LONGSHOTS: A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
by Dave Long
I donít know about you but I donít get into baseball until May. Besides pretending I was too sick to go to school in fifth grade to watch the Yankees opener, Iíve never really bought the ďopening day is the first sign of springĒ rap. It has to do with the weather ó especially now when they start two weeks closer to winter than in the olden days.
For me the first sign of spring is the Masters ó where it really is spring in Georgia. However, thanks to a nice shot of summer-like weather over the weekend and the fact that the Red Sox JV was in town to play the F-Cats, as the Yanks and Sox were doing battle for the first time this year, I got into it a little earlier than usual. The rivalry is the thing for me, of course, which I like better than either team. And it got me to do a little research during some down time to jog my memory on days gone by and to find some things maybe I didnít know about. So hereís what I ran across:
Facts That Are Nice To Know But You Donít Need To Know: Iíve always been under the impression that the first game at Fenway happened the day the Titanic sank. That seemed so appropriate given all the calamities through the years. But Fenway actually opened five days after the Titanicís April 15, 1912, sinking, when the home team beat the Highlanders (soon to be Yankees) 7-6 on April 20. Of course, thatís an even more dubious historical date, as April 20 is the birthday of Adolf Hitler. The Sox returned the favor 11 years later when they were the opposition as the House That Ruth Built opened in1923. The Yanks won that one 4-1 as the Babe christened the new place with the first homer ever hit in the Stadium.
The Yanks Always Got the Best of Boston: If you are under the impression the monumental 2004 comeback is the only time Boston bested the Yankees in a deciding game, guess again. It happened one other time ó 100 years earlier when they were tied for first on the final day in 1904, when 41-game winner (yes I said 41-game winner) Jack Chesbro wild pitched in the deciding run to hand the Sox the pennant.
Switching Teams: I presume youíve heard about the Babe moving 200 miles to the south in 1920. And then there was Mike Torrez going the opposite way in 1978 with the same results to Beantown. But in Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Sad Sam Jones, Carl Mays and Red Ruffing the Red Sox gave the Yankees five future 20-game winners in the 1920s alone! Pennock, Hoyt and Ruffing eventually went to the Hall wearing Yankee caps on their plaque. And Iíve got to admit Johnny Damon going to the Yanks still bugs me, although maybe not as much if I can find someone out there who wants to bet me that Coco Crisp doesnít hit .300 this year.
Fights: There have been many, from Lou Piniella and Carlton Fisk going at it after a collision at the plate in 1976, to Pedro shucking deranged 70-year-old Don Zimmer to the ground in the 2003 playoffs. But for my money, the best Iíve seen came in August 1973 when Gene Michael missed a squeeze bunt with Thurman Munson barreling down on Carlton Fisk, who tagged him right in the face with the ball like it was a punch. Joe Pepitone and Rico Petrocelli going at it at second base in the Bronx in 1966 was number two. And though I didnít see the one between Jake Powell and Sox player-manager Joe Cronin (Sullivan) witnessed by a throng of 83,533 in 1938, it must have been a doozy. It started on the field, continued underneath the stands after the two were ejected and got both suspended for 10 games! Juan Marichal once clubbed Johnny Roseboro in the head with his bat and didnít get that much time in the slammer.
Best Lines: Larry Lucchino labeling the Yanks ďthe evil empireĒ after New York won the battle for free agent defector Jose Contreras, which still has laughing boy George Steinbrenner outraged. And then thereís the hated Reggie Jackson epitomizing the series in telling Fisk after the Bucky Bleeping Dent playoff game, ďI hate to play you guys, but I love to play you guys.Ē Meaning that he hated playing them because they were so good, but loved the exhilaration that came with it.
Great Events: Roger Maris hit his record 61st homer against Boston on the final day of the 1961 season when he took young Tracy Stallard deep to right. Former Manchester Yankee Ron Bloomberg became the first designated hitter ever in baseball on opening day at Fenway in 1973. Dave Righetti threw a no-hitter against Boston on July 4 in 1983. I was at the Esplanade to hear the Boston Pops and missed it, which stills bugs me.
The Best Hit: Iíd say Bill Muellerís walk-off homer off Mariano Rivera on the day Jason Varitek and A-Rod went at it on home plate in 2004. OK, David Ortizís walk-off in Game Four of the 2004 playoff is bigger, but Mueller awakened a team from a malaise that had it headed to being labeled the biggest underachievers in team history.
You Do It To Me, Iíll Do It To You: The back-and-forth nature of the rivalry has never been greater. Thanks to the sweep Boston has won 47 and lost 46 in its last 93 games with the Yanks. There was an utterly devastating playoffs loss in 2003, followed with an even more historic win the next year. The Sox get embarrassed losing five straight on home ice last August and return the favor in the first series of 2007. And there are historical parallels too. In June of 1977 they ran the Yanks out of the gym hitting an astonishing 16 homers in a three-game sweep. Like Sunday night, four came in one inning (in the first on Friday) against Catfish Hunter. They went to the Bronx the next week and what happened? They were swept in three straight one-run games. Will history repeat itself this weekend?
I donít know, but this column will later this summer, as I have a lot more to tell you about from what I uncovered.
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).