Ripe for a renaissance: Is the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry about to get great again?

ByScott Lauber and Andrew Marchand ESPN logo
Thursday, September 15, 2016

Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter have retired. So too, for now, has Alex Rodriguez. And in a few weeks, David Ortiz will begin his life after baseball.

Somehow, though, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry will go on.

Over the past few years, the age-old grudge match has cooled. And with the teams coming together for a four-game series beginning Thursday night at Fenway Park, Yankees beat writer Andrew Marchand and Red Sox beat writer Scott Lauber discuss when the rivalry might be great again.

Marchand: The rivalry may be returning to its glory much earlier than anticipated. The first real ingredient that revs up Yankees-Red Sox is both teams being really, really good. This year, they are pretty good. The Red Sox look to be better. But Boston has so many young players and, with their financials, could have a pretty awesome run on the horizon. With the Yankees becoming sellers on the deadline, their farm system is suddenly among the best in baseball. Plus, they are saving up all their nickels and dimes and will likely be big spenders in the next two or three years. It could get very cool in a hurry.

Lauber: Want to know why the rivalry has, in the words of one Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez (remember him?), "lost a little bit of its luster?" Try this: The Yanks and Sox haven't made the playoffs in the same year since 2009 and haven't won a postseason game in the same season since 2007. So, yeah, we're a long way from Aaron (Bleeping) Boone and Jason Varitek's mitt in A-Rod's mug. Will Gary Sanchez ever feel such animosity for Yoan Moncada, and vice versa? Dueling for a division title or two would certainly help them get there. And to your point, Andrew, both teams are finally moving in the right direction, with younger, more homegrown cores. It might take another few years, but the rivalry is ripe for a renaissance.

Marchand: I think it could be quicker. They are both on the verge of becoming, to borrow a Brian Cashman line, "uber teams." You are right, that is what makes the rivalry run. There also needs to be big personalities. With A-Rod, Jeter and Mo gone, the Yankees don't have those legendary players. If a Bryce Harper is added to the collection in 2019, that will add spice. But I think Yankees and Red Sox fans are watching Moncada vs. Sanchez, etc. to see who can build a team more organically.

Lauber: Yeah, Big Papi's impending retirement doesn't exactly help in the big-personality department either. That said, the Steinbrenners' deep pockets have always been a tried-and-true way to stoke the rivalry. And if the Yankees buy Harper (Why stop there? Manny Machado, anyone?) after the 2018 season, it will go a long way toward stirring the pot again. Here's the thing, though: The rivalry has always been heated among fans, but when it was at its frenzied peak during the 2003 and '04 postseasons, players on both sides seemed to genuinely dislike each other, too. With so many new, fresh faces on the teams, I'm not sure you're going to see those feelings take root until David Price comes up-and-in on Sanchez in a big game, a la Pedro Martinez with Jeter and Jorge Posada.

Marchand: No, you can't force the rivalry. We in the media (present parties excluded, of course) have sometimes ginned it up when it's not really there. I would presume the bosses think it sells, but the fans know when it is real and when it is not. The players do, too. When you go in the clubhouse, most guys will give you the boilerplate answers that might be trite but work well enough in a story. However, when it is the real deal, you get the "Who's your daddy?" chants or all the A-Rod episodes. That's what separates it. Still, the fans and media egging it on does create tension that eventually can explode on the field. It does take time. I do think a rebirth is upon us, but baseball is a funny game, making it difficult to predict when and how the heat will be added.

Lauber: Oh, I don't think either of us are advocating that the honchos quit putting Yankees-Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball three times a year. (As if anything could really stop that from happening!) As Red Sox manager John Farrell said during A-Rod's awkward final week at Fenway, the rivalry doesn't stop just because the faces change -- whether it's Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, or Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, or Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs, or Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, or Karim Garcia and, well, you get the idea. And before the next generation takes over, Big Papi might have a few parting shots in the next couple weeks.

Marchand: I agree, but I feel the next chapter is approaching a lot more quickly than it was before the trade deadline. The Red Sox looked like they were going in the right direction, but now the Yankees do too, on several levels. It should make it very fun in the next few years -- and, yes, this week.

Lauber: Indeed, let's hope a few of those fresh faces (I'm looking at you, Sanchez, and you, AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts)step up and do something dramatic this week. The rivalry can certainly use a boost.