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Red Sox/Yankees: A Flickering Rivalry

Varitek/A-Rod fight

Exactly ten seasons have passed since the Red Sox were defending champs for the first time since the Woodrow Wilson administration. (Nine if you completely disavow the Bobby Valentine fiasco.)

It was an entirely different environment for baseball fandom back then. Fans born today have no idea of the suffrage endured, the “better luck next year” anguish, the torment at the hands of Yankees fans. Oh, how times have changed. The greatest rivalry in American professional sports has gone stale (save for a fight between a drunk fan or two, but that’s all in a day’s game).

Sure, there have been long periods of calm before, interspersed by periods of violent conflagrations — Billy Martin and Jimmy Piersall fighting each other in the tunnel underneath the stands in the 50s; Fisk and Munson rolling around on the ground in the 70s; 2004, when Jason Varitek taught A-Rod about the health benefits of leather taken orally. I mean, this is a rivalry that once reached DEFCON 1, when Pedro was hitting Yankee batsmen as if he was playing “Duck Hunt” on his Nintendo Entertainment System. But this feels different.

For that was when we were frustrated and our buttons could be pushed. Now, we’re riding in duck boats on Easy (Boylston) Street. We’ve all seen that kid with the sign that reads “6 years old and 40 parades” or something like that. He will never know true hardship, that borne of shattered dreams and broken bat flare singles; the anger that comes from leaving a pitcher in the game too long like a turkey on Thanksgiving, or diminutive shortstops hitting one just over the monster. We were a nervous, sad sack of tears and regret back then, but it bred many of our best qualities — bravery, resilience, optimism, probably a little foolishness, but most of all, loyalty.

There are few remnants of those traits in the newest generation of Red Sox fans. It comes too easily for them whereas for us, the only ticker tape we ever saw came when a Telex factory dumped their refuse out the window. (This new generation doesn’t even have to deal with telex machines!) But regardless of the disappointment, I kept watching my team!

At one time, Boston executives couldn’t even get onto the same hotel floor as a Cuban import and now all flights to Boston seem to include a layover in Havana.

Gone are the days when the Red Sox would claim ex-Yankees off the scrap heap — Elston Howard, Rick Cerone, Ramiro Mendoza — and now we’re happily allowing them to overpay for our players — Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury. Heck, we’ll even cover the Amtrak fare down I-95.

I miss those days. I feel like I had an edge then. I was close to the borderline, baby! Don’t push me with your “19-18!” chants and your brags of 20-some-odd championships (most of which occurred before you were born).

Every hero needs a villain. Who do we root against now? A-Rod? Ha! Expecting anything from him is like expecting a glorious spring lawn once the snow melts and then remembering all the dog poop that’s still there.

Do the fans still bother us? (Well, yes, of course they do, they’re Yankees fans and verbal abuse is in their cholesterol-clogged arteries. Disregard the question.) I just don’t feel the same animosity for them that I once did. Their taunts don’t have the same bite anymore since the Red Sox have tripled the Yankees output of championships during this century. Those numbers they used to spew are now insignificant to an entire generation of fans.

Could it be that we’re the villains now? Nah. I know many teams don’t like us, but that never bothered us before. Did it? To be honest, I don’t even know who I am anymore. I enjoy the winning, that’s true, but it was more the thrill of the victory, which allowed the thrill of rubbing it in the faces of Yankees fans.

This week, we start a new season where the Yankees lineup is peppered with players either on the downward slopes of their careers or pulled from the FBI’s Witness Relocation Program softball team. There are no future Hall of Famers left, no MVPs, no Red Sox killers. They’re not going to put up much of a fight.

The nineteen games where the two squads will square off this year will not lead to seven more in the postseason. They’ll lack the drama, they’ll lack the sense of relief and joy after a victory, the kind we used to have. How do we stoke the fire and make the rivalry fun again?

Maybe Wade Miley starts head hunting since he doesn’t have to bat anymore. Perhaps Pedroia slides in spikes up to his old double play-mate Drew. We’ll be happy to take our cue from any of the guys on the field.

There’s a new league commissioner and maybe that signals a brand new day in this rivalry. But until then, we only have YouTube videos and Ben Affleck-narrated documentaries to teach our children what it means to be decent and hard-cheering fans, and to rekindle old feelings of a rivalry gone bland.

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Fanism: Re-examining Stereotypes of Sports Fans

With the recent passing of Rodney King, it’s prompted us, as a nation, to revisit race relations in this country.  Without getting too much into that, I’d like to stride along a parallel path to point out that as civil rights have navigated peaks and valleys throughout history, there is an issue that has run consistently over time, under the radar, an unspoken ill, eschewing logic for gut feelings and emotion.

Fanism in this country (the generalized labeling of an entire group of fans with a single, specific characteristic) is still rampant.  So I say, as the late Rodney King said on that fateful day in 1991, “Ow.”  (He also said “Can’t we all just get along?”  And upon further consideration, I’d say that second quote probably resonates more with my article, so I’ll go with that one instead.)

Think of those fans you hate, or those fans that drive you nuts.  It’s not only them as individuals per se, but everyone like them.  What traits do they all have in common that bug you, that you’ve seen as a recurring theme among them?

We stereotype.  It’s human nature.  When you get down to it, aren’t we all a little bit fanist?

Stereotypes are a funny thing. They begin when there is a recurrent theme pertaining to a certain group, whether focusing on region, gender, Veganism, whatever.  Sometimes they are exaggerated, like, for instance, not all Jews have Chinese food on Sundays and not all Amish like to polka.  Sports fans are no different.

Are the stereotypes true?  There are things you think of rival fans that have become engrained in your mind as fact.  It may be an accurate description, or you may be manifesting something unfounded, but convenient.  What do we base them on?  Sociological studies?  A coin flip?  Some prankster with a popular blog?  There isn’t a think tank out there that holds a meeting and decides, “We’ll start saying that Milwaukee Bucks fans are bad tippers.”  (Although if there was some office to manipulate these kinds of made-up labels, outcomes, and so forth, I would imagine it would be overseen by David Stern.)

Fair or not, these characterizations are stuck with fans of these teams.  And sometimes, the actual portion of the fan base that resembles this may only be a very small percentage, if you will — the one-percenters.  (Except these outlier fans have a lot less money and a lot more free time to do stupid, mean things than the one-percent of guys who are too busy ruining the American financial system.)  Yet it sticks to them.

Let’s go around the country.  What do you think when you think of certain fan bases?

Let’s start in the Northeast and my ol’ stomping ground (Ironically, that’s where the term stomping ground began as well as there’s actually a stomping ground dating all the way back to revolutionary times when patriotic Colonials would come home, tired from a long day of rabble rousing just to stomp around for a while to let off steam.  It was a forebear to Zumba classes.)

When you think of Boston fans, you may immediately classify them as the racist city in the sports landscape.  This image has formed over decades, beginning with the fact the Red Sox were the last team to assimilate black ballplayers onto their major league squad, continuing through the 60s, even as Bill Russell won championship after championship on a predominantly white ballclub, to when former Celtics player Dee Brown was pulled over and charged with DWB (“driving while black,” to those not hip to the slang), up to the present.

Last month, Bostonian’s seemingly sunk to new lows with racist tweets after the Bruins loss to the Capitals.  A few weeks later, they were caught dumping beer on Lebron (technically on top of the screen that covers the tunnel back to the locker rooms) as Lebron passed underneath.  Now fans are calling Boston fans racist and classless.

But classless doesn’t stick as a label for Boston.  Every fan base has classless fans.  That’s an unfortunate fact.  (Sports are there to give the lives of such fans some worth by providing them a team of their chosen to put their energies in the hopes of that team succeeding where their lives have failed.)  But in terms of classless, I think fans would call out Detroit or Philadelphia before Boston.  Racist?  Well, yeah, Boston fans still can’t get out from the grinder on that one.

If you’ve been to Philadelphia, you know their fans to be among the least civil of all.  They have that reputation.  They’ve thrown ice balls at players, and Santa Claus.  They boo visiting players who get injured.  Philadelphia’s a tough town.  It comes from circumstance.  They’re not as big as New York and not as historic as Boston.  It’s cold there and everyone’s internal chemistry is messed up from eating scrapple and cheesesteaks.    They have an inferiority complex bigger than any other city.  In fact, they are superior to other cities when it comes to feeling inferior.

But we mustn’t forget New Yorkers.  They are brash and confident.  It comes from living in New York.  If they weren’t, they’d be eaten alive.  But to others, it comes off as being obnoxious.  Couple that with a sense of entitlement from decades of championship-winning, even before they were born, and it comes out to the world.

Oh, and before I leave this region of the country, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that New Yorkers also like to point out that Boston fans are whiney.  Not all of them, but an inordinate number of them.  It comes from having to deal with Yankees fans for decades.  Strange how the successful of the Celtics has not tempered this character flaw.

Proximity contributes to these depictions, but not always.  For instance, Dodgers fans are all the way on the other side of the country.  And they are very knowledgeable.

They enjoy the game and seem to have an East-Coast acumen toward it, seemingly from their Brooklyn lineage.  (Save for  a segment of the fans with anger management issues, but there are many fan bases who have that.  It could have been as a response to Frank McCourt’s horrible management of the team.)

Down the road, the (whatever city they are claiming to be a part of this week) Angels fans are nowhere near as knowledge as Dodgers fans.  They wait for the Rally Monkey to tell them what to do.  Truth be told, even he doesn’t know what’s going on.

Then there are Lakers fans who are, by and large, not knowledgeable at all.  They’re not really fans of the NBA, which is an odd thing to say.  They love the Lakers and have a knowledge of that team (except when trying to make the case that Kobe is a better player than either Magic or Jerry West, and even Kareem), but are woefully misinformed when it comes to reality.  Many continue to call their giant Spaniard Paul Gasol.

Conversations with their fans might find you listening to their claim that their team is a top-notch defensive unit in spite of statistics that would betray their argument quite uncompromisingly.  They might be 11th in the league, but what do numbers matter?

Interesting that Los Angeles is known, as a city, for its non-reality.  The weather is always nice, breasts are always perky, and time does not progress.  So it would stand to reason that they could attempt to make a case that a mediocre defensive team is, in fact, among the best in the league.

But they are certainly passionate toward their team.  Seattle is a different beast.  In football, the Seahawks possess one of the loudest fan bases and home field advantages, but once the game is over, they are surprisingly calm.  It’s a relaxed, laid-back region. It also rains a lot, which may do some to cool emotions.

Remember the Super Bowl that Seattle won, but the officiating team presented to Pittsburgh instead?  Egregious call after call went against the Seahawks until they could no longer regain momentum.  In 2010, four-and-a-half years later, referee Bill Leavy admitted to blowing the game.  But Seattle fans took it all in stride, with disappointment, but civility.  Could Philadelphia fans have done that?  Oakland fans?

How many times have you cringed when someone mentions the term “Raiders fan?”  They have the reputation of being criminals which isn’t fair… since they can’t defend that rap because they’re all in jail.

I kid! I kid!  Or do I?  Are you saying you place Raiders fans in high regard?  Chargers fans certainly do not.  When the two teams play each other in San Diego, Raiders fans draw very well because Chargers season ticket holders frequently give away that game because they don’t want to deal with Raiders fans.  Is that unfounded?  An urban myth?  No.  It’s what they’ve found out over the years.

St. Louis fans are nice, Chicago Cubs fans are resigned to failure, Cleveland fans make Cubs fans look like Yankees fans, Miami fans are Cuban, Texas Longhorn fans hook things, Duke fans are spoiled, Alabama fans are morons (if you’re an Auburn fan), Auburn fans are morons (if you’re an Alabama fan), the list goes on and on.

Remember, these are stereotypes.  You’ll be able to point to fans in each of these cities that don’t fit, but this is how a city is perceived.

I’m sure there are people reading this (or having it read to them due to the big words) who slam their fist down and scream, “Who the hell does this guy think he is?!  We’re not like that at all.”  Or the ones who equate my article as the lunatic rantings of a typical bitter, jealous, and whiny Boston fan who just enjoys watching his gums flap in the wind.

But that’s just blatant fanism and you should be ashamed of yourself.  Rodney King was right, we should just get along.  But then, in sports, where’s the fun in that?

 

[Featured Image by: David Castillo Dominici]

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Yankees/Red Sox Fans: A Rivalry Renewed

As Fenway Park celebrates its 100th birthday, a day when the Boston Americans beat the Highlanders of New York by a score of 7-6 in eleven innings while scores of other people were being unceremoniously tossed off a cruise ship in frigid waters, we see that there is still a cold war between the two rivals.

Though the past few years have been rather innocuous, New York City (a city with a fanbase that routinely goes on Red Sox fan sites to criticize Boston backers about caring so much about what New York is doing, while at the same time, explaining how they don’t give Boston a second thought) has sunk to a new low.  (Ironic because Boston is the city that’s built on landfill.)

A controversial New York subway ad tells Big Apple commuters not to give up their seats to a Red Sox fan, even if she is pregnant.

This seems a waste of some good money, the need to recommend this behavior.  You’re talking about a fan base with members who, twice in the past decade, have literally killed Boston fans.  Believe me, pregnant Boston fans are grateful when your greatest crime is simply not getting up on a crowded train.

In fact, we’re taught to be wary any time a Yankees fan makes a sudden movement, such as standing on a crowded subway.  So don’t worry, the edict itself isn’t what’s so disturbing.  It’s the fact that this ad is an act of blatant fanism!

That’s right, fanism!  Who would’ve thought that in an age where we have a White Sox fan in the White House that we could still be subjected to this type of treatment.  All fans should be created equal.  Yes, I’m a Boston fan, but if you prick me, do I not bleed?  If you feed me, do I not burp and undo my belt?  If you tickle me, do I not laugh and then very quickly summon a policeman because, seriously, we’re grown men, why are you tickling me?!

It all begins with Rosa from Hyde Park, in her third trimester, being forced to stand on the subway until she can’t take it anymore and edges into a seat just ahead of a Yankees fan, thus earning her a citation for refusing to relinquish her seat to a non-pregnant Yankee fan.

Where does it end?  First, you don’t stand for a pregnant Red Sox fan, then you don’t allow Red Sox fans to use cabs, celebrate the Macy’s Day parade, buy M&Ms at the giant M&M store in Times Square.  (That place is like a playground for me!  Please, God, no!)

I know there are some New Yorkers out there who will risk alienation to do the right thing and let the pregnant Red Sox fans have a seat, societal customs be damned!  But this is about the authority behind the ad.

Yes, we’ve all heard the anecdotes about how Yankees fans refuse service to someone wearing a Red Sox hat in a coffee shop.  Or the deli worker who skips the number of the guy wearing the Jeter jersey.  These are individual acts and isolated.  But for an edict to be decreed by the MTA, this is too much.

You might be saying to yourself, Boston fans are just as bad as New York fans.  In many ways, they are.  They can get in your face, wreaking of peppers and onions, and fail to cover up all their bodily creases.  But listen to what they say. . . when they’re not slurring:

Boston fans hate the Yankees, as in “Yankees Suck!.”  Yankees fans hate Boston.  They mean the entire city!  “Boston Sucks” is what they scream.

Boston fans are arrested for climbing a pole or lighting a fire.  New York fans are as well, plus, uh, y’know. . . there’s also the murder charges.

Boston fans take credit for the number of championships they’ve won in their lifetime.  New Yorkers take credit for championships that were won before their grandparents were born.

(Have you ever had a six-year-old brag about the 27 World Championships his team has won and then blow cigarette smoke in your face?  It’s not fun.)

C’mon, New York!  It’s bad enough some people consider Boston to be a suburb of you.

Look at all Boston has done for you!  First off, the Red Sox and former owner Harry Frazee gave you half of their team, including Babe Ruth in exchange for a bucket of chicken and some donuts, which in turn brought you your first few championships.

Lest we not forget what city’s residents selflessly traveled the 180 miles down route I-95 during the tragic times of 2011.  You said you’d never forget.  Well, that lasted just over 10 years.  You certainly won’t be confused with elephants.  (Although from a distance… maybe just try a light beer every so often.)

Let’s go back even further and remind you that if it wasn’t for the good people of Boston, we, as a nation, might be drinking tea and watching cricket at the merry ol’ ballgrounds.  Some of those pregnant women to whom you want to give blisters gave birth to the revolutionaries that spawned this great nation; the same revolutionaries that fought for your freedom; the same freedom that allows you to decide whether or not to stand for pregnant women or not without consequence.

Show Boston that you’re leaning in the direction of right over wrong and don’t give them any more ammunition that proves their already deeply-stilted opinions of you.  You’re the bigger city.  Act like it!

I’ve met Yankees fans who don’t appreciate Boston fans and never will.  And vice versa.    That’s why they’re around, so that we, the more reasonable fans, can mock them openly on shows like “The Real Housewives of South Boston” or “So You Call that a Lougie?!” on cable access in the Bronx.

The rivalry ebbs and flows dating back before Fisk and Pinella got into it or, more recently, Varitek showed A-Rod the stitching in his glove.  Steinbrenner 2.0 tried to pick up the slack when he took over, but the fans weren’t as interested.  Nineteen games against each other every year put a simmer on things.  But someday, the fire on the field will reignite, and those players will feel the same resentment as their forebears did.  But then, they get paid a lot of money to participate in the fighting.

Let’s leave the pregnant ladies and other Boston fans out of it.  Isn’t riding on the subway torture enough?  Let them ride the No. 4 Train to the new Yankee Stadium, so that you may bilk them out of their hard-earned money with your ridiculous prices for beer and bag check.

It wasn’t long ago that we were all Yankees.  And we battled the Confederates.  I have a dream!  That one day all Red Sox and Yankees fans can come together in peace and harmony. . . to gang up on Philly fans.  Seriously, those folks don’t deserve a seat anywhere, pregnant or not!