Friday, May 13, 2011

Top 10 Baseball Rivalries

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox get it on in about an hour, doing their periodic dance of death, their Hundred Years War.

As you may be aware, I hate the Red Sox. Since getting interested in English soccer, I have used certain phrases to describe them. In English soccer, your favorite club's arch-rivals are called, among other nasty names you might think up, "The Scum," their fans are called "Scummers," and their home town is called "Scum Town" -- or, alternatively, "Shit Town."

I used to hate the Mets more than the Red Sox, but when a team regularly picks fights with your players (where I come from, we call that "aggravated assault"), when a team's pitchers regularly hit your batters on purpose (where I come from, we call that "aggravated assault," possibly also "attempted murder in the second degree" when it's at the head), when a player from a team grabs a 72-year-old coach for your team by the head and throws him to the ground (where I come from, we call that "elder abuse" and "attempted murder in the second degree"), and when a pitcher from a team looks directly at a player for your team and announces that he's going to hit him in the head with a pitch (where I come from, we call that "conspiracy to commit attempted murder")...

When you see those things happen, you tend to generate a depth of contempt that goes beyond what I usually feel for The Other Team and their fans, a.k.a. the Flushing Heathen.

I pity the Mets. I hate the fucking Red Sox. They are scum. And their fans? While many are intelligent, decent, even erudite, there are a lot of their fans who don't know what the hell "erudite" means, and are, as we have so often seen, alcoholic, bigoted, violent, barely verbal, and just plain stupid.

The stereotype of the Red Sox fan is no longer the middle-aged professor at a liberal-arts college somewhere in New England who drives to the Boston suburbs and then takes the T into Kenmore Square, walks into Fenway, takes his seat, keeps score, and bemoans the inexorable fate of the Old Towne Team. It's the people in the "Boston Teens" sketch on Saturday Night Live.

But Yanks-Sox isn't the only rivalry worth mentioning.

Top 10 Baseball Rivalries

Note that, for each of these rivalries, the teams are listed in alphabetical order. Who is listed first has absolutely nothing to do with which team is more successful, or which team's fans hate the other team and its fans more, or even which one I might like (or at least tolerate) more.

Note also that I am not counting World Series matchups. In order to be a real rivalry, these teams have to be able to face each other in the regular season, and I'm not counting Interleague play, either, so you can forget Yankees-Mets, Cubs-White Sox, Dodgers-Angels, Giants-A's, Orioles-Nationals, Indians-Reds, Royals-Cardinals, Brewers-Twins (which used to be an AL matchup), Rangers-Astros, and the former matchup of Blue Jays-Expos. The Yankees and Dodgers have faced each other 11 times, although not since 1981; the Yankees and Giants, 7 times, although not since 1962. A few other matchups have happened at least 3 times, but none of these at least 4.

10. New York Mets vs. Philadelphia Phillies. Mets vs. Atlanta Braves was a very brief rivalry, much like the Dallas Cowboys went through with the San Francisco 49ers and then with the Green Bay Packers in the 1990s, and the Detroit Red Wings then went through with the Colorado Avalanche, before the Cowboys remembered that their real rivals were the Washington Redskins and the Wings remembered theirs were the Chicago Blackhawks.

Despite a Playoff matchup in 1969, Mets-Braves was really only a rivalry from the arrival of Mike Piazza in Flushing Meadow in 1998 until 2001, after which the Mets collapsed into mediocrity again. Despite the best efforts of the players on the teams, and the worst efforts of one of them, John Rocker, and the worst efforts of Met fans to respond to him, the Mets-Phils rivalry has already lasted longer than the Mets-Braves rivalry.

And while the Yankees and Philadelphia Athletics had some big moments against each other, the last time those 2 finished 1st and 2nd was 1932, and the A's moved from Philly to Kansas City in 1954. They've faced each other in 3 postseason series since the A's moved to Oakland in 1967, and the Yanks have won all 3.

Year it started: 1962, the debut of the Mets, although from 1958 to 1961, some New Yorkers got on the Pennsylvania Railroad or drove down the New Jersey Turnpike in order to boo their former teams, the Dodgers and Giants, when they played the Phils at Connie Mack Stadium.

Year it REALLY started: 2006. In spite of the proximity, prior to 2006, only once had these teams finished 1st and 2nd in the National League Eastern Division, in 1986, and that was the Mets running away with it; somebody had to finish 2nd, and it was the Phils. But in 2005, both teams came out of down periods and got good again. In 2006, the Mets won the NL East and the Phils finished a close 2nd. At the start of the 2007 season, Phils shortstop and captain Jimmy Rollins said, "We're the team to beat,”"and proved himself right: The Mets blew Division leads over the Phils the next 2 seasons, and the Phils have now won 4 straight NL East titles.

Best Pennant race: 2007. The Mets led the NL East by 7 games with 17 to go, but they blew it, and on the last day of the season, the Phils clinched the Division and the Mets lost to miss out on the Playoffs completely. Since there was still a chance to make the Playoffs even if they didn't win the Division, this was a more embarrassing choke than even the 10-game losing streak that caused the Phils to blow the 1964 NL Pennant.
Postseason play: Has never happened. Could now only happen in the National League Championship Series. Closest call was in 2007 and 2008, when the Phils won the NL East and the Mets were eliminated on the last day of the season, both times.

Best moment: October 25, 2009, when the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to win the American League Pennant, setting up a Yanks-Phils World Series. Now Met fans know how we Yankee Fans felt in 1986.

Worst moment: Hard to say, as there hasn't been a truly ugly moment in the rivalry, although there were some seasons in which both teams were pretty dreadful, and a Mets-Phils game, at Shea Stadium or Veterans Stadium, might draw under 20,000 despite the proximity (111 miles).

UPDATE: The incident in the 2015 NLDS between Chase Utley and the Mets doesn't count, because Utley was, by then, a Dodger.

9. Chicago White Sox vs. Cleveland Indians. Charter teams in the AL, 340 miles apart. Unfortunately, these teams have checkered histories. In the 1st 92 seasons of the AL, they had been to a combined total of 8 postseasons. In the 18 seasons since, they've been to the postseason 11 times between them.

Year it started: 1901. The Chicago franchise took the Cubs' former name of White Stockings and shortened it to White Sox. The Cleveland team started as the Blues, then signed superstar second baseman Napoleon "Nap" Lajoie, made him their manager as well, and became the Cleveland Naps. In 1915, after Lajoie was gone, they became the Indians, named not for former Cleveland baseball star and Native American Louis Sockalexis, or for the Indians who supposedly lived on the shores of Lake Erie, but because they wanted to compare themselves with the team that had won the previous year's World Series, the Boston Braves.

Year it REALLY started: 1908, when the AL race came down to 3 teams, all in the Midwest: The White Sox, the Naps, and the Detroit Tigers. On October 2, Ed Walsh of the White Sox struck out 15 batters, an AL record that stood for 28 years, but lost because Addie Joss of the Naps pitched a perfect game. As it turned out, neither won the Pennant: The Tigers did, with the proto-Indians finishing half a game back (a rainout that, for some reason, was not made up) and the ChiSox a game and a half back.

Best Pennant race: 1908, as previously mentioned. A strong runner-up is 1959, when the ChiSox finished 5 games ahead of the Indians. It was the Pale Hose' only Pennant in an 86-year stretch (1919-2005), and the Indians' last Pennant race for 36 years (1959-1995).

Postseason play: Has never happened, and could now only happen in the AL Championship Series. Closest call was in 2000, when the Sox won the Division and the Indians lost the Wild Card by 1 game.

Best moment: October 2, 1908, the Joss-Walsh Game, possibly the best pitchers' duel of all time. (I rank it ahead of the May 2, 1917 game in which Jim "Hippo" Vaughn of the Cubs and Fred Toney of the Reds both pitched no-hitters for 9 innings, before Jim Thorpe -- yes, 1912 Olympian Jim Thorpe -- won the game in the 10th and Toney kept his no-hitter. I also rank it ahead of the May 1, 1920 game when Leon Cadore of the Dodgers and Joe Oeschger of the Braves both pitched 26 innings, MLB's longest game, called because of darkness. I even count it ahead of the July 2, 1963 game in which Willie Mays homered off Warren Spahn of the Braves to give Juan Marichal of the Giants a win after 16 innings, now immortalized in Jim Kaplan's book The Greatest Game Ever Pitched.)

Worst moment: July 31, 1997. The South Siders were just 3 1/2 games behind the Tribe in the AL Central Division at the trading deadline, when Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf traded pitchers Danny Darwin, Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez to the Giants for pitchers Keith Foulke, Bob Howry, Lorenzo Barcelo and Ken Vining, shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielder Brian Manning. It looked like the Sox (or at least Reinsdorf) were giving up, and it became known as the Chicago White Flag Trade. Sure enough, the ChiSox finished just 80-81, while the Indians won the Division and the Pennant. However, in 2000, Foulke and Howry were keys to the Sox bullpen, and they won the Division, the only time between 1995 and 2001 that the Indians did not win it. (In fact, counting the strike-shortened 1994 season, one or the other of these teams won the Division every year from 1993 to 2001.)

8. Cleveland Indians vs. Detroit Tigers. Charter members of the AL, just 168 road miles away, although they'd be even closer if you could cross Lake Erie with any speed.

Year it started: 1901, the debut of the American League.

Year it REALLY started: 1908, as stated above.

Best Pennant race: 1908, as stated above. A strong runner-up is 1940. See below.

Postseason play: Has never happened, and could now only happen in the ALCS. Closest call, aside from a Playoff for the Pennant in 1940 (which could well have happened) was in 2007, when the Indians won the Division, and the Tigers finished 8 games back and 6 back of the Wild Card.

Best moment: September 27, 1940. A Tiger rookie named Floyd Giebell outpitches Bob Feller. Rudy York homers to give the Tigers a 2-0 win and all but clinch the Pennant. Giebell was already 31, much older than Feller, who was 22 and already a legend. Feller won 27 that year, including an Opening Day no-hitter against the White Sox, but he couldn't win this one. However, he would forge a career as possibly the best pitcher of his generation, while Giebell would appear in only 17 more big-league games and win exactly none of them.

Worst moment: Can't think of one, although there have been a lot of seasons when both teams were mediocre.

7. Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees. Suffice it to say that people from Northern Ohio do not like to be reminded that George Steinbrenner was one of their own.

Year it started: 1903, when the American League's 1st Baltimore Orioles moved to New York.

Year it REALLY started: 1920. I'll get to that in "Worst Moment."

Best Pennant race: 1952. Going into the games of September 10, the Yankees were 1 game ahead of the Indians. The Indians won 12 of their last 15. The Yankees won 13 of their last 15, to finish 2 games up. The 2 games the Yankees lost were to the Philadelphia Athletics. The 3 games the Indians lost? One to the Red Sox, one to the White Sox, and one -- strange that there would be a single-game series -- on September 14 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a 7-1 Yankee victory, Eddie Lopat over Mike Garcia. The Indians did about as well as you could hope for a team to do, but it wasn't enough. From 1951 to 1957, the Yankees and Indians finished 1st and 2nd every season, but only in 1954 was it the Indians who came out on top.

Postseason play: Indians won American League Division Series in 1997 (Sandy Alomar's home run off Mariano Rivera) and 2007 (Joba Chamberlain covered in Lake Erie Midges). Yankees won ALCS in 1998 (Chuck Knoblauch's "Blauch-head" play and Indian fans insulting David Wells' dead mother).

Best moment: I'm going to get personal here. On April 19, 2009, I made my 1st visit to the new Yankee Stadium. It was the 4th game in the place, and the Indians had bombed the Yankees out of the yard in the 1st and 3rd, with the Yankees winning the 2nd. Led by ex-Yankee Carl "I Stole $40 Million of Steinbrenner Money" Pavano, the Indians led this game until a Jorge Posada homer, and the Yankees won. What a relief!

Worst moment: August 16, 1920. With the Yankees, Indians and defending AL Champion White Sox locked in a 3-way race, the Yanks' Carl Mays hits Indian shortstop Ray Chapman with a pitch. Chapman lost consciousness and died the next day. Mays spent the last 51 years of his life swearing that he didn't hit Chapman on purpose, but there were other reasons to dislike him. Chapman was just 29. Somehow, the Indians picked themselves up. Center fielder and manager Tris Speaker put rookie Joe Sewell in at short, and Sewell began a Hall of Fame career. The Indians ended up winning their 1st Pennant, by 2 games over the White Sox and 3 over the Yankees. The Yankees would have to wait another year for their 1st Pennant, but the White Sox, who had 8 players accused of throwing the previous year's World Series suspended with 3 games left, lost 2 out of those 3 against the Browns and wouldn't win another Pennant until 1959.

Strangely, when Indian fans talk about how much they hate the Yankees, they rarely bring up Ray Chapman, the only player we can be sure of having died as the result of an on-field injury. (Doc Powers of the 1909 Philadelphia Athletics may be another, but the evidence is inconclusive.) I guess 91 years of distance has something to do with it, but a monument to Chapman, which stood at League Park until it closed in 1947 and then got lost at Municipal Stadium before being found during the move to Jacobs Field, now stands in their new stadium's Heritage Park, their take on the Yankees' Monument Park.

6. Kansas City Royals vs. New York Yankees. Although relatively brief, this one resonates with me because it was a very hot one when I was coming into baseball awareness.

Year it started: 1969, the debut of the Royals.

Year it REALLY started: 1976, the 1st time they faced each other in postseason play, won by a Pennant-winning home run by Yankee 1st baseman Chris Chambliss.

Best Pennant race: Never really had one, as the Royals debuted the season Divisional play began, and they've never been in the same Division.

Postseason play: Yankees won ALCS in 1976, '77 and '78. Royals won ALCS in 1980. Because they're in different Divisions, and the Royals haven't reached the postseason since 1985, this rivalry turned out to be rather brief, but, while it raged, it was nasty.

Best moment: October 3, 1978. As The Bronx Is Burning pointed out, the Royals had Paul Splittorff and Larry Gura, lefthanded starters who were particularly effective against the Yankees because, as "everybody" "knew," the Yankees (especially Reggie) "can't hit lefthanded pitchers, especially in the postseason." After the Yankees won the 1976 Pennant because of Chambliss' homer off Mark Littell, and the '77 Pennant because of key hits off Doug Bird and Steve Mingori (like Littell, they were righthanders), the Royals decided enough was enough, and signed a lefty reliever as a free agent, Al Hrabosky, the flamboyant former St. Louis Cardinal (and now one of their broadcasters) known as the Mad Hungarian.

The Yankees took a 4-0 lead in Game 1 of the '78 ALCS at Royals Stadium (now Kauffman Stadium), but the Royals pulled a run back, and in the top of the 8th, with the Yanks threatening again, the WPIX-Channel 11 cameras focused on the scary bearded guy throwing lefty smoke in the Royal pen. Phil Rizzuto said, "Uh-oh, the Mad Hungarian!" Well, the first guy Hrabosky faced was Reggie. This was exactly the kind of moment for which the Royals signed him. Hrabosky threw Reggie a fastball, and it should be coming down any minute now. After all, he was Reginald Martinez Jackson, and this was October. (Rizzuto was much relieved.) The Yanks won, 7-1, and, aside from a Thurman Munson homer off Bird to cap a comeback win in Game 3, the Royals basically never recovered from the battering they took in Game 1. Oh yeah, Jim Beattie and Ken Clay, the two least-heralded pitchers on the '78 Yank roster, held the Royals to... How many hits, Rachel? "Two!"

Worst moment: October 6, 1977. Game 2 of the ALCS at the original Yankee Stadium. George Brett grounds to 3rd, and Graig Nettles throws to Willie Randolph for what could have been the 1st out of a double play, eliminating Hal McRae. But McRae flew in spikes high, and kicked Randolph halfway to the outfield grass, enabling the tying run to score. It was an unnecessary and dirty play, worthy of any "Dirty Northern Bastard" in English soccer. However, it pissed the Yankees off to the point where they picked themselves up, won this game to tie up the series, and then, in Game 5, after the Brett launched another hard slide into Nettles to start another fight, the Yankees won.

5. Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees. As many times as the Yankees have tangled, including in late-season and postseason games, with the Red Sox, it's easy to forget that there have been nearly as many good Yanks-O's races (including 1977, when both the Sox and the O's finished just 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees), and that the O's are actually the Yanks' closest rivals (Camden Yards is 200 miles away as opposed to 207 miles to Fenway), leading to thousands of Yankee Fans invading Charm City, wearing their team gear, and taking over the Inner Harbor area and the ballpark. This once made broadcaster Michael Kay say, "This is really the South Bronx! About 190 miles south!" (Apparently, he was counting from Midtown, not from the South Bronx itself.)

Year it started: 1954, when the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and took up a name that had been used by 2 previous major league teams and a minor league team.

Year it REALLY started: 1974. Although the O's stayed close to the Yanks in the 1960 and '64 seasons, and the Yanks were a distant 2nd to the O's in 1970, 1974 kickstarted the rivalry. For much of the season, it looked like another Yanks-Sox race, but late in August the Sox began a nosedive, one which gets easily forgotten because the beneficiary ended up not being the Yankees. Playing their 2-season exile in Shea while The Stadium was being renovated hurt the Yankees' power game, and a late-season injury that ended Bobby Murcer's 1st tenure with the team, ended the Yanks' season in the next-to-last game, while the O's repeated as AL East champs. The run-in featured O's manager Earl Weaver making public remarks about first-year Yankee outfielder Lou Piniella, who he managed in the minors, suggesting that Piniella was a loser and would always be one. The Earl of Baltimore was short-term right... but long-term wrong, wrong, wrong.

Best Pennant race: 1980. The Orioles, who broke the Yanks' streak of 3 straight Pennants the year before, took 3 games out of a mid-August 5-game series from the Yanks at Memorial Stadium, in which the average attendance was 50,727, the highest of any home series in Oriole history. But the Yankees went on an 18-2 tear, and finished with 103 wins to the Orioles' 100. It remains the last time an AL team has won 100 games and failed to win their Division, much less make the Playoffs. (It's since happened once in the NL: 1993, in the West, the Braves won 104, the Giants 103, the last year before Wild Card play.)

Postseason play: Yankees won ALCS in 1996. The Yanks won all 3 games played in Camden Yards. If you can't protect your house in October, you have no right to complain about a kid in the other team's house. The O's also lost 2 of the 3 home games they played against the Indians in the '97 ALCS, meaning they are 1-6 all-time in ALCS games at Camden Yards.

Best moment: September 11, 2004. This is another personal one, since I was there. It was the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and, at least until the next season started and the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals, the O's were the closest MLB team to Washington, and thus to the Pentagon. They had rescue workers from the Pentagon throw out ceremonial first balls to rescue workers from the World Trade Center. Ironically, neither starting pitcher was American: Orlando "El Duque" Herandez faced Sidney Ponson, and the Yankees won, 5-2. By recent Yankee-Oriole standards, this game was very short: As Michael Kay would say, "a manageable 2 hours and 44 minutes."

Worst moment: August 13, 1978. This wasn't an ugly moment, but it was certainly sneaky and underhanded. While the Yankees were desperately trying to claw their way back into the race with the Red Sox, this was one of the few seasons between 1964 and 1984 that the O's were not in the AL or AL East race most of the way. But that didn't stop Weaver from chanelling his inner John McGraw (who did, after all, learn a lot of tricks of the trade as a player for the 1890s NL version of the Orioles). The O's led 3-0 after 6, but the Yanks made it 5-3 in the top of the 7th. In the bottom of the 7th, it started raining, and the O's stalled, until the umps stopped play and the tarp was put on the field. After a 36-minute delay, the umps called the game, and the score reverted to what it was at the end of the last completed inning: Orioles 3, Yankees 0! Some people speculated that Earl even had the tarp watered down to make the field even less playable. As Tommy Lasorda might say, "You have to give credit to Earl for thinking of a way to win, but the part that bothers me is that he got away with it." At any rate, for the next season, the rule was changed: If it would otherwise be an official game, it is suspended, not stopped, and resumed at a later date.

4. Cubs vs. Giants. Although this has hardly been a rivalry in the lifetime of most people alive today, it was as ugly as any North American sports rivalry has ever come.

Year it started: 1883, when the team then known as the New York Gothams entered the National League. Owner-manager Jim Mutrie had a habit of calling them "my big boys, my giants" and the name stuck, and Mutrie decided to make it official in 1886.

Year it REALLY started: 1905. This was when the Cubs got good for the 1st time since the early 1890s, led by the double-play combination of shortstop Joe Tinker, 2nd baseman Johnny Evers, and 1st baseman/manager Frank Chance, a.k.a. the Peerless Leader (or "the PL"). Having Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown, and the curveball caused by his mangled fingers, as an ace pitcher capable of matching the Giants' superstar Christy Mathewson, helped. The Giants won the Pennant in 1905, but the Cubs won the next 3 -- the last in controversial fashion.

Best Pennant race: 1908. See below. There were also good races between them in the 1930s, but the Cubs' nosedive after World War II, and the teams' placement in different Divisions in 1969 and since, has meant no more Pennant races between them.

Postseason play: Giants won NLCS in 1989. They also finished in a tie for the NL Wild Card in 1998, forcing a one-game Playoff at Wrigley Field. As in the game at the Polo Grounds 90 years earlier, the Cubs won.

Best moment: October 8, 1908. The replay (not actually a Playoff) forced by the Fred Merkle "Boner" game of September 23 was, once you strip away all the controversy, one great game, with Brown coming on in relief of Jack Pfeister, whose nickname "the Giant Killer" did not hold, and outpitching Mathewson. At the time, the Polo Grounds seated about 38,000 people, and it was full. We may never know how many people watched on the overhanging Coogan's Bluff, or how many tried to get in but failed, but this may have been the game with more people trying to get in than any other in baseball history.

Worst moment: The days between September 23 and October 8, 1908. Lies, recriminations, even death threats flew. Years after the fact, Brown said in an interview that he got "several Black Hand letters," telling him he'd be killed if he pitched and beat the Giants in the replay. ("The Black Hand" was what Italian gangsters in the U.S. were called at the time, the word "Mafia" not yet having come into wide use.)

3. Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals. Cub fans think this is the biggest rivalry in baseball. As Jim Bouton would say, "Yeah, surrrre!"
Year it started: 1885, when, with both teams still using names that would later be adopted by American League teams (the Chicago White Stockings and the St. Louis Browns), Chicago was the champions of the National League and St. Louis the champions of the American Association. They faced each other in a postseason series that ended deadlocked, 3 wins apiece with a tie. A year later, they faced each other again, with St. Louis winning on Curt Welch's "$10,000 Slide" in Game 6. St. Louis joined the NL in 1892, after the AA folded.

Year it REALLY started: 1969, when the Cardinals, 2-time defending NL Champions, were being dethroned – as it seemed at the time, by the Cubs. Cardinal fans made the journey up Interstate 55 and brawled with fans in the Wrigley Field bleachers, and the "Bleacher Bums" concept was born, with the Bums wearing yellow hard hats.

Best Pennant race: 1935. Oddly, there have been very few years when the NL (1892-1968), the NL East (1969-93) and now the NL Central have come down to the Cubs and Cards. But it sure did in '35, with the defending World Champion Cards leading the Cubs by 10 1/2 games on July 5. But the Cubs went on an 8-game winning streak, had an 11-game streak later in July, and from September 4 through 27 had a 20-game winning streak, longest in the majors since 1916 (tied by the 2002 A's), and ended up winning by 4 games. It sounds so strange to think of the Cubs not only regularly winning Pennants (they did so every 3 years from 1929 to 1938), but going on a hot streak in the last full month of the season, instead of a "September Swoon" as happened in 1969.

Postseason play: Has never happened, and could only happen in the NLCS. Closest call: 1973, in that wild 5-team NL East race clinched by the Mets at a rainy Wrigley the day after the last previously-scheduled day (pushed back due to rain).

Best moment: June 23, 1984. NBC televised this Saturday Game of the Week, and it has remained a staple of ESPN Classic. The Cards led 9-3 in the bottom of the 6th, but in the bottom of the 9th, with the Cards now leading 9-8, Ryne Sandberg homered off former Cub closer Bruce Sutter. The Cards scored twice in the top of the 10th, but in the bottom of the 10th, Sandberg again took Sutter out of the yard. The Cubs won it in the bottom of the 11th, and it's been known as "The Sandberg Game" ever since. The Cubs went on to win the NL East, Sandberg went on to win the NL Most Valuable Player award, and both he and Sutter went to the Hall of Fame.

Worst moment: June 22, 2002. Another nationally-televised Saturday Game of the Week, this time on Fox. Only it didn't happen. Cardinal pitcher Darryl Kile died of a heart attack in his Chicago hotel when the Cards were in town to play the Cubs. Joe Girardi, an Illinois native and then the Cubs' catcher, announced to the fans, "I thank you for your patience. We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinal family, that the Commissioner has canceled the game today. Please be respectful. You will find out eventually what has happened, and I ask that you say a prayer for the St. Louis Cardinals' family."

2. Dodgers vs. Giants. The Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field were only 14 miles apart in New York City. AT&T Park and Dodger Stadium are considerably farther apart, 380 miles, and the teams are now 2,800 miles from their 1883-1957 homes. Doesn't matter: This is the NL's biggest rivalry, although the heightening of Yanks-Sox since the 1970s means it's no longer baseball's biggest.
Year it started: 1889, when the New York Giants, champions of the National League, faced Brooklyn, champions of the American Association, in a postseason series. The name of the Brooklyn team would change several times. First, they were called the Grays. Then people started calling them the Trolley Dodgers, since Brooklyn was covered by trolley lines, and then "Dodgers" for short. But when 3 players got married in the 1888-89 off-season, they were nicknamed the Bridegrooms. In 1899, Ned Hanlon became their manager, and, in honor of a renowned circus troupe called Hanlon's Superbas, they became the Brooklyn Superbas. Eventually, the name Dodgers came back, but when Wilbert Robinson, a former teammate and coach of Giants manager John McGraw, split with him and was hired as Brooklyn manager, they became the Robins in his honor. By the time he retired in 1931, and made up with McGraw, the name Dodgers was back in use and has never left, although today a Los Angeleno is more likely to dodge freeway traffic or gang gunfire than any mode of public transportation.

Year it REALLY started: 1934. The Dodgers were at one of the lowest points in their history, nearly bankrupt, in danger of going out of business, and an awful team on the field. Giant manager/1st baseman Bill Terry was asked about the Dodgers, and he said, "Brooklyn? Is Brooklyn still in the League?" In the last 2 games of the season, the Dodgers beat the Giants, 5-1 and 8-5, at the Polo Grounds no less, and the Giants ended up losing the Pennant to the Cardinals by 2 games.

Best Pennant race of the New York era: 1951. You know this story. Bobby Thomson. "The Giants win the Pennant!"

Best Pennant race of the California era: 1962. You may not know this story, but it's a weird transcontinental parallel to '51. Until Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones to lose the 1999 Pennant for the Mets, Stan Williams' walk of Jim Davenport was the biggest base on balls in baseball history.

Postseason play: Since '51 and '62 are considered extensions of the regular season, it's officially never happened. Could now only happen in the NLCS.

Worst moment: August 22, 1965. As yet another Pennant race between them heated up, Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal were the opposing pitchers. Marichal was distressed that his homeland, the Dominican Republic, was in civil war. Dodger catcher John Roseboro was distressed over the recent Watts race riot. When Marichal came to bat, Roseboro told Koufax he wanted to hit Marichal. Koufax wouldn't do it, so Roseboro threw the ball back to the mound so that it hit Marichal on the ear. That was really wrong, but it doesn't justify what Marichal did: He repeatedly hit Roseboro over the head with his bat. The consequences: Koufax was unsettled, and lost his control, and the Giants won the game. But Marichal was fined $1,750 (about $12,500 in today's money) and suspended for 8 games -- that meant 2 starts, and the Dodgers won the Pennant over the Giants by 2 games. However, when I looked up the starts that would have been in Marichal's regular turn in the rotation, I discovered the Giants were 1-1, so maybe it didn't cost them the Pennant.

Best moment: Immediately thereafter. Instead of waiting for an ambulance, Willie Mays got a cab outside Candlestick, put Roseboro in it, and accompanied him to the hospital, with his own cap (a Giants cap) on Roseboro’s head to cover the wound. Years later, having forgiven Marchial, who never did anything like that again, Roseboro asked the Baseball Writers Association, who denied him election in his first 4 years on their Hall of Fame ballot, to forgive him as well. They did, electing him in the 5th year, 1983.

1. Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees. As if you didn't know this would be Number 1.

Year it started: 1903, when the American League's 1st Baltimore Orioles moved to New York. That team was known as the New York Highlanders, before the commonly used name of "Yankees" became official in 1913; the Boston team was officially known as the Boston Americans, but was often called the Pilgrims, the Puritans, the Somersets (for brief owner Charles Somers), and the Red Stockings, in honor of the National League team in Boston that would become the Braves, before "Boston Red Sox" became official in 1907. A Pennant race between them came down to the last day of the 1904 season, but there wouldn’t be another race in which both teams were in it in September until 1948.

Year it REALLY started: Several, actually.

* 1919. Pitcher Ernie Shore and outfielder Duffy Lewis had already been sold by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to Yankee owners Jacob Ruppert and Til Huston, but in 1919 the Sox sold pitcher Carl Mays, basically to "get rid of a headache." Which, rather than to finance a Broadway musical, was also the real reason Frazee, just after Christmas 1919, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. A year later came pitcher Waite Hoyt, catcher Wally Schang, and 3 guys you don't need to know about. A year after that, pitchers "Bullet Joe" Bush and "Sad Sam" Jones and shortstop Everett Scott. A year after that, pitcher Herb Pennock, third baseman Joe Dugan and outfielder Elmer Smith. As Harry Hooper, Sox Hall of Fame center fielder and not one of the players sold off in the series of moves that became known as "the Rape of the Red Sox," put it, the 1920s Yankee Dynasty was basically the 1910s Red Sox dynasty. The Yanks, already on the rise, became champions; the Sox crumbled.

* 1933. Tom Yawkey bought the Red Sox, and set out to do what Ruppert, and later the Topping-Webb regime and George Steinbrenner, set out to do: Buy some championships. He certainly tried, signing 3 future Hall-of-Famers: Joe Cronin, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove. His scouting brought in, as the Yanks' had, several stars from the Pacific Coast League, including future HOFers Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr and All-Star Johnny Pesky. From 1938 to 1949, the Sox finished 2nd to the Yanks 6 times, but only won 1 Pennant, losing the 1946 World Series.

* 1967. Actually, this was just a blip on the radar screen. For once, it was the Yanks who were in decline, and the Sox who had a season so rare it became known, in the words of a hit song of that year, as "The Impossible Dream." Early in the season, a rookie named Billy Rohr came within a strike of a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium. Then, in June, Thad Tillotson of the Yanks beaned Joe Foy, and Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg retaliated but hitting Tillotson, sparking one of the longest and nastiest brawls in baseball history. But after this, the Yanks faded from attention again, and the Sox couldn't stand prosperity, either.

* 1973. A Fenway home-plate collision between the teams' catchers, plate-blocking Carlton Fisk and baserunner Thurman Munson, led to another brawl, starting the 1970s edition of the war. There was an even nastier brawl at Yankee Stadium in 1976, when Lou Piniella crashed into Fisk, leading to Graig Nettles sucker-punching Bill Lee and throwing him down, injuring his pitching shoulder. The Sox finished 2nd to the Yanks in '77, and in '78 blew a 14-game edge over the Yanks, culminating in the Bucky Dent Playoff. The rivalry cooled off for a few years, flared up a little in '86 and '88, and then cooled off again.

* 1998. The 2nd season of Nomar Garciaparra and the 1st season of Pedro Martinez marks the beginning of the era when Sox fans assumed their now-familiar "Drunken Townie" or "Chowdahead" stage. The Sox finished 2nd to the Yanks for the next 8 straight seasons, winning the Wild Card in 1998 and '99, and losing the '99 ALCS in 5 games that felt like 7, including a Game 4 that was 3-2 Yanks in the 9th, but errors by the Sox and bad calls by umpires -- if there's one thing both teams' fans agree on, it's that Tim Tschida is a lousy ump -- led to a 9-2 Yank lead and Sox fans throwing garbage onto the field for 10 minutes. "Athens of America," my Pinstriped ass! The whole thing came to a head in the 2003 ALCS, and in the 2004 ALCS the Sox -- by cheating -- finally got their revenge. By clinching the AL East against the Sox, and then going on to win the World Series, in 2009, have the Yankees gotten full revenge? No, but they have regained the upper hand, and, of course, they have the moral high ground.

Best Pennant race: 1978. With the introduction of the Wild Card for the 1994 season (or, as the strike forced, 1995), 2000 remains the last year since 1998 in which the Yankees and Red Sox were both in the race up until the end, and one team ended up reaching the postseason and the other one didn’t. So the 1978 race is unlikely to happen again, unless they tie for first in the East and they’re both behind the leader in the Wild Card race.

Best moment: September 18, 2001. The Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2 at Fenway, in their first game after the 9/11 attacks. Both of the planes that hit the World Trade Center had taken off from Boston's Logan International Airport. A big banner was held up by some of the Fenway Faithful, saying, "TODAY, WE (HEART) NY." Talk about bringing America together.

Worst moment: October 11, 2003. Game 3 of the ALCS. It was bad enough that Pedro Martinez had, in full view of a national television audience, pointed first to Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, then to his own head, for all intents and purposes telling him, "The next guy I hit in the head will be you." Later, when Roger Clemens threw a pitch high, but not inside, head-high but over the plate, Manny Ramirez -- roid rage? -- freaked out, pointed to Clemens, and walked toward the mound, still holding his bat. Both benches emptied, Manny was restrained, and Don Zimmer -- nearly killed by a beaning in the minor leagues in 1953, manager of the Sox in 1978, and now a coach for the Yankees -- ran out to Pedro to give him a piece of his mind. Ignoring the facts that he was a young, strong athlete and Zim was a 72-year-old man, Pedro grabbed Zim by the head and threw him to the ground. Zim was cut upon landing, but wasn't seriously hurt. That's not the point. The point is that, instead of staying in the game, Pedro should have been thrown in jail. If not fucking deported. And ZIM had to apologize and pay a $5,000 fine! What the fuck? Well, hold on: Pedro was fined $50,000, and Manny $25,000 for being the fucking moron who started the whole thing. Oh yeah, the Yankees won. And when the Aaron Boone Game came, who got the hit off Pedro that completed the Yankee comeback from 5-2 to 5-5 in the 8th? Of course, it was Posada. Poetic justice.


I don't know if I'll do a list of best rivalries in all of sports, or worst such rivalries. It might turn out to be all soccer, in Europe and South America, with even some of America's nastier college football rivalries not being included.

1 comment:

capt paul said...

Actually, the worst Yankees-Red Sox moment (to me at least...) were the four dark days in October 2004

And it should be noted that the Indians and White Sox DID meet in the ALCS--in the universe of the Major League movies at least--I know number two isnt as good as the first (had some good moments), while released in 94, still depicted the two division playoff formula--the Indians beat the White Sox in seven after leading the series 3-0 (and it was noted that the White Sox had swept the Indians in the previous year after the Tribe's one game playoff win over the Yankees--one good thing about the second film, the Yankees not being depicted as the heavies...)