This is the way it was — or at least the way it seemed — during the cozy 86 years that connected 1918 and 2004. For years, from New England, we would hear tortured tales of “The Rivalry,” about how the Red Sox could never quite get over the hump against their ancient rivals, the Yankees.
Jinxes. Poxes. Hexes. Curses.
You remember the chorus.
And the funny thing, always, was this: Rivalry? Really? In those 86 years connecting 1918 and 2004, the Yankees won 26 World Series championships. They won 39 pennants. The Red Sox, in that time, won 26 fewer championships and 35 fewer American League titles. As rivals go, it’s hard to think of any more one-sided than that.
Hammer versus nail, maybe.
Lucy versus Charlie Brown, certainly.
Notre Dame versus Navy, sure.
Before the 1999 ALCS, Yogi Berra famously took Bernie Williams aside, smiled, and offered a word of advice from the bright side of the feud: “Relax. We’ve been beating these guys for 80 years.” They beat them that year, too. And again in 2003.
Generations of Yankees fans only knew relentless prosperity against the Red Sox. If an essential part of the DNA of Yankees fans is always believing the fellows in the pinstripes would figure out a way to make things right in the end, an important strand also included this caveat: and the Red Sox will always fold like cellophane when it absolutely matters.
Maybe you noticed: It hasn’t been that way these last 16 years. Since 2004, the scorecard reads thusly: Red Sox, 4 World Series, Yankees 1. The two times they’ve met in October, the Sox won in epic fashion (2004) and in a breeze (2018). It’s funny, too: in that time, the Yankees have never had a losing record and the Red Sox have actually finished last in the AL East not once, not twice but three times (2012, 2014, 2015).
But even in those dreadful years, the Red Sox didn’t look like this, the way they look in 2020, which is to say noncompetitive, soft, lacking in both talent and effort. The pitching staff has been ransacked. Mookie Betts has moved his Hall of Fame track 3,000 miles away. There are still some good players on the team, but not nearly enough of them.
And it’s jarring to watch. Monday the Yankees laid the wood to the Red Sox again, beat them 6-2, the 10th straight time they’ve beaten the Sox dating to last year. Before the season ends they will get three more games at Fenway Park, at which point they can tie and surpass their all-time record against the Sox, 12, set in 1936 and tied in 1952-53.
Back in ’36, the Red Sox were still in the early phase of their drought, but they had already forfeited the American League to the Yankees and were fighting for survival against the Braves, still in Boston. This was still three years before Ted Williams would arrive and help the Red Sox regain a little respectability in the relationship. It is no coincidence that the other 0-12 run — 0-9 to close out 1952, 0-3 to start ’53 — coincided almost precisely with Teddy Ballgame’s second stint as a fighter pilot, this time in Korea.
Now, “jarring” doesn’t mean “unpleasant.” Yankees fans have to be enjoying this little spasm of one-sided fun. And the Red Sox, honestly, don’t exactly seem hellbent on camouflaging what sure looks like an epic tank job. Monday’s loss, their eighth in a row, dropped the Sox to 6-17 on the year. That’s the most losses in baseball.
Two years after a 108-54 regular season, after winning 119 games and a World Series and enjoying a place in the conversation ranking all-time teams (all of which made Yankees fans understandably react as if they’d walked into a locker of spoiled meat), they are a baseball carcass and it is something to behold for Yankees fans who liked what the old world order looked like.
Of course, they are the Red Sox, they are Boston, they print money (even if they didn’t act that way when they still employed Betts), and they are run by a young exec, Chaim Bloom, who will probably emerge from this with his reputation intact, if a bit riddled. There is little doubt they will figure a way back to relevance soon, and for those without a dog in the hunt, a revitalized Yankees-Red Sox rivalry will certainly be welcome.
For now? Yankees fans will enjoy the way things are, thank you very much, because they look very much like the way things used to be.