This week is rivalry week at SB Nation as different sites covering different teams use the week to talk about their favorite squad’s biggest rivals. This is a post along those lines!
One would think Rivalry Week would be an easy one to write about from a Red Sox perspective considering the fact that, ya know, they are one half of arguably (definitely?) the top rivalry in all of sports. The issue for me personally is that it involves a lot of looking back, which isn’t always my forte. I much prefer to look forward than look back, which sounds much more inspirational than it functionally is. Obviously I’m not a total ghoul and I have plenty of memories from Red Sox-Yankees of old, or at least relatively old. I grew up watching the Red Sox in the late 90s and early aughts. How could I not?
And we will get to some of those memories tomorrow and maybe quickly in this very post, but today I want to focus on the future of this rivalry and what the recent past has taught me about how much I actually care about that future. People always say, “Baseball is better when the Red Sox and Yankees are both good.” I get the sense that there are plenty of baseball fans who don’t like that, and it is admittedly cliche. It’s like “Defense wins championships” or “All you need is a hot goalie.” I’m not smart enough about either of those sports to tell you whether or not those cliches are true, but I’m sorry to say that the baseball one just objectively is.
Obviously there is an unavoidable bias here with me, a Red Sox fan, writing about a statement for which 50% is dependent on the Red Sox being good. Of course I agree that the Red Sox always need to be good! If you don’t you’re just a big dumb idiot. IMO. But even trying to throw that towards the back of my brain as much as humanly possible, there really is something about historic rivalries that are just so much fun. I don’t really watch college sports anymore, but if Duke and Carolina are both good hell yeah I’m turning that game on. Same with Michigan Ohio State. There’s just that extra level of electricity that makes the history palpable when they play, even though none of the players were involved with the history.
And clearly, the Red Sox and Yankees have history that goes back over 100 years. Babe Ruth is probably the most famous baseball player of all time and his connection to both franchises is legendary. There were the battles between Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, the fights in the 70s, the bludgeoning in favor of the bad guys in the late 90s, the early aughts hey days, the 2003 and 2004 ALCS’s, Zimmer versus Pedro. It’s not even just about the players, either, but also the cities as two hubs in the Northeast and Boston’s constant little brother complex it has with respect to New York. Simply put, you can’t tell the story of one franchise without the other, which to me is pretty much the perfect summation of what makes a rivalry worth continuing.
Not all that long ago, I was pretty over it, too. There was a time where I thought I was too cool (narrator: He wasn’t too cool for anything) to care about something as silly as Red Sox-Yankees, but it turned out it was something that I didn’t realize I missed not after it left, but after it came back. Like I said, I started watching baseball in the late 90s, so the rivalry was already coming back at that point. The first full season I remember enjoying was the 1999 campaign, which obviously included a Red Sox-Yankees ALCS. It was 12 and 13 during the 2003 and 2004 seasons, which is pretty much peak baseball-watching years. The rivalry was just part of watching baseball to me. I didn’t know anything else.
Then it went away for a bit, with the Rays kind of emerging in the late aughts and early 2010s as a legitimate division contender. No one had been able to do that for a while. Both the Red Sox and the Yankees had highs and lows in the dead period of the rivalry, but it never really felt like they matched up with each other for a long time. That is, until 2017 when it was once again a two-team race in the AL East between Boston and New York. And then it continued into 2018, which was the best year for the rivalry since 2004. There was the fight and also a playoff matchup, which included the famous Start Spreadin’ The News incident. I hadn’t really missed the rivalry while it was gone, but now that it was back I remembered there’s nothing like it.
And now I just don’t want it to go away again. More specifically, the Red Sox can’t let it go away again. Nothing about the Yankees suggests they are ready to take any steps back any time soon. They are loaded with talent. The Red Sox have a ton of talent, too, but are undeniably stepping back. There’s a lot of reasons I don’t want them to enter even a short rebuild, but close to the top is I don’t want this period of immense Yankees talent — some of it likable with Aaron Judge and some not quite as likable with Gary Sánchez — to go unchecked by the Red Sox. This year is a throwaway because of both what the team did strategy-wise in the offseason and, well, *gestures at the world.* But when things get back to normal, part of that normal needs to be this rivalry standing above all of the others in the world of sports.
If we’re being honest, I don’t even really hate the Yankees like most Red Sox fans do. I reserve my visceral sports hatred for the Rays and Sixers. But I absolutely love seeing the Red Sox beat the Yankees. Hell, I love seeing any team beat the Yankees. I love seeing my Yankee fan friends explode in sports misery after a loss. I’ve seen people refer to Red Sox and Yankees fans as having a mutual respect underneath their hatred, but I don’t think that’s accurate. I think it’s mutual schadenfreude. And everyone knows it’s a lot easier to laugh at another team’s pain when you’re better at them, so don’t mess this up Red Sox.