Ted Williams set his own success aside when he said, "Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer." While four out of ten was his claim to fame when he hit .406 in 1941, his point is clear - it's hard to succeed in baseball.
It's no surprise, then, that in the two organizations where succeeding is imperative, the Red Sox and Yankees, fans adore an overlooked but vital breed of player - the surprise summer call-up.
Over 162 games, players inevitably get hurt or struggle. This paves the way for the minor leaguers who get that fateful call to join The Show. And when they help the Red Sox or Yankees keep winning, you better believe they'll be remembered fondly for a long, long time regardless of their career path afterwards.
They're usually not the top talent either. Those No. 1 studs need to be eased into a comfortable situation when the timing is right (or the financial roadmap - see Strasburg, Stephen). The unsung call-ups are also given a great deal of responsibility early in their careers - they're a Band-Aid fix for an injured regular, perhaps even a star.
But when they succeed, they earn their place in the hearts of Yanks and Sox fans who witness it.
Shane Spencer and Shelly Duncan did it with homers. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner did it with stolen bases. Aaron Small did it with perfection (10-0).
And unfortunately for the A-Rods and JD Drews of the rivalry, these players are given "worthy" status almost immediately, in a few short summer weeks. (Being homegrown doesn't hurt either.)
I was there in 2006, just a over a month into Melky Cabrera's first full Major League season, and sitting in front of me was a young girl with a sign: "The Melk Man Delivers on Sundays" (it was a Sunday game). I was there in 2008 when Brett Gardner laced a single to right for his first hit and RBI. And I can tell you firsthand that the fans cheered louder for these two than almost any player except the Core Four.
Why? Because they prove themselves quickly in big spots and help their team continue winning despite the players they're called up to replace. They're succeed on grit in a game that values getting your hands dirty.
Speed is also king. The big boppers are nice, but the speedsters are endearing because they're scrappy- never THE MAN or athletic specimens but contributors who fit in.
Despite not being the prize players groomed for future success, and despite being thrust into the thick of a summer divisional race, these players respond, "Screw you, watch me succeed."
Few things scream New York and Boston more.
- Speaking of speedy former call-ups, is Jacoby Ellsbury really all the Sox need to claim first in the division?
- It's a slow trade market, but the Sox and Yanks are at it again over big names like...Scott Downs. Nevermind. (And should the Sox be sellers instead?)
- Curt Schilling's bloody sock is now the center of a political campaign, as yet another New England politician angers Sox fans.
- Dom Amore at the Hartford Courant wonders, Why is no one watching the Red Sox?
Yankees/Red Sox Rivalry Commandments