The Greatest Rivalry in Sports?

Bucky Dent, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Curt Schilling, Aaron “Bleeping” Boone, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez.

These are just a few of the names that come to mind when peering back into the storied rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Every time the Yankees and Red Sox play, you can be sure that it will be the first highlight shown on Sportscenter that evening. This is certainly convenient for people from New York and Boston, but in all seriousness, why do so many people care?

Even people who have no geographical connection to the Northeast take sides, as seen by the terms “Red Sox Nation” and the “Evil Empire” (which has been used to the point that Yankees fans have themselves begun to accept the nickname). At the same time, not everyone identifies themselves with either the New England Patriots or the Indianapolis Colts, two teams that have dominated the NFL over the past several seasons. Why?

I have thought long and hard about this issue, and here is what I’ve come up with. First of all, and most obviously, both teams are incredibly talented. They have lineups that make opposing pitchers cringe and starting rotations whose combined salaries are more than many small-market teams. The Yankees have taken the approach of piling on superstars such as Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Bobby Abreu while the Red Sox are adept at acquiring skilled players with a great deal of potential such as David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield and Kevin Youkilis (a player who admittedly I thought would never amount to anything). Yes, the Red Sox have made a few high-priced free agent signings like Manny Ramirez and Josh Beckett and the Yankees’ farm system is churning out young stars, but the upshot is that both teams compete year-in and year-out, making every game meaningful.

One must also consider the fact that the two teams have combined for some of the most exciting games in baseball history. Some of the classics include the 1978 AL playoff game in which Yankees SS Bucky Dent hit a three-run homer to push the Yankees into the postseason, game seven of the 2003 ALCS when slumping Yankees 3B Aaron Boone hit a walk-off homer in extra innings and (for the sake of Sox fans) games four through seven of the 2004 ALCS in which Boston became the first team in baseball history to come back from a three-zero series deficit.

But even this past Sunday, the two teams played one of the most exciting games that I have seen all year. Two 40-year old pitchers (Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling) brought a one-one tie into the eighth inning, at which point Derek Jeter hit a three-run bomb over the Green Monster. The Red Sox responded with a run in the bottom of the eighth and then Mariano Rivera let up another run in the bottom of the ninth. That brought Ortiz up to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. I could barely stand the tension, yet miraculously Big Papi popped out to short and the Yanks escaped with the win. I heard an interesting statistic that out of 18 Red Sox-Yankees games this season, only one lasted less than three hours; epic matchups are nothing less than ordinary.

This brings me to my last (and most important) point, which I believe is the reason that Yanks-Sox rivalry is bigger than any Pats-Colts matchup: the sheer number of games played. Imagine if the Patriots and Colts (or Michigan and Ohio State!) played each other nearly 20 times a year. This creates opportunities for dramatic games every season, especially since both teams are always chock-full of star power. The high level of exposure of the Yankee players to Red Sox fans (and vice-versa) also stirs up a great deal of emotion, which makes this rivalry even stronger. While you may have guessed that I am a New York fan by now, I know that I am looking forward to the possibility of a Yanks-Sox ALCS — great games, great storylines and hopefully a 40th American League Pennant!