Add Bronx to Fenway, watch real rivalry unfold

October 09, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

NEW YORK - Hatred is a pretty strong feeling. Hate is not a very nice word. So why was Derek Jeter smiling like a Cheshire cat as he recounted the way in which he's received in a great, old northeastern city he often visits on business?

"They hate me in Boston!' the New York Yankees shortstop said.

"Come with me sometime. Walk around with me for 30 minutes. What they say, you can't print."

When is hatred a good thing? How about when the Yankees and Red Sox square off.

Celtics-Lakers. Bird-Magic. Dodgers-Giants. These are a few of the analogies participants like Boston first baseman Kevin Millar and New York manager Joe Torre have used to describe the rivalry, but do they really fit the bill?

Yankees-Red Sox is really Hatfield-McCoy.

Or it's this taunt sprawled in red ink across the front of a Yankees fan's T-shirt:

1918

Babe

Bucky

Buckner

Any questions?

In this sporting era of expansion, realignment, contraction threats and relocation, it's usually up to marketing gurus to juice fan interest and boost ticket sales. Most rivalries are a figment of the imagination.

That's because NHL teams transplant from Canada to the Sunbelt; football teams jump from the AFC to the NFC. Baseball, too, has gratefully accepted millions from new-money owners for the right to sprout major league teams in the Arizona desert rubble and sandy, infertile soil of South Florida.

In fact, the nouveau Marlins - a whole decade old - are playing the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series. Outside the novelty factor of the Marlins" surprise wild- card win and the stunning presence and performance of the resurgent Ivan Rodriguez, there's not a trace of history or context in that championship series.

That's why traditionalist baseball fans are said to be pining for a "meaningful' World Series featuring the Cubs and Red Sox, setting up a rematch of the 1918 Series - the last one the Red Sox won.

But what if "The Fish" get in the way?

From where the ALCS kicked off in the Big Apple, a city that prefers to think of itself as the center of the universe, the market for historic rivalries is not only cornered on authenticity, it's saturated.

Yankees-Red Sox is so old, so visceral, you can taste and smell it -- and not because the Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures haven't laundered their Jeter or Alfonso Soriano jerseys since May.

"Well, you've got the East Coast energy. ... I think this rivalry is better than any rivalry that's going on right now," Torre said.

"The only thing that would come close to this rivalry for me is when I grew up in the '50s and having the Dodgers-Giants rivalry was incredible. It was war-like, and more so in those days because players didn't change teams as often, That was evidenced by the fact when Jackie Robinson was going to get traded to the Giants and he decided to retire. That's where the hatred was."

Torre is right. Hatred between players these days doesn't match the intensity of dislike between constituents of Red Sox Nation and Yankeedom. Bernie Williams isn't going to take a swing at Manny Ramirez, the way Lou Piniella and Carlton Fisk went toe-to-toe in 1976.

"Hatred? A lot of us players didn't grow up in New England. I grew up in Detroit. I was a Tigers fan," Boston pitcher Derek Lowe said. "I don't know how to hate a team just because you're supposed to. This [Yankees organization] is one of the most storied franchises."

Storied, all right.

With their AL East title this season, the Yankees notched their 42nd first-place finish. It's the most of any professional sports franchise. Pretty impressive when you consider the reigns of the Montreal Canadiens (32 first-place finishes), Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers (27), Boston Celtics (24) and Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (24).

This is the Yankees" supremacy that infuses the age-old psychology of this rivalry. The Red Sox, good enough to run second in the AL East and gain entry to the postseason via the wild card, are still striving to gain some modicum of equality, let alone the upper hand.

"Until you win one [an ALCS or World Series], the Yankee fans are going to taunt you. Winning creates confidence. They don't panic, they don't put too much pressure on themselves. Unless you win every year, you can question yourself." Lowe said.

In fact, the Yankees" suprem acy has created a shuttle from Fenway Park to Yankee Stadium for Red Sox free agents in search of big paydays and a ring.

Wade Boggs did it, riding a police horse around Yankee Stadium, crying tears of championship joy. He never tasted those at Fenway.

Roger Clemens got his big body to New York via Toronto, and, since donning pinstripes, he has fueled his championship quest with a bitter sense of retribution against former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, who dared suggest The Rocket was almost washed up.

So far, Clemens has issued a threat to Cooperstown that the cap on his Hall of Fame plaque better bear the letters "N.Y."

The shuttle doesn't usually go in reverse. Williams once used free-agent bites from the Red Sox to leverage a better deal out of George Steinbrenner. In the end, Williams must have known he would be crazy to leave the aura and mystique of the Bronx for the cursed confines of the Back Bay.

Unless and until the Red Sox take down the Yankees, the psychodynamics of this rivalry live, hatred and all.

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