In today’s SweetSpot blog entry, ESPN writer Steve Berthiaume asserted that the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry is dead, and offered suggestions as to how to revive it. His argument is absurd, and his suggestions are silly.
Let’s begin with the obvious: sorry to point this out, but I always thought rivalries were a matter for the fans. Mr. Berthiaume seems to think that if sportswriters are bored, then it’s over. Well sorry to disappoint you, Steve, but even intelligent and well-informed scribes such as yourself don’t get to dictate when we should have or not have rivalries. I can tell you from personal experience dealing with Yankees fans and my fellow Red Sox fans, especially at Fenway Park, that the rivalry is not only not dead, but has moved on to another level.
It is different now, because prior to 2004, it was kind of one-sided. To Red Sox fans, the Yankees were the Evil Empire. To Yankees fans, the Red Sox were a nuisance. Since then, the Red Sox have become serious contenders and obstacles to Yankee success, and their fans have responded in a manner that is true to their nature: intense, degrading abuse. But that’s OK, because it means that they now take the Sox and their fans seriously enough to devote considerable emotional energy to such pursuits as wearing T-shirts that say “There was not curse, the Red Sox just sucked for 86 years.” Before 2004, they would not have bothered.
For their part, Red Sox fans no longer have that crushing inferiority complex that characterized everything they said and did. They feel like legitimate players, because their club is perennially contending. They are more mature, and I think, they outclass the Yankee fans, for the most part (except when they chant “Yankees suck,” which just seems kind of pointless these days).
Now let’s look at Mr. Berthiaume’s “solution”. He wants them to stop playing 18 games a year. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed but the Red Sox and Yankees each play ALL their AL East opponents 18 times a year; this is MLB’s attempt at something that at least partially resembles a balanced schedule. Under such a scheme, teams need to play each other by multiples of 6 games. This is because a normal series is 3 games, and to be fair, you want each series in one team’s ballpark to be balanced by a series in the other team’s ballpark. So then you would need to cut the total to 12 games against each of the 4 AL East opponents, which reduces the in-division total to 48 games. 48 out of 162. Tough to argue in that case that the winner of the division is legit, if the overwhelming majority of games are played against teams outside the division.
He thinks adding another wild-card slot would intensify competition because of the suggested one game playoff. This suggestion is usually accompanied by the suggestion that there be another wild card, so the two could play in a winner-takes-all playoff. Great. That just adds the Rays to the mix. And this helps because… ?
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with the rivalry, so there’s nothing to fix. Steve, maybe instead of sitting in your air conditioned ESPN studio, you should come over and take in a game between the Red Sox and Yankees in Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. Come down from Platen ESPN, and have a taste of the real world.
For another comment on this topic, see Michael Hurley’s thoughts at the NESN site.