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.


  1. I agree with most of what you put forth here Jason. The Red Sox have certainly entered a new era in spending becoming a power house that consistently wins and consistently spends far more than their competition - i.e. what Sox fans, such as myself, complained about the Yankees doing for years. The comparison of championship payrolls is interesting however. I would argue that payroll doesn't win championships. The Yankees have been #1 in payroll 9 out of the last 10 years, (2001 they were a close 2nd to the Dodgers) but they only won two championships. What then do we make of those other 7 years when they spent the most and didn't win? Spending most certainly increases your chances, giving your team the depth needed to survive a 162 game season and make the playoffs. Once you're in the playoffs, anything can happen. Thus, I would argue, higher payroll leads to increased playoff appearances and increased opportunities for championships. What you neglect to mention is that, although the Red Sox have often (but not always) been #2 in payroll, the Yankees have been such a distant first that in the 9 seasons of the past 10 where they were #1 they averaged $53 million more than the #2 team. Given that the average payroll of all the #2 teams in those same 9 years was approximately $124 million, that's a whopping 43% higher average payroll! If we bring this back to how it relates to playoff appearances, whereas the Yankees made the playoffs 8 of the 9 years they lead baseball in payroll, the #2 teams only made it 3 out of those same 9 years and the Red Sox 6 of 9. I would posit that it is the Yankees' consistent spending of on average 43% more than the next highest spender that allows them to reach the playoffs, thus increasing their chances of winning. The statistic of highest championship payrolls seems silly, especially if the Yankees continue to spend upwards of $200 million and continue to win Championships doing so. It will only make the Red Sox $135 million in 2007 look like chump change.

  2. Good points all around, Tim. I'd say that my main point was to throw out the "Yanks buy titles" complaint from a Red Sox perspective.

    Once we both get in the playoffs, we're equals. Period. (And if we weren't, no Sox fan would ever admit to that anyway). Just look at 2003 and 04- Two ALCS Game 7s. Ridiculous.

    So the overall MLB landscape is different than the rivalry landscape, which is what my site tries to explore. The Sox can no longer point to the Yanks having an unfair advantage over them in terms of wining it all. The Yanks (and Sox, albeit to a slightly lesser degree) have an advantage over most of baseball to make the playoffs. That I'll concede to you.

    Spend matters between teams in the MLB - the bigger payroll does better, generally speaking. BUT, spending no longer matters between the Yankees and Red Sox.

    And again, to ward off anyone who points the finger at the Yankees as THE problem: if your team resided in a huge market and had tons of resources, wouldn't you want them to use those resources? Blame MLB for not having a cap, for focusing on and allowing huge markets to get bigger (it's a business, after all). If Pittsburgh suddenly jumped to major-market status, every fan and member of that organization would demand they use their resources to the fullest extent.