Let’s get this out to the way up front. I live in Connecticut smack dab in the middle of the eternal struggle between Yankees/Red Sox. I’ve seen both sides equally at their best and worst. I’ve been equally annoyed by both sets of fans. Trust me, like many baseball fans, nothing turns me off quite like the prospect of a four-hour game between the two rivals Saturday afternoon on FOX or Sunday night on ESPN.
For the last couple seasons the rivalry between the two sides felt increasingly forced or if not that, more like a bickering middle aged couple who can’t quite remember what started the argument in the first place. Sure folks where I live still wear t-shirts that read “Got Rings” or “Jeter Sucks,” but for the most part the only people that seemed to feel the Yankees/Red Sox feud had any juice left were television executives.
Mostly the “BEST RIVALRY IN SPORTS” had fallen into a place where it felt nothing more than routine. The days of Pedro Martinez vs. Don Zimmer were ancient history.
That changed Sunday night after Ryan Dempster decided to put on his Judge Roy Bean hat and fire pitch-after-pitch at Alex Rodriguez, eventually plunking him in the ribs setting off a crazy situation and the best GIF Joe Girardi will ever produce. As if the game needed any more heat, A-Rod later homered off Dempster and sold it like a wrestling heel as he rounded the bases.
And with that, the increasingly tiresome rivalry once again had actual juice. More than that, the juice was produced organically via true animosity lingering in each dugout, not people on television telling us about the intensity of this rivalry. (Also, if we’re going to use the wrestling heel analogy for Rodriguez, the best comp is early-career The Rock when he went from a lame face Rocky Maivia that the crowd simply hated for being a douche, to a heel in the Nation of Domination before breaking away on his own with his current over-sized personality that fluctuated easily back-and-forth from heel to face.)
MLB just announced Dempster has been suspended for five games. This should, hopefully, calm down Girardi.
Anyways, following along with the game on Twitter, since my cable decided to crap out most of Sunday night (thanks Charles Dolan), that vitriol from the Fenway diamond spilled over into the opposing fan bases. It’s one thing for the Red Sox crowd to boo A-Rod, but of course they’re going to do that. Bringing home signs taunting him about steroids? That feels a little hollow and a cheap ploy to get on television for eight seconds.
All the booing and singling out of Rodriguez ended up having the opposite affect intended, it’s making Yankees fans sympathize and support him (until he strikes out in a big spot.) Dempster’s decision to plunk A-Rod could even help galvanize the New York clubhouse. A couple days ago the Yanks were about to fall out of the playoff mix. Wouldn’t it be so very typical for Sunday night’s game to be the moment they point back to in October when it all changed? (Oh to think of the columns and debate A-Rod leading the Yankees to the playoffs while appealing his 211-game suspension would bring!)
Yankees fans are now angry and questioning why Red Sox fans felt so compelled to boo A-Rod yet cheer for David Ortiz, another player linked to steroid use during his career even though now it’s mostly forgotten. They’re also spinning conspiracies that Sox owner John Henry’s ties to Bud Selig let Boston get away with things like plunking A-Rod.
The hardest thing to digest as this scenario unfolds over final month and a half of the season is how the tables have turned with the Red Sox and their fans looking more like the ‘Evil Empire’ and the Yankees the plucky ($228 million) underdog.
Potentially the best part of all this? The report that Dempster might have thrown at A-Rod not because of his PED use, but because Rodriguez snubbed him — snubbed him Jerry! — at an event. A total misunderstanding reigniting the Northeast blood feud. You couldn’t make it up.