Harvey Frommer, a noted sports journalist and historian, is the author of nearly 40 books including A Yankee History and New York City Baseball: 1947-1957. His new book (co-written with his son, Frederic) is Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry. It covers nearly a century's worth of epic battles between these age-old rivals, and features interviews with prominent New Yorkers and Bostonians from Mario Cuomo to Nomar Garciaparra. We discussed what the rivalry means from both sides -- here in the Hub and in The Evil Empire.
note: Quotations from Yankees vs Red Sox: The Great Rivalry were used in this interview with the author's permission.
RSN: Red Sox vs Yankees is arguably the greatest rivalry in sports. Why?
HF: It has lasted such a long time and had so many marvelous moments, not to mention incredible characters. And add to that the frustration of Babe Ruth going to the Yankees, and the BoSox not having won since 1918 . . .
This rivalry transcends sports - Curt Schilling
RSN: What differentiates it from other great baseball rivalries; Dodgers vs Giants, Cubs vs Cardinals, etc?
HF: They are teams so close to each other geographically, and they’ve battled through the decades. Dodgers and Giants really ended when the teams moved to California. The intensity has never been the same. Cubs and Cardinals is a midwestern kind of thing. New York/Boston is a national rivalry. More icons have played for the Red Sox and Yankees than the other teams, and this is an add to the mix.
I was with the Cardinals...and the Cubs rivalry was pretty special. But I don’t think it possesses the intensity that this one does - Joe Torre
RSN: Do you feel there was any specific year, or defining moment, when this went beyond a simple rivalry to maybe something more? Was it the fight between Fisk and Munson, or something else?
HF: Probably 1978 and Bucky Dent, but now the Aaron Boone home run has added even more.
In the 1970s it was real hatred...it was like a war. - Don Zimmer
RSN: Is this at all media driven, or does it exist on a much deeper level than that?
HF: It is definitely media driven to an extent. Our book is in its third printing. And then there are all the newspaper and magazine columns, plus the rants and raves on TV and radio. But yes, it is much deeper -- all that history between the cities, the franchises, the personalities.
It’s so intense and electric...people mark off these days on their calendar. - Mike Stanley
RSN: Fisk and Munson isn't the only time a physical altercation has taken place between these teams. Talk a little about some of them.
HF: Lots of bad blood, taunting, and name-calling has characterized the rivalry. Fights, too. Fisk vs Munson and Joe Cronin vs Jaker Powell were memorable. But for my money the best of the all -- the real one -- was Billy Martin vs Jimmy Piersall. It started with name calling and ended under the stands with punches being thrown. Billy the Kid was the winner -- he was a skinny guy, but handy with his fists. The whole fracas allegedly started when Piersall said something about the size and contours of Martins’ schnozz.
I don’t think Fisk and Munson got along that well. - Don Zimmer
RSN: There has also been a lot of animosity between the fans. Which is a more hostile environment for visiting fans -- Fenway or Yankee Stadium?
HF: It depends on the season, the time of day, the importance of the game, and who shows up. Each place has its moments -- that’s for sure.
I don’t think there are a lot of people walking around in t-shirts that say “Red Sox suck” in NY, but you see ‘em everywhere here for the Yankees. - Michael Dukakis
RSN: Lewd chants like "Yankees suck" (and much worse) have become commonplace in the Hub. Similar unpleasantries have likewise been directed at the Red Sox by New Yorkers. What is the evolution of this phenomenon?
HF: Bad taste breeds bad taste -- who is to say where it comes from. And people (not smart people) get swept up in what they think is fun.
When the game starts you can hear them yelling all kinds of stuff at Yankee players. But you hear the same stuff in the Bronx, which I think is stupid. - Rudy Giuliani
RSN: We recently invited fans from NYYfans.com to discuss "Why do Yankee fans hate the Red Sox?" One notable response was "why do dogs chase cats?" What are your thoughts on this?
HF: If there is hate -- it is mutual. I think there is more coming from Boston fans spurred by runner-up finishes and second city mentality. There’s no doubt there is a lot of passion.
“You despise me, don’t you Rick?” - “If I gave it any thought I probably would." - Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart (from Casablanca)
RSN: Last October, Red Sox fans were left trying to put into context their most recent disappointment; comparing it to other heartbreaks. How did it compare from a Yankees perspective?
HF: In recent decades (except for a couple of losses in the World Series) there generally have not been epic disappointments for fans of the Yankees -- the rich get richer. As a Yankee fan I shouldn’t try to compare 2003 from a Red Sox perspective, but from a NYY perspective all triumphs are sweet.
I’ve never believed in the curse until 2003...maybe there’s something going on here we don’t quite understand. - Rudy Giuliani
RSN: Once Aaron Boone had circled the bases, did it really matter to most Yankee fans whether or not they won the World Series?
HF: It did. It might not have mattered if the tables were reversed, and the Red Sox had beaten the Yankees.
Baseball is one of those sports where you watch the early games with interest, and you watch the later ones with passion. - Ari Fleischer
RSN: George Steinbrenner has celebrated several championships as owner of the Yankees. In your opinion, have they won because of him -- or in spite of him?
HF: Both. He puts his money where his mouth is. He sometimes puts his mouth in places that it doesn't belong -- carping on players, managers, umps; other owners. But when he is under control and letting the pros on the Yankees run things -- everything is fine.
That’s B.S. That’s how a sick person thinks. - George Steinbrenner
RSN: From an impartial perspective -- if such a thing exists -- is it bad for baseball that the Yankees always come out on top of the Red Sox? Or is it actually good for the game?
HF: It was once said that rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel or General Motors. Their dominance was bad for baseball. But today, other teams (Diamondbacks, Marlins) have beaten them out and showed that they are not a baseball juggernaut. The Red Sox have to just step up. The Yankees are always hungry. They may have come out on top of the BoSox six straight years...but not on top of all of baseball.
I’d rather root for the underdog. The Yankees...ought to win every year...they buy all the great players. - Fay Vincent
RSN: Everyone is familiar with Babe Ruth being sold to the Yankees in 1920. What fewer people know is that Ted Williams almost wore pinstripes -- not once, but twice. Tell us a little about that.
HF: The first time was in 1936, when Williams was in still in high school. He was offered a contract by the Yankees, but his mother refused to sign it. Then there was the story that Boston owner Tom Yawkey got to drinking one night with a Yankee owner. One drink supposedly led to another, and the two stars were traded -- verbally. Then, as the story goes, by the next morning both owners changed their minds.
What are you trying to do Joe, steal my act? - Ted Williams
RSN: The Yankees have gotten the better of a disproportionate number of deals between the two teams over the years. For some time now it has been rare to see them trade with each other at all. Do you see that reluctance driven more by one side or the other?
HF: Not really. Elston Howard; Sparky Lyle; Wade Boggs. In the 1920s and 1930s, many went from Boston to New York -- cash was always included for the Red Sox. Nowadays, I think the teams do not trade much with each other for fear that a deal might backfire.
No other club could afford to give the amount of money the Yankees have paid for Babe Ruth. And I do not mind saying that they are taking a gamble. - Harry Frazee
RSN: There have been several strange plays, and umpires calls, over the years -- most of which have gone the Yankees way. Or is that just a Red Sox fan's perspective?
HF: Probably just a Red Sox fan's perspective.
I know I was really excited. - Chuck Knoblauch
RSN: We think we know how New England would react to the Red Sox winning the World Series. How would New York react if -- no, I'd better say "when" -- that happens?
HF: Since Yankee nation is not as obsessed with Boston as Red Sox nation is with NY -- New York would take it in stride and get ready for next year. 1918, after all, belongs to Boston -- not New York.
Everybody knows God is a Yankee fan. - Mickey McDermott