Red Sox are Yanks without pinstripes

October 30, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

DENVER — DENVER-- --The Boston Red Sox obviously have forgotten where they came from.

Didn't this used to be the long-suffering American League franchise that waited 86 years between World Series titles and led the majors in historic baseball angst for most of the 20th century?

Well, it's a new century and the Red Sox look a lot more like their archrivals in New York than the team that used to torment its fans with ever more imaginative ways to either stay out of the World Series or, failing that, let the Fall Classic slip away in historically frustrating fashion.

Or was it just an oversight that Bill Buckner wasn't one of the Heroes of Fenway who got invited to throw out a ceremonial first pitch during the postseason?

The new Red Sox swagger like the Yankees, and their fans no longer wear their fatalism as if it were the Congressional Medal of Honor. The new Red Sox aren't above playing the schoolyard bully, as top pitcher Josh Beckett did so many times during the past three weeks.

The proof is in the pouting here in Denver, where the Red Sox completed a four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies on Sunday night to win the World Series for the second time in four seasons and - at least for the moment - supplant the Yankees as the pre-eminent Beast of the American League East.

Even so, the Red Sox have been known to bristle at any mention that they resemble the team they have waited so long to unseat.

"We are not the new Yankees, the old Yankees, any kind of Yankees," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "We're the Boston Red Sox. We're not your father's Red Sox, but we ain't ever going to be no Yankees."

Glad to hear it, even if it's really all the same to the rest of the teams that have to compete with them all season.

The Red Sox still like to portray themselves as some kind of upstart, poking at the well-heeled Yankees from an economically inferior position. To everyone else, it's like Warren Buffett talking poor-mouth about Bill Gates.

The Red Sox like to think they are somehow purer than the Yankees because they have only the second-highest payroll in the major leagues, a concept articulated by Lucchino a few years ago when he jokingly referred to the Yankees dynasty as "the Evil Empire."

He has been trying to distance himself from that comment ever since ... even Monday night as he dodged flying champagne and the inevitable dynasty question in the visitors' clubhouse at Coors Field.

"I said they were the Evil Empire and we were the Rebel Alliance, playing off the Star Wars theme," Lucchino said. "We're just happy to be Red Sox Nation. We have a lot of respect for what the Yankees have accomplished over a long time. We have to wait awhile to reach any long-term conclusions."

General manager Theo Epstein is a bit less sensitive about the inevitable comparisons, especially now that it appears the Red Sox - with a solid core of both young players and veterans - are up here to stay.

"If someone wants to compare us to the Yankees based on winning and results, that's a compliment," Epstein said before Game 4. "They have set an incredible standard throughout the history of the game for winning championships. So if our name comes up in the same sentence, that's fantastic. But if they want to compare us to the Yankees on how we do things, that's a little more off base. Because we have our own philosophy and our own beliefs and our own processes we believe in."

Meanwhile, the Yankees are scrambling to prop up their crumbling dynasty. They have fired Joe Torre, while the Red Sox are considering a long-term extension for Terry Francona. They apparently have lost presumptive American League Most Valuable Player Alex Rodriguez to free agency.

The Red Sox and Yankees look very much like two teams moving in opposite directions, but with the money both teams have to spend, they likely will end up in the same place next year - fighting between themselves for control of the American League.

They think of themselves as oil and water. To everyone else, that has become a distinction without a difference.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Saturdays and Sundays.

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