The Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry: It Started With a Brawl

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The Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry: It Started With a Brawl
(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox is often said to be the best in baseball, if not in all of American sports. It is not as ancient as some passionate fans may think, however.

It certainly is not as venerable as the competition between the Cubs and Cardinals, which dates back to a championship series played in 1885. Nor does it have the longevity of the feud between the Dodgers and Giants, which began when the two teams encountered one another in postseason play in 1889.

In fact, the on-field rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox did not begin for real until 1938. The Yankees were mediocre in the first two decades of the twentieth century, when the Red Sox won five world championships. Boston was a second-division club during the next two decades, as New York was winning eight world championships.

But things changed in '38, as Boston was becoming competitive and New York was the defending champion. The Memorial Day doubleheader on May 30 at the Stadium attracted a record crowd of 83,533.

The Yankees were leading 7-0 in the fourth inning of the first game, when Red Sox reliever Archie McKain threw a fastball at the head of Yankees outfielder Jake Powell. Although he missed, McKain calmly selected a secondary target and succeeded in drilling Powell's thigh.

Since starting pitcher Lefty Grove had thrown at him in the previous inning, a visibly agitated Powell charged the mound and clinched with McKain before Joe Cronin reached the scene. Apparently, even the deep reserves of patience possessed by one such as Powell can be exhuasted.

With a pair of deftly integrated movements, Boston's manager-shortstop pushed his pitcher to safety and leveled a punch at Powell.

It required a joint task force of players and umpires to intervene, and Cronin and Powell were duly ejected from the game. But the authorities then went wrong and released the miscreants on their own recognizance, instead of providing them with congenial companions from the security detail for their hike back to the locker rooms.

Powell did not need Yogi Berra to tell him, "It ain't over till it's over." He used his freedom of movement to orchestrate a resumption of hostilities with Cronin on the runway leading to the clubhouses. The joint task force was speedily re-deployed to complete its peacekeeping initiative.

The Yankees won the game, 10-0. They also won the pennant and swept the Cubs in the World Series.

Although the Red Sox finished 9 1/2 games behind the Yankees in second place, they enjoyed the slight consolation of seeing their first baseman, Jimmie Foxx, beat out New York catcher Bill Dickey for the MVP award.

Following second place finishes in 1939, 1941, and 1942, Boston finally won the pennant in 1946 with a team that reunited World War II veterans Johny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, and Dom DiMaggio.

The rivalry was on. Read more about how brawling shaped the Yankees Red Sox Rivalry.

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