim the fifth spot in the Yankees' rotation, challenging Alfredo Aceves. Joe Girardi has been blunt with Joba Chamberlain, and now's the time for him to man up and pitch better if he hopes to stay in the running.
Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody! 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rivalry Commandment No. 5: Keep Holy Opening Day

Opening Day is a holiday to be kept sacred no matter your team. The difference between the typical fan base and those of the Yankees and Red Sox, however, is that everything is doubled. Angels fans look forward to the start of their new season, their new players, and their new storylines. But fans of either the Yanks or Sox have the seasons, players and stories from both sides thrust upon them with just about equal fervor. Why? It's Opening Day, and the rivalry has been renewed!

Know your enemy, indeed.

Baseball is resurrected (pun sadly intended...) on Easter Sunday this season, and Opening Day arrives with more pomp and circumstance than last year. This season, the defending champion Yankees roll into Boston, meaning I'll waste no time in making enemies all over again from Day One.

It's the only way I know how to honor this holy day.

With the Yanks and Sox playing right out of the gate, both fan bases need to ratchet up the intensity earlier than ever. Here are some other ways you can prepare for Opening Day:

  • Follow the ESPN Spring Training Blog.
  • Opening Day signals more than just the start of baseball season -- it's grilling season. Buy one!
  • Sign up for fantasy baseball. You'll be more invested in the season and know almost every starter, bench guy, over-hyped prospect and September call-up.

    Around the Rivalry -- Monday's Rivalry Rundown:

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    Today's Rivalry Rundown

    The fact that I'm a Yankees fan is beginning to matter to my Boston neighbors again, now that Opening Day is less than a month away.

    To be fair, I almost assuredly provoked reactions this week, walking around Boylston St. in a weathered Yanks cap and a shirt that reads "Do the Math". (It features the title counts of both teams up to 2005. It's a petty Yankees reaction to the Sox breaking the Curse, as the shirt estimates how long it'd take Boston to catch up. Needless to say, I might as well have been walking around Boston kicking people in the teeth.)

    Walking past McGreevy's bar (the self-titled "Red Sox Rooters Headquarters" and home of the 25-oz Beckett Burger), a man in his late twenties shouted, "Go Yanks!" I looked up to see him pulling open his jacket to reveal the white NY. So far, so good.

    Not 30 minutes later, a man with a Sox hat and what was probably intended to be a beard -- but more closely resembled a dead squirrel -- took a hard look at the "Do the Math" slogan and squinted at me: "Do the math? Yankees suck, how 'bout that math?!"

    Riveting stuff. And it made total sense in my mind, I don't know about you.

    And now, for today's Rivalry Rundown!

    • Nomar Garciaparra calls it quits as a Red Sox player (sort of). He'll be starting a career at ESPN in broadcasting, where he'll offer color commentary. I can't wait for him to adjust his notes 40 times before each sentence.
    • The Yankees and Red Sox can likely agree on one thing: Ozzie Guillen and John Danks are sorely mistaken if they think the White Sox are in the same league.
    • And now one for the ladies: my former employer, the Hartford Courant, offers this look at Derek Jeter throughout the years. (I may have given it a quick look. Seven times.)
    • Finally, former Red Sox ringleader (and impetus behind the decade's worst baseball catch phrase) Kevin Millar believes he can add value to another franchise in desperate need of a title. Of the Sox and Yanks rivalry, Millar says: “People said it was the best rivalry in baseball. No, it’s not — not if you don’t let us win once, right? They beat us every year. That was the group that said: ‘Let’s do it, so what? They’re hotter, they’re bigger, they’re stronger, they’re better-looking, they’re richer.’ But we had that mentality of, you know what? Let’s roll. We shaved our heads, we did what we had to do to win and be a team.”

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Yankees and Red Sox Rivalry: Fourth Commandment

    I see great things in baseball.  It's our game - the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us. ~Walt Whitman

    Baseball, more so than any sport, is the American game. Now, this is not because baseball is necessarily the most popular sport in the country -- whether or not that's true could be a matter of opinion, or revenue, or TV numbers. Instead, it's the American game because it so very tightly embraces its own history and, along with it, American history. (I wrote my senior thesis on the evolution of baseball in 20th century American literature -- which I'm sure will make its way into this site at some point. Suffice to say that the sport grows up and evolves because of America's trajectory.)

    For franchises in the NBA, NFL and NHL, the historical value lies with the individuals or championship teams. For the MLB, baseball is entwined with history on a higher level: the development of the game with the nation, the affects of the wars and racial integration, the embodiment of American culture and the mix of the pastoral and urban landscapes and migrations that define the people of this nation. All of this, in addition to the people and events of seasons past, are what makes baseball the great American game.

    The greatest rivalries in the world don't exist in the US -- they're overseas, in soccer, cricket or rugby. Why? Because Germany and England have major history. Because it stems from more than just the individuals involved or the wins and losses recorded.

    The history of the countries overshadow the highlights on the field. The US, as a country with so many teams and leagues within its borders, doesn't sniff that sort of rivalry. Not even close.

    The only thing remotely similar is the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry. Without the greater history of the franchises, from the players to coaches to events on the field, a Red Sox/Yankees game is meaningless. From 1903, when they were the New York Highlanders and Boston Pilgrims, to the Curse of the Bambino, to today's almost unbearable media hype, you know there's a greater rivalry happening than just two opposing teams with bad blood.

    I don't need to name the players -- you already know them, and they already carry enough significance. (But you can see what Sports Illustrated deems the all-time lineups for the Red Sox and Yankees.)

    Without knowing, understanding and appreciating the forerunners in this rivalry, it's impossible to be a fan of either side.

    In 2006, I had the honor of winning a scholarship for collegiate journalists in memory of Jim Murray, a Baseball Hall of Fame writer. It's impossible to sum up why this history is so important, so Mr. Murray so appropriately put it as simply as he could when he said, "The charm of baseball is that, dull as it may be on the field, it is endlessly fascinating as a rehash."

    Rivalry Commandments
    1. Thou shalt choose a side. Forever.
    2. Thou shalt not accept bandwagon fans.
    3. I am your announcer. You shall have no other announcers before me.

    Rivalry Slideshow

    Rivalry Timeline

    Rivalry Montage

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    Yankees' Mariano Rivera: Red Sox-Lover?

    Growing up a Yankee fan, it's been easy for me to just assume that the game ends in baseball when your team holds a lead heading into the ninth. Thanks, Mariano.

    In the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, it's hard to dislike Mariano Rivera. He's quiet and humble, and he lacks any visible shtick or gimmicks -- a calling card for too many closers, who shall remain nameless (Papelbon, K-Rod).

    Mariano is forthright with the media, but relatively few feature pieces are ever written about him. So when the New York Times published this list of factoids about Mo, I jumped on it. You should too.

    My favorite? The introduction, which states that "He grew up in New York and now lives with his wife (a Red Sox fan)".

    Even in the home of the greatest closer of all time, the rivalry rages. Unbelievable.

    (Speaking of straddling the two sides, check out what former Sox and Yanks favorite Johnny Damon had to say about his experiences with both teams.)

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    The Yankees and Red Sox: We're Not So Different

    There’s a line that must be repeated in hundreds of movies. Until recently, I dismissed it as nonsense. You know it’s coming every time too: the villain turns to the hero, swirling a glass of scotch, gazing over him as he sits tied up, helpless. 

    The villain smirks.

    “You know…we’re not so different, you and I.”

    Your reaction is the same every time. You immediately dismiss the villain.

    But take a closer look. Set aside your emotion and your bias.

    Take a closer look, and you’ll realize the truth. Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Zeus’s brother resides in the underworld. And the Yankees and Red Sox are, unquestionably, alike.

    The Yanks and Sox have a rivalry that’s long been portrayed as light vs. dark, good vs. evil. (In 2002, the Red Sox President Larry Lucchino even went so far as to call the Yankees the "Evil Empire" in an interview with the New York Times.)

    Ah, but take a closer look. The similarities are striking: shrewd front offices, big markets, northeast locations but national (and international) presence, revered history, and logos that have moved past representing a team to become fashion statements.

    Then there's the payroll, that giant stake most people try to drive between the Yankees Universe and Red Sox Nation. Again I say, take a closer look.

    World Series Champs: Most Expensive Payrolls
    2009 New York Yankees - $201M
    2007 Boston Red Sox - $135M
    2004 Boston Red Sox - $125M
    2000 New York Yankees - $113M
    2008 Philadelphia Phillies - $98M
    1999 New York Yankees - $92M

    Until 2009, the Red Sox were first and second in the list of most expensive teams to win a title.

    Now, part of what's happening here is inflation. Part of it is due to the rising salary of athletes and the greed of agents. But another part is the winning. There's no more of that old-generation Sox mentality of waiting for the letdown, staring up at the Yankees, or believing in curses. Boston fans now expect to win, expect the big free agents, expect the midseason trades – because they can and do make these moves and have the resources to do so. Sound familiar? 

    (Look, if you have a problem with the spending, blame the MLB, not the teams who use their resources – but that's a topic for another day.)

    Even Bill Simmons, not an apologist for the Yanks by any stretch and a huge Sox fan to boot, had the following response in this mailbag on

    Q: Everyone outside of New York and Boston thinks Yankees and Red Sox fans are the same exact person living in two different cities. I see no difference at all between the two fan bases. You are both loud, obnoxious, have ridiculous accents, put stupid pressure on your players, spend money to the point it makes the game unfair, spend way too much money on Japanese pitchers and think your city is far superior to everywhere else's. Am I missing something?
    --Josh, Tampa, Fla.

    SG: Yeah, you're missing the part where we root for teams that win 95-100 games every year and finish 30 games ahead of the Devil Rays. You left that out.

    That was written in 2007 -- the year the Sox broke their own record for most expensive payroll to win it all.

    While discussing the Daisuke Matsuzaka signing, Simmons writes more bluntly:

    They claim they don't want to overspend like the Yankees do, then they blow everyone else out of the water in the Matsuzaka bidding. [...] Back in the day, I liked being the underdog to the Yanks -- they were the ones that broke the bank, we were the ones that played by the rules, and even though we were spending crazy amounts of money, it never really felt that way. Then the Manny contract changed that perception, followed by Schilling (everyone forgets this now, but Boston was one of only two teams that could afford him) and all the ridiculous contracts that followed over the next 3-4 years. Now we're conditionally spending $51.1 million just to bid on a Japanese player. We're no different than the Yankees anymore. We've become what we always despised and resented. It's a little disconcerting.

    And yes, I'm positively giddy that Boston has taken this approach. Because as much as I hate to see them win, I love the thought of them waking up, stumbling through the champagne bottles to the mirror and realizing, "We are who we hate!"

    But the big irony of this entire situation is that neither side wants to resemble the other, so this leads to all sorts of fabricated differences and arguments among fans.

    I'll leave you with a delicious tale that sums this up for me.

    In New Haven, there are two nationally known pizza places: Frank Pepe Pizzeria and Sally's Apizza. Both are on the same street. Both are superb and have received celebrity customers (Frank Sinatra and Bill Clinton, among others). Both have clientelle who fervently defend their preferred restaurant, neither side daring to eat at the other establishment. To anyone outside the area, they're two great pizza places. But locals believe there are stark differences.

    Yet take a closer look: Pepe's and Sally's were founded and run by the same family.

    Guess they're not so different after all.