Our next Pinch Hitter, Pete Colgan, went to the same high school as Joe Girardi, “(but) I’m 10 years his senior and we’ve never met,” Pete wrote.
A Yankees fan since 1962, Pete is a semi-retired banker in Peoria, Ill. He saw his first Yankees game in Chicago in 1963, but notes that both Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were injured and didn’t play. His first game at Yankee Stadium didn’t come until 1976.
For his guest post, Pete looked at the history of the Yankees and Red Sox, searching for the exact moment when a general dislike became an actual, heated rivalry.
They say the New York-Boston baseball rivalry began on that October day in 1904, at Hilltop Park in Manhattan, where the New York Highlanders 41-game winner Jack Chesbro’s spitball sailed beyond home plate and the Boston Americans’ Lou Criger raced home with the tie-breaking run in the ninth inning giving Boston the pennant. Most would agree that that rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, as the two teams would eventually be called, is long and storied.
True rivalries in sports seem to ebb and flow. By that I mean one team may be dominant for a while, then their opponents rule. For American League baseball fans in New York and Boston, it wasn’t always the same ebb and flow as in other great rivalries such as Michigan-Ohio State in the college game of football. Following Chesbro’s wild spitter Boston did go on a run of dominance over its New York opponent that ran through 1919. Then Harry Frazee stepped in and sold his star pitcher (and hitter) George Herman Ruth to New York on January 3, 1920 and everything changed.
For the next 26 years, the New York club dominated Boston in the standings, finishing ahead of the Sox every single year, winning 13 pennants and nine world championships to Boston’s none. Boston was rarely close to the Yankees in the standings (64 games behind in 1932). Worse yet, Boston didn’t stop at Babe Ruth when shipping star players to New York. Do the names Dugan, Hoyt, Pennock and Ruffing ring a bell? You see, Boston of the 1920’s was much like the Kansas City Athletics of the 1950’s as far as the Yankees were concerned. Both Boston and Kansas City, in their days, provided a pipeline of talent coming to New York and mostly unknowns going the other way.
Seriously, this was a rivalry?
True, Boston made a run at the Yankees following World War II, winning the 1946 pennant, then taking the season to the final day of 1949 before bowing to the Yankees. As everyone knows it was a good effort on Boston’s part, but it all ended with the Yankees run of five straight championships and Boston’s return to the second division. The rest of the 50s and early 60s brought more of the same. When the Yankees finished dead last in 1966 — their dynasty finally gone — who was it that finished just 1/2 game ahead of the Yankees? Yep, Boston. When Boston finally won a pennant in 1967, it was the ninth-place Yankees giving them an assist, sending Boston a declining but still useful Elston Howard, who helped capture the pennant in a close race before taking the World Series to Game 7. In the spring of 1972, Boston thought nothing of using the Yankees as a trade partner, shipping reliever Sparky Lyle for a needed right-handed bat, Danny Cater.
Some rivalry indeed.
Now, I’m not here to suggest that there was no spark when Boston played New York in one American League park or the other. Everybody knows about Teddy Ballgame versus Joltin Joe, and later the Splendid Splinter of Boston versus the Mick. But it doesn’t always rise to the level of national acclaim. Do you think FOX or ESPN would have done national or semi-national coverage of a Red Sox-Yankees tilt seemingly every time they played if there were TV in the 20s and 30s, or if those networks existed in the 50s and 60s? Probably not.
So it is debatable that there was an all fired rivalry for the five or so decades following the Babe’s sale to New York, but we know there is one today. So when did this modern rivalry commence? Some would say it was October 2, 1978 , the day Bucky dented the Sox pennant hopes.
I will go with July 27, 1975.
The 1975 spring training issue of the Sporting News featured cover pictures of the two newest Yankees, Bobby Bonds and Catfish Hunter. The magazine said it was to be the Yankee’s year, but it wasn’t. On the morning of July 27, 1975, the Yankees trailed Boston by eight games. A New York sweep in that day’s doubleheader at Shea, and a six-game deficit would have placed the Yankees back in the race somewhat. Instead it was a sweep the other way, and the Yankees trailed by 10 games, and manager Bill Virdon was on thin ice. Two humiliating losses, both complete game shutouts by Boston lefties Bill Lee and Roger Moret. Catfish did his job in the first game, allowing no earned runs in a complete game 1-0 loss. Game 2 was 6-0 Boston, but it did mark the debut of Yankee legend Ron Guidry (speaking of debuts on that same day, in another part of New York future Yankee star Alex Rodriguez came into the world. Both Guidry and A-Rod would later make their mark on the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry. So a disastrous day also marked a new beginning in more ways that one).
So what exactly did that fateful July 27 set in motion beyond the Gator and A-Rod “debuts”? Within a few days the Yankees would dump Virdon and hire Billy (don’t be afraid to start something) Martin, and start something they did. Early in the ‘76 season, at the refurbished Yankee Stadium, Lou Piniella crashed into Carlton Fisk and a donnybrook ensued. Adding to the fun, another battle that day was won decisively by Graig Nettles over Boston’s Lee, and the Red Sox were buried for the season. Then the close race of ’77 — which the Yankees won — and the great comeback of ’78, and Bucky’s Fenway heroics.
Now you have the makings of a real rivalry.
So I’m not going to completely dismiss the rivalry over time, but if you want a starting point to what is undeniably baseball’s (and perhaps all of sports) greatest rivalry, think back to that day in Flushing in 1975. The Yankees, who were supposed to win according to most preseason accounts, were humiliated and knocked out of the race for good. The Yankees response was fast, furious and decisive, and set in motion the no-holds-barred play of Red Sox-Yankees that we have come to know today.
Was it always a rivalry? Probably, but the intensity has never been higher than in the past 35 years, an overall Yankee advantage. Here’s hoping that it is the Yankees that hold that advantage in the future, but the total dominance they enjoyed for many decades probably is a thing of the past.