Friday, September 2, 2011

Death of the Rivalry

It's been a hot topic on a lot of media outlets around here in Boston, but the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry is pretty much dead (it was revived a little bit this week, but not much).  People are trying to figure out what the causes are for this, and nobody can really come to a consensus.  I'm not going to debate that it is dead.  Because it's true.  It's no longer make-an-appointment TV.  But here are some of the theories, divided into "Legit" and "Crap."

-The 19-game schedule.  The rivalry was alive and kicking when the teams were playing 19 times a year against each other.  In fact, for a while, it intensified it.  Plenty of opportunities to throw at each other and antagonize each other.  I wrote earlier this year (after the Sox/O's brawl) that 19 games against each other intensifies rivalries in an unnecessary way.
-No playoff meetings for seven years.  The five playoff games between 1996 and 2003 didn't cool off the rivalry at all.  Sure, this helps intensify it, but it wasn't the fact that there was a meeting, or even a ln intense meeting.  If intense playoff series made a difference, the A's would have had a fierce rivalry with both of these teams during the Moneyball era.
-The inconsequential nature of these games.  In the height of the rivalry, neither team was in the prime position to knock each other out of the playoffs.

-Evolved fan bases.  We've discussed this at great length.  The Red Sox fan in 2011 is a lot different from the Red Sox fan in 2003.  Jessica from Brighton is a lot more concerned about singing Sweet Caroline than she is about shouting profanities about Derek Jeter's sexual preference.  In 2003, venom was rampant throughout the ballpark from the 2003 typical fan, Sully from Medford.  Not only would Sully question Jeter's preference, but he also know who Yuri Sucart is and would start chanting YU-ri SU-cart each time Yuri's Tic-Tac popping cousing came to the plate.  And chants like that would catch on with or without the impact of alcohol.  Fans went to Red Sox-Yankees games not to promote their upcoming film like Gigli, but to support the team, express their frustration toward the other team, and actually watch the baseball game.  They actually knew what was going on.  Same thing with the Yankees, as their real fans from the 1990s are now relegated to steerage.
-Fewer hatable players.  Even at the beginning of the HYD era, I had trouble saying a nice or respectful thing about Derek Jeter.  Now I can, because he's not nearly as hatable as he was.  People don't begrudge the way he dives out of the way of pitches on the inside corner anymore.  People around here have reverence for Mariano Rivera, and even Posada at this point.  Many Red Sox fans like Nick Swisher, and besides Burnett, there's very little negative to say about this pitching staff.  Meanwhile, Pat's wrote a post absolutely praising Pedroia and Youkilis.  Besides maybe Ortiz, I don't think Yankee fans wish specific harm on anyone.  In 2003, I was thrilled that Jeter went to the hospital due to an HBP.  When Posada pointed to his head while Pedro was pointing to his head during the Zimmer incident, I hoped Pedro threw right at him.  Gary Sheffield, while not smoking crack rocks, was popping off his mouth at the height of this rivalry.  Throw in Clemens, Wells, Manny Ramirez, Karim Garcia, Jeff Nelson, and others on both sides, and there were just a lot more guys to hate.  Does a 2011 Yankees fan hate Josh Beckett or Papelbon like they hated Pedro Martinez or Curt Schilling?  No way.  Even Marco Scutaro has fewer hatable characteristics than Kevin Millar. 
-Less player buy-in.  On and off the respective playing surfaces, the Patriots and Jets don't like each other, and it's genuine (a Curt Schilling sound bite doesn't count).  They care.  This is the way the Red Sox and Yankees were.  Same with the Bruins and Canadiens.  Would Trot Nixon and Mike Mussina share an electric razor commercial?  Would Rivera and Posada be in a Jimmy Fund commercial alongside Red Sox in 2002?  Nope.  Beyond Enrique Wilson and Manny going out for a drink, things were different back then.
-Less executive buy-in.  The most front-office animosity over the past several years was over Teixeira.  But were any hotel rooms trashed like with the Jose Contreras disaster?  Were there any truly-resentful barbs going back and forth from the front offices?  Nope.  Probably since the Johnny Damon incident, all Red Sox-related animosity during contentious free-agent negotiations went toward the player, not the team.  And yes, guys, the absence of George Steinbrenner has been a factor.
-Overhype.  Everyone in the world wants to talk about it because at one point it was good copy.  At this point, people are tired of talking about it (the players), reading about it (the fans), and even watching it (check out the ratings during this midweek series).  It's not oversaturated, but it is overhyped.  The media is making something out of nothing.  The people listening to it have been the players (who downplay it) and the umpires (who overpolice it).  I like the Krasinski/Baldwin commercials as much as the next guy, but it's a little too much.


Anonymous said...

My experience this week with hearing how various people explain the 'death' (I would say something more verbose and less final like 'temporary intensity reduction') of the rivalry is that each individual's explanation tends to reflect an underlying grievance with something in MLB. I don't really want to 'pick' on DV here as he wrote a great post on an important topic but since he, well, wrote the post, what can I go on? One by one, or something like it, and I'll be curious to hear what you guys might think.

*No one really likes the pink hats around here, but particularly DV- no surprise they make the list.

*DV watches baseball every day because he loves the day-to-day grind and subtle details of the game- no surprise that he would see 'inconsequential games' as an crap reason since all Red Sox games are by definition consequential.

*DV hates 46 (legitimately) for an unusual reason- he thinks he's looking out for himself. And, lo and behold, player buy-in cracks the list.

Did steroids make the 'others receiving votes'? For me, I weigh heavily the nineteen game element because I firmly believe in the importance of a competition format to drive interest in a competition. And, in my mind, nineteen games is a senseless target for a fair schedule in a 'competitive' league.

I think my point is that these things have ebbs and flows and we are at a natural lull. I'm not so sure that there is a real reason. Much like the same way a stock might jump 3% on a day where the company does nothing, I think we are just 'unlucky' or, in other words, at a point where there is no real explanation other than just tough timing. With the intensity of those games in '03-'04, it was probably inevitable.


Anonymous said...


I agree with your post so I'm just going to add something completely separate--I'm not saying that Gonzalez would have gotten a hit off of Mariano Rivera last night if the at-bat had played out differently, but the third strike was anything but. Sure, on another night, with another umpire that would have been a legitimate call. But considering how much Lester had been squeezed all game long, that call was just horrible. Human element? Absolutely. But it doesn't mean it was a good call. Can't blame Gonzalez for taking that pitch when it wasn't even considered a strike all night long.

--the Gunn