This is a difficult subject to cover in detail, but until 2004, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry really only went in one direction. The Yankees were successful, rich, and dominant. The Red Sox were the younger brother, unable to match the success of their nearby neighbor.
One disturbing feature of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry during that time was former Red Sox players leaving the Sox and going on to have success with the Yankees.
The most famous example, of course, is Babe Ruth. Although he won World Series titles with the Red Sox in 1915, 1916 and 1918, his trade to the Yankees and conversion to a position player led to him becoming perhaps the greatest baseball player of all time.
There are painful recent examples of this as well. Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs, probably the Red Sox biggest stars of the 1980’s and early 90’s, were unable to win a World Series in Boston. They then won titles with the Yankees, traumatizing events while the Sox were in the midst of their 86 year championship drought.
After growing up with Clemens and Boggs on the Sox, watching them celebrate in Yankees pinstripes turned my stomach.
Even after the Red Sox ended their title drought, Johnny Damon went from Sox hero to heel, signing with the Yankees in 2006 and winning a title with the Yankees.
It’s not just that these players left and found success… It’s that they found success with THE YANKEES. The team that has caused so much heartache for Red Sox fans throughout the years. The team of Bucky (expletive) Dent and Aaron (expletive) Boone. The team that always gets the players they want, even if the Sox bid too (see Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, Mark Teixeira).
Now the most recent example is Kevin Youkilis signing with the Yankees this offseason. It’s actually a signing that both Red Sox and Yankees fans detest. Imagine Paul O’Neill signing with the Sox, and that seems to sum up this move for both fan bases. Youkilis was our guy, a player who came up through the Sox system and worked his butt off to succeed in the majors.
He showed his work ethic and desire in every aspect of his game. He fought through every pitch and at bat. He worked at his defense at both third base and first. He changed from an on base guy to a power guy. He fought the Yankees tooth and nail, series after series and year after year.
This is the part of the game where fans have trouble understanding the actions of the players. The rivalry is so intense for us as fans, we can’t imagine that the players could feel any different. The players, of course, realize that baseball is a business, and the Yankees are the biggest financial players in that business.
I saw the Sox play in Fenway in 2004. Youkilis was a rookie that season, getting his first taste of the big leagues. He signed a baseball for my daughter that day, and instantly became a family favorite.
I saw him again when I made it back to Fenway in 2007. By that time he was a star and a fan favorite, serenaded with chants of “YOOOOOOOK” every time he came to home plate. It’s hard to imagine him playing for the Yankees, and I think Batting Stance Guy agrees with me.
Youk had a choice of signing with 28 other clubs, including the Indians with former manager Terry Francona. If he had signed with any team but the Yankees, he would have received a standing ovation from the fans when he came back to Fenway. He chose to sign with the Yankees. The rational part of me understands that he feels they give him the best chance to make it back to the World Series. Personally, I will always have respect and admiration for Kevin Youkilis, and will always treasure the baseball he signed for my daughter and the two World Series teams he was a part of.
But the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is “Us” versus “Them”. And now Kevin Youkilis plays for “Them”.