19to21: May 1, 2007
No, that’s not the number of losses the Red Sox typically average against the Yankees each year, it’s, Baseball... Then and Now
Following the game of April 30, 1920, the Boston Red Sox had played the Babe Ruth-led New York Yankees four times since Sox owner Harry Frazee had sold the Bambino down the coast and, to the thinking of many, initiated the rivalry between the two teams. As May Day 1920 rolled around, the Sox were 4-0 against the Yankees with the Babe. And, for the rest of the season, they went 5-13 against them. And thereby started a trend. With the exception of 1922, it would be 14 years before the Red Sox won more than nine games in a season against the Yankees. It would be 27 seasons before the Yankees would lose as many as 14 games in a season to Boston. And it would be 49 years – essentially half a century -- before the Sox would put together back-to-back winning seasons against New York.
Is this any way to run a rivalry? When speaking of rivalries, it’s sort of a given that the two rivals really need to have some degree of competitive equality between them. That simply wasn’t the case between the Yankees and the Red Sox from 1920 to 1966. The fact is that the “competition” between the two teams was grossly unbalanced in favor of New York. In those 47 seasons, the Red Sox won the season series with the Yankees exactly six times (1922, 1939, 1942, 1946, 1948, 1959) with the two teams splitting their 22-game series three times (1938, 1944, 1951). To put it another way, the Red Sox went 6-38-3 in season series with the Yankees in those 47 years. Even worse, during those 47 years they were a horrid 392-613 (.390) against the Yankees.
You get the idea. It was an uneven struggle at the best. But, was it a rivalry in those years? Ultimately, that’s a determination for those who took part. As much as fans may agonize over the fate of their team against the Hateds, the true test of a rivalry comes from the rival players. In this case, despite the inequality of the two teams, there seems to be some evidence that, yes, the Red Sox considered the Yankees blood rivals, even while the New Yorkers were beating the Beantowners’ brains out.
To return to the beginning, as noted at the tail end of the 2004 season, the Red Sox weren’t suffering for all those years under the Curse of the Bambino, but more under the Curse of Harry Frazee. The Sox Broadway producer-owner actually started dealing with the Yankees a year before he sold the Babe, eventually making nine deals with Colonels Ruppert and Huston before he sold the team in the summer of 1923. Besides Ruth, the Yankees picked up Ernie Shore, Duffy Lewis, Carl Mays, Waite Hoyt, Wally Schang, Sam Jones, Joe Bush, Everett Scott, Joe Dugan, Elmer Smith, George Pipgras and Herb Pennock, among others, from Frazee.
And how did the rest of the Red Sox feel about this? Harry Hooper gave Larry Ritter this answer for “The Glory of Their Times” some 40 years after the crime…
“Harry Frazee became the owner of the Red Sox in 1917, and before long he sold off all our best players and ruined the team. Sold them all to the Yankees – Ernie Shore, Duffy Lewis, Dutch Leonard, Carl Mays, Babe Ruth. Then Wally Schang and Herb Pennock and Joe Dugan and Sam Jones. I was disgusted. The Yankee dynasty of the twenties was three-quarters the Red Sox of a few years before. All Frazee wanted was the money. He was short of cash and he sold the whole team down the river to keep his dirty nose above water. What a way to end a wonderful ball club.”
So, Harry, how did you feel about the Yankees?
It took until the late 1930s when another Red Sox owner, Tom Yawkey, performed an exact reversal of Frazee’s sell-out that the Sox/Yankee rivalry took on any semblance of equality. From 1920 to 1937, the Sox were an even more awful 129-266 (.327) against their former teammates. However, reinforcements were arriving, in the form of sell-offs from Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletic powerhouse, notably future Hall of Famers Lefty Grove and Jimmy Foxx. Yawkey’s pocketbook sparked a surge in Beantown that, although it resulted in only one pennant, at least made the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry more balanced for the next 11 years. From 1938 to the disaster that was the 1949 season, the Sox were a respectable 111-128 (.464) against the Yanks. Not great, but far better than .327. Writing on this period in “Summer of ‘49” the late David Halberstam noted of the Red Sox, “They finished second in 1938, 1939, 1941, and 1942, always, of course, to the Yankees. On the eve of World War II, Boston finally appeared ready to challenge the Yankees.”
Although the war disrupted the rivalry, along with everything else in American society, the two teams picked up again in 1946, when the Sox won the only pennant of the Ted Williams Era. This was followed by three more dynamic campaigns, highlighted this time by a Yankee moving to the Red Sox – manager Joe McCarthy. The Sox subsequently eliminated the Yankees in 1948 (before losing the pennant in a one-game playoff to the Indians) and then came from way back in 1949, only to blow a one game lead with two games left, losing 5-4 and 5-3 in Yankee Stadium on the last weekend of the regular season. From that weekend until the 1967 season, the Sox bested the Yankees in their season series exactly once, in 1959.
How did this generation of Red Sox feel about the Yankees? Halberstam, whose book is essentially an oral history of the 1949 American League pennant race, reports on Boston third baseman’s Johnny Pesky’s feelings after an old-timers Game at Yankee Stadium in 1964.
“Johnny Pesky had played briefly in the old-timers game and had felt the old familiar tension – for this was the Yankees and the Red Sox. He had even felt a surge of anger, for Pesky more than the other Boston players had been at war with the Yankees. He had always played his hardest, for they were the enemy.”
Later, after breaking bread (as opposed to heads) with Allie Reynolds (who commented, “Pesky, you know, you were a pain in the %&* back when we played), Vic Raschi and Charlie Keller, Pesky (as reported by Halberstam) pondered the rivalry.
“It seemed to cement to best of those old rivalries in his mind; they had played hard and they had made each other better because of their rivalry. They had always respected each other. The old struggles were finally over.”
Maybe. Or maybe not. Because there are always new generations of Red Sox and Yankees coming along to take part in the Impossible Dream, the Boston Massacre, the turncoat Luis Tiant, the Evil Empire, the Bloody Sock, the turncoat Johnny Damon, and the current War of Japanese Imports, among other more recent moments in the rivalry. Since the Impossible Dream season on 1967, the Sox have actually played the Yankees to a standstill, going 299-296 in the years from 1967-2006. Add in 2007’s (to date) 5-1, and the Sox have a .506 winning percentage against the Yankees since the start of 1967, although, overall since 1920, they’re still just 696-910 (.433) against the Hateds. All in all, it’s possible to speculate that the 2004 ALCS is the high point of Boston history since, oh say those “Indians” tossed that tea into Boston Harbor. In fact, it’s a wonder Boston fans didn’t throw George Steinbrenner in the harbor after the 2004 World Series.