By Steve Silverman
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This is not the old Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
It is a newer version that will have time to grow, mature and get exposed to the hatred that has been dormant on both sides for the last few years.
If you have listened to national broadcasts in recent weeks, there have been many references to the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, or the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. Both of those rivalries are historic and often compelling, but the Yankees and Red Sox have had the most bad blood and the highest level of play over the last 42 years.
It is the best rivalry in baseball, no matter what you have been told.
The current versions of both teams look like a new chapter is ready to be written. The Yankees have a brilliant core of young and talented players in prodigious Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks, while the Red Sox counter with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr.
The makings are there for some tremendous battles in the present and future, and baseball fans could get a gift this fall if these two teams meet at some point in the postseason.
Until that happens, the rivalry will be left to mature into what it has been in the past, and what’s missing from the current version is the nastiness and pain that is sure to follow.
In the Bronx Zoo version of the rivalry, the hatred began with Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, and their teammates were glad to follow their leads. An infamous brawl had a painful effect on Boston pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee’s throwing shoulder, as he got the worst of it from Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles.
The Red Sox issued the first blow in the mid-1970s when they won the 1975 American League East title. The Yankees were in the midst of the pennant fight that year, as they pursued the Red Sox from Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was being rebuilt. The Red Sox delivered a nasty blow that summer when they beat the Yankees by 1-0 margins in both ends of an August doubleheader.
The Red Sox went on to the World Series that year, where they lost a classic battle with the Cincinnati Reds. The next year, the Yankees took back the initiative and went to the World Series against that same Cincinnati team, only to be swept.
The next two years saw the Yankees win the World Series, and the 1978 triumph remains one of the most memorable seasons in the history of baseball. The Red Sox built a huge lead, the Yankees came storming back and took control, but the Red Sox mounted a late charge to tie the Bombers for the division title.
It was all about Ron Guidry, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Reggie Jackson, Lou Piniella, Munson and a light-hitting shortstop named Bucky Dent against Fisk, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Rick Burleson and Carl Yastrzemski. The playoff game between the two teams may have been baseball’s most perfect afternoon. After the Red Sox took the lead, the Yankees came charging back behind Dent’s infamous Fenway homer and Jackson’s blast and then held off a late Boston rally.
It came down to Gossage vs. Yaz, and the second-best reliever in the game’s history induced a popup that landed in Nettles’ glove.
Yankee fans are still celebrating, and Red Sox fans are still crying.
The Bombers dominated the late 1990s and early 2000s thanks to the “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera (the best reliever in MLB history), Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada, along with the brilliant leadership of Joe Torre.
The Red Sox were left in the dust, and things were at their worst in 2003, when Aaron Boone hit an extra-inning home run in the seventh game of the American League Championship Series to beat Boston once again.
Few would have thought that a turnaround was coming, but that’s just what happened the following year in the ALCS. Down 0-3, the Red Sox came back to become the only team to overcome such a deficit in major league history.
David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez finally beat the Yankees, and the Red Sox celebrated at Yankee Stadium. They followed with a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Series title since 1918.
The Red Sox have won two more World Series since, while manager Joe Girardi guided the Yankees to a world title in 2009.
Now, both teams are in excellent shape to fight for the championship once again. They are going to have to go through each other. And that’s the best news in the world for the greatest rivalry in baseball, and perhaps all of professional sports.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy