Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ranking the Yankees' Rivalries

How does the Yankees' rivalry with those pesky Blue Jays, resuming tonight at The Stadium, compare to the others?

I used a not-exactly-scientific way of measuring the Yankees' relationships with the other teams in Major League Baseball. I weighted it for regular-season matchups, postseason matchups, intensity, and how recent it all was. (Example: A nasty regular-season matchup in 2015 is worth more than one in 1950, but the 1950 World Series is worth more than any regular-season matchup.)

Here's what I came up with. You can probably guess who comes in 1st, but you may be very surprised at who comes in 2nd:

39. Seattle Pilots, 1969-only: They existed for only one season, before becoming the Milwaukee Brewers, and both teams were far out of their respective Divisional races. The only significance to their games was Pilot pitcher, former Yankee, Jim Bouton including their mention in his book Ball Four.

38. Boston Braves, 1903-1952: The Yankees (as the New York Highlanders) debuted in 1903, and 1952 was the Braves' last season in Boston. They've played each other in 4 World Series, 2 in Milwaukee, 2 in Atlanta. The closest they came to playing each other in a World Series was in 1948, when the Yankees finished 1 game out and the Braves won the Pennant. But the only times they ever played each other was in spring training. At least the next team on the list has played the Yankees in the regular season, however rarely.

37. Colorado Rockies, 1997-only: The Rockies entered the National League in 1993, but Interleague play has only been possible since 1997, and they've never faced the Yankees in a World Series.

36. Montreal Expos, 1997-2004: Not much between them, although Les Expos were the opponent in David Cone's 1999 perfect game.

35. Washington Nationals, 2005-current: The Ex-pos have, on occasion -- June 2006 comes to mind -- given the Yankees a little trouble. But, at the rate they're going, they won't be facing the Yankees (or anyone else) in a World Series anytime soon.

34. Kansas City Athletics, 1955-1967: After moving to the Great Plains from Philadelphia, the A's took the place of a Yankee farm team, the Kansas City Blues, but the transactions between the teams made it look like the Yankees were still treating Kansas City as a farm club. New owner Charles O. Finley stopped that in 1960, and his actions thereafter, before moving the team to Oakland, made it look like beating the Yankees was more important than building a winning team. It was the first time Charlie O made a fool of himself in baseball, but it wouldn't be the last.

33. Houston Astros, 1997-current: Switching to the American League after being in the NL since 1962, the Interleague games between the Astros and the Yankees were all but meaningless. However, the Astros' revival this season added a little "juice" to their games, regardless of whether they were played at Minute Maid Park or the new Yankee Stadium. And it is still very possible that they will play each other in this season's Playoffs.

32. San Francisco Giants, 1962-current: The former local rival played the Yankees in the 1962 World Series, the 1st ever to go to a Game 7 and end 1-0. (It's also happened in 1991.) But only a few Interleague games have been played since, despite both teams making the Playoffs in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2012.

31. San Diego Padres, 1997-current: A few regular-season games, plus the 1998 World Series, which was a Yankee sweep, but Games 1, 3 and 4 were close. Game 1 was controversial, and Game 3 was a classic.

30. St. Louis Browns, 1903-1953: The team that became the Baltimore Orioles nearly beat the Yankees out for the Pennant in 1922, and did beat them out for the Pennant in 1944. But they didn't have very many other good seasons, lost the only World Series they would ever have to the Cardinals (ironically, their tenants at Sportsman's Park), and went to their grave with the permanent label of "legendary losers."

29. Washington Senators, 1903-1971: Another bunch of "legendary losers," or perhaps they could be called "lovable losers," that no longer exist. They beat the Yankees out for the Pennant in 1924 and 1933 (and also won in 1925, when the Yankees were well out of the race), and were, along with the Yankees, among the teams that battled to the wire in 1945, losing out to Detroit. After that, though, their most notable moments against the Yankees were Mickey Mantle's "tape measure home run" in 1953, and the last game the Senators ever played, where a fan riot ruined a 7-5 Senator lead with 1 out to go, and resulted in a forfeit to the Yankees.

28. Arizona Diamondbacks, 1998-current: Aside from a few stray regular-season games, it's all about the 2001 World Series, an epic that the Yankees couldn't quite win. At the time, I was drained, and couldn't feel bad about the particular opponent. Indeed, I was glad to see some longtime veterans finally get their ring. But so many of them have since been exposed as steroid cheats, so this one hurts more now than it did at the time.

27. Miami Marlins, 1997-current: The Yankees' 1st Interleague series ever was against the team then known as the Florida Marlins, and we lost it. More importantly, there was the 2003 World Series. It burned me up then. Knowing Ivan Rodriguez was a steroid cheat and that Josh Beckett is a monumental jackass, like the 2001 Series loss, this one burns me up more now.

26. Chicago Cubs, 1932-current: Two World Series sweeps, in 1932 and 1938, plus a few regular-season Interleague games. That 1932 Series was nasty, because of how the Cubs treated former Yankee shortstop Mark Koenig, leading to Babe Ruth's gestures that have gone down in history as his "Called Shot." But it's hard to get worked up about this pairing: Since 1945, the Yankees have won 26 Pennants, the Cubs none.

25. Philadelphia Phillies, 1950-current: Aside from a few regular-season games, it's just the 1950 and 2009 World Series, both Yankee wins that were closer than they appear at first glance.

24. Atlanta Braves, 1996-current: Their presence in the NL East makes them a regular opponent for the Yankees, but it's the 1996 World Series that's remembered -- and, to a lesser extent, the 1999 edition.

23. Pittsburgh Pirates, 1927-current: Regular-season matchups have rarely happened since Interleague play began, but there are 2 World Series between them: The Yankee sweep of 1927, and the seesaw battle of 1960 won by Bill Mazeroski's Game 7 walkoff home run. That one Yankee loss, though over half a century ago now, places this rivalry ahead of the one with the Braves.

22. Chicago White Sox, 1903-current: Despite being one of the Yankees' oldest opponents -- only Boston, Cleveland and Detroit have played the Yankees as long in their current city -- there haven't been many big games between them. Both teams were good in 1906, 1919-20, and 1957-64 during the days of the single-division AL. But with the ChiSox having been in the AL West from 1969 to 1993, and in the AL Central ever since, regular-season games between them have meant little. Despite both teams making the Playoffs in 2000 and 2005, the strike short-circuiting that possibility in 1994, and near-misses in 1977 and 1993, they've never faced each other in the Playoffs -- among AL teams, that also true only for Houston, Toronto and Tampa Bay.

21. Milwaukee Braves, 1957-58: Two World Series matchups, both went 7 games, both thrilling, each won one. But the Braves' tenure in Milwaukee was short-lived.

20. Texas Rangers, 1972-current: Being in separate Divisions has kept their regular-season games relatively stress-free. The 1996 AL Division Series was tough. The 1998 and 1999 ALDS were not. The Yanks won them all. But the Rangers won the 2010 AL Championship Series, thanks to Joe Girardi's idiotic move of letting Boone Logan face Josh Hamilton with men on base.

19. Minnesota Twins, 1961-current: It was the Twins that dethroned the Yankee Dynasty in 1965, but the Yanks were out of that race early, so it doesn't stand out as much as it could. Four ALDS matchups have resulted in just 3 games won by the Twins.

18. Philadelphia Athletics, 1903-54: Before 1927, this rivalry was occasionally interesting, but didn't justify the geographic proximity. From 1927 to 1932, the Yanks and A's may have had more talent between them than any 2 AL teams have ever had. After 1932, though, the A's were rarely a factor, due to Connie Mack's desperate need for cash and then his advancing senility.

17. Cincinnati Reds, 1939-current: A few Interleague games, and 3 World Series, all mismatches. The Yankees swept in 1939, won in 5 in 1961, and got swept in 1976. Actually, those Series had some close games, but that's not how it looks to posterity.

16. Milwaukee Brewers, 1970-current: Their move to the AL Central in 1994, and then their move to the NL in 1998, pretty much ended what was a good AL East matchup. Good or bad, the Brewers always seemed to give the Yankees trouble. From 1978 to 1988, it was a good rivalry with some interesting games, including the strike-forced to-the-limit ALDS of 1981.

15. Oakland Athletics, 1968-current: The A's and Yanks won half of all the AL Pennants from 1972 to 2003, yet have only faced each other 3 times in the postseason. The Yanks have won them all: The 1981 ALCS and the 2000 and 2001 ALDS. Had the A's stayed in Philadelphia, which is twice as close to New York as Boston or Baltimore, and thus been placed in the AL East, who knows how big this rivalry would have been.

14. Tampa Bay Rays, 1998-current: It seems ridiculous that a team that's played 30 fewer seasons than the A's would have a bigger rivalry with the Yanks, but it's true. And it's all down to one man: Joe Maddon. The fact that this dirty manager of a dirty team is no longer there will probably be, along with the bad stadium in a bad location and hardly any fans showing up, what dooms this team to having to move within 5 years.

13. Seattle Mariners, 1977-current: From the Yankees' 1st trip to the Pacific Northwest (not counting the ill-fated 1969 Pilots, of course), this team has been a pain in the Yankees' necks. Frequently, trips to the Pacific Coast would help derail the Yankees' chances in the 1980s, as the M's, the A's and the Angels shut the Yankees down. Retroactively, I call these "Borg trips," because it seemed like the Yankees would lose seven of nine. Never were the Mariners more a pain than in 1995, but the Yankees got them back in 2000 and 2001. They haven't been much of a threat since, despite the uncrowned "King" Felix Hernandez and the switch of Robinson Cano.

12. Los Angeles Dodgers, 1963-current: The Yankees and the Dodgers have both reached the postseason 13 times since the Bums' move west, but they've only faced each other in 4 World Series, the Dodgers winning in 1963 and 1981, the Yankees winning in dramatic fashion in 1977 and 1978. Had the Dodgers stayed in Brooklyn, and everything else remained the same, they would easily be Number 2 on this list. Alas, the West Coast edition of the Dodgers isn't even ahead of the East Coast edition.

11. Kansas City Royals, 1969-current: Aside from the 1983 Pine Tar Game, the regular-season games between these teams haven't amounted to much. But those ALCS tilts of 1976 to 1980, hoo, boy. Maybe this is the season the Yankees finally get revenge for 1980, which the Royals thought was revenge for 1976, '77 and '78.

10. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 1961-current: Being in different Divisions since 1969 shouldn't have resulted in big regular-season games, although they always seem to give the Yankees trouble, especially in Anaheim. The Angels beat the Yankees in the 2002 and 2005 ALDS, because their pitching shut the Yankees down -- not that the Yankees made it all that hard. But in the 2009 ALCS, the Yankees did hit, and beat the Angels for the Pennant. Another Playoff matchup between them is possible this season.

9. St. Louis Cardinals, 1926-current: The Cards are 2nd only to the Yanks in winning World Series, 27 to 11. So it makes sense that they've faced each other a few times. Five, in fact: The Cards winning in 1926, 1942 and 1964; the Yanks in 1928 and 1943. Since 1964, there were divisional close calls in 1974 and 1981, and both teams have reached the postseason in 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2011, but they've never faced each other in October again.

8. New York Giants, 1921-1951: As with the Dodgers, the Yankees faced the Giants much more often as a "Subway Series" than as a post-1957 Coast-to-Coast matchup. The Yankees' 1st 2 World Series were against the Giants in 1921 and '22, and the Giants won both. But the Yankees won in 1923, and have been New York's most successful baseball team ever since, also beating the Giants in 1936, '37 and '51.

7. Toronto Blue Jays, 1977-current: Even when bad, the Jays have played the Yankees hard, hence my constant reference to them as "those pesky Blue Jays." But they were mostly the "Blow Jays" until finally winning the World Series in 1992 and '93. The Jays had to beat the Yanks out for the AL East title in 1985 and '93, and also vied with the Yanks for the Division title in '87 and '88 (neither team ended up winning it either time). Before last season, a lot of people predicted the Jays would make the Playoffs or even win the AL East, due to their hitting and their pitching acquisitions. Those people looked really stupid within a month. It turned out, they were a year off, as the Division will come down to the Yanks and Jays, who face each other 7 times out of their last 24 (or, in the Jays' case, 7 of their last 23). And, since whichever team doesn't win the Division is likely to get one of the AL Wild Card berths, they could face each other again in the Playoffs.

6. Brooklyn Dodgers, 1941-1956: When the words "Subway Series" are used, this is the pairing that most often comes up. They played each other in October 7 times in 16 seasons -- and if you take out the 3 seasons with the most wartime player depletion, and add the seasons in which the Dodgers just missed the Pennant, there were 13 season where they came close to facing each other 11 times. In 1947, 1952, 1955 and 1956, it went the full 7 games. But only in 1955 did the Dodgers win the whole thing -- against the Yankees or anyone else.

5. Detroit Tigers, 1903-current: This one is ranked so high due to being weighted toward recent postseason matchups. They locked horns in Pennant battles in the regular season in 1926, '34, '35, '36, '40, '44, '45, '50 and '61; and in AL East battles in 1972, '87 and '88, before the Tigers were bumped over to the AL Central in 1998. It took until 2006, the teams' 104th joint season, before they played each other in the postseason, and the Tigers have won all 3 times: The 2006 and 2011 ALDS, and the 2012 ALCS.

4. Baltimore Orioles, 1954-current: With the move of the A's after the 1954 season (the only one in which they were in Philly and the Browns/O's were in Baltimore), the O's are the Yankees' closest AL opponents in terms of distance, a little closer from the southwest than the Red Sox are from the northeast. The O's made a Pennant run of it in 1960 and '64 before they started winning and the Yankees stopped. The Yankees got good again, and there were tight Division battles in 1974, '75, '77, '80, '81, '96, '97 and 2012. (Had 1994 not been cut short by the strike, that might have been another one.) But only in 1996 and 2012 have they met in the postseason, the former controversial due to Game 1 and then a laugher the rest of the way, the latter a tough one that the Yankees didn't win so much as survive.

3. New York Mets, 1997-current: I was at the 1st-ever Yanks-Mets regular-season game, at the old Yankee Stadium on June 16, 1997. It didn't go so well: Dave Mlicki shut the Yanks down, Andy Pettitte had nothing, and the Mets won, 6-0. For the most part, though, the Yanks have dominated in the regular season, and the 2000 World Series was one of those Fall Classics whose individual games suggested closeness, but the result (Yanks in 5) did not. Now, the Mets look like they're going to win the NL East, while the Yanks have a tough battle on their hands. Remember: It's not a Subway Series unless it's a World Series.

2. Cleveland Indians, 1903-current: Surprise! Actually, 2nd and 3rd were very close, and the Mets would probably be 2nd if the Yankees had shown up in the 2007 ALDS. (Or those Lake Erie midges hadn't.) But no team was a more frequent down-to-the-wire competitor for the Yankees in the single-division era than the Tribe. Their 1960-1993 absence from any Pennant race was abysmal, but they were, along with the Yankees, the best team overall in the AL from 1994 to 2001, and that included the 1997 ALDS which the Indians won, and the 1998 ALCS that the Yanks took.

1. Boston Red Sox, 1903-current: The only surprise with the team at Number 1 is how far back it goes, to 1904 and the "Boston Americans" beating the "New York Highlanders" out by 1 game, essentially by 1 wild pitch. The references are legendary: Babe Ruth, Harry Frazee, DiMaggio vs. Williams, Rizzuto vs. Pesky, 1949, 1967, Guidry vs. Rice, the Boston Massacre, Bucky Dent, Goose vs. Yaz, Mattingly vs. Boggs (ah, but which one won a Pennant as a Yankee?), Derek vs. Nomar, Roger vs. Pedro, Aaron Boone, Curt Schilling, Big Papi, A-Rod, The Slap, Johnny Damon (for both sides), steroids. It is the ugliest rivalry in North American sports, making Ohio State vs. Michigan, Duke vs. North Carolina, Kentucky vs. Louisville, Texas vs. Texas A&M, Rangers vs. Islanders or Devils, even Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs look tame by comparison. Evil Empire? The Yankees are the empire, the Sox are the evil.

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