Straub: Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Just Isn't What It Used To Be, And It's Not A Pretty Picture

September 6, 2014

I’ve actually started this piece three or four times this week because I’ve been partially inspired by a few different things. In the end, however, I decided we’ve talked enough about Michael Sam, even though I think ESPN got a bad rap for something which was intended to talk about actual details of how a team handles a hot-button issue and not as an invasion of privacy.


I also think much of the media was wrong in exonerating UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Aureimma for his call to the Little Leaguer who said she wanted to play for UConn someday.


I think he meant well, and the young lady was a great story in a tournament which gets further and further away from its true purpose every year, but I also am unsure Geno makes the call if the girl hadn’t said she wanted to play basketball for the Huskies. She’s way too far away from being considered a prospect, so I don’t think there should be any punishment, but I don’t think it was completely harmless, either.


As the week went on I began to think about how contrarian I’d been feeling since I was going against conventional wisdom. I don’t mind riling things up and starting a good argument, but I felt like I was being a bit moody, so I started looking for something nice to talk about. After all, I’ve already ripped the city of Chicago and the WWE in my first two columns for the new site.


Then I saw a tweet which made my desire to be nice vanish.


It was from Sean McAdam, a Boston-area baseball writer who has been around forever. He was covering a Red Sox-Yankees game Thursday when, before the game, he tweeted this:


“Nice moment on field - Jeter comes over [to] meet w/ Mookie Betts and offer some encouraging words. Next: Christian Vazquez asks for picture.”


Now let’s be clear: I’m not blasting Derek Jeter with any of the words you’re about to read. I couldn’t have more respect for him despite being a Red Sox fan. And if I were on the same field as Derek Jeter, I’d want to say hello. I, however, while a fan, am not a member of the Boston Red Sox. I am not competing against my team’s biggest rival.


Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair hated each other. It took Nirvana and Pearl Jam years to get on the same page with each other. Tell a Celtics crowd at the TD Garden the Lakers are coming to town and they become rabid even when Boston is struggling.


The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees should not like each other. I don’t think they have to be fighting every day (Ryan Dempster was wrong and is lucky he didn’t get his own teammates hurt), but the Red Sox and Yankees can’t be taking pictures with each other on the field in uniform. McAdam might have been joking about that part, it’s hard to tell the tone of the tweet, but since the Betts part was clearly true, let’s take it at face value. Keep in mind, however, my point remains valid even if no picture actually was taken.


If Christian Vasquez, who seems on track to be a good young player, sees Jeter at a party, he should feel free to go up to him and say hello. In suits or whatever guys wear to parties these days, I have no issue. And I actually appreciate Jeter being willing to talk to young players and try to pass along the knowledge he gained over 20 years to today’s youth. But something just felt wrong in my heart when I saw that tweet. It was like when I learned wrestling was choreographed. The guys are still working hard and putting their bodies at risk, but the idea of the two teams having this hatred for each other the way fans do and want them to simply isn’t real.


In a way, it’s a good thing. Derek Jeter hasn’t been hardened by 20 years in the spotlight and is still just a regular guy who likes talking to other baseball players. And the young players on the Red Sox certainly picked the right guy to seek advice from both on the field and off of it, as Jeter is as classy a player as there is.


For the fans who live and die with their teams and pay disgusting prices to go to games, however, it stings. I wasn’t around for the games in the 1970s, when the team’s fought regularly, but I’ve read enough to know there was a true dislike between the rivals. In the early part of the last decade, the teams hated each other in part because the intensity of the rivalry was sparked by a vast increase in the media coverage which played up the feud so much it became more real and because the teams were both so good. The 2004 ALCS was played as passionately as any set of baseball games you’ll ever see because the teams were sick of each other and hearing about each other. There was genuine dislike.


When I wrote my preview on this site for the most recent series between the teams, I wrote about a 1993 game in which the Yankees won when a fan ran on the field to wipe out what would have been the last out and denied Boston a win. New York, which was still very much alive in the playoff hunt, got new life, rallied and won. The loss knocked the Red Sox out of the race, but Boston still had fire the next day when it beat New York to start the slide which cost the Yankees their own postseason hope. In 1999 Red Sox fans got so mad by what they deemed poor umpiring they threw batteries on the field. That tag still hasn’t been made, but that’s another column for another day. The point is, the fans are passionate, and 1993 proved the games can matter even if one team is better than the other the way the Yankees are this season.


So what will it take to bring the rivalry back? This is the question the media has been posing as the buzz around Red Sox-Yankees games (not to mention the ratings) continues to dwindle. A better question, however, is what constitutes a rivalry? Is it more important for Brad and I to argue about the games and for the fans to be into the games or for the players to hate each other the way they did in 2004?


Player feuds can be fleeting. Too often guys change teams and get thrown into the middle of rivalries they have nothing to do with and don’t care about. Teams also move on. After the Dempster-A-Rod incident the Yankees swore to get revenge, but now it’s long forgotten. If the Yankees had any real bad blood for the Sox, Jeter wouldn’t be holding court with the opposition.


In short, any animosity between the teams these days is short lived. The embers are always there, and one spark could start a fire, but no one seems interested in throwing a match these days. Now, the only flash comes from the camera used for Christian Vasquez, who I assume got his picture with Jeter.


Times have changed, and the Yankees and Red Sox won’t be rivals in the truest sense until they both have something to fight for in September. These days, if you want the Red Sox to have some disdain for the opponent, you have to watch them play Tampa. If you’re a Yankees fan looking for some fireworks, watch them play Baltimore.


For fans who miss the passion of Sox-Yanks, it’s not a pretty picture.


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