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

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