Stories behind Yankees-Red Sox rivalry: From Babe to curse breakers

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Tensions between the teams began to simmer right from the beginning.

The first game pairing American League representatives of Boston and New York took place on May 7, 1903, at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds, a relatively uneventful 6-2 Boston victory. There was already an underlying friction between the franchises, given that the Highlanders had spent the previous two seasons as the Baltimore Orioles, and Baltimore had long been Boston’s most bitter municipal enemy on baseball diamonds.

The next day, though, the paying customers at the Grounds received the first hint that a fresher, fiercer feud had officially arrived, the moment New York’s Dave Fultz barreled into Boston’s George Winter at first base. The vicious collision knocked Winter senseless, and it was only after Fultz began barking at him to pitch or quit that the Boston pitcher resumed throwing, ultimately taking the loss in a 6-1 New York victory.

In those heartier times, there was little chance of a bench-clearing brawl leaking onto the field, but the first blood of this rivalry had officially been spilled.

And then …
Years later, an old friend and teammate named Jumpin’ Joe Dugan would have this to say about George Herman (Babe) Ruth:

“That big SOB could never have played his whole career in Boston. He was born to play in New York. That swing, that ambition, that appetite? There was just no way a small town like Boston could contain him. What town could? Maybe Chicago. Maybe. No, the Babe was built for Broadway, for the big time. There was only one place for him.”

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By 1919, Ruth had started to rankle his boss, Harry Frazee, squawking about his salary. Frazee, an old-school theater impresario, didn’t take him seriously, even after Ruth threatened to retire. How many prima donna actors had pulled similar empty threats on him through the years? The play is always bigger than the player.

“If Ruth doesn’t want to work for the Red Sox,” Frazee vowed, “we can make an advantageous trade.”

Soon, though, as he looked at his books, he noticed something else: for all of Ruth’s mass appeal, Boston’s attendance lagged and in 1919 the defending champs went a flat 66-71. “The Red Sox,” Frazee said flatly, “are not, and never will be, a one-man team.”

On January 5, 1920, the Red Sox and Yankees made a joint announcement. “We offered $100,000 for Ruth some time ago and were turned down,” Ruppert admitted. “The purchase is in line with our policy of giving New York a pennant-winning team in the American League.”

Said Frazee: “It would have been an injustice to keep him with the Red Sox. We would have become a one-man team.”

One old Yankee rejoices ….
He’d been asleep for only a second or two. Clocks up and down the East Coast had just clicked to 12:15 a.m. on this morning of Oct. 17, 2003, including the digital Armitron chronometer that dominated the centerfield scoreboard at Yankee Stadium, right above where the most important numbers were posted: Red Sox 5, Yankees 5, bottom of the 11th inning, seventh and deciding game of the ALCS.

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