Excerpted from Red Sox Fans are From Mars, Yankees Fans are From Uranus (Triumph Books, 2010)
The Red Sox play the Yankees this weekend in the first of approximately 42 series throughout the baseball season. But in spite of the overabundance of head-to-head match-ups, the rivalry still garners much interest in defiance to the economic laws of supply and demand. This past March, for instance, at Legends Field in Tampa, Florida, tickets for a game between the two teams were selling for upwards of $300 ... for an exhibition game! And during this contest, as well as throughout the year, prideful boasting and verbal jabs will continue to overload the communication.
The animus has become synonymous (and there's nothing worth than synonymous animus) with contentious rivalries, though Dodgers fans are looking for a little honorable mention by beating up Giants fans. Years of fights, rhetoric, a couple of murders, many arrests, some apparel burning, and a few victory celebrations have done little to dull the dislike and attention placed on the relationship between fan bases. But many years ago, the two teams played without much fanfare. Tickets were only going for about a nickel. (Though in fairness, that may have been the equivalent of $300 today.) There was no rivalry, no animosity and the 180 miles that separated the two cities seemed so far away. Then, circumstances changed.
A New Hobby
So how did our respective cities turn us into who we are today? Well, to understand that, we must first remember that Boston was at one point, the hub of America, hence its nickname – Beantown. New York still needed to find itself; at the time, no one really cared to live on an island in the middle of nowhere. That would all change with a little rawhide, some wood, and a few stuffed canvas sacks.
By the end of the 1800s, a new pastime was taking hold – cow tipping. The fields of the Northeast were lush and the cows were vulnerable, so it was a perfect match. But since no leagues were set up, cow tipping was hard to gamble on, so locals kept their eyes open for any other activities. They soon found and became enamored with a game that had its roots in the English game of rounders and cricket. Early American versions of the sport took a little from column A and a little from column B and played it in New England, where it was called "the Massachusetts game."
It was Alexander Cartwright who grabbed onto the new hybrid. Then Abner Doubleday switched the name on the patent application to include his instead of Cartwright's, thus inserting himself into history books as the man who invented it. He deemed to call it baseball because it utilized bases and balls. (Other names considered, but ultimately rejected, include "batstrike," "cleatcup" and "moundplate.") Humorist Robert Benchley, commenting on the discrepancies between the two sports, put his support behind the new game when he said, "England and America should scrap cricket and baseball, and come up with a new game that they can both play. Like baseball, for example."
And so the British game of rounders had popped the pond – along with tons of Irish looking for a decent steak fry – and taken up shop here in America. Leagues were formed, including the very popular National League, or "senior circuit" as it's come to be known because everyone playing in it eats dinner at 4:00 p.m.
Boston (the Beaneaters, who were formerly the Red Caps, and would go on to become the Rustlers, the Doves, the Bees, and finally the Braves) and New York (the Giants, formerly the Gothams) had teams, but for some reason, there was no warring tone. No one sitting in the stands really cared enough to get worked into a frenzy over any silly songs sung in a mocking tone toward the other team during games.
Then, a new upstart league was founded, and again Boston became the gold standard. The team got off to a fantastic start winning the first World Series and five of the first fifteen. New York again was covetous and strove to outdo its elder brother.
A Change in the Air
Cities for the new American League teams were determined by the commissioner of the league, Ban Johnson. He selected, among them, Boston and Baltimore. Soon Baltimore's mayor lost a bet with New York's mayor over how many corrupt politicians he could place into office (New York’s mayor far exceeded the Baltimore mayor's estimation) and the Orioles were sent to New York, where they became the Highlanders because the team had "the quickening." (No, wait, that's a different movie.)
For a while, Boston remained in charge, the tops at everything. The two rivals seemed relatively content to coexist ... at first. Then New York closed the championship gap. The younger brother was very competitive and within two decades had turned the tables with a lot of player acquisitions from Boston and a little bit of moxie (which was considered a performance enhancing drug back in the day, but wasn’t banned by the league since it was available over the counter.)
The new pastime had a new king. New York, now named the Yankees, had begun to win and win often (if you call a miniscule 25 percent of the time "often"). As a result of that astounding success rate, their fans became arrogant and developed a disturbing feeling of entitlement. Couple that with the abrasive attitude inherent in New Yorkers and you've got the seeds for a cauldron of dislike.
Boston, on the other hand, became wanton. After a brief surge to begin the century, they hit a dry spell. Being unable to win a championship changed Bostonians from proud winners to paranoid wannabes, and because the Yankees’ run of dominance was kick-started by players from Boston, the "City by the Bay" (I mean, we are talking about the "Bay State," fer cryin’ out loud. And it ain’t because of Stockbridge. San Francisco pretty much stole the name from Boston.) harbored much ill will for New York. Fans slinked back to more than 7,000 Ivy League schools located within their borders and immersed themselves in their opinions. Most of those opinions, however, still had to do with the Yankees.
-- What are your thoughts on the differences between the two fan bases? Are they relatively the same? Have Red Sox fans tangibly usurped Yankees fans as the more obnoxious? The comment field is your chance to get some things off your chest. (And may I request you please refrain from setting fire to the comment field?)