One of the most bitter rivalries in the history of sport lies between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
The two teams have been playing against each other for over 100 seasons, and the baseball games are as tough today as they were on their first meeting back in 1901.
A rivalry that runs this deep is riddled with tension, wins and losses, but what can it tell us about the two teams and the state of baseball in general?
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Now, let’s start with the history
The rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox goes far beyond the game of baseball – and further back than their first meeting. The two cities have been rivals for hundreds of years, in everything from culture to economic status.
The early years
The Boston Red Sox (or the ‘Boston Americans’ as they started out) won the first ever World Series in 1903, which, according to some fans, is evidence enough of their superiority.
When the Red Sox and the Yankees came together for their first match in May of the same year, George Winter (a pitcher for the Red Sox) was hit during a brawl. Perhaps this should have been a sign of the fierce contention which would continue to sit between the teams.
The Curse of the Bambino
You don’t need to be a baseball aficionado to know that Babe Ruth, arguably the most famous baseball in history, played for both the Yankees and the Red Sox.
He began his career with the Red Sox in 1914, where he spent five years as a left hand pitcher.
In one of the most controversial and game-changing moves in history, the owner of the Red Sox (Harry Frazee) sold Ruth to the Yankees for $500,000. Why the shock sale? Frazee needed funds to put towards the production of a musical, and despite having scored 29 home runs in 1919, Babe Ruth provided the means for him to do so.
The story has become the stuff of legend, mainly due to the fact that the sale of Ruth seemed to curse the Red Sox’s luck. From that day on, the team failed to win a single World Series title for 86 years. At the same time, Ruth’s pitching with the Yankees earned him worldwide fame for being one of the greatest sports players of all time.
This has become known as the ‘Curse of the Bambino’.
Breaking the curse
Over the next nine decades, both the Red Sox and the Yankees saw their fair share of defeats and victories. However, none of the Red Sox’s wins could truly be enjoyed while the spectre of the curse was still hanging over the club.
It wasn’t until 2004 that the Red Sox’s fortunes changed. Expectations were high in the lead up to the season. Johnny Damon is quoted as saying: “If we do advance to the World Series and win, it’s a better story that we went through New York…If we are going to win the World Series, it’s better to beat the Yankees to get there. Otherwise, everybody will say, ‘Well, you didn’t have to face the Yankees.’”
The Yankees had a better start to the series than the Red Sox, winning the first three games. It looked as though the Red Sox would never be able to claw their way back. However, by pulling off one of the most spectacular comebacks in sporting history, the Red Sox won every other game to win the series 10-3.
The scale of the conflict
Following the brawl on the first game between the Red Sox and the Yankees, numerous physical fights have marred the sporting rivalry between the two teams. This has spanned from disagreements between players – such as several punch ups involving Carlton Fisk – to fights between fans. The most extreme of these was in 2008, when a Yankees fan was charged with second-degree murder after two people died as the result over a disagreement about the two teams.
However, the tension has stretched far further and wider than just competition on the pitch and physical confrontations. It has spread into just about every aspect of modern life, including politics, television, and even overflowing into other sports.
The current state of play
The 2017 season has seen no reduction in the rivalry between the two teams. This was highlighted when the Red Sox hit a milestone on 12th August: the Boston team beat the New York Yankees for the 1000th time.
New talent has been rising up the ranks for both teams, making the competition as hot as ever. The teams are virtually neck-and-neck, with the likes of Rafael Devers and Aaron Judge pitting themselves against each other.
What does this tell us?
At the most basic level, the historic conflict between the Yankees and the Red Sox tells us that this rivalry runs deep. This has become about more than just baseball: this is now an ingrained part of our culture. The sports fans who watch the games today can’t even remember how it all began: they just take it as a given.
In all likelihood, this tension is never going to go away in baseball’s lifetime. The quality of the gameplay is so high that there’s a feeling that the rivalry matters more now than it ever has.
While full-on fights are never a good thing, a little local rivalry between teams is a healthy part of sport. For players, it proves an extra boost to motivation, which in turn leads to greater entertainment and enjoyment for fans.
The historic, ongoing rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees is one of those things that people love to hate – kind of like a guilty secret – even if they support an entirely different team altogether. As far as we’re concerned, if it increases the popularity and longevity of the sport, long may it continue.