Sunday, April 3, 2005

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A very important post about.... the state of the Sox-Yankees rivalry

Ah, opening day. I was going to compose a long post about coping with the idea of the Red Sox as world champions, while still being confident of the Red Sox's chances this year, but a lot of other people beat me to it.

Although some fans are growing complacent from the 2004 success, I fall into the Bill Simmons camp on this one:

I never thought I would say the words "Thank God for the Yankees," but I'm saying them now. Thank God for the Yankees. As soon as Sunday night rolls around and Yankee fans are booing Boomer, Manny, Damon and everyone else, every Sox fan will snap right into, "All right, it's time to defend the title now" mode. You can't help it. We're natural enemies in the wild. And if it wasn't for them, we would be content playing with house money for the rest of the decade....

When it comes right down to it, this blood feud with the Yankees is unlike anything else in professional sports right now. They're the Ali to our Frazier, the Iron Sheik to our Sergeant Slaughter. We need them, they need us. We hate them, they hate us. The rivalry is developing into a self-perpetuating organism – a zero sum game for sports, a de facto Cold War – something that neither team can ever truly win. Both teams jockey for the upper hand all season, the battle resolves itself in October, and then everything starts again in April. That's just the way it is. Until last year, the Yankees always prevailed. Now we have an official rivalry on our hands. Is it better than winning a championship, or pulling off the greatest comeback in sports history? Of course not. But it's still pretty good. (emphases in original)

Over at the Black Table, Will Leitch sums up the state of the Red Sox quite nicely:

[T]he Red Sox aren't going away anytime sooner than the Patriots did. The Sox lost Pedro Martinez after being outbid on a contract they should have sprinted from in the first place, but more than made up for him with cheaper signings of David Wells (who will never, ever go away), Matt Clement and Wade Miller. The offense should be just as strong as last year's and even added shortstop Edgar Renteria, who, while overrated, shores up the defense and will be worth his four-year contract for at least, well, a year-and-a-half.

One could make the argument that last year's victory over the Yankees was the victory the Red Sox had been waiting for, the first step in winning the great war. But [Red Sox general manager Theo] Epstein has done something that George Steinbrenner has not done; he has put together an outstanding team that will also flourish in the future. The war isn't not just starting: It's already over. The Red Sox have won. The Yankees just don't know it yet. The notion of the hard-luck Red Sox fan has been obliterated.

As for the Yankees, consider this Futility Infielder post by Baseball Prospectus contributor Jay Jaffe from the offseason:

I'm sick of learning about the Yankees signing has-beens like Doug Glanville and Rey Sanchez and never-weres like Damian Rolls to compete for jobs at the fringe of their 25-man roster. I'm sick of contemplating a bench that with Glanville (34 years old, 2004 [on-base percentage] of .244), Sanchez (37, .281), Ruben Sierra (39, .296), John Flaherty (37, .286), and Bubba Crosby (28, .196) is both incredibly old and lacking a single player who put up a .300 OBP last year. Glanville last broke the New Mendoza Line in 2000, Flaherty in 1999. The team's thinking here is a direct affront to everything we've learned about winning baseball over the last quarter century.

I'm sick of ranting about the Yankees' player development woes. A couple days ago I quipped via the [Baseball Prospectus] internal mailing list, "That's an impressive new take on the concept of 'farm system' the Yanks have going -- find the freshest corpse available, exhume it, and fit it for pinstripes."

....I'm especially sick of the lack of vision and imagination being shown by the front office. At a time when the hallowed franchise is four years removed from its last World Championship, they appear to be accelerating in the opposite direction at alarming speed. I'm not going to pin this all on the increasingly marginalized Brian Cashman; it seems pretty clear that the shots are being called from higher up. Any day now I expect Randy Levine to call a press conference just to tell us that the team is completely out of ideas. As in...
Yankee Spokesperson:

"On behalf of the New York Yankees, I have the obligation to announce that our storehouse of brainpower has been exhausted by all of this dynasty-keeping we're expected to do. Ladies and gentlemen, we're completely out of ideas [digs finger in ear, looks around the room solemnly, then examines finger pulled from ear] Yep. That's it, we're tapped. You can all go home now. Questions?"

The Yankees are going to be good this year, no doubt. Randy Johnson will be ferocious. However, the fact is that they have no depth in starting pitching -- for the Yankees to win this year, they have to rely on one over-40 pitcher with no cartilage in his right knee and another over-40 pitcher with just a spot of back trouble. This didn't hamper the Red Sox last year (their top five pitchers were remarkably healthy and started 157 of 162 games), but the odds of the Yankees repeating this durability ain't great.

What's more important, however, is how this rivalry shapes up for the next few seasons. It's telling that Theo Epstein has managed not just to sign free agents this off-season, but also trade for some decent prospects. By allowing most of their free agents to walk, the Red Sox will have five of the top fifty picks in this year's amateur draft. The Sox won't just be good this year -- they're setting themselves up for quite a nice run.

And the Yankees? No team with a $200 million payroll is going to be bad -- and this is a great thing for Sox fans. For there to be a real rivalry, both sides need to have a decent chance of winning, and this will be a real rivalry for many years to come. It's been intense in recent years because, as Joe Torre observed, "both clubs have been very evenly matched." After this year, however, medium-term trends favor the Red Sox. Given that for years, nay, decades, the reverse was true, I have no problem with this.

So let the games begin. But I don't think either Tom Maguire or Baseball Crank are going to be too happy -- especially after this year.

posted by Dan on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM


I just want to say how much pleasure I get listening to the partisans of the two teams most dedicated to the proposition that World Series titles should be bought argue over which team has bought one.

posted by: Zathras on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

Don't think I've ever heard any Yankee fans making the claim that the Red Sox bought the World Series...

posted by: JB on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

192 games? Is that a typo for 162 (which would make it an amazingly high 97% of games started by top five starters), or what? Even with every playoff series going maximum length, which isn't what happened, there would only be 181 games played.

posted by: washerdreyer on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

LOL. Bill Simmons is delusional if he thinks the Yankees "need" the Sox the same way the Sox need them.

In terms of rivalries, Sox-Yanks is a bit ike Cornell-Harvard. For one side, it is all-consuming; for the other, barely on the radar.

Last year's post-season was the outlier. Have no doubt that the trend will dominate soon enough again.

posted by: Barry P. on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

Gold. I love the bipolarness of yankees fans. "We don't need the Sox. We don't hate the Sox. We don't care about them.


posted by: Jim Dandy on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

Yankees fans will never know the joy Red Sox fans know. Remember when the USA beat Russia at Lake Placid. It's like that. Remember the joyless Soviets who were supposed to win? That's the thing, dominance can become joyless.

I'll take deliverance over dominance any time.

IMO, and I know I am not alone among Sox fans, we could go 0-162, and the smile wouldn't fade. 2005 is a victory lap.

posted by: bk on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

I pretty much agree with bk, although I'd add that SOMEONE has to beat the Yankees this year, not necessarily the Sox. Hell, I'd love to see the Yanks lose to Pedro & the Mets...

posted by: B.R. on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

"IMO, and I know I am not alone among Sox fans, we could go 0-162, and the smile wouldn't fade. 2005 is a victory lap."

While you may not be completely alone, BK, you sure are in the minority. This 40 yr, multi-generational Red Sox fan is steaming over their hapless playing last night. If Damon can't pick up speed and show more hustle in centerfield I'm more than ready to send him and his hair packing. And, at his age, should Boomer really be partying late 3 nights in a row before a start?? The Sox will get a pass until their opener at Fenway on 4/11. After that look for the usual nasty fan and media feedback when players aren't demonstrating commitment and hustle.

posted by: mccallahan on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

Renteria is overrated?

posted by: fling93 on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

Boston: the only *place* with penis envy.

posted by: Barry P. on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

Well, I'm a lot less happy already. . . The Yanks do have a farm system: it's the rest of the major leagues. Their current player-development system is so weak, though, that it will send their payroll out of control, since they no longer even have guys to trade, and have to rely on free agency.

posted by: Crank on 04.03.05 at 12:29 AM [permalink]

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