The Rivalry Strikes Back: A Historical Look at Yankees vs. Red Sox

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

Much to the chagrin of the rest of the baseball world, this weekend brings the latest installment of the epic battle between the Yankees Universe and Red Sox Nation. 

Over the next 72 hours, FOX, ESPN, and local sports networks in both regions will inundate their audiences with coverage of a rivalry that has  taken on a life of its own. Much like European soccer powerhouses interrupt their regular season schedules to play highly anticipated international tournament games, when the Yankees and Red Sox meet, the events seem to transcend the sport. 

Like it or not, when the Yankees and Red Sox play, the games generate great interest. Fueling that passion has been the success enjoyed by both teams over the last decade. However, the rich history between the two teams is also a factor. Even though the Rays have established themselves on equal footing with both behemoths, their limited history, and even more limited fan base, hasn’t yet kindled the intensity that exists between Boston and New York.

Although it often gets swallowed up in hype, the fact of the matter is the rivalry has been highly competitive over the last decade (and, as noted below, the last 45 years). Not since 2001, when the Yankees won 13 of 18, has one team dominated a season series. Over the subsequent 10 years (including the playoffs and the three games played so far this year), the outcomes have practically been the split down the middle, with the Yankees maintaining a small 94-90 advantage. With each team being a perennial pennant contender, the games have taken on a heightened significance, which undoubtedly has contributed to the intensity on each side.

History of the Rivalry, 1901-1911

Note: Blue in the chart above represents years when the Yankees won more than 50% of the season series. Red represents when the Red Sox won more than 50%. When the season series was split, a gray area is visible.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The chart above illustrates the Yankees’ overall success in the rivalry, but before the Red Sox became the cursed side, it was the New Yorkers who had much to lament in the early stages. Just as the Boston faithful of later years ruminated on their team’s misfortune, Yankees’ fans at the beginning of the century rued Jack Chesbro’s ill-timed wild pitch that handed the 1904 pennant to the then Pilgrims. That painful loss wasn’t the only one. Over the first 19 years of the rivalry, Boston enjoyed the edge (216-180; .545) in the season series.  However,  in the winter of 1919, a cataclysmic shift occurred when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

With the Bambino in New York, the respective fortunes of each team went in opposite directions, both within the confines of the American League and the rivalry. From 1920 to 1965, the Yankees won or tied the season series in all but seven years, while compiling a record of  603-384 (.611).  In addition, the Yankees racked up 20 championships and 29 pennants during that span, while the Red Sox only claimed one flag.

Since 1966, the rivalry has been a dead heat. Although each team has enjoyed brief periods of domination, the two combatants have exactly split the 688 regular season games (including the playoffs, the Yankees have a 355-352 lead) played over the last 46 years. However, in spite of the rivalry’s parity during this timeframe, the Yankees’ advantage in terms of rings (7 to 2) continued to grow.

Not only have the Yankees and Red Sox had some great battles over the ages, but each team has also featured some of the game’s greatest players. Hall of Famers on both sides have graced the rivalry with countless memorable moments, which have added to the lore. Listed in the charts below are many of those immortal players.

Rivalry Batting Leaders, Since 1919

*Minimum 400 plate appearances
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Rivalry Pitching Leaders, Since 1919
Note: Game Score is a per-game ranking.
*Minimum 75 innings
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Starting tonight, the current members of the Yankees and Red Sox get to add to the growing legacy that exists between to the teams. Although the attention paid to these historic foes can get overbearing from time to time, there is no denying that the matchup remains the best rivalry in all of American sports.

One thought on “The Rivalry Strikes Back: A Historical Look at Yankees vs. Red Sox

  1. wow this is an awesome article – this explains a lot.
    that is why so many people actually want to see the games against the two teams. May the best one win this weekend !

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