During the late 1990s, the Texas Rangers had no greater nemesis than the New York Yankees.

Despite winning three division titles in four years during 1996, 1998 and 1999, the Rangers never had much to show for their domination of the American League West. Easily dispatched by the Bronx Bombers in the first round each time, Texas only managed to win a single game in 10 contests with the so-called “Evil Empire.”

Texas was merely the first stepping stone for the Yankees en route to their World Series titles in each of those three seasons.

Fast forward to 2010.

After never having progressed beyond the first round of the playoffs in their entire franchise history, Texas defeated the AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays to set up an ALCS clash with their longtime foe from New York.

Though only Darren Oliver had been present for the late ’90s humiliations at the hands of the Yankees, the knowledge of their shared history was still present among the 2010 Rangers. The desire to exorcise the franchise’s demons coursed strongly throughout the team.

Once Texas overwhelmed New York in the Championship Series to progress to the Rangers first-ever World Series, the latent rivalry had been rekindled. The Rangers had finally vanquished their past foes and shockingly denied the Yankees another appearance in the Fall Classic, something that has come to be viewed as a birthright in the Bronx. In New York, this was seen as an egregious affront to the way things are supposed to be.

With a newly budding on-field rivalry suddenly sparked once again, tensions between the two teams have mounted ever since.

Following an incident in Yankee Stadium during the ALCS, in which unruly Yankee fans had allegedly verbally abused and spit towards Cliff Lee‘s wife in the Rangers family seating section, co-owner Chuck Greenberg criticized New York’s fans and intimated that Cliff Lee likely wouldn’t entertain the notion of signing there due to the treatment of his wife.

Commenting upon the bizarre behavior, Greenberg stated on an ESPN radio show, “I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”

This frank assessment of Yankee fans drew the ire of co-owner Hal Steinbrenner who criticized Greenberg’s comments and called for him to apologize. At the time, Greenberg made amends and publicly apologized to the Yankees and their fans. A truce had been declared.

Just last weekend, while speaking at Rangers’ Fan Fest in Arlington, Greenberg spoke out on the protracted free-agent battle between the Yankees and Rangers over highly-coveted left-hander Cliff Lee. The rivalry between the two teams had returned, as they were widely viewed as the only potential landing spots for Lee.

Lee shocked much of the baseball world by resigning with the Philadelphia Phillies, the team that had traded him to Seattle a mere 12 months before.

Asked about what had transpired during the negotiations and whether he was surprised by Lee’s ultimate decision, Greenberg said, “I think if we wouldn’t have gone to Arkansas that last time, I think he was going to sign with the Yankees. We pried the door open a little bit to give ourselves another opportunity. And ultimately the Phillies were able to take advantage of that opportunity that we created. While we would have preferred that he would have chosen to go with us, we’re real pleased that he’s going to the other league.”

Though the comments didn’t appear unreasonably inflammatory, some within the Yankee front office took offense, prompting a fiery response from outspoken Yankees’ team president, Randy Levine.

When ESPNewYork.com asked Levine about Greenberg’s comments, Levine snapped, “I think Chuck is delusional. He has been running the Rangers for a few minutes and seems to believe he’s mastered what everyone else is thinking. I think he should let Cliff Lee speak for himself. I’ll be impressed when he demonstrates he can keep the Rangers off welfare. What I mean is make them not be a revenue-sharing recipient for three years in a row, without taking financing from baseball or advance money from television networks. Then I’ll be impressed.”

Taking shots at the Rangers financial situation before Greenberg and Nolan Ryan’s ownership group assumed control of the team, Levine made it clear he doesn’t appreciate Greenberg’s feelings regarding anything Yankee-related.

With a revived on-field rivalry with these two playoff contenders promising to be a potent matchup for at least the foreseeable future, Ranger and Yankee fans should brace for some thrilling clashes in the coming season.

The additional bad blood and recurring war of words between the competing front offices ensures some extracurricular drama surrounding the franchises.

This saga involving two potent teams, and outspoken executives on both sides bears some watching as it could potentially become one of baseball’s more dramatic stories for 2011 and beyond.


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