The Red Sox/Yankees rivalry is considered the greatest rivalry in baseball—and possibly all of sports—but it’s still a shell of what it used to be.
Once, the rivalry felt authentic, keeping everyone on the edge of their seats. Today, it’s a watered-down contest between two AL East teams.
Perhaps ESPN writer Steve Bethiaume put it best: “The Red Sox/Yankees rivalry is dead and baseball has helped kill it: Eighteen meetings a year at four hours each has watered down the product to the point of overkill and taken the starch out of things. These games have become overdone and overblown, almost meaningless. Worst of all, baseball has handed the Boston/New York hatred over to the NFL.”
By most accounts, the rivalry began in 1919 when Red Sox manager Harry Frazze sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, where the Great Bambino became one of baseball’s best hitters.
The Yankees would go on to win 27 World Series while the Red Sox would experience an 86-year drought. In the interim, they became the loveable losers, who often found a way to lose in tragic fashion, like during the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, when the ball went through first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs, costing the game.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Red Sox and Yankees were to two best teams in the American League.
They faced off three times in the AL Championship—1999, 2003, and 2004. During this era, the Red Sox were lead by a dominant pitching staff comprised of Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Derek Lowe, and Bronson Arroyo. For their part, the Yankees had a stacked lineup with superstars like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.
With such talent, the two dynasty-caliber teams reveled in feuding with each other—and the fans played right along.
In 2004, Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez went at it, causing a bench clearing donnybrook. In 2003, Pedro Martinez threw Yankees’ Head Coach Don Zimmer, 72, to the ground.
Without question, even the most heated rivalry can and should exist without actual fists being thrown. Fighting sends the wrong message about what sports, especially at the elite level, are all about—not the least of which is professionalism.
Even still, there is something special about a friendly rivalry, the kind that I wish the Red Sox and Yankees would engage in. In sports, there’s nothing wrong with having a villain to root against, so long as it’s in the spirit of harmless fun. In fact, such rivalries ignite an even greater passion about the sport.