We’re not even one full week into the baseball season and ESPN is already force-feeding us Red Sox-Yankees as if it’s still 2004 and Jason Varitek is behind home plate waiting to mash his sweaty paw into Alex Rodriguez’s face.
Come to think of it, A-Rod – in all his glorious decay – is one of the few remaining relics from the halcyon days of baseball’s most intense rivalry, which is exactly why it’s been robbed of all its glitz and glamour over the past 10 years.
The problem isn’t the quality of the teams. Though it’d be nice if both of them were playing for something this year other than bragging rights, true hate knows no boundaries. The real problem is the revolving door in Boston and New York, the alarming number of new faces in different places each year, leaving each team with no true identity or deep-rooted hostility for the opponent.
During those aforementioned glory years, when this rivalry truly reached its peak, Mike Mussina pitched so many games in Fenway Park he should’ve rented an apartment in Waltham. David Ortiz – again, one of the few players left on either side who remembers what it used to be like – has had more plate appearances against the Yankees than almost every other team he’s faced.
Without thumbing through each 25-man roster for the sake of accuracy, there’s a good chance more than two thirds of the current players in Boston and New York have yet to spend at least five full seasons with their respective teams. The Red Sox alone practically overhauled their entire lineup this past winter following a last-place finish in 2014, only slightly worse than the disappointing Yankees, who spent $471 million on new players to finish with a whopping 84 wins.
The players mingling with one another on the field three hours before the first pitch these days are like young lovers from rival families who don’t know any better, totally oblivious to the fact they’re supposed to hate one another because that’s what history dictates as protocol. You can’t fully understand, or appreciate, the rivalry unless you spend your prime years living it, and only a handful of players on either side truly know what it’s like.
Things will get much worse before they get better. Not only have the Red Sox shown little to no patience with their minor league system, abandoning their five-year plan this past winter in lieu of diving head-first into the free agent pool, the Yankees might make major changes in the front office, starting with the Menendez brothers of baseball, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner.
Rumor has it the Yankees might be up for sale in the near future. Imagine the Bronx Bombers without a Steinbrenner in charge. Their father, the late George M. Steinbrenner, knew how to stoke the flames between the Yankees and Red Sox better than any player to ever wear pinstripes, his most memorable moment coming in 2004 when he told Sox’ owner John Henry to “forget the sour grapes” after Boston lost out on acquiring A-Rod.
Hank and Hal are already detached from the day-to-day grind of hating on all things Boston. If they sell the team to some lifeless droid with no real passion for baseball – or the rivalry – the back pages of the New York Post and Daily News will be more quiet than the $2.3 billion funeral parlor on 161st Street the Yankees call home.
And that would only be the beginning. Expect Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager for the past 18 years who’s been as big a part of the rivalry as anyone on either side, and perhaps manager Joe Girardi to hit the road, too. Girardi’s only been on the bench for six years, but even he’s had his moments of passion in this ageless rivalry, specifically in 2011 when he told reporters he didn’t care for Big Papi’s bat-flip after Ortiz pimped his way around the bases following a home run off then-Yankee Hector Noesi.
We’ve only got a few players, coaches, executives, etc., left to keep the hate alive, otherwise Yankees-Red Sox will go from being baseball’s most caustic rivalry to its most corporate, hired guns with no real attachment to either city other than the shirt on their backs.
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