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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

Boston Red Sox

October 12, 2003

There aren't many sports teams out there that I hate. Oh, there are plenty of programs that I dislike, old rivals from days gone by (Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville comes to mind) and teams that for whatever reason rub me the wrong way (like the Miami Dolphins, with their rude fans and maniacally egotistical 1972 team alumni and their pansy blue jerseys complete with a freaking smiling Dolphin on the helmet). Throw the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens in there with their feuds with the Tennessee Titans in the late 1990s; it's the same deal (with the exception of when Loren Bray aloofly told me at work in late 2001 that he wished that the Tennessee Titans would've been on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center -- he's lucky I didn't leave him a bloody pulp on the Channel 10 newsroom floor). Thank god for self-control, eh? But even with that, it's not as if I despised the Jags or Ravens. They just had some great battles against a team I liked.

It's also worth noting that personal encounters lead me to root extremely hard against some teams (Karl Malone's Utah Jazz squad comes to mind). And as a San Antonio Spurs fan, with Malone now playing for the archrival L.A. Lakers, well I may cheer harder against this year's Lakers team than I have against any other squad in NBA history.

And, you know, that's all well and good. Men like sports because with sports we have an outlet for emotions, a way to bond with fellow fans, and most importantly something to talk about besides "wow, it's raining again today." It's something to take your mind off the everyday hassles of life.

UT's defense stops UF's Jabar Gaffney
Tennessee broke its long losing streak in Gainesville by beating Florida on Dec. 1, 2001.

But then there are some rivalries, some traditions, and some feuds that are at a special level. Tennessee/Florida in college football is one of those. Perhaps if I had been born 15 years earlier, I would've felt that way about Tennessee/Alabama. But as someone who started watching college sports intently in the mid-to-late 80's, I found UT/UF in football as being something really special. Which, even in the post Steve Spurrier era, it still is.

But I never really hated UF. Even with smug Steve Spurrier basking in his success, I didn't hate the Gators. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed their struggles under Ron Zook (who managed to deflect the heat -- at least for this week -- with yesterday's upset win at LSU). But it's not a bitter hatred.

No, for that level I reserve only one rivalry -- the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. I'm a Yankees fan. Before you try and roll me in with the bandwagoners of the late 90s, keep in mind that I became a Yankees fan in the summer of 1988. I remember it clearly -- my friend Joe Martin was a Yankees fan, and he gave me a pair of Yankees wristbands while we were at Oak Hill Day Camp. Not that wristbands are a reason to follow a team, but I was 10 and it seemed like a good idea to me at the time. I admired Don Mattingly, and while the Yankees were 10 years removed from championship success, I found their legacy and history in the sport to be something worth supporting.

I caught some heat for being a Yankees fan -- my Granddaddy Blaylock in particular wasn't fond of me cheering for them -- but I held true. Even though the lackluster performances of the early 1990s, and the heartbreaker against Seattle in the 1995 playoffs. All of that just helped to make the wins in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 (count 'em) all the more sweet.

Of course, this run of success did not sit well with Boston Red Sox fans, starved since 1918 of a championship. ESPN Page 2's Bill Simmons, who is one of my favorite writers, is a Red Sox fan. I try not to hold that against him, since he's from Boston and all. But one major disagreement I have over him is his unwillingness to acknowledge the Curse of the Bambino.

Babe Ruth Cardboard Cutout
Red Sox fans know all too well about the Curse of the Bambino.

Now if you've followed baseball much at all, you know about the curse. For the uninitiated, here's a quick summary. The Red Sox sold the rights to Babe Ruth to the Yankees for cash in 1920. From that point forward, it's been said that the Red Sox are "cursed" by the Bambino (as Ruth is sometimes called), floundering in medicority and drowning in the sorrow of occasional close calls (losing FOUR times in World Series Game 7s since then). Since that trade, the Yankees (which had never won a World Series before) captured championships in 1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. Read 'em and weap, Sox fans.

But for all their losing, there's a certain arrogance about the Red Sox that disgusts those who oppose them. Maybe it's the Boston attitude, maybe its the cynical self-serving nature of their fans (though who can blame them for cynicism, being under a curse and all), or maybe it's their burning hatred for the Yankees that seems to seep from their every pore. Whatever the case, for Yankees fans, there are no bigger rudos (to put it in Mexican pro wrestling terms) than the Red Sox and their supporters.

That rivalry makes their meeting in the 2003 ALCS all the more special. It's only the second time the two teams have met there (the other being 1999, which the Yankees of course won en route to a World Series title). Due to baseball's past setup, such a meeting wasn't possible until the playoff expansion of 1995.

As much as the 1986 World Series loss to the Mets was crippling for Red Sox fans, for old schoolers I think that even that pales in comparison with the famous 1978 one-game playoff between the two teams for the A.L. East crown, at Fenway Park, no less. Bucky Dent went long for New York, hitting the ball over the Green Monster and propelling the Yankees into the ALCS (and ultimately the championship -- see a pattern here?). Want to piss off a Red Sox fan over the age of 35? Bring up Bucky Dent's name and see what they say. Prepare for possible obscenities.

That course of history lead up to yesterday's ALCS Game 3, Yankees at Red Sox. This actually was a mirror image rematch of 1999's ALCS Game 3, with Roger Clemens vs. Pedro Martinez at Fenway... only this time the series was tied 1-1 (in 1999 the Yankees won the first two in the Bronx).

The game itself started rough for the Yankees, as Clemens took some time to get warmed up. But the Yankees bats stayed strong, and New York clawed back to make it a 2-2 game.

Then the fourth inning rolled around, and all hell broke loose. Pedro Martinez threw a pitch that hit Yankees Karim Garcia high on his back, nearly nailing him in the back of the cranium. This had tempers flaring, but nothing too crazy... Then Pedro Martinez, showing off that smug Red Sox arrogance that I was referring to earlier, pointed at his head implying that he was going to plunk Yankees catcher Jorge (pronounced Whore-Hay) Posada in the skull. What a bastard. This got things even more heated up.

In the bottom of the inning, the craziness really kicked in. Roger Clemens threw a pitch to Manny Ramirez that was high, but not inside. But that set off Ramirez (who is said to be somewhat of a nutcase anyway, dating back to his days in Cleveland), who then walked toward the mound, menacingly wielding his bat. Ramirez was restrained, but the benches cleared. It got to the point where police officers had to come onto the field to retain order.

Don Zimmer
Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer had to be hospitalized following his altercation with Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez.

That's when one of the most disgusting moments I've seen in baseball took place. 72-year-old Don Zimmer started jawing with Martinez. Zimmer walked toward Martinez, and some say he was trying to punch Pedro. I disagree with that assessment... but regardless, Martinez grabbed Zimmer (initiating contact) and threw him to the ground. Zimmer had to be taken out of the stadium on a stretcher. Nice show of class there, Pedro.

As it was, the Yankees won, taking a 2-1 series lead. Hopefully this is just the latest in the long run of heartbreak for Red Sox fans. As for Pedro, according to reporter Jim Salisbury: "Martinez issued warnings to stay away from his locker and did not speak about the pitch to Garcia to reporters after the game." I wouldn't want to try to defend those actions, either.

On the other side of things, the Chicago Cubs are just one win away from their first World Series since 1945, thanks to their victory last night over the Florida Marlins. A Cubs vs. Yankees World Series would be epic. It kind of scares me, as Mark Prior & Kerry Wood remind me of the combo the Arizona Diamondbacks had two years ago with Randy Johnson & Curt Schilling. But, it's hard to deny that it would make for one exciting World Series. Not as exciting as Cubs vs. Red Sox, mind you, but still one that historians and newbies alike could appreciate.

Excuse me if the above seems a little bitter; I'm still in a bit of shock over the one-sided pounding that the Georgia Bulldogs laid on the Tennessee Vols last night in Knoxville. I don't have any answers for what happened there. I half-expected Amy Barnett to dig out my phone number and call me from Macon with the Georgia Bulldogs theme song playing (like she did last year). Brutal.

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