Forgive me for not putting ample stock into a rivalry that wasn’t one for the past five seasons. It’s not a rivalry without real flair for the dramatic, as cliché as that is. Yes, the Evil Empire is back folks, and the BoSox have recently solidified the notion that a once moribund, century-old conflict has been rejuvenated. It causes fans and pundits alike to ponder how it has culminated to this.
The Yankees were first established in 1903 though back then they were the Highlanders, a team that never finished in first place in their 10 seasons under that name from 1903-1912. As I mentioned in a previous article, that all changed when they stuck with being called the Yankees, a moniker initially assigned to them in 1913. Brewer and Congressman Jacob Ruppert purchased the Yankees in January of 1915 for $450,000 and the preliminary stages of the greatest team in sports were initiated.
During Ruppert’s first five seasons as owner, the Red Sox captured three World Series titles after having already won the Fall Classic in 1912 and before that in 1903 in the very first World Series. Boston was regarded as the quintessential emblem of baseball supremacy during those years.
Soon enough, that notion came to a very boisterous screeching halt when, on January 5th, 1920, a certain player named George Herman Ruth was purchased by Ruppert from Red Sox owner Harry Frazee for $125,000. Frazee had desired sizeable funding in order to finance more plays, being that he was a producer and director. That very transaction turned the planet upside down, quite figuratively.
Prior to acquiring the Bambino, the Yankees had struggled under Ruppert’s stewardship as they still could not muster a first-place finish. From 1915-1919, the Yankees never finished higher than third.
By 1921, Ruth’s second season with the Yankees, they had won the pennant but lost the World Series. Two years later, they captured the first of 27 World Series championships in 1923, when they defeated the then New York Giants four games to two.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, had descended into purgatory as they had stumbled into bankruptcy after Frazee had essentially sold all of the team’s players. They did not finish in first place again until 1946, 26 years after departing with Ruth.
From there, we all know the story. The Curse of the Bambino had continued to endure while the Yankees continued to win one World Series after another.
Personally, and sensibly, the period of the ancient rivalry I relate to best is ostensibly the late 1990s-early 2000s. In 1999, the Yankees were looking ahead to winning a second straight World Series and their third in four seasons. Boston, meanwhile, was continuing a prolonged recovery from the century. They had lost the World Series to the Mets 13 years earlier when first baseman Bill Buckner committed the most infamous gaffe in the sport’s history.
Eight years before then, in 1978, the Yankees and Red Sox had both finished atop the AL East in a tie for first place, both at 99-63. This extraordinary set of circumstances prompted a tie-breaker game to determine the division champion. It was, in essence, both emblematic of the 20th century for both franchises and a 163rd game. Ron “Louisiana Lightning” Guidry took the mound for the Yankees and even after falling behind 2-0, a Bucky Dent home run gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead, and it proved to be the deciding moment in the contest. That game also symbolized George Steinbrenner’s stranglehold of his new kingdom and maniacal obsession with pulverizing his Bostonian adversaries.
In the 1980s, the Yankees endured what the Red Sox had toiled with for the past 60-plus years. After losing the ALCS and World Series in 1980 and 1981 respectively, the Bronx Bombers did not play another postseason game until 1995. Boston’s aforementioned loss in the 1986 rendition of the Fall Classic provided the embattled club no consolation. Steinbrenner’s propensity to spend frivolously did not pay off after having won the World Series in 1977 and 1978.
On July 30, 1990, Steinbrenner was banned from baseball (in day-to-day operations only as he was not stripped of his ownership) after paying a gambler in exchange for “dirt” on outfielder Dave Winfield, with whom Steinbrenner (like many of his players, managers, and constituents) had developed a contentious relationship with. During that time, he entrusted the team to the mastermind of the Yankees’ late 1990s-early 2000s dynasty, Gene “Stick” Michael.
From 1990-1993, the Yankees did not finish above second place, while the Red Sox did win the AL East in 1990, but faltered in the ALCS. They did not compete in the playoffs again until 1995.
Steinbrenner was reinstated in 1993, and by 1996 “Stick” Michael had drafted Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and had traded essentially nothing for Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, and retained Bernie Williams despite Steinbrenner wanting him gone. Although Michael was “fired” by Steinbrenner in 1995, the job was done. The seeds for the greatest chapter in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry had been planted.
As previously mentioned, in 1999, the Yankees and Red Sox encountered each other in the ALCS, and it was their first-ever meeting in the playoffs. The Yankees won the series and the pennant in just five games. They went on to win the World Series against the Braves once again and cemented their legacy as the so-called “Team of the Century.”
In 2000, the Yankees again won the World Series, and then came the greatest two seasons of their acrimonious rivalry with the Red Sox. In 2003, the Red Sox and Yankees met again in the ALCS. This was encapsulated by a bench-clearing brawl in Game 3 when Pedro Martinez fought Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer. The Yankees won that game by a score of 4-3 and took a 2-1 series lead. Boston won Game 4 to tie it at 2-2, followed by a Yankees victory in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead.
Boston won Game 6 by a score of 9-6, and it set up what would become one of the greatest baseball games ever played. A Game 7. The current manager of the Yankees may have a fond memory from that game.
But prior to that series, the two teams battled to acquire coveted pitching prospect Jose Contreras from Cuba. The Red Sox rented every single room in a hotel to ensure the Yankees would not get Contreras. Steinbrenner told Cashman and friends, “Lose Contreras and you’re done.” After winning Contreras, then Red Sox CEO and president dubbed the Yankees as the evil empire in December of 2002.
Boston had dominated the game up until the eighth inning, hen manager Grady Little had decided to keep Pedro Martinez in the game despite obvious signs of fatigue. What followed was the precipice of the rivalry. Down 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Yankees tied the game at 5-5 with a typical dramatic rally that had come to define the pinstriped franchise.
In the bottom of the 11th inning, on the very first pitch of his at-bat, Aaron Boone hit a walk-off home run off of a Tim Wakefield knuckleball that sailed into the Bronx night. It was the culmination of the rivalry. In any other case, it is impossible to summarize a century of mutual hatred between two teams, two fanbases, and two cities. But the 2003 ALCS was the lone exception, right?
The following year, the two teams met again in the ALCS. The Yankees took a 3-0 series lead. It was over. “After the Yankees win Game 4, let’s celebrate,” I told my father. Although I was only eight years old at the time, I had a firm grasp on what was going on.
Except that I didn’t. The Yankees lost the series. They became (at the time) just the third team in North American professional sports to blow a 3-0 series lead, joining the 1942 Red Wings and 1975 Penguins. My worst nightmare had become reality, especially when the Red Sox went on to win the World Series.
Boston went on to win the World Series again in 2007, and in 2013. During the period of time from 2005-2008, the Yankees never got past the ALDS, and although they did win the World Series in 2009, the rivalry with the Red Sox had felt extinguished.
But, the rivalry is back, friends. After missing out on the division title by just two games last year (though they won the season series 11-8), the Yankees are back. They came within nine innings of going to the World Series in what was supposed to be a transitional year. They were a universally beloved underdog team for one year, and that all changed back on December 11th, when the Yankees acquired reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, who is now paired with his doppelganger, Aaron Judge.
The Red Sox countered the move after (finally) signing J.D. Martinez, who, at least offensively, has been on par with Stanton for the past few seasons.
It had been a lame rivalry for years. Now, they will battle for baseball supremacy once again, and boy, is it going to be amazing. Welcome back to the greatest rivalry in all of sports, ladies and gentlemen. Buckle your seatbelts.