The Payoff Itch

Is the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees turning into a war of attrition?

A sense of the futility of it all may be why the crowds at Fenway were the quietest I've heard for a Yankee series in 30 years. There were few chants, no fights, and even Boston's 17-1 victory aroused little fervor. Boston fans know almost as much baseball as they claim, and they've seen bat-rich, arm-broke teams come up short before—like for the previous 70 years before 2004.

They've also seen too much of the Yankees, win or lose. The two teams have played 65 of their last 440 games against each other since the start of the 2003 season. Familiarity breeds apathy. After the supreme art of the 2003 and 2004 ALCS, it's no surprise Sox-Yanks 2005 has been Godfather III.

A rural game, baseball is based on the growing cycle. The Yanks and Sox are hothouse plants, hybrids generated by deranged agronomists in their front offices and owners' suites. Each team and its fan base have come to see the presence of a rookie in the starting lineup as a symbol of failure. That's a guarantee of sterility. All societies have myths cautioning that wealth cannot buy youth. The Sox and Yanks have become baseball's.

Trouble is, if one team makes the post-season and not the other, the loser, be it New York or Boston, will again load up on high-priced veterans and a "new" generation of old, hurt pitchers. They have neither the will nor wherewithal to rebuild. Their current stars, productive or not, will remain under multimillion-dollar contracts, and George Steinbrenner and John Henry will not exchange Christmas visits next winter.

The Red Sox and Yankees clash again six times after Labor Day. Sheffield and Manny may be pitching by then. Teams that look tired in July aren't a pretty sight when the leaves start turning.

What baseball's "greatest rivalry" needs is a truce. The Yanks and Sox need a demilitarized zone behind which to rebuild and plan without reference to each other. Such a truce will only be imposed by an outside power, a new rival who'll beat 'em both.

Forget pitching; what Boston and New York need most of all is for 2005 to be somebody else's "next year."

Michael Gee is a former sports columnist for the Boston Herald and The Boston Phoenix.

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