The Red Sox-Yankees Rivalry Has Lost Much of Its Intensity

One argument us sports fans love to have is over which is the best rivalry in sports. Some will say it’s between Michigan and Ohio State. Others will say it’s between the Celtics and Lakers. If you were to ask the international crowd, it’s between India and Pakistan.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The best rivalry in sports has always been between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The two clubs have been going at it for over a century, and the sheer amount of history contained within the rivalry would make for a great college course.

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, it still pains me to admit that the rivalry has been pretty one-sided. The Yanks and Sox have played nearly 2,100 games since their first meeting in April of 1901, and the Yankees have won over 1,100 of them.

The last 10 years, however, things have been a little different. Including last night’s win by the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium, the Sox and Yanks have played 171 regular-season games. The Yanks have won 87, and the Sox have won 84.

With the level of competition that even, many have argued that this is the first time the Yanks and Sox have actually had a “rivalry” in the true sense of the word.

This is true…but it also isn’t.

To illustrate my point, I’d like you to think back, if you will, to 2003 and 2004. Those were two pretty good years in the rivalry’s history—maybe even the best. For the first time in many years, the Red Sox were just as good as the Yankees, and they made sure the Yankees knew it by pushing them around a little. Like any good foe, the Yankees pushed back. After all, just who the heck did these upstarts think they were?

As you no doubt recall, things officially boiled over in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS. Pedro Martinez started hunting a few heads, and the next thing you knew he was throwing 72-year-old Don Zimmer to the ground. A couple nights later, the two teams played one of the best Game 7s in baseball history, with the so-called “Evil Empire” winning it in extras on Aaron Boone’s walk-off homer.

Fast forward to 2004, and the rivalry now contained Alex Rodriguez on one side and Curt Schilling on the other. On July 1, Jason Varitek welcomed A-Rod to the rivalry by shoving his glove in A-Rod’s face, precipitating one of the very few legit brawls baseball has ever seen. A couple hours later, Bill Mueller hit one of the great home runs in Red Sox history off Mariano Rivera.

A little while later, you had the whole “Who’s your daddy?” thing, and then the two teams met once again in the ALCS. Schilling made a crack about shutting up a bunch of New Yorkers, and the Yanks made him eat his words in Game 1.

After three games, the Yanks had the series in the bag. Suddenly, David Ortiz came to the rescue, Schilling beat the Yanks on one leg in Game 6, A-Rod got “slappy,” and Johnny Damon slammed the door in Game 7.

Shortly thereafter, a certain curse was broken.

Ah yes, those were some good years. Every Red Sox-Yankees game had the feeling of being its own little war, and it was so incredibly obvious that players on both sides really wanted to beat the guys on the other side of the diamond.

These days, not so much. The elevated sense of importance of each meeting and each series is still there, but all the familiar trappings of the good old days have all but disappeared. Sure, there’s something between Kevin Youkilis and Joba Chamberlain, but that’s about it.

If you ask me, a lot of this has to do with the fact that the Red Sox went out and got civilized a couple years ago. They used to be cowboys and idiots (how ’bout that for a movie?), but now they’re a collection of levelheaded professionals. Just like (gasp!) the Yankees.

As a result, now when the Sox and Yanks meet, it’s almost a formal affair. Everybody plays hard, but nobody plays angry. When things do get heated, cooler heads inevitably prevail.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great rivalry. If it’s not the best in sports, it’s definitely the best in baseball. And I think all of us, especially those on the Boston side of things, should be thankful that the two teams are still so evenly matched.

However, parity is only part of what makes up a good rivalry. The other part is made up of hate. And despite the fact the Sox and Yanks still play some entertaining games these days, the hate just isn’t there anymore.

Shoot, I’m not even sure I really hate the Yankees anymore. As a guy with a Red Sox emblem tattooed on his chest, I’m not even sure I’m allowed to say that.

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