Friday, April 2, 2010

Yankees-Red Sox: The Defining Moments, Part I

October 10, 1904, Hilltop Park, Manhattan. Then still known as the New York Highlanders and the Boston Pilgrims, the first great race between the franchises ends in a doubleheader. The Highlanders need to sweep to win the American League Pennant against the defending World Champions.

Jack Chesbro won 41 games for the Highlanders, likely to forever remain a record from the 60 feet, 6 inches pitching distance. But he's more remembered for the first game of this twinbill, which he lost, when his wild pitch allowed the winning run to score in the 9th. Red Sox 3, Yankees 2.

The National League Champion New York Giants, already terrified of the prospect of losing New York to the Highlanders, had already announced they would not play the AL champs. This is the only time the World Series has ever been forfeited, although the Red Sox are not allowed to officially call themselves "1904 World Champions." (Which would give them 8 World Championships, not 7 -- 2 of which, of course, are illegitimate.)

April 20, 1912, Fenway Park, Boston. The Back Bay ballyard officially opens. Mayor John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, grandfather of 3 U.S. Senators, one of whom went on to become President, throws out the ceremonial first ball.

The game goes 11 innings, and the home team wins. Red Sox 7, Yankees 6. The Yanks go on to lose 102 games and finish last, something they've done only twice since. The Red Sox go on to win the World Series.

December 26, 1919, Times Square, New York. Harry Frazee owned the Red Sox from 1916 to 1923. He liked baseball, but he loved musical theater, and he owned a theater in New York. His office was in the same building as the Yankees' offices. (Most teams did not have their offices in their ballparks until decades later.) Due to circumstances beyond his control, Frazee couldn't make deals with any team except the Yankees and the Chicago White Sox. Due to circumstances he should have been able to control, but didn't, he had to get rid of the biggest power hitter in the game, Babe Ruth.

So he sold the Babe to the Yankees, mainly because Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert was willing to pay $125,000 for Ruth's contract; while the other possibility, the White Sox, were run by Charlie Comiskey, a notorious cheapstake. (His parsimony led to a problem with that year's World Series.)

So don't blame Frazee for what happened: He didn't have much choice, unless he wanted the press and the public to think Ruth was running the team. From 1918 to the present... Yankees 27, Red Sox 0. Without cheating, anyway.

April 18, 1923, Yankee Stadium, Bronx. First game in the big ballpark, and depending on whose figures you believe, there were anywhere from 62,000 to 74,000 (with enough people kept outside to push it to 100,000 had there been enough seats) on hand. Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York threw out the first ball, and John Philip Sousa conducted the band that played "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Babe Ruth said, "Some ball yard," and, "I'd give a year of my life to hit the first home run here." He only lived to be 53, but he did hit the first homer in the house. Bob Shawkey outdueled Howard Ehmke, and while Shawkey was brought back to throw out the first ball when The Stadium reopened after its 1973-76 renovation, look up the 1929 World Series to find a nice story about Ehmke. Yankees 4, Red Sox 1. The Yanks go on to beat the Giants in the World Series.

April 20, 1939, Yankee Stadium. Opening Day, and while one legend, Lou Gehrig, is fading, another debuts. Ted Williams strikes out against Red Ruffing in his first two major league at-bats. But in his third, he strokes a double, and "Teddy Ballgame" is underway. From 1938 to 1949, the Red Sox would finish 2nd to the Yankees 6 times, and 3rd 3 more times in the 1950s. But only twice did they finish ahead of the Yankees in any season from 1919 to 1965, in 1946 and 1948. Yankees 2, Red Sox 0. Yanks go on to win World Series.

July 2, 1941, Yankee Stadium. Joe DiMaggio beats the Sox, and the 95-degree heat, and hits a home run to extend his hitting streak to a record 45 games. Yankees 8, Red Sox 4. Williams goes on to hit .406, the last man to hit over .400, but DiMaggio's streak reaches 56 games, he leads the Yankees to win the World Series over the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he, rather than Williams, deservedly wins the AL's Most Valuable Player award.

October 1, 1949, Yankee Stadium. Believe it or not, the Yankees blew a 12-game lead, and trailed the Sox by 1 game with 2 to play -- against the Sox at The Stadium. The Yanks hold Joe DiMaggio Day, since his brother Dom plays for the Sox. Joe says, "I'd like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee." (I guess he didn't have an agent back in 1934.)

The Sox, acting like more recent Red Sox teams, blow a 4-0 lead, Johnny Lindell hits an 8th-inning homer, and the race is tied. Yankees 5, Red Sox 4. In fact, in the 1901 to 1968 era of two single-division leagues, this is the only time both leagues' races are unresolved on the final day of the regular season.

October 2, 1949, Yankee Stadium. This is for the Pennant. The Yanks lead 1-0 in the 8th, when Joe McCarthy, managing the Sox after all those Pennants with the Yankees, relieves starter Ellis Kinder. Big mistake, as a Jerry Coleman double clears the loaded bases. But Vic Raschi falters a bit in the 9th, partly due to DiMaggio, sick with pneumonia, dropping an easy fly ball. Normally so good out there, Joe takes himself out of the game.

The tying runs are on, the run that could win the Pennant is at the plate, and Yogi Berra goes out to talk to Raschi. "The Springfield Rifle" angrily says, "Gimme the goddamned ball, and get the hell out of here!" Yogi does as he's told, and Raschi gets the final out. Yankees 5, Red Sox 3. The Yanks beat the Dodgers in the World Series.

September 28, 1951, Yankee Stadium. The Yanks can clinch the Pennant with a win, and need just one more out. Even more, Allie Reynolds needs one more out for his 2nd no-hitter of the year. But who's at bat? Ted Williams. "The Superchief" gets "the Splendid Splinter" to hit an easy popup... which Yogi drops! Fortunately, it's in foul territory, but you don't give Ted Williams a second chance. Incredibly, Ted pops it up again, and this time, Yogi catches it. Yankees 8, Red Sox 0. The Yanks go on to beat the Giants in the World Series.

April 14, 1967, Yankee Stadium. By this point, the Yankees had collapsed, but no one knew that the Sox were in for the defining season in their history, the one that took them from an afterthought -- and very nearly moved, at least out of Fenway Park, possibly to the suburbs, maybe out of the Boston area altogether -- to being New England's most beloved sports team.

It was Opening Day, and the Sox started a rookie, Billy Rohr. He came within one strike of a no-hitter, partly thanks to an amazing 9th-inning catch by Carl Yastrzemski, the kind of play that makes you think, "If he wasn't going to lose the no-hitter on that play, he's not going to lose it." But Elston Howard -- ironically, to join the Sox late in the season to help with their Pennant race -- singled to right to break it up. It was one of only 3 games Rohr would win in his career, and the Sox needed it. Red Sox 3, Yankees 1.

June 21, 1967, Yankee Stadium. Thad Tillotson beans Sox third baseman Joe Foy, later to be a part of one of the biggest bonehead trades in history -- of course, by the Mets. When Tillotson comes up, Jim Lonborg beans Tillotson. The benches empty, and all hell breaks loose. Red Sox 8, Yankees 1. The Yanks finished 9th in the 10-team AL, while the Sox went on to win the Pennant, although they lost the World Series in 7 games. Despite the acrimony from this brawl, this was not the beginning of the modern Yanks-Sox rivalry. That was still to come.

Part II tomorrow.

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