Greatest Sports Rivalries: New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox
It's always the border clashes that prove the most savage in any conflict. There are great rivalries throughout the history of professional sports, and then there is the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Two teams around since the early days of major league baseball brought together by a seemingly innocent business deal that spawned a feud spanning a century filled with bad blood, heartbreak, drama and terrific baseball. To capture it all in one place is impossible. So the best way to describe how it began and how it grew into a worldwide phenomenon is to pinpoint the moments that made it special.
Babe Ruth sparks a Curse
Between 1903 and 1918 there was no better team in baseball than Boston. They won five World Series including the very first ever and had a lineup riddled with talent including a young pitcher and outfielder named George Herman Ruth. However he preferred to go by his nickname, Babe Ruth. Then, in 1919, the Red Sox came under the ownership of Broadway producer Harry Frazee. When Ruth threatened a contract holdout that year, Frazee took an opportunity to collect money for Fenway Park and one of his stage productions by selling the star player to the New York Yankees. This after Ruth set a league record with 29 home runs that year. His exit sent Boston into a tailspin as they struggled throughout the next decade. Meanwhile, New York witnessed a talent explosion across their roster as they went on to dominate the 1920s with Ruth leading the way.
What nobody remembers is that when the Yankees won their first of an eventual 26 World Series titles, 11 of the 26 players on their roster came via trades from Boston. When the Red Sox finally recovered in the late 1930s the two teams fought bitterly for league supremacy, finishing first and second in 1938. Still New York and Ruth, or the "Great Bambino", kept on winning championships.
Ted Williams vs. Joe DiMaggio
Things escalated further when both teams unveiled two of the greatest hitters in the history of the game. Ted Williams of the Red Sox became the last player in history to bat over .400 for a season in 1941. Yet he somehow lost the American League MVP to Yankees star Joe DiMaggio, who went on an incredible 56-game hitting streak that same season. The two stars held such admiration from their opponents that at one point New York and Boston actually considered swapping them. The deal never went through though.
Seven years later the betrayals kept coming. Former Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, who won seven championships for the team, came out of retirement to take over in Boston. His reasoning was because of a feud with Yankees ownership. The two teams battled all season for command of the AL pennant race. In the end McCarthy and the Red Sox got their revenge, knocking New York out on the final weekend. Sadly their thrilling victory was wasted as they failed to make the post-season, losing to the eventual champion Cleveland Indians in a one-game playoff.
Roger Maris and Bucky Dent
After that heartbreaking loss in '48, Boston had to endure watching the Yankees win five straight titles from 1949 to 1953, as well as 14 out of 16 American League pennants. By 1961 nothing had changed. New York kept finding ways to reload their talented roster with new stars. The latest tandem that year was superstar Mickey Mantle and power hitter Roger Maris. Their race to break Ruth's historic home run record of 60 in a season became the focus of that year. In one last horrible twist of fate, it was Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard who gave up #61 to Maris on the last day of the regular season. New York won the game 1-0 and went on to win the World Series again that year.
The two teams continued their feud in various ways over the next ten years, from big time hits to pitcher intentionally beaning batters.
By the mid-1970s the two teams were back in contention, and with that success came more heightened games that led to bench-clearing brawls. Boston lost their third-straight World Series that went to seven games in 1975 to the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds. New York repeated that feat a year later. Then, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner began what would become his trademark big spending to lock up star hitter Reggie Jackson in free agency. New York rode him to a championship the next year.
Boston provided an unforgettable footnote in baseball history in 1978 when they erased a 3.5 game Yankees lead by winning 12 out of 14 games to force a one-game playoff. The Red Sox built a 2-0 lead and figured to hold it through the seventh inning when New York shortstop Bucky Dent stepped to the plate. The light-hitting Dent was not known for his power, having hit five home runs all season. Yet with two outs in the inning he hit a monumental three-run bomb to give his team the lead. The Yankees held on to win 5-4. After the game all Boston fans could say from that point forward was "Bucky F--king Dent!"
Ironically, karma would come full circle when Dent was fired as Yankees manager at Fenway Park twelve years later.
Aaron Boone and David Ortiz
By the late 1990s things couldn't get worse for Boston. They lost the World Series in 1986 and couldn't break through again despite five playoff apperances through 1999. Meanwhile, once again, their hated rivals had built another dynasty. New York won the World Series four times between 1996 and 2000. Even after that they continued to compete late in the postseason including a series birth in 2001. Soon the Red Sox had begun to form a powerful roster of their own, and after so many years of waiting, fans finally got what they wanted when the two teams faced off for the first time in the 2003 American League Championship Series.
It didn't take long for tempers to flare. Pitchers Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens traded hit batsmen that led to a bench-clearing brawl in Game 3. The most famous moment came when Martinez threw a charging Yankees coach Don Zimmer to the ground by his head. In the end $90,000 in fines were handed out for that game. The two teams battled to a decisive Game 7 in Yankee stadium where Boston held a 5-2 lead. However a controversial decision by Red Sox manager Grady Little to keep a tiring Martinez in the game during the eighth inning led to three quick Yankee runs to tie the score. As the match went into the eleventh, New York lead off man Aaron Boone shattered the dreams of Boston fans with a series-clinching walk off home run.
As if that wasn't dramatic enough, 2004 proved the high water mark of the entire rivalry. The Red Sox returned to the ALCS with a chance to avenge their loss against the Yankees the year before. Instead, New York thundered to a commanding 3-0 series lead capped off by a dominant 19-8 victory in Game 3. Boston fans were sure their team was done. The best they could hope for was not to get swept. In Game 4, trailing 4-3 in the ninth, a stolen base by pinch runner Dave Roberts allowed the Red Sox to tie the game on a single and send it to extras. There, in the twelfth inning, Boston slugger David Ortiz hit a walk off home run to win.
The story repeated in Game 5. Boston overcame a 4-2 Yankees lead in the eighth inning. From there the game settled into a stalemate until once again Ortiz stepped to the plate in the 14th. This time he hit a hard single into the outfield, scoring teammate Johnny Damon from second and sending the series back to New York. It was there in Game 6 the most indelible image of the series took place. Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling was ailing at that time after tearing the tendon sheath in his right ankle against Anaheim. He had little to no mobility and some questioned if he could even pitch after getting pounded in Game 1. In an unprecedented move, Red Sox doctors performed surgery to repair the sheath. However, the procedure wasn't given ample time to heal. So when Schilling stepped up to the mound to start the game, blood was seen seeping into his sock. Despite this and lingering pain, he held New York to one run in seven innings. Boston won 4-2, setting up an improbable Game 7.
This time there was no dramatic heroics for the Yankees in extra innings. Led by Damon who had six RBIs, the Red Sox emphatically completed the greatest comeback in baseball history by thumping New York 10-3 in Yankee Stadium, erasing decades of disappointment. A week later they celebrated by finishing a World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals. Ironically, what a lot of fans don't remember is that was doubly sweet since St. Louis had twice previously denied Boston a championship in 1946 and 1967. It was a fitting end to the greatest chapter of the greatest rivalry in perhaps all of sports.