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October 12 2005: Common Enemies

Well, baseball season is over.

Oh, I know the Cardinals and the White Sox and people like that are still playing. But the Red Sox are out of it, and the Yankees are out of it, and call me a chauvinist, but this means that baseball has gone from a gripping must-see drama to a pleasant distraction. No offense to the St. Louis fans who are among the best in the world, but the last time the Yankees faced the Cardinals in the World Series, I wasn’t even born yet, and so I don’t feel the same kind of visceral rivalry with the Redbirds I do with the Red Sox. And from a Sox fan perspective, of course, the Cards folded so quickly last year that there is hardly an ounce of vitriol in New England directed their way.

No, instead we Yankee and Red Sox rooters can sit around and debate whether we will or won’t root for the Houston Astros. Roger Clemens has done the near-impossible in that he has become a sentimental favorite in BOTH camps. Wouldn’t it be grand to see him pitch in one more World Series? The guy is so old that now his eldest son is playing in the minor leagues, so you figure he might hang it up eventually, no? This would be a terrific last hurrah for him.

Of course, that will mean beating the Cardinals to get there, so I suppose we have to root against them anyway. And then of course the Astros would face either the White Sox or the Angels, the teams that knocked the beasts of the east out of the race. Yes, it makes perfect sense for both Sox fans and Yankee fans to root for the Astros now. There is no history between the ‘Stros and the AL east to speak of, whereas the Cardinals beat the Red Sox in the 1946 World Series (the Enos Slaughter mad dash) and beat the Yankees in 1964, the Yankees’ last hurrah before the dark years of CBS ownership. You know, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that I must not root for the Cardinals. Bob Gibson beating Mel Stottlemyre in ’64… okay, so I wasn’t born yet but now I’m starting to burn about it anyway…

Oh and by the way, Pesky did not hold the ball, either.

Another thing New York and New England have in common for this winter is our needs. How can it be that both teams have nearly identical shopping lists? First, both teams need to either re-up their GMs or find new ones. Yes, hard to believe but both Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman could be elsewhere in the next few weeks. And how about center field? Johnny Damon and Bernie Williams are both free agents. One figures Bernie could be back in a bench role, but if I were him I would have my sights set on making an album with Paul McCartney or something like that, not warming the bench hoping for a few more moments of heroism. Damon, of course, could end up in New York, but how many more years of good production does he have? In another two years the resemblance to Bernie might be striking.

And how about bullpen help? Both teams tried a ridiculous number of arms this year and almost none of them will be back. Remember Blaine Neal and Matt Mantei? Mike Stanton and Steve Karsay? Alan Embree even did stints with both. The result is the Sox and Yankees will be fighting tooth and nail to get some decent pitchers, and probably both will have to overpay for mediocrity.

Don’t forget left field. Matsui is a free agent, and Boston has tried every year to unload Manny Ramirez.

Yes, the similarities are uncanny. But similar as we are, Sox fans and Yankees fans will never be brethren. In fact, I think the vitriol is back. Yankees fans in New England had it relatively easy here in 2005, the “Year of the Mulligan.” The “Yankees Suck” chant was heard very little at Fenway, and when it did break it it tended to be quiet and short in duration. I personally experienced very little of the usual hairy eyeballs and taunts throughout the year while wearing my NY hat.

That is, until the other night in the sports bar in upscale Brookline (Coolidge Corner Clubhouse), the night the Sox were eliminated by the White Sox mere minutes before the Yankees took on the Angels. There were a fair number of Yankees fans in there, as usual, though of course we were still in the minority. Some Sox fans who stayed to drink were whooping it up every time the Angels scored, of course. That’s fine. Two guys in particular, though, kept coming over to our table (and two Yankees fans were also at the table next to us) and really getting in our faces. You know, coming over to our table, bellowing stuff like “Yeah! Go Angels!” and pumping their fists.

They finally decided to leave after the Yankees took the lead 6-5 — I guess they just couldn’t stand the thought that the Yankees might actually win the game. As they were on their way out, though, they had to put in a parting shot, which was to spill a torrent of disgusting profanity at us as they passed our table. You know, typically eloquent stuff like “you f***ing douche-bag” and “f****ing c***.” They were hoping, I think, to actually start a fight with us.

Of course, they don’t know that I’m a black belt in tae kwon do and that corwin is a high rank in aikido and jujitsu. Poor bitter drunken slobs. Up until that moment I had been feeling really sorry for Red Sox fans. I didn’t feel they deserved such a letdown as to be swept three games straight–I couldn’t believe that the Sox couldn’t win even one game for them. But at that moment I kind of lost sympathy. I waved the guys out of the bar (with one finger protruding, I admit) while saying “thanks for coming, have a nice evening, thanks for a fun time.” I then turned to corwin and said “I kind of hope they’re waiting for us when we come out of the bar.”

Well, the Yankees game didn’t end for another two hours, and it was pouring rain outside, and they were nowhere to be seen when we came out. Not that I really wanted there to be any violence. I’ve never used my skills to injure another human being yet and I especially wouldn’t actually want to harm a stupid drunk who didn’t know any better. Besides, it’s not as if I don’t understand why they feel the way they do.

But that’s why I think the Year of the Mulligan is over. The rivalry is back on. The fact that the Yankees caught up to them at the tail end of the season after they had led almost the entire year has reminded them that 2004 is over, and the danger of heartbreak is ever-present. The day after the White Sox win, the Boston Herald’s back page read: “READ ‘EM AND SWEEP.” And in smaller letters, “We’ll Always Have Last Year.” It could be a sweet sentiment, but paired with a photo of Mike Timlin on his knees, it read as sarcasm. I think the rivalry is now moving to its next level. The competition for players that was stoked when we picked up A-rod after they failed to sign him will be hotter than ever now that the two teams need the same things, and you can expect the two teams to create more drama in the 2006 season.

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