Rabid, Outrageous, Memorable: Red Sox vs. Yankees (Part II)

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Rabid, Outrageous, Memorable: Red Sox vs. Yankees (Part II)
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After the Red Sox won the 1916 World Series, Harry Frazee, a former Peoria, Ill. billposter who had become a show business wheeler-dealer, bought the club. A good friend of Yankees owners Colonel Jacob Ruppert and Colonel Tillinghast l’Hommedieu Hutson, Frazee hungered to deal with the wealthy New Yorkers. 

He had a home in Boston, but his main residence was on Manhattan’s Park Avenue. And he liked to joke: “The best thing about Boston is the train ride back to New York."

On Jan. 9, 1920, “Harry Frazee’s Crime” was enacted. At a chilly morning press conference a very happy Jake Ruppert announced: “Gentlemen, we have just bought Babe Ruth from Harry Frazee of the Boston Red Sox. I can’t give exact figures, but it was a pretty check – six figures. No players are involved. It was strictly a cash deal.”

Sox general manager Ed Barrow had told Frazee: "You ought to know that you're making a mistake."

Harry Frazee said: “No other club could afford to give the amount the Yankees have paid for Babe Ruth. And I do not mind saying I think they are taking a gamble.”

The aftermath of Harry Frazee’s infamous deed has become known as “the Curse of the Bambino.” In Boston, more colorful phrases describe the act.  And thus began the beginning of the dark age of Boston baseball.

 From 1919 through 1933, the BoSox suffered through a stretch of losing campaigns, dropping at least 100 games in a season five times, and at least 90 games five more times. Last place finishers in that era nine times, they had become a sorry excuse for a big league baseball team.  During a time of Yankee glory from 1919-1945, the Red Sox never placed first in the eight-team American League, finishing an average of thirty games behind in the standings.

On the other hand, the golden age of Yankee baseball can be traced directly to the arrival of George Herman Ruth. The Yankees roll on still, rolling over teams. They are the crème de la crème of Major League Baseball.

The shipping of Babe Ruth to the Yankees has been followed by all sorts of Red Sox misfortunes, read “Curse”: losing Game 7 of the World Series in 1946, 1967, 1975, 1986 (the ball dribbling through Bill Buckner's legs in Game 6); losing the pennant in playoffs in 1948 and 1978; being done in by the Aaron Boone eleventh inning home run on Oct. 17, 2003 that gave the Yankees a stunning 6-5 come-from-behind triumph over the Boston who were five outs away from winning the American League championship.

In Boston, fans scream: "Yankees suck! Yankees suck!"

Even when the Yankees are not playing in Boston.  You can hear the chant (and worse) at Fenway during a Tampa Bay or Toronto, Mets or Baltimore game. There’s always the need, it seems, to shout out their anger.

In New York, they shout: "1918! 1918!"  (Even though the Curse is broken)

In Boston, they shout "Yankees suck, Mets suck" (Even though the Mets have nothing to do with anything).

The Yankees of New York versus the Red Sox of Boston is the greatest, grandest, strongest rivalry in baseball history – a competition of images, teams, cities, styles, ballparks, fans and media.  History, style, culture, pace, dreams, bragging rights - all are mixed in and mixed up with the rivalry in one way or another.        

“Regardless of where either team is in the standings, people mark off the Yankee-Red Sox playing dates on their calendars,” notes former Yankee and Red Sox player Mike Stanley.

The competition is so much more than a baseball team representing Boston going against a baseball team representing New York.  It is, at its heart, a competition between the provincial capital of New England and the mega-municipality of New York City,  different lifestyles, accents, slogans and symbols.                                                                                         

It's the Charles River versus the East River, Boston Common against Central Park, the Green Monster versus the Monuments, Red Sox Rule versus Yankees Suck, WFAN versus WEEI, the “New York Daily News” matched up against the “Boston Herald,”  

Part of the rivalry is the glaring contrast in the images of the  teams. The New York Yankees are the glitz and glitter that comes with being the most successful franchise in baseball history. The Bronx Bombers boast a legacy of  stars of stars: Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio Whitey Ford, Lou Gehrig, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson ,Derek Jeter Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson,Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Mariano Rivera, Phil Rizzuto, Babe Ruth. ..

Through the years, winning has been as much a part of Yankee baseball as the monuments and plaques in deep center field, as much as the pinstriped uniforms, the iconic intertwined “N” and “Y” on the baseball caps.                   

Less successful, more human, more vulnerable – the Bostons have seemed like the rest of us. But they too have had their share of stars like Cy Young, Joe Cronin, Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Mel Parnell, Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs (he also played for the Yankees) Babe Ruth (also a Yankee), Roger Clemens (same), Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra . . .  

The rivalry is the Babe and Bucky and Butch. It is Carl Yastrzemski trotting out to left field at Fenway with cotton sticking out of his ears to shut out the boos of disheartened Sox fans. It is the Scooter, the Green Monster, and the Hawk, Yaz and the Commerce Comet, Mombo and King Kong. It is Joe Dee versus the Thumper.

The rivalry is the fan wearing a "Red Sox Suck" or “Yankees Suck” tee shirt  and coming over to a Boston or New York player for an autograph. The rivalry is Mickey Mantle slugging a 440-foot double at Yankee Stadium in 1958 and tipping his cap to the Red Sox bench. It's Ted Williams spitting, Reggie Jackson gesturing, Billy Martin punching, Roger Clemens throwing inside. It is Carlton Fisk's headaches from the tension he felt coming into Yankee Stadium.

"I was always aware of the mix at Fenway Park," said Lou Piniella, who managed and played for the Yankees. "There was always a lot of excitement in that small park that made it special. You might have 20,000 Red Sox fans at Fenway and 15,000 Yankee fans. Their rivalry helped our rivalry. It excited the players who had to respond to it."

Former Red Sox batting star Dwight Evans was not nearly as enamored with the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium as Piniella was with Fenway Park.

"When you have coke bottle go by your head from the third deck, and they miss you by six inches, you wonder what kind of people these are,” he said. “When you have cherry bombs thrown at you or thrown into crowds, that's not fun and those are not fans. Don't get me wrong - but I think the people that are crazy in New York are more crazy than the ones in Boston and you have crazy people, there, too. I had to wear helmets out there in the outfield many times. It's a great ballpark to play in, yet you have to watch out for things. When they throw a penny or a dime from the third deck and it hits you, it's going to put a knot on your head.”

The rivalry is Mickey Rivers jumping out of the way of an exploding firecracker thrown into the visitors' dugout at Fenway.

It is a fireworks of the historic, auspicious, ridiculous, odd, dramatic, poignant, bizarre and amazing. It is the first game at Fenway Park, on April 20, 1912,  New York versus Boston. It was a game finally played after two straight rainouts. The home team prevailed 7-6 in 11 innings.

On the field, inside the white lines, the rivalry has been characterized by some of baseball's wildest moments. 

 “In all my years of covering the New York Yankees," notes New York Daily News sportswriter Bill Madden, "I can hardly remember a game at Fenway Park that was a normal game. I'm sure there were some but it seems like they have been low scoring, tension filled, white knuckle games or these 10-9 barn burners where no lead was safe. Players will never admit it but the intensity level is up whenever the Yankees and Red Sox meet."

 

Harvey Frommer has written many sports books, including Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox.  Visit his website.*

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