Monday, June 05, 2006

The Rivalry, Threat or Menace?

The Red Sox and Yankees start a four game series in the Bronx tonight. Their timing is a little off. If the latest installment of the greatest rivalry in ESPN history were scheduled next weekend, your truly would be in the perfect place to take it in-out of town. Out of both towns.

Instead, alas. these four early June games between admirable but old ballclubs that're fraying apart even faster than they did last season will take place while I'm still inside their claustrophobic sphere of influence. There will be no escaping the whole nauseating bit, from the first bleacher brawl to the last dismal Athens-Sparta reference. Surely if either club manages to win 3 of 4 (and if the Sox can't do that against the tattered remnants of the Yankee lineup, shame on them) will be propelled towards it rightful place in baseball immortality. The rivalry demands no less.

To be fair, I've seen the Yanks and Sox play a lot of memorable ballgames in the past decade. To be honest, I've seen 'em play probably a dozen ones that actually WERE historic. Neither of those adjectives wind up attached to games in June no matter who's playing. This week, I'll settle for watching New York and Boston play a game in under 3 1/2 hours.

For every memorable Yanks-Sox game, I've watched two stinkeroos, which is pure baseball normalcy. Legendary or a good reason to leave in the 7th to beat the traffic, however, all of them have been way too long for comfort. "Plate discipline" is to baseball what the neutral zone trap is to hockey. They're both winning strategies except for the spectators.

I used to blame this languid pace on my increasing lack of interest in the encounters between what remain two quality teams. An incident last Friday night, however, convinced me something deeper was afoot in my own baseball subconscious and that of millions of other good Americn fans.

Luigi's of Bedford, Mass. serves good old fashioned red sauce Italian American food with no entrees over $14. Thus it's always jammed, particularly on weekend evenings. Amid the scrum of suburbanites, a girl of junior high age attracted universal attention for her fashion statement. The youngster was wearing a Johnny Damon replica uniform shirt-a Yankee uniform shirt.

Dozens of eyes followed the child attempting to vaporize her with hostile stares. Among the death-ray dealers, just briefly, was my own teenaged daughter.

Instead of a tolerant chuckle for this latest display of Sox-Yanks loopiness, one thought took hold. Get a grip, you people! God, I'm sick of this!!!

Spend years watching scorpions fight inside a bottle, you'll get bored. Spend years living inside the bottle, you'll be bored AND acquire a profound and indiscriminate hate of all scorpions.

Yankee-hating has been a respected part of baseball discourse since Babe Ruth's third season with the team. Success breeds enemies. Rooting against the favorite is a noble pursuit, although as we veterans '60s Celtics haters know, a frustrating one. The Mets only came into existence because half the population of New York would rather go without baseball then spend a nickel or a nanosecond following the Yanks.

The Yanks have been reasonably successful the past ten years. Until October 27, 2004, the non-New England baseball world had a certain amount of sympathic affection for the Red Sox as the Yankees' most often thwarted challenger. No longer.

Once the Sox finally beat the Yankees and became world champions, fans everywhere moved on-except here, in New York, and in the office suites where baseball marketing decisions are made. Marketing trumps sanity every time, so the Rivalry is still presented as some sort of hyper-baseball event with a deeper meaning than George Will could ever imagine, despite the plain fact there's no more suspence to it. We've seen its ultimate punch line. The Red Sox will never again win their first World Series in 86 years-not until 2090 anyway. Those other Sox from the Midwest are the champs now. Why don't those two Northeastern also-rans give their egos a rest this summer?

Almost no one here in Boston sees what's happened (Yankee fans adore being hated and assume everyone else does). Once one crosses the Hudson, the Sox are no longer an accepted part of the Yankee-hater underdog community. They have morphed into the Yankees, another arrogant, free-spending, terminally stuck-up franchise that irritates normal fans everywhere.

There's no rivalry like this one, I'll bet Chris Berman says more than once this week. What an insult to fans of the Dodgers and Giants, who've hated each other for over a century, carrying the bitterness coast to coast. What two teams have battled so many injuries, someone will ask on WEEI and WFAN. I dunno, let's call Albert Pujols and see if he has an answer.

The Yanks and Sox are rivals, but they're also twins. The suffering populace of 30 other big league franchises sees them as brothers battling for control of a degenerating but still vicious feudal dynasty. Whichever hemophiliac twit wins, the rest of us will remain just as oppressed by its swaggering, overbearing sense of entitlement, the one that so far has 7 Yanks and Sox leading the vote getting for the 8 starting spots on the AL All-Star team.

Even baseball games running past 11 p.m. are better than no baseball at all. The Yanks and Sox are the only game up here this week, so I'll watch 'em.

Whenever I hear "Yankees (or Red Sox) Suck!" from the crowd, however, I'll be thinking You're both right! Go Blue Jays!".


At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Rich Calla said...

Good Stuff Michael- keep it up I plan to read regularly- Rich C


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