From our inception as Boston Red Sox fans, we have been taught to despise the New York Yankees, to hate anything and anyone associated with them, to worship arguably the greatest rivalry in sports. After so much anguish at their hands – 1978, the 1999 ALCS, the 2003 ALCS, the Boston Massacre of 2006 – the hatred is essentially ingrained. We hate them and they hate us. The loathing is mutual. It’s The Rivalry, with a capital T.
But for the last several years, it hasn’t felt like The Rivalry. It’s just felt like games against a notorious divisional opponent. Nothing particularly special. There’s been no defining rivalry moments or events since the Boston Massacre. So, without further ado, it gives me great surprise in saying this:
The Rivalry is dead.
Or, to be a little more apt, The Rivalry is in a state of cryogenic sleep. Which is not to say it’s gone forever, but will probably be revived sometime down the line.
The Yankees, as imposing and despicable as they are, just aren’t that easily-hated evil empire that used to reign over the MLB. They’re old, they’re beatable, and those massive contracts are borderline hilarious now. On the other side, the Red Sox aren’t underdogs and won’t be again for quite a while. They’ve had a considerable ten-year run of success. It’s a role reversal of sorts, and it’s dulled the whole thing. It’s not entertaining anymore.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays rose out of the basement of the AL East and proceeded to clash with the dominant powers of the division. And they would win. It’s not fluky success, but a sustained streak of being able to beat the Red Sox and Yankees time after time. With all that friction, sparks were inevitable.
As the old rivalry became dormant, a new one erupted. Boston and Tampa Bay hated each other. Sure, “hate” is a strong word, but I’m fairly certain Coco Crisp still wants to land a right hook on James Shields‘ cheekbone. Try as they might, the Red Sox were a rather mortal 8-10 against the Rays in 2008, and I’ll be damned if I can remember a single one of those regular season wins. It felt like the Rays won them all. It felt…heated. With the players also feeling the hate between each other, the newfound rivalry had a chance to stick.
The ALCS that year cemented it. Matt Garza looked and acted like a psycho, but a psycho who would hurl gems when facing the Red Sox. “Big Game” James toted the most obnoxious nickname ever. BJ Upton – BJ UPTON?!? – hit anything and everything out of the ballpark. Then the historic, J.D. Drew-led comeback of Game 5 happened. The Sox were on a roll, and just as it looked like the Red Sox would claim the American League pennant for a second straight year in Game 7, Garza slammed the door on them.
It’s been a wildfire ever since. 2011 was yet another kick in the teeth from the Rays, when Evan Longoria hit the season-ending homer to send the Red Sox home and the Rays to the playoffs. 2012 saw the acquisition of Luke Scott by the Rays, who was the target of several Franklin Morales fastballs in May of that year. In 2013, John Lackey had enough of Matt Joyce in a game down in the Trop after Lackey didn’t approve of Joyce’s actions at the plate. The ALDS saw the Red Sox overrun the Rays, but not before David Ortiz teed off on David Price in Game 2, to which Price did not think kindly towards. Even 2014 has seen its fair share of the Sox-Rays conflict.
The fans hate the fans. The players hate the players. And don’t get fellow Fire Brand writer Jack Keller started on Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon:
He is my least favorite person in all of baseball, and that’s a difficult spot to attain for someone that doesn’t even play in the games. He is a self-righteous, condescending jerk who thinks, acts, and talks like he is better than everyone else… He pretends like he’s far above exchanging bean-balls as a part of the game, but at the same time says that opposing players are going to get their teammates hurt. So, wait, which is it Joe? Are you above that part of baseball or do you just like to wax poetic from your high horse while at the same time threatening harm to your opponents?”
Out go the Yankees, in come the Rays. It’s a curious cycle of in-division hatred.
Yes, hating the Yankees is a nice tradition. But in this day & age, it feels a bit outdated. Chalk it up to teams peaking at different times, but the Red Sox and Yankees have not faced each other in the playoffs since that fated ALCS in 2004. The Rays? Boston has faced them twice in that same span, each postseason series with its own drama. On top of that, the Rays’ fanbase loves lampooning how they win with a fraction of Boston’s payroll, while Red Sox fanatics kindly point out that Tampa Bay’s lack of funds has had them, at one point or another, employ a rapist, an anti-Semite, and a homophobe who once put a gay slur on his eye black.
There’s some real vitriol here. These teams actually, literally hate each other. None of it seems media-manufactured to try and get others angry, unlike, say, something Mike Napoli said last Saturday that only the most irrational fans won’t agree with. There’s a real chance of a benches-clearing brawl in every single game. Even though it’s not the rivalry sports networks make commercials for, it’s the rivalry we really should care about.
The New York Yankees are old news. The Tampa Bay Rays are the hot new thing. It’s about time to get up to speed on who your enemy really is.