THIS SUNDAY, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees will open the Major League Baseball season as they renew hostilities at New York's hallowed Yankee Stadium. When the two teams last met, the occasion was marked by the Red Sox celebrating on the Yankees' home field after winning the American League pennant and becoming the first team in baseball history to win a series after trailing three games to none. It was either the greatest comeback in sports history or the biggest choke; the labels are equally satisfying.
Here in Red Sox Nation, we don't like the Yankees. In actuality, we loathe them. We despise them. When Red Sox team president Larry Lucchino labeled the Gothamites "the Evil Empire" three years ago, we considered it a statement of the obvious; the comparison was particularly apt given George Steinbrenner's unmistakable similarities to Darth Vader. So passionate is the hatred for the Yankees that when several hundred thousand Bostonians gathered to celebrate the Patriots Super Bowl triumph in 2002, a spontaneous chant of "Yankees Suck" erupted.
THE SOURCE of this sentiment is well known. In 1920, the Red Sox sold an overweight and under-motivated player to the Yankees for the then-unheard-of sum of $100,000. At the time of the deal, Babe Ruth was a malcontent whose antics would rival those of any of our modern day athlete/princes. Ruth's reputation as an unmanageable and chronically irresponsible prima-donna had become so well-known that two of Boston's four newspapers endorsed the deal.
The sale turned out to be such a disaster for the Red Sox that a whole cottage industry sprung up around spreading shoddily-researched apocryphal tales regarding Ruth's departure. (The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy is the most prominent and successful practitioner of this bizarre black art.) So woeful was the Red Sox's fate, many members of Red Sox Nation actually began to believe in the curse. More problematically, at times it seemed as though members of the team believed, too.
WHETHER THERE EVER WAS A CURSE or not, its alleged spell was broken last Fall. After 86 years without a title, the Red Sox finally rewarded their fans base with a championship (although it's likely that given the length of the drought, many members of that fan base were too deceased to fully enjoy the experience).
But far sweeter than the title itself was the humiliation of the Yankees. It wasn't only that they beat the Sox for nearly 90 years, it was the haughtiness and cruelty of the beatings which lingered. For decades Sox fans endured Yankee chants of "1918" to remind them of their last title. For whatever reason, it wasn't enough for black-hearted Yankee fans to simply enjoy their own team's 26 championships. They had to taunt us, too.
YET NOW, at our moment of triumph, certain members of Red Sox Nation want to call a truce. In the cozy suburb of Acton, Massachusetts, two well-meaning but obviously misguided elementary school teachers have led their young charges in a quest to have the Red Sox and Yankees shake hands en masse immediately prior to their Opening Day engagement--in order to prove that "it's only a game."
The teachers, one a Yankee fan and the other a Red Sox fan, were motivated to launch this pursuit when they heard that certain students were being "pummeled" for their allegiances in the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.
Others have seconded the motion. The New York Times's George Vecsey is also convinced that the Red Sox and Yankees should engage in some sort of disingenuous touchy-feely display of phony sportsmanship. While Vecsey seems to be cognizant of the impracticality if not the ridiculousness of a group hand shake, he still urges something symbolic such as the team captains (Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek and overrated Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter) engage in a "formal handshake" (whatever that means).
Because Red Sox Nation has suffered for the better part of a century, this seems to be an unlikely time for us to seek an armistice. If Vecsey so desperately craves a formal ceremony involving the team's principals, I would suggest a re-enactment of the famous moment last July when Varitek stuck his catcher's mitt into Yankee star Alex Rodriguez's yapping mouth, and in so doing did more than any other individual to alter the two teams' destinies. That wonderful moment has been justly immortalized on the cover of Stephen King's and Stewart O'Nan's diary of the Red Sox' 2004 season, Faithful.
Of course it's unlikely that the Yankees would agree to such a ceremony. So I'll make a counter-offer: After the Yankees have gone 86 years without a title, then I will whole-heartedly endorse a group hand shake. By my math, that date should arrive in 2086.
In the meantime, play ball!
Dean Barnett writes about politics and other matters at soxblog.com under his on-line pseudonym James Frederick Dwight.