Next up in our Pinch Hitters series is Yair Rosenberg, a senior at Harvard College, where he is currently the Movies editor at The Harvard Crimson. “I have a nagging suspicion that this piece will be slightly more controversial than my Toy Story 3 review,” he wrote. As a native New Yorker, Yair said he’s enjoying yet another year in which a New York football team has eliminated the Patriots, and he hope to see the Yankees do the same to the Red Sox this coming season.
That said, for his guest post, Yair wrote about a rather odd feeling that’s grabbed him this winter. He’s actually been — sort of — cheering for the Sox.
Anatomy of a Rivalry
No, it’s not that four years as a New York expatriate and Boston college student have finally eroded my team loyalty or my competitiveness. Quite the opposite, in fact — it is my love of the competition that has put me in this strange predicament. Now, before you begin drafting a choicely worded death threat for the comments, do let me explain.
I don’t think I’m the only Yankees fan out there who felt that over the course of last season, the Yankees/Sox rivalry just wasn’t much fun. With Boston’s lineup decimated by injuries – stocked not with superstars but with mostly minor leaguers, bench players, and a few rapidly declining veterans – the games felt like a sham. This was especially true toward the end of the season, when the Yankees found themselves facing an out-of-contention Sox squad headlined by Darnell McDonald and the line-up of AAA Pawtucket.
In any sport, it may be fun to watch one’s player or team of choice upstage random, hopelessly inferior opponents — like watching Kobe Bryant dunk on some no-name defender, or the Yankees shellacking the Orioles (yet again) — but good, battle-tested rivalries are made of much stronger stuff.
Like many epic enmities, the Yankees/Sox rivalry is fueled by the narcissism of small differences. That is, what makes the competition so acute is the similarity between the two clubs in talent, style and approach, which throws their slight disparities into sharp relief. To take an illustrative example from my backyard, the storied university rivalry between Harvard and Yale sure isn’t predicated on the vast differences between the two twin Ivy League elites; rather, it stems from their commonalities. Because the two schools are so alike in terms of academics, student body, and culture, their most minute distinctions are put under the microscope in a search for uniqueness and superiority, intensifying the rivalry to the extreme. Every detail becomes a battleground. Each side wants to be the best when it comes to the traits both so dearly prize. So to with Yankees/Sox.
Consider plate discipline. The Yankees grind out every single at-bat, jacking up pitch counts, and working one of the best OBP’s in the league. So do the Sox. Joe West was onto something when he griped that Yankees/Sox games tend to go on far longer than any others in baseball. That’s what happens when you pit the two teams with the best OBP in the American League for six of the past eight years against each other. Indeed, the front offices of both squads have cultivated many of the same virtues both at the plate and on the mound. The result? Nine-inning grinds that exhaust umpires but exhilarate fans.
Consider payroll, where New York and Boston are far and away the highest spenders in baseball, especially in the AL. Consider size of fanbase, where both the Yankee nation and the Red Sox nation leave all other teams in the dust. Wherever you look, what makes the NY/Boston rivalry so potent is the spectacle of two well-matched titans duking it out for supremacy.
But what we had last year was a parody of that spectacle. I felt like Boston didn’t hold up its end of the traditional bargain. Who wants to watch the New York Yankees beat the Replacement Level Red Sox? All of which is why this off-season, I’ve found myself cheering Boston’s acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Don’t get me wrong – if the Sox had signed a free agent the Yankees were actually interested in (Cliff Lee, for instance), I wouldn’t be writing this. But so long as the Red Sox can retool without treading on our free agent territory, I’m for it.
After all, who is it more satisfying to pound into submission – an outfield captained by Crawford, or one patrolled by last year’s fearsome trio of Bill Hall, Ryan Kalish and Eric Patterson? With a newly reloaded rival at the ready, I look forward to the singular thrill of Yankee victories in hard-fought, three-and-a-half hour Yankees/Sox duels come September.
Truth or treason? What do you think?
Associated Press photos of Crawford and Soriano