Every time I get before an audience talking sports I am always reminded of when I was promoting one of my early books – “New York City Baseball - 1947-1957 – The Last Golden Age” - about the old Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and New York Yankees.
The publishing company’s publicist asked – which team did you root for as a kid?
My reply was - -“None of these teams.”
“Oh my, oh my, that won’t do. Please pick one –
I had grown up in Brooklyn- -so I picked the Dodgers.
I went about promoting the book. One day I was in the Staten Island Mall introduced as a former Brooklyn Dodger fan when a guy in the back started to shout – you were never a DODGER fan . . . .I remember you from the old neighborhood. You were that Cardinal fan.”
“Folks,” I said, “that’s my crazy cousin. Don’t pay any attention to him. He has always been a bit jealous.”
He quieted down . and I went on with my talk. But truth be told, I was a St. Louis Cardinal - fan for a brief time. Youthful folly.
Today I am considered the ultimate Yankees fan having published 8 books on the subject, hundreds of articles, written for the team for 18 years.My REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM came out in 2008.
At the same time I am a student of the Red Sox. In fact, my book CELEBRATING FENWAY PARK is going into production. So I have interest in both teams.
I was a life-long New Yorker until about a dozen years ago. And then, I moved on to teach and write and live in New England. Back in the Big Apple, I had always been a keenly interested onlooker to the rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox. But it wasn't until I was living in the mountains of New Hampshire that I realized via conversations at the gas pumps, and in the general store just how important "THE RIVALRY" is - - to the Red Sox Nation.
I have authored many books but the ones I have written with family members have a special place . . .like the ones written with my wife Myrna and RED SOX VS YANKEES written with my son Fred that traces the long historic feud between the two teams through oral history,narrative and images.
When it comes to Red Sox/Yankees baseball, there is never a dull moment, and those caught up in it are never at a loss for words. There are stories, asides, poignant memories, insights, game accounts, vulgarisms, quips and rejoinders that cut across generations and geography. As an oral historian all of these anecdotes have much appeal to me.
And now a new story was added to rivalry lore when Democrat Martha Coakley lost to Republican Scott Brown in the special US Senate election in Massachusetts. There are those who say Coakley’s dissing of Fenway Park and her off base comment that former Red Sox great Curt Schilling was a "Yankees fan" - helped bring her down.
That’s a big talk topic now (as part of the “Rivalry” and will certainly still be a talk topic on APRIL 4th 2010 @ Fenway Park and beyond when the Red Sox of Boston and the Yankees of New York, meet once again in a regular season game.
It will be the 2,065th meeting between them. The first time they met was way back on May 7, 1903 at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston - - The teams weren't the Yankees and Red Sox then but instead had more geographically correct names: the Highlanders -- they played on the hilly terrain of upper Manhattan; and the Pilgrims -- in tribute to their New England heritage.
The first game at Fenway Park between them was April 20, 1912, just a few days after the sinking of the Titanic. Boston Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, the grandfather-to-be of President John F. Kennedy, threw out the first ball, and the Red Sox eked out a 7-6 win in 11 innings.
The spark of all sparks was ignited by BoSox owner Harry Frazee, a show business wheeler-dealer with a home in Boston and a main residence on Manhattan’s Park Avenue, who liked to quip: “The best thing about Boston is the train ride back to New York."
On January 9, 1920, he committed “Harry Frazee’s Crime.” At a very cold morning press conference a very happy Yankee owner Jake Ruppert announced:
“Gentlemen, we have just bought Babe Ruth from Harry Frazee of the Boston Red Sox. I can’t give exact figures, but it was a pretty check – six figures, strictly a cash deal.”
It may have been the biggest mistake in baseball history.
The fallout from Harry Frazee’s infamous deed has become known as “the Curse of the Bambino.
From 1919 through 1933, the Sox dropped at least 100 games a season five times, at least 90 games a season five more times. The Red Sox lost Game 7 of the World Series in 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986. They lost the pennant in playoffs in 1948 and 1978;
You might say – the “curse was working.” THE SOX stunk.
The golden age of Yankee baseball can be traced directly to the arrival of the Sultan of Swat.
In Boston, irate fans have screamed: "Yankees suck! Yankees suck!" even when the Yankees were not playing at Fenway.
-- The Yankees of New York versus the Red Sox of Boston is the greatest, grandest, strongest, longest rivalry in baseball history – a competition of images, teams, cities, styles, ballparks, fans, media, culture, dreams, bragging rights - all mixed in, mixed up.
The competition is so much more than a baseball team representing Boston -- going against a baseball team representing New York. It is a competition between the provincial capital of New England and the mega-municipality of New York City.
The New York Yankees are the glitz and glitter, the most successful franchise in baseball history, perhaps in all sports history. Through the years, winning has been as much a part of Yankee baseball as their monuments and plaques, as much as the pinstriped uniforms, the iconic intertwined “N” and “Y” on the baseball caps.
Less successful, more human, more vulnerable – the Bostons have seemed until recent success like the rest of us.
The rivalry is the Babe and Bucky and Butch. It is Carl Yastrzemski trotting out to left field at Fenway with cotton sticking out of his ears to shut out the boos of Sox fans.
The rivalry is Mickey Mantle slugging a 440-foot double at Yankee Stadium then tipping his cap to the Red Sox bench.
It is Carlton Fisk's headaches from the tension he felt coming into Yankee Stadium.
For the BoSox and their fans, winning at times has not seemed as important as beating the Yankees and then winning.
For the fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, the slogan used to be "Wait 'til Next Year." For Boston fans it always has seemed to be -"When are the Sox going to fold this year?"
The rivalry is Ted Williams spitting, Reggie Jackson jabbering, Luis Tiant hurling for NY and Boston and smoking those Cuban cigars. It is the Yankees' Mickey Rivers jumping out of the way of an exploding firecracker thrown into the visitors' dugout at Fenway.
LOU PINIELLA ( managed and played for the Yankees): There was always a lot of excitement in that small park that made it special. You might have 20,000 Red Sox fans at Fenway and 15,000 Yankee fans. Their rivalry helped our rivalry. It excited the players who had to respond to it.
Piniella may have enjoyed Fenway but a former Red Sox star hated Yankee Stadium.
DWIGHT EVANS: "When you have coke bottle go by your head from the third deck, you wonder what kind of people these are. When you have cherry bombs thrown at you or thrown into crowds, that's not fun and those are not fans. When they throw a penny or a dime from the third deck and it hits you, it's going to put a knot on your head. You knew you had to watch out if you came in wearing a Red Sox uniform.”
……On the field, inside the white lines, the rivalry has been characterized by some of baseball's wildest and most intense moments: There has been anger, rage, occasionally violence. Sometimes it has been triggered by personality clashes, at other times the trigger has simply been the "Blood Feud."
In 1938, players from both clubs stormed the mound at Yankee Stadium when New York’s Jake Powell and Boston's Joe Cronin started punching each other. Cronin was ejected from the game and moments later was assaulted by several Yankee players under the stands.
In 1951, a six year old was taken to his first game.
RUDY GIULIANI: It was between the Yankees and the Red Sox, with Joe DiMaggio playing for the Yankees and Dominic DiMaggio playing for the Red Sox. I found that fascinating -- that brothers would be on two different teams. I asked my father: “How come they’re playing for different teams- are they angry at each other?”
Perhaps no two players have symbolized the rivalry as much as Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Both Californians,both bigger than life. One was an outspoken iconoclast, the other a soft-spoken team man.
As the story goes, Sox owner Tom Yawkey and Yankee boss Dan Topping were at Toots Shor’s (famous NYC restaurant and hangout). They agreed that that Ted Williams would hit much better at Yankee Stadium and Joe DiMaggio would hit much better at Fenway Park. The two ended the evening on a handshake agreement to make a trade of DiMaggio for Williams.
When Topping arrived home in the early morning and realized what he had agreed to, he picked up the phone and called Yawkey in a panic.
"Tom,Tom" he cried, "I'm sorry but I can't go through with the deal."
"Thank God!" was Yawkey's reported reply.
Another version of the story has Tom Yawkey making the phone call. "Dan, I know it's very, very late, and I still want to make that trade we discussed. However, if you still want to make it you'll have to throw in that left-handed hitting outfielder. You know who I mean, that little odd-looking rookie."
"I can't,"Topping said. “We’re thinking of making him a catcher. I guess we’ll have to call off the deal."
So Joe DiMaggio remained a Yankee. Ted Williams played out his career with the Red Sox. And the little odd-looking rookie stayed with the Yankees and became a catcher. His name - - Yogi Berra.
Berra, DiMaggio, Williams were all on the scene in 1949 and so was Walter Mears, who went on to become a Pulitzer-prize winning political reporter for The Associated Press. He recalled the last two games of that season.
WALTER MEARS: The result was inevitable - Boston goes ahead, Yankees catch up and win. Tied. Same outcome the next day and New York wins the pennant. There was no TV to watch then, and I sat listening to the radio in Lexington as the Red Sox blew it. At 14, it seemed like the end of more than just a season. I remember saying to my father 'I think I'll just go for a walk,' which I did, so that he wouldn't see me cry. I think that's when I learned that there was no point in mourning the Red Sox. You just take it.
In 1952, excitable rookie Jimmy Piersall came onto the Red Sox scene. During a game Piersall shouted to Yankee infielder Billy Martin, “Hey, Pinocchio!" (in what was an overt reference to the size and contours of the Yankee second baseman's nose), “too damn yellow to fight?" "Put up," snarled Martin. “Let's settle this under the stands.” As the story goes Boston pitcher Ellis Kinder accompanied Piersall and Bill Dickey accompanied Martin as seconds. Martin sucker-punched, threw the first blow. They got into a clinch. That ended the “fight” as Piersall bled profusely from the nose.
JIMMY PIERSALL: It wasn’t a real fight, just pushing and shoving. The only guy that got hurt was Bill Dickey. Heck, the way the media played it up it was like a real brawl. You know writers would hang their mothers for the Pulitzer Prize.
That moment in Yankee-Red Sox history underscored the rivalry’s "bad blood." But it was not the most famous of the on-the- field altercations. One that qualifies for that title took place on August 1, 1973.
Boston catcher Carlton Fisk had led the American League All Star balloting for catcher. Munson was runner-up.
“Fisk hated Munson,” said Don Zimmer who was on the scene back then. “Munson hated Fisk.”
The game was tied, 2-2, top of the ninth. Munson doubled down the left-field line and wound up on third thru an infield groundout. Gene Michael missed the ball on a squeeze bunt attempt, but the solidly built Munson came tearing down the line attempting to score. He slammed into Fisk who had the baseball and was blocking the plate. Fisk tagged Munson hard and then shoved him off his body. Munson punched the Sox catcher in the face, bruising his left eye. The two got into -- clinching and clawing.
Next Fenway Park was swarming with pushing, shoving, cursing -- more than 60 players and coaches. When order was finally restored, Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson were ejected from the game. But an exclamation point had been added to the sometimes violent, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes odd, sometimes dramatic, sometimes poignant, nature of the rivalry.
The following abbreviated timeline provides a few more RIVALRY highlights or lowlights depending on which team one roots for.
May 6, 1915 – Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth hammered his first major league home run. And sure enough it came against the New York Yankees when they still called the Polo Grounds home.
April 18, 1923 Yankee Stadium opened. Before the game, Boston mogul Harry Frazee walked side-by-side with Yankees owner Jake Ruppert. A shot by Babe Ruth into the right field bleachers highlighted the Yankees' 4-1 triumph over the Red Sox - -the first Yankee Stadium homer.
1925, the Yanks sought to trade their first baseman to the Red Sox for Phil Todt. Boston blinked. The first baseman, Lou Gehirg,became one of the greatest players of all time. Phil Todt had a mediocre career.
1935 -In a Red Sox-Yankees doubleheader: 47,627 fans jammed into Boston’s little ballpark. The Yankees won the first game, 6-4. They slammed seven ground-rule doubles into the roped-off crowd to take the second game, 9-0.
September 6, 1960 in his final game at Yankee Stadium, Ted Williams rapped his 518th career homer, pacing Boston’s 7–1 win.
In 1961, last game of the season, Yankee Roger Maris stoked his 61st home run breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season record. The historic shot came off a 2-0 fastball from Boston pitcher Tracy Stallard.
October 2, 1978: A one-game playoff got underway inside Fenway Park. Yankees against Red Sox, the two teams with the best records in baseball after 162 games – winner take all for the American League East title.
Former Yankee Mike Torrez was on the mound for Boston; Ron Guidry, the best pitcher in baseball then, started for the Yanks.
(Red Sox Hurler )DENNIS ECKERSLEY: It was electric that day. I had pitched Saturday and won #20 and was glad I wasn’t pitching that playoff game. I was in the dugout. I was in the clubhouse. I was all over. I was more nervous watching than pitching. We were ahead 2-0 in the seventh. They were setting up this little stage for the celebration. Then all of a sudden . . .
BUCKY DENT: When I hit it, I knew that I had hit it high enough to hit the wall. But there were shadows on the net behind the wall and I didn't see the ball land. I was running from the plate because I thought I had a chance at a double. I didn't know it was a home run until the second-base umpire signaled. It was an eerie feeling because the ballpark was dead silent.
Red Sox manager Don Zimmer changed the Yankee shortstop's name to "Bucky F_____g Dent." Yaz had two hits in that game, including a homer off Ron Guidry, but he also made the last out.
DENNIS ECKERSLEY: Yaz was crying in the trainer’s room. It was not as crushing for me because when you’re 23 you think, well, we’ll do it next year. But if I knew what I know now, I would have been devastated. We never really got there again after that.
WALTER MEARS: Speaker of the House of Representative Tip O'Neill went to Rome that fall and saw the Pope. When he came back he was at some function with Yaz and told him the Holy Father had spoken of him. Yaz wanted to know what the Pope had said.
" Tip,” he said, “How COULD Yastrzemski pop out in the last of the ninth with the tying run on third? "
A frustrated fan, has the final word on the Dent homer:
DAN MACKEY: It was only a wind-assisted pop up that barely got out of the infield and then through a harmonic convergence - -the Jet stream, Babe Ruth in heaven, a minor earthquake in the Phillipines, gravity from Mars and Pluto, a kid stomping his foot in the Bronx, high pressure over the northeast, a jet landing at Logan Airport, a pigeon flapping its wings, a whale spouting off the coast of Finland, a heavy lady in the third row waving her program and yelling “Get OUT, GET OUT,” all these forces and more aligned , a little white ball floated further and further up and over the Green Monster, light as a feather, then fell like a stone into the net, the home run net. . .
I hit bottom them. I swore the Red Sox off. I said I’d turn my life over to a higher power. Unfortunately, the higher power turned out to be Roger Clemens. He was a false god.
Speaking of higher powers and stories . . .There’s was always been classic one that typified what it was like to be a Red Sox fan.
A Pirate fan, a Cubs fans and a Red Sox fan were bemoaning their team’s history. Grieving, they called on a higher authority .
The Pirate fan asked: “Oh, God, when will my team return to the World Series?” And God replied: “Not in your lifetime.”
The Cub fan asked: “Oh, God,when will my team return to the World Series?”
And God replied: “Not in your children’s lifetime.”
The Red Sox fan, who had listened quietly, finally worked up the nerve to ask:
“Oh, God, when will my beloved Red Sox return to the World Series?”
And God said: “Not in My lifetime”
But as we all know - -the RED SOX have won 2 world championships in OUR lifetime - -2004 and 2007. One more than the Yankees have won in the 21st century. So that classic story is just a story. And the reality is the Red Sox are alive and very well. Just as the RIVALRY is.
The Rivalry action was hot and heavy in October 2003 - American League Championship Series. Game 3. Top of the fourth inning. Boston’s Pedro Martinez popped Yankee outfielder Karim Garcia in the back of the shoulder with a pitch. Moments later Garcia slid hard into Boston’s Todd Walker at second base.Martinez made menacing gestures to the Yankees bench. Lots of shouting.
Bottom of the fourth, Manny Ramirez screamed at Roger Clemens for throwing too close to his body. Profanities were exchanged. Ramizez held his bat menacingly. Dugouts emptied.
Enter one time Red Sox manager/ now Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer. The man Bill Lee called a gerbil moved slowly around the pushing and milling about crowd. Then Zimmer threw a left hook in the direction of the Martinez. Pedro grabbed Zimmer around the neck and threw the 72-year-old to the ground where he tumbled over and over like a roly poly doll.
Boston police and Yankees gathered around their feisty coach making sure he was all right. Umpires huddled. No one was tossed from the game, but beer sales were suspended.
Three days later - - like a pair of heavyweight fighters, the rivals met in a winner take all seventh game at the Stadium on October 16th. It was again Pedro Martinez against Roger Clemens.
A win this night for the Red Sox would send them to the World Series for the first time in 85 years. Many members of Red Sox nation were at Yankeee Stadium to cheer the Olde Towne team on.
Bob Sullivan was one of them: I grew up in Boston. Yankee Stadium was always enemy territory. There were times when my girlfriend and I would be near some lout who would carry on over our wearing our Sox caps.
To the delight of Sox fans and the dismay of Yankee rooters, Boston racked Clemens for four runs in three-plus innings. Martinez seemed on cruise control and was leading in the top of the eighth, 5-2.
With a pitch count over 100, with Red Sox relievers at the ready, it seemed Pedro was done. But Grady Little, Sox manager, sent him out to pitch the bottom of the eighth.
“The Curse of the Bambino” was there for the taking, for the breaking. Five more outs for Boston to get into the World Series.
Derek Jeter doubled to right. Bernie Williams singled.
Jeter scored. Hideki Matsui was next.
Little exited the Sox dugout. He had a righty and a lefty at the ready in the bullpen.
BOB SULLIVAN: We were standing up when Grady left the mound. He was not taking Pedro out. Unbelievable.
Matsui pulled an inside fastball down the right field line. It bounced into the stands. Ground-rule double. Williams on third; Matsui at second. Martinez’ pitch count was 118.
Jorge Posada lifted the ball over second base. It dropped in, the fourth straight one out hit for New York. Williams scored. Matsui scored. The game was tied, 5-5.
Little finally pulled Martinez. Bottom of the eleventh inning. Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield against Yankee pinch hitter Aaron Boone.
It was 16 minutes past midnight, Friday morning. The ball jumped off Boone’s bat and went deep over the left-field wall.
Jubilant Yankees raced out of the dugout and bullpen onto the field. There were those who said Yankee Stadium shook and moved. The noise level was ear-splitting.
Rounding third, Boone jumped into the arms of teammates waiting at home plate. It was another triumph for the "Evil Empire,"a fifth pennant in six seasons.
DEREK JETER: I don't know about a curse, but I believe we have some ghosts in this stadium that have helped us out.
It was a low point for Red Sox Nation.
But 2004 lay ahead.
Spring training - -in the first Yankees-Red Sox game of 2004 in Fort Meyers, Florida scalpers sold 21 DOLLAR seats for $150 – a testament to the power of the Rivalry.
At mid season the Yankee lead over Boston was 8 1/2 games. But the Sox turned things around and faced off against the Yanks in the American League championship series one again.
On October 16, 2004 in a marathon Game Three of the ALCS, the Red Sox were gouged, 19-8 by the Yankees who went up 3-0 in the series.
(Boston globe columnist….. DAN SHAUGHNESSY: My son, a high school student then, gave up his ticket for Game Four. He didn’t want to see the Yankees win in Fenway.
(Red Sox Vice President)
LARRY CANCRO: It was just gloomy getting to the park the next day. President Lucchino said: “We are all going to have to think of something to get us back in this thing and win it.”
Most of us were looking at him like he was completely insane.
“Hey, you know Mike Eruzione, from the 1980 Miracle Olympic hockey team,” he says to me. “Call and see if he can come here and be part of the first pitch ceremony. He was part of a miracle; let’s see if he can inspire us.”
Mike came in that night; the players were excited to meet him and he participated in our pre-game ceremony.
In the bottom half of the seventh of that Game 4, the Sox were losing 4-2 to the Yankees. In the private box of Red Sox President Larry Lucchino, the mood was one of frustration and anger.
GEORGE MITROVICH ( Chair of The Great Fenway Park Writers Series) I was working on a statement for Mr. Lucchino that would graciously congratulate the Yankees while letting heartbroken Red Sox fans know this isn't the end. I was oblivious to the fact that the Sox had pulled within a run of the Yankees.
TERRY GUINEY, Managing Partner of Boston’s Hotel Commonwealth, That game seemed more like a wake.Then the rally started against Mariano Rivera, “Mr. Automatic”, the greatest stopper in baseball.
Kevin Millar walked. Dave Roberts, God love him, came in as a pinch runner. Everybody who knew anything about baseball could tell he was going to steal.
Roberts goes. He makes it. Then Billy Mueller hits one up the middle, and the game is tied!
People were hugging people they didn’t know; everybody high-fiving.
TERRY FRANCONA: Roberts’ steal was the most thrilling event I’ve been associated with. I doubt we could have done all that we did without that happening. The Sox won it in the twelfth on a towering home run by David Ortiz.
LARRY CANCRO: The movie "Miracle" had just come out; many of the players had not seen it. For Game 5, Mike came in and gave out blue hats and the word "Miracle" emblazoned on them.
On October 18th the fifth game of the ALCS started at 5:10 P.M. just 16 hours after Game 4 had ended early that morning.
It was Mike Mussina versus Pedro Martinez. In the bottom of the 14th inning with two outs Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez drew walks. David Ortiz, Big Papi, singled to center on the tenth pitch thrown to him. The Red Sox win 5-4.
LARRY CANCRO: Game Six, we go to New York. We win that.
Game Seven, Our team doesn’t show up for batting practice. They've voted to watch the movie “Miracle” in the clubhouse. They come out and clobber the Yankees.
DAN SHAUGHNESSY: 2004 is still the greatest sports story ever told. The Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years at the expense of the Yankees. The World Series was clearly anticlimactic.
The Sox swept the Cards four straight in the World Series.
And at last, the curse was broken.
And as you know, the Red Sox won another World Series in 2007.
Then the Yankees won it in 2009.
And the great rivalry rolls on . . .
Who knows what 2010 holds in store?