(Originally written for The Davidsonian in my capacity as Sports Editor of the biweekly newspaper)
Growing up in New England in the pre-2004 era, the first thing I learned as a sports fan was to hate the Yankees. Sure, hate is a strong word and all, but we still hate the Yankees.
I never quite understood it back then. I would see people wearing shirts that equated the joy we got when the Red Sox won to that which we felt when the Yankees lost. I thought those shirts were stupid. Of course I’d rather see the Red Sox win. Who cares if the Yankees lose?
I’d be at a game at Fenway Park against the lowly Detroit Tigers of the early 2000s, and the Red Sox crowd would suddenly start chanting “Yankees Suck.” Or in the eighth inning, there would be a sudden cheer from the crowd. I’d hear somebody around me say, “The Yankees just lost” and realize the cheer came because the out-of-town scoreboard changed the “9” in the inning column to an “F.” The Yankees didn’t have to be anywhere near Boston to be on the minds of fans.
I think it was 2003 when I truly started hating the Yankees and all their players. Around then, steroid chants started echoing around Fenway. The Yankees always won, and it was easy to hate Roger Clemens and Jason Giambi. Why wouldn’t I hate them?
Things weren’t only hostile in the stands, but also on the field. Be it Karim Garcia, Don Zimmer or Clemens, there was always a clear antagonist on the field. The disdain the Red Sox had for the Yankees was real.
We all know what happened in 2004 forever changed the relationship Red Sox fans have with baseball. The Evil Empire was defeated in spectacular fashion that postseason, but so was the rivalry.
Since that memorable comeback that sparked the end of an 86-year curse, the Red Sox and Yankees have played roughly 18 times a year, with no meetings in the playoffs. After meeting in two straight epic ALCSs, they haven’t played each other with a whole lot on the line. And it’s showed.
ESPN and Fox might still pick up the games and bill them as rivalry games, but there isn’t the same hostility at this point. Aside from Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury switching sides, Red Sox fans don’t seem to be as invested in hating the Yankees. And save for Ryan Dempster taking it upon himself to drill Alex Rodriguez a year ago, the players certainly aren’t looking to start any fights, especially with Joba Chamberlain and Kevin Youkilis long gone.
This past weekend, the Red Sox organization, fans included, staged a love fest for Derek Jeter. It was fully deserved, and the gesture showed a tremendous amount of class on the part of the front office, but would the Red Sox have done anything like that ten years ago? Certainly not.
The weekend’s farewell to Jeter also got me thinking: Is there a Yankees player (other than A-Rod) that I can look at and say I truly hate? I have always respected Jeter, so this isn’t necessarily so much about him, but I don’t think there are any of those players left.
This ambivalence toward the opposing players is in stark contrast with my Arsenal fandom. This past weekend was also the North London Derby, a thoroughly bitter rivalry match between Arsenal and Tottenham. As I watched that match thinking about the impending Jeter ceremonies, I realized that I genuinely hated every single Tottenham player. I looked at them and instantly became angry. It reminded me of how I used to feel about the Yankees.
It would be easy to say that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has become watered down because of how many times a year the two teams play each other. Or that nobody cares anymore because the games take too long. It would also be easy to say that Red Sox fans no longer have an inferiority complex after winning three World Series titles in the last ten years.
But I think it boils down to the fact that these two teams haven’t played one another in the postseason in a decade. Bad blood starts and ends in the postseason. Sure, little things might tick everyone off in the regular season, but you can only truly learn to hate a team when you meet in the playoffs. The simple fact is that the Red Sox and Yankees haven’t had reason to hate one another.
I want nothing more than for the rivalry to be reignited. Baseball is so much more fun when the players and fans are at each other’s throats. For this to happen, the Red Sox and Yankees need to improve drastically. As long as they are bottom dwellers in the AL East, nothing will change.
So as Derek Jeter rides off into the sunset to loud chants of his name from Red Sox fans that booed his every mention for years, hopefully his exit will help usher in a new era of the hatred, one marked by the return of the bad blood that used to define America’s best rivalry.