The Yankees-Red Sox are on the daily sports docket tonight, with the opening of a three-game series in Fenway Park (7 PM ET, MLB), joining a college football game between Boise State and Air Force (8 PM ET, ESPN) as the TV showcases for this evening. With Boise having already lost to Washington and Air Force getting hammered by Utah State, even the most hard-core football fans should concede that baseball takes the lead on this Friday evening in September.
As a partisan Boston fan, I should feel that way too, and moreover, I should feel like right now is one of my high points in the Sox-Yankees rivalry. The Sawx have blown open the AL East, and have won 10 of 16 games over the Yanks in the process. Boston took three of four in New York last weekend, meaning the Red Sox have won all three series in Yankee Stadium.
If you’re a Red Sox fan, it’s a pressure-free time to watch your team, look forward to the postseason and see if you can help knock out your rival in the process. For the time being, it’s a high point and I should be looking forward to watching the games this weekend.
But I don’t feel that way.
The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has been losing some luster for some time, since its halcyon days of 2003-05. The teams played in successive seven-game American League Championship Series and fought to a tie in the AL East race the following season. But if you’re a fan of one of the two teams, that shouldn’t matter, any more than people at Alabama and Auburn are worried if their football game is nationally relevant. The point of a rivalry is you simply want to beat your foe for its own sake, not for its broader implications.
Still, I feel like this is a rivalry that’s been ruined for me, and I boil it down to three factors…
1)Myself: Any sort of examination in all facets of life should begin here. And the fact is that I’ve allowed my distaste for the Yankees to overwhelm my affection for the Red Sox. It wasn’t always this way—when I became a convert to Red Sox Nation prior to the 1997 season, I enjoyed the Sox-Yanks games more than any other, but when Boston wasn’t playing, my feelings toward New York were more indifferent.
In the period starting in 2005, once the Red Sox had a World Series title, and I simply didn’t want to the Yanks to answer right back the following year, the approach became more negative. Now people can watch sports for any reason they want, and some have more fun rooting against a team than rooting for one. I’m not one of them.
What this has come to is that I’m more upset that New York is still in the playoff chase than I am happy that Boston has pulled away, and that’s not a spot I like to be in. It ceases to be fun. I’d prefer it if I viewed the Yankees the same way I view my team’s rivals in other sports—the Cowboys, Lakers and Montreal Canadiens. I’m happy if they’re eliminated, I’d root against them if they advanced, but in no case do they come anywhere close to distorting my focus on cheering for the Redskins, Celtics or Bruins.
That’s on me. There are two other factors, though, that have also changed the landscape of the self-proclaimed “Greatest Rivalry In Sports.”
2)Media Overhype: I trust I’m breaking no new ground in saying that the media has completely blown Red Sox-Yankees out of proportion. Friends, who are not fans of either side, would joke to me that the media views the 28 other major league baseball teams as existing exclusively to provide the Sox and Yanks with teams to play, kind of like the Washington Generals being the sparring partner for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Everything that happened in the Boston-New York games was blown out of proportion, and what was once a fun way for a fan of either team to spend a summer evening, turned into an epic clash. Even the managers didn’t like it, with Joe Torre and Terry Francona having to work to keep their team’s focus on the long haul—what a baseball team should be thinking about—rather than appeasing a media hype machine treating each one of the 18 or 19 regular season games like an NFL game.
In this same vein, the fans did not help. New York fans are rightly known for their obnoxiousness, and for a few dark years, Boston fans made a run at joining them. My defense of Red Sox Nation was, and remains, that the arrogance was coming from a new breed of fan, that signed on during the heady days of 2003-04 and had no concept of a Red Sox team that would miss the playoffs or even be irrelevant.
If there’s one thing Bobby Valentine achieved, it was to cleanse the fan base of this people, and the enthusiasm that longtime Red Sox loyalists showed over the franchise blow-up trade with the Dodgers in August 2012, was a demonstration that a lot of Boston fans just wanted their team back.
3)The Current State Of The Yankees: The New York Yankees are an organization with an honorable history. From Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle, they’ve produced some of the game’s all-time great players.
Their most recent dynastic run—the four World Series titles and five pennants from 1996-2001—were done with players who played the game the right way. This was a team worthy of respect, and I’ll cop to having pulled for them in their 1996 and 1999 World Series victories over the Atlanta Braves, due to my distaste for Ted Turner and Jane Fonda.
The current state of the Yanks is not a high point in this franchise’s history.
It boils down to Alex Rodriguez. We begin with the fact that the Yankee front office has shamefully attempted to use his looming suspension as a way of getting out from under his contract. When that was only partially successfully, and he was suspended for a year (pending appeal in the offseason), the team shifted gears.
I don’t fault the Yanks for playing A-Rod—they really had no choice in the matter, and every team has PED users. But this is a man who not only trashed the game and it’s integrity, we now know he threw some of his own teammates under the bus, ratting them out to the league office to try and save his own skin.
Yet what has happened? Baseball observers seem universal in identifying the turning point of the Yankee season as being when A-Rod was plunked in the back by Boston’s Ryan Dempster last month, obvious retaliation for PED usage. Yankee players—notably Brett Gardner—stormed onto the field, furiously defending their “teammate.” Manager Joe Girardi later called it “the angriest I’ve ever been on a baseball field.”
What the hell kind of men are these people? Girardi spent a career as a major league catcher and has seen countless people plunked, most for no better reason than having hit a home run the last time at-bat. Now a player who trashed baseball’s ethics and dragged it through the mud gets nailed, and it’s the worst thing Girardi has seen? The manager’s comments were a monumental disgrace.
And what about Gardner and his pathetic display of rage? Do the Yankee players really think A-Rod would hesitate to throw them under the bus—be it PED or anything else? This was a typical jock display, where as long as a person is a good athlete and can help your team win, everything is justified.
Keep in mind I’m not suggesting Girardi or his other players shouldn’t want A-Rod to get hits. The practicalities of the business mean he has to play, they want to win, and I understand that. But when a retaliation pitch—that clearly had nothing to do with Red Sox vs. Yankees and had everything to do with Clean vs. Dirty takes place, try doing the right thing. Just sit on your hands in a courageous display of silent protest against a man who represents everything wrong with athletics in American culture.
Girardi and Gardner’s displays were so pathetic that they are no longer even men worth rooting against. It was fun to cheer against Torre, Jeter, Mariano and that group. Even today, players like C.C. Sabathia and Curtis Granderson meet that category. You can root against them, but if they beat your team, they’ve earned respect.
Today’s cast of Yankees might win—let’s face it, they might still win the World Series—but it’s been done in a way that defiles baseball and even the finest moments of their own organization. A-Rod is the principal wrongdoer, with his manager and teammates the chief enablers.
TIME TO CLEANSE
What it boils down is that for the first time in a long time, my TV won’t be tuned to Red Sox-Yankees this weekend, nor was it last weekend. And not because football has started—baseball in general, and the Red Sox in particular, are still the lead source of sports entertainment for me. But the only way I’ll even consider watching these teams is if they meet again in the postseason, and even that’s 50-50.
The biggest reason I’m tuning the Yankees out, is because I don’t like the fact that my current state of mind has blinded me to the genuinely positive things this organization—and yes, it’s often obnoxious fans have done. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, stadiums across America played “Sweet Caroline”, in solidarity with Boston. In most stadiums it was simply played. In Yankee Stadium, the fans sang it with gusto, a truly classy display.
New York fans in other sports—namely hockey—did not join in the same of the criticism Boston took in other places for using the “Boston Strong” mantra that came about after the terror of last April as a sports rallying point. Because more than any other American city, New York knew what it meant for a city to use sports as a healing salve after a tragedy.
And the Yankee organization still does classy things—its moment of silence—even called publicly “a moment of silent prayer” for our service men and women—is perhaps one of the great moments in any American sports stadium.
The current state of affairs in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has obliterated those good things in my mind. I can’t control media distortion, I certainly can’t control the current cast of the Yankee lineup and management, but I can recognize when sports is ceasing to be fun. It won’t be this way forever, but I’m taking a break and tuning out the “Greatest Rivalry In Sports” (a moniker I suspect college football fans in the south and fans of the Steelers-Ravens or Packers-Bears find aggravating) for a little while.