To think that the origins of a 98 year rivalry stem from the trade of one player sounds ridiculous…unless that player is Babe Ruth and the two teams involved are the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Their rivalry is the archetype for all other sports teams. Only the Yankees and Red Sox can boast the Curse of the Bambino, back to back 7 game AL Championship series in 2003 and 2004, the creation of dynasties, and the widespread attention from other athletes, celebrities, politicians, and the sweeping fanbases of each team.
Often christened the “greatest rivalry in all sports,” each matchup between the teams contains high tensions, large media coverage, trash talk, and great baseball. Occasionally, high tensions collide to the breaking point…or fighting point.
#5 – August 18, 2013
Following the MLB officially announcing that A-Rod would be suspended for the 2014 season, it was Ryan Dempster and the Red Sox’s last chance to take a swing at Rodriguez. After throwing at and behind him on the first three pitches of the at-bat but missing, Dempster hit Rodriguez on a 3-0 pitch, sparking Joe Girardi’s ejection. Girardi thought it was ridiculous, saying “[Dempster] should have been thrown out of the game. It was obvious that it was intentional.” Later, Dempster admitted that it was purposeful. “I did. I did throw at him.” A-Rod got the last laugh, however, going 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs and a solo homer off Dempster in the 6th.
#4 – August 1, 1973
The Red Sox Yankees rivalry was slowly becoming a forced comment each time the two teams faced off. The Yankees clearly held the title of the better team since the fateful trade in 1919, winning World Series after World Series in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. By the 1960s, the rivalry was slowly hanging up its jersey to retire, until Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk revived the rivalry in a single play. Games between the Yankees and Red Sox weren’t nearly as scrutinized until this fateful standoff at home plate.
Both Fisk and Munson were some of the best catchers in baseball, playing in the same division, each man leading his team offensively and defensively. Just weeks before, Fisk was the starter in the 1973 All Star game, not Munson. The silent tension between the two could deafen a room. The score was 2-2, and Yankees shortstop Gene Michael missed a safety squeeze with Munson on third. Munson kept running anyways, lowering his shoulder and bowling over Carlton Fisk. The pitcher, John Curtis, said “Munson tried to stay on Pudge a little too long and Pudge wanted to get up and look for another runner, so he kicked him off him.” Fisk and Munson immediately squared off, with Munson punching Fisk square in the face. Benches cleared, the fight turned to Gene Michael and Fisk, and the Yankees Red Sox rivalry kindled into its current form. The fight lasted over 10 minutes.
Photos courtesy of the Brearley Collection.
#3 – May 20, 1976
Lou Pinella collides with Carlton Fisk during a play at the plate, and Fisk was having none of it. Just as the fight begins to calm down, Bill “Spaceman” Lee walks over past home plate to give some of the Yankees players a piece of his mind. He pays the price as Graig Nettles throws a punch, simultaneously reviving the fight and ending Spaceman Lee’s career due to a separated shoulder Lee suffered. Taking a closer look at the replay, though, Carl Yastrzemski comes in to try to pull Fisk away, but Otto Velez flies in and blindsides Yaz. This is what prompts Lee to start swinging as then Nettles and Rivers take down Spaceman Lee. Meanwhile, Don Zimmer is looking around for someone to dance with, shoving people left and right. This turned the Red Sox season upside down, losing their #2 pitcher and stopping their dominance over the AL East. The Red Sox finished third in the division that season.
#2 – July 24, 2004
The infamous A-Rod and Tek fight. Every game in the 2004 season was intense following the Red Sox’s loss to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS in 7 games. The Sox constantly had something to prove, especially after A-Rod hit the go ahead homer in their matchup the night before and they were still salty at the fact that A-Rod chose to sign with the Yankees over the Red Sox during the 2003-2004 offseason. This was before A-Rod cheated on his wife, was caught up in the Biogenesis scandal, or was hated by many of his own teammates. This was just pure Red Sox and Yankees spite. Schilling plunked A-Rod and the two mouthed off at each other, prompting Jason Varitek to step in the way. Now, the famous picture of the two suggests that Varitek was the first to swing, but both men were shoving equally from the start. The fight captured the hearts of all Red Sox fans as they were sick of the Yankees’ success, their 8 game lead over the Red Sox, and their superiority of signing players during the season and during the offseason as well. After Varitek and Rodriguez were ejected, the game was a perfect foreshadowing of the Red Sox’s season. The Yankees were down 4-3 before scoring 6 runs in the 6th inning. The Red Sox answered with 4 runs of their own, but were still down 9-8. In the bottom of the ninth, with the score at Yankees 10, Red Sox 8, Bill Mueller hit a 3 run homer to give the Red Sox a walk off win. The Sox later went on to win the ALCS over the Yankees after being down 3 games to none that same season and ending the 86 year “Curse of the Bambino” by defeating the Cardinals in the World Series.
#1 – October 11, 2003
Game 3 of the 2003 American League Champion Series, and only the second time the Red Sox and Yankees have faced each other in the postseason. The situation begins after Pedro Martinez beans Karim Garcia in his upper back with a fastball, seemingly aiming for his head. Some players and coaches from both teams slowly got out of their dugouts and pointed fingers as Martinez jawed at Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, and other Yankees members, but the situation died without a benches clearing incident. Former Red Sox pitcher and current Yankee Roger Clemens took offense to Pedro’s actions, so Clemens defended his teammate by throwing a fastball high and inside at Manny Ramirez. Benches cleared and the shoving began. Manny and Clemens cursed each other out as teammates tried to hold them both back, but the real spotlight was behind home plate, as 72 year old Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer ran at Pedro Martinez. Infamously, Pedro grabbed him by the head and threw him to the ground, sparking an even bigger fight. Zimmer lated apologized after the game and took responsibility for causing the incident, but not before he called out Pedro as “one of the most unprofessional players” in the game of baseball. Years later, Pedro reflected in his book that all he did was “help Zimmer fall faster.” The incident is his only regret he states: “When 72-year-old Don Zimmer came barreling toward me, I wish I had not grabbed his head and pushed him to the Fenway grass as he stumbled and fell forward. Some days I feel more people remember me as the angry young man who pushed down a defenseless old man than as the pitcher who won three Cy Young Awards and a world title and wound up in the Hall of Fame. In my entire baseball career, my reaction to Zimmer’s charge is my only regret.” After everything settled down, a Red Sox fan decided to take matters into his own hands in the 9th inning by jumping into the away bullpen at Fenway. Police immediately leaped to action and arrest him as some of New York’s bullpen staff also jumped in his way. The series of fights in this game were not even the emotional peak of the ALCS series in 2003 however, which can be awarded to Aaron Boone’s walk off home run against Tim Wakefield in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7.
Honorable Mention – June 21, 1967
The first Red Sox Yankees brawl caught on camera. Back then, baseball was filled with much more rough and tough players…Red Sox third basemen Joey Foy was hit in the head with a fastball but continued right on to first base. Then Jim Lonborg defended Foy and hit the Yankee’s pitcher Thad Tillotson during his at bat (the DH did not exist in the American League until 1973). Tillotson and Lonborg exchanged words, with one report stating that Foy charged over from third base yelling “If you want to fight me, fight me.” Rico Petrocelli leads the Red Sox in the fight as Joe Pepitone charged out of the Yankees dugout to lead them in the throw down. Lonborg went on to throw a 170 pitch complete game as the Red Sox won 8-1 in Yankee Stadium.