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The Yankees and Red Sox: A Rivalry for the Ages

Baseball Books

The Yankees and Red Sox: A Rivalry for the Ages

The rivalry between New York and Boston leaves fans with more than just breathtaking baseball. Each municipality sees itself as superior: New Yorkers are more aggressive and show an affinity for getting things done, while New Englanders are more cultured and refined. They also have had the sympathy of the baseball community and the larger world for their decades of futility.

But no longer can the Red Sox play that role of the poor, pitiful loser. Their 2004 World Championship not only has shucked the "curse of the Bambino" that had kept the fabled franchise without a title for almost 90 years, it also helped create a cottage industry. Publishers, seeking to make hay from the stunning turn of events, have produced more than a dozen books concentrating on the Sox, the Yankees, or a combination of the two.

The first and foremost of these is FAITHFUL: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season, by frightmeister Stephen King and novelist Stewart O'Nan, which was released before the glut. The project had been in the planning stages for some time. It was just a stroke of luck that the two picked the 2004 season to monitor.

More recently, readers have a plethora of angles from which to choose, depending on where their allegiance lies.

Mike Vaccaro, a columnist for the New York Post, brings a "big apple" perspective to EMPERORS AND IDIOTS: The Hundred-Year Rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, From the Very Beginning to the End of the Curse. Despite the title, Vaccaro concentrates mainly on the last several seasons, which exhibited increased animosity --- although he does toss in some historical background, particularly about the renewed violent spark in the mid-1970s that produced some heavyweight battles (Munson vs. Fisk; Yankees vs. Bill Lee).

From the other side of the "border" we have BLOOD FEUD: The Red Sox, the Yankees and the Struggle of Good versus Evil, by Bill Nowlin and Jim Prime, a pair of New Englanders who have collaborated on several Sox-related titles. They say that winners write the history books. While the Yankees have enjoyed unparalleled success where it counts --- reaching the post-season --- Nowlin and Prime try to take the higher road in reveling in this particular accomplishment. The authors include a helpful timeline of the feud, which evidently goes back to 1895 --- the year Babe Ruth was born.

Finally, A TALE OF TWO CITIES: The 2004 Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry and the War for the Pennant is a unique joint venture between Boston Herald writer Tony Massarotti and the New York Daily News's John Harper. The authors switch off, examining the season from opposite sides of the fence, reporting on each team's ups and downs during 2004.

The choice of book art for these three is noteworthy. Both EMPERORS AND IDIOTS and BLOOD FEUD incorporate a picture of the notorious Don Zimmer-Pedro Martinez scuffle in the 2003 American League Championship Series; A TALE OF TWO CITIES depicts Alex Rodriguez (who the Red Sox tried to acquire before the Yankees flexed their wallet) to make its point: in one shot, he's about to throw down the Red Sox catcher; in the other he's trying, unsportsmanly, to avoid being tagged out by slapping the ball out of the fielder's hand.

A more genteel and literate offering is THE YANKEES VS. RED SOX READER, edited by Mike Robbins, a San Franciscan (I suppose the distance makes him objective). Robbins culled newspapers, magazines, and books to present the evolution of the often-contentious relationship. He divides the READER into three eras: 1903-1950, 1951-1985, and 1985 to the present, and includes the work of such habitués of baseball anthologies as Red Smith, Peter Gammons, Thomas Boswell and Roger Angell, to paint a broad landscape.

In recent years, newspapers have made use of their archives to produce "quickie" books commemorating the hometown team's World Series success. The Boston Globe continues the tradition. Full of photos, factoids and recycled stories, it's meant more as a keepsake than a serious analysis. The title can be defined in two ways because of the rather confusing layout. It's either FINALLY! Red Sox Are The Champions After 86 Years, or Red Sox Are FINALLY the Champions After 86 Years.

Dan Shaughnessy is another reporter/columnist (for the aforementioned Globe) who takes advantage of his access and proximity in REVERSING THE CURSE: Inside the 2004 Boston Red Sox, giving him a chance to take back some of the things he wrote in his 1991 THE CURSE OF THE BAMBINO, as well as his children's book, THE LEGEND OF THE CURSE OF THE BAMBINO. Shaughnessy is one of the better baseball writers, so one can rely on him to employ colorful prose to describe what on a day-to-day retelling over the course of a season can be pretty boring.

Peter Golenbock updates an old favorite with RED SOX NATION: An Unexpurgated History of the Boston Red Sox. Golenbock adds several chapters to his oral history, originally released as FENWAY in 1992, offering new contributions from Red Sox players and opponents, coaches, front office personnel, and others discussing the triumphs and failures of the past century-plus.

Golenbock is also the co-author of IDIOT: Beating "The Curse" and Enjoying the Game of Life (as opposed to other games such as Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders?). This is an example of the phenomenon of a team's popular player sounding off on his life, the (baseball) universe, and everything, warranted or not, intelligible or not. (Readers will note how many titles employ "Idiot," the Red Sox's self-deprecating motto.) In this case, it's centerfielder Johnny Damon, whose hirsute and beatific appearance resulted in t-shirts bearing his likeness and the inscription, "WWJDD?" Damon recaps his solid, if not Hall-of-Fame-bound, career. Expect this one to do well in the New England region and among Damon fans, with little interest elsewhere.

Another "idiotic" offering is IDIOT-SYNCRASIES: How the Red Sox Were Smart Enough to Win the World Series, by A. Knoefel Longest, a columnist for The Remy Report, a website by former Sox favorite and current broadcaster Jerry Remy. Longest puts together another behind-the-scenes overview as well as profiles of each Red Sox player.

Two new biographies deal with more traditional figures: the Yankees's Lou Gehrig and the Sox's Ted Williams.

In LUCKIEST MAN: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Eig portrays Gehrig as a skillful but bland professional, a mama's boy who sat in Babe Ruth's shadow and never really enjoyed life until it was too late.

John Underwood collaborated with Williams on several books, including THE SCIENCE OF HITTING and MY TURN AT BAT: The Story of My Life (not to mention FISHING THE BIG THREE: Tarpon, Bonefish, Atlantic Salmon). So there is probably no one writer who could have done a better job in presenting the cantankerous Splendid Splinter in IT'S ONLY ME: The Ted Williams We Hardly Knew, a personal memoir about the man rather than a detailed look at the ballplayer. No one doubts that "Teddy Ballgame" was an incredible persona, a hero on many levels; that makes the bizarre end of his life that much sadder. The bio includes an audio CD of conversations between the author and his subject.

On a lighter note, Boston (and Mets) rooters probably will be first in line for Jim Gerard's simply-titled YANKEES SUCK! The Unofficial Guide for Fans Who Hate, Despise, Loath, and Detest Those Bums From the Bronx, which brings to mind all those thoughtful purveyors of sports radio and online bulletin boards. This is actually a fun book, full of lists and examples of the Bronx Bombers' megalomania, with telling chapter headings such as "Sure They're Successful, But They Cheat," "The Madness of King George," and "Condemning the House that Ruth Built."

Similar in its venomous depiction, but wittier, is Jim Caple's THE DEVIL WEARS PINSTRIPES: George STEINBRENNER, the SATANS of Swat, and the SELLING of Baseball's Soul. Caple, a writer for ESPN The Magazine, delivers Letterman-like observations, down to a collection of lists showing how "evil" the Yankees are, as evidenced by their owner.

Two semi-companion books take a gentle and loving look at each club: 101 REASONS TO LOVE THE YANKEES (and 10 Reasons to Hate the Red Sox) and its distaff 101 REASONS TO LOVE THE RED SOX (and 10 Reasons to Hate the Yankees). What makes these particularly intriguing is that the authors are brothers. Ron Green, Jr. wrote the former volume while his sibling, David, handled the latter. Even more ironic is that these natives of North Carolina write so passionately about "Yankees." Since each claims to have followed his particular team since childhood, one can imagine the arguments that must have gone on in that household.

Finally, Filip Bondy, a columnist for the New York Daily News, concentrates on "real" Yankee fans in BLEEDING PINSTRIPES: A Season with the Bleacher Creatures at Yankee Stadium. If players often speak of the "family" atmosphere of the clubhouse, this is the view from the other side of the outfield fence. The varied assortment of colorful characters has its own society within the confines of the ballpark. Encamped in Section 39 in the right field section, these men and women bonded as a clan, dripping contempt for the denizens of the box seats, with their cell phones, fancy suits, and sixth-inning departures.

--- Reviewed by Ron Kaplan