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Rivalry, schmivalry

Truth is, Red Sox-Yankees isn't much of a competition

Posted: Wednesday March 31, 2004 12:49PM; Updated: Wednesday March 31, 2004 1:09PM
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This is the baseball season which begins with everybody only interested in two things that nobody can see. First, of course, we have steroids, which the players don't think matter as long as nobody gets caught in the act. And secondly we have the advertised rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox that doesn't really exist. Especially to hear New Englanders babble on about it, you'd wonder: Are there any other teams playing baseball this year?

No, it's just Boston and New York and this alleged rivalry. There's even a book out now, which is entitled: Red Sox vs. Yankees/The Great Rivalry. Excuse me: Great rivalry? Talk about the English language on steroids. Well, I guess it's a rivalry ... technically. But don't you hate it when the dictionary doesn't know what it's talking about? My dictionary says rivalry is "the act of competing." So, by this definition, the lions vs. Christians was a rivalry. The United States vs. Grenada was a rivalry. Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson is a rivalry. So, yeah, I guess the Red Sox vs. the Yankees has to be a dictionary rivalry. But a great rivalry? A real rivalry? Oh please.

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Honestly now, can you have a rivalry when only one team wins all the time? The Boston Red Sox haven't won a World Series since World War I. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees have won the lion's share of all that have followed since Armistice Day. Not only that, but every time the two teams actually meet each other when it matters, New York cleans Boston's clock. Most recently, of course, with Aaron Boone emerging out of nowhere for one at-bat, then to return to that great green room in Back Bay where Babe Ruth, Johnny Lindell, Bucky Dent, Mike Torrez, Bill Buckner and Grady Little are having cocktails together. Even the Yankees' municipal surrogates, the Mets, took care of the Big Apple's business the one time they played the Red Sox in a World Series. And now the Yankees whip the Red Sox in the offseason, too, stealing Alex Rodriguez, the fabled A-Rod, right out from under their noses. This is a rivalry? No wonder reality TV is doing so much better than baseball. If the Red Sox were on Survivor or American Idol, those programs would've long since been cancelled for lack of competition.

Actually, I used to admire the Red Sox fans. There was a certain nobility in their loyal frustration. They accepted their lot in life as losers. But now they're poseurs, attaching themselves to the Yankees like one of those little birds that rides along on the hippopotamuses' back. It's no longer good enough that the Red Sox go about their destiny and lose. Now their identity only exists in association with the people who beat them all the time. The Red Sox fans are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

I like the Cubs fans better. They go out and accept defeat the way they always have, with that grace that comes with resignation.

At the beginning of the baseball season, everybody loves to make predictions. I'll bet you this: that either Toronto or Baltimore will finish in first or second place in the American League East. It won't be a Boston/New York quinella. Deford's First Law of Sports is that as soon as everybody starts expecting something, that something won't happen ... especially when that something counts on the Red Sox winning.

Also, if I were the Yankees I'd be very worried. Now that the Red Sox have attached themselves to the Yankees, I'd say it's very possible that they will share their curse with them. Of course, it would be a great rivalry if neither team can win.

Sports Illustrated senior contributing writer Frank Deford is a regular contributor to SI.com and appears each Wednesday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. He is a longtime correspondent for HBO's Real Sports and his new novel, An American Summer (Sourcebooks Trade), is available at bookstores everywhere.

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