This weekend was the first installment of the MLB rivalry that has often been crowned “the greatest rivalry in sports,” Yankees vs. Red Sox.
We remember the curse of the Bambino.
We remember the breaking of the curse coming down from 3-0 in October.
We remember Alex Rodriguez getting punched in the face by Jason Varitek.
We remember every single time ESPN has shoved the large market franchises down our throats in every national broadcast of Sunday Night Baseball.
It is inescapable.
It’s assumed that even if the teams have been on the opposite side of success and expectations or if the players genuinely don’t really garner much hatred towards the other that it’s the best rivalry in baseball due to the historical significance, the geographical and cultural divide, and the uniforms they put on. This weekend, likely much to the chagrin of the league offices trying to pump up the rivalry, Yankees’ pitcher Nestor Cortes quickly downplayed the feud, saying, “It doesn’t feel like what we have with Tampa now, or with Toronto now… you could argue that the Red Sox haven’t been who they really are the last few years.”
And that may be true- the Yankees and Red Sox success timelines have been up and down, with the Sox fluctuating when they’ve lost Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts and are currently last in the AL East, whereas there have been hard-fought battles between the Yanks and their other division rivalries throughout them trying to dethrone the prestigious Bronx Bombers. Ironically, the Sox just took 2 of 3 from the Yanks in the Bronx, so the Boston media will certainly not bring that up to Nestor this week or the next time they face off.
It happens in all sports; rivalries are often temporary depending upon the individuals wearing the jerseys, the interaction between them (which is much different now in the age of social media), and the longevity of the beefs fluctuate. When LeBron was on the Cleveland Cavaliers, and we got Warriors vs. Cavaliers for the fourth year in a row, it suddenly went from two teams on the opposite side of the country with no animosity towards one another to one of the greatest temporary rivalries in the sport; now they’re back to probably not caring about one another and playing in a different conference. It’s the circle of sports.
There are so often lists deeming the best rivalries in sports just because we’ve grown up around it for so long, but we need to adjust with the times and take a look in the mirror. There are some teams whose hatred towards one another is far more entertaining. Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge, the premier faces of the Yankees and the Dodgers, probably should hate each other, according to your old-man traditionalist baseball observer. Still, in this day and age, they’re friends appearing on one another’s podcasts. That’s fine, there will be hatred in other capacities, but we can’t falsely pit them against one another just because of their laundry having some history.
In this current state of baseball, let’s divide the categories of rivalries and evaluate the state of the matchups and hatred around the league, taking into account the personalities, the historical, geographical, and cultural significance, along with the competitiveness going forward as it stands.
CATEGORY 1: The “Meet me in the parking lot” Category Examples:
Rays vs. Yankees
Braves vs. Mets
Dodgers vs. Padres
This is the tier where the games feel bigger than baseball; a June series feels like an October series to the players, the fans, and the managers. The electricity in the ballpark is quite different, and even to the casual fans with no stakes, it’s appointment television because there’s going to be chirping back-and-forth between the dugouts, possible pitches were thrown at someone, and there’s certainly going to be a soundbite from someone afterward.
Rays vs. Yankees
The Yankees and Rays, the rivalry Nestor claims has passed up the Red Sox, has been not only one of the most competitive division rivalries in recent history dating back to the iconic Evan Longoria homer but the entire contrast of organizations. You have the hoity-toity Yankees, the most valuable franchise in sports that has the cream of the crop facilities and payroll to where they can afford to go out and get the high-dollar free agents at a whim’s notice, going blow-for-blow with the Rays, who play in an absolute tin-can of a ballpark at the Trop where the organization prides itself in not spending money and going completely analytic and computer-nerd to get wins. Eat it, star-power.
Over the last 5 years, they’re separated by ONE GAME, with the Rays leading 47-46, and you know that eats at the Yankees with the separation in spending. We’ve seen bean ball and chirping all the way back to CC Sabathia, we’ve had postseason matchups, and it’s got everything in the contrast of style that makes baseball special.
Braves vs. Mets
Similarly to the clash of styles, the Braves and Mets embody that differentiation in team-building as well that lights a fire in the players (at least in Atlanta’s, given their recent records). You’ve got the Mets and Steve Cohen spending the most money possible on their free agents now that they have an owner with all the money in the world facing off against the Braves, the team down south that develops talent, and then, when they like a player on their team a la Ronald Acuna, Austin Riley, Spencer Strider, Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris II, they just extend them for the next decade to keep them in the same uniform to establish that loyalty from the beginning.
The Braves and Mets KNOW that these games mean more. The Mets had the NL East in the bag last year, but a Braves run that included a sweep in the final game of the series let the Braves swipe it from them, and those games felt like genuine World Series environments where the tickets were just as difficult to get your hands on.
However, dating back to last year, the Mets are 2-11 facing off against the Braves; it’s almost as if that motivation at coming at a team with such a large payroll allows the Braves a chip on their shoulder. This year, in the most recent sweep, there was a viral clip of Pete Alonso yelling, “Throw it again!” after he knocked in an RBI, which then led to a Braves comeback where the entire Atlanta staff was chirping back with that same quote and putting it on t-shirt’s available for sale online. The division animosity is there, but the Braves have been the ones to embrace the spotlight thus far.
Dodgers vs. Padres
The Dodgers and Padres have been one of the most one-sided affairs over the past few seasons as San Diego have emptied their wallets to take aim at the one franchise that’s owned the NL West for the last decade, but they did have that one moment of shine last season in the NLDS where the little brother Friars finally proved they could put up some valuable wins by eliminating the LA powerhouse 3-1.
The San Diego-LA rivalry has not only been a clash of markets, the Dodgers being the iconic team with all the history, whereas San Diego has NO history of winning and is just now spending their way into relevance, but it’s also a cultural and geographical clash that runs deep- the people of San Diego are the forgotten town that believes it’s actually better than the city of Angels that gets the glitz and the glam and even steals your sports teams (sorry, San Diego Chargers fans of old). They have a reason to want to be reckoned with, just as the Padres are taking aim at the Dodgers in an attempt to gain that respect. The Dodgers used not to care, but now that they’re putting photoshops of Clayton Kershaw crying on their jumbotrons and prancing around the field any time they have any sort of success at all against them, their response has been, “Oh, so that’s how it’s gonna be, little brother?” as Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman calmly clobber the Padres’ pitching staff.
The Dodgers are 20-9 against the Padres dating back to last season as San Diego is so eager to place themselves as another California team on the map with their star power and fight their way into relevance amidst the Giants’ and Dodgers’ consistent success, and because it’s more important to the Padres, the Dodgers are cognizant that they’ve had venom spat in their face, and they’ll simply just always be prepared for them when they normally would not even bat an eye.
CATEGORY 2: The “What we had was special” Category Examples:
Giants vs. A’s
Cubs vs. White Sox
Dodgers vs. Giants
These are the types of rivalries that your old neighbor or the casual baseball observer will immediately think of when thinking about the historic “these games just mean more!” matchups due to the division or geographical animosity, but they just might not have the juice as its stands. There needs to be more to it than just the laundry and the history- we need headlines. The league is truly exciting when these iconic matchups live up to the billing, and we’re rooting for that for entertainment purposes. Still, we can’t pretend that there’s more bitterness or reasons to tune in merely because of it.
Giants vs. A’s
The Giants and A’s, the Bay Bridge series, is iconic in that it divides the city into two factions that resonate with your identity if you grew up there (and features incredible uniform matchups, and who could forget the 1989 Earthquake World Series). However, despite the interleague matchups now becoming a regular occurrence, the Oakland fans have greater things on their mind than the vitriol of their neighbors, like the possibility of the third Oakland franchise being uprooted from them once again, ownership that is being protested for how poorly the roster, the franchise, and the fans have been treated and is on pace for one of the worst records in MLB history.
Cubs vs. White Sox
Cubs and White Sox is one that’s lost the juice over the past several years aside from within the city because it feels as if the franchises alternate having winning seasons to make it a one-sided affair in expectations, and gone are the days of AJ Pierzynski, and Ozzie Guillen brawling with the Cubs. This year both are in the dreadful spots of being near the bottom of the division and trying to stay afloat as ownership might tear down these teams in the midst of transition and drama off the field.
However, with the new reality of interleague making this a yearly occurrence and some of the fiery personalities like Marcus Stroman and Dansby Swanson on one side and Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez on the other, it would be fantastic Gladiator-esque for these teams to be playing meaningful games against one another in the future if they rebuild and keep some of their key players.
Dodgers vs. Giants
The Dodgers and Giants are in the realm of transition because it feels like they simply don’t have personalities that care as much as they used to, despite both of their successes. You’ve got Mookie Betts toning down the rivalry, saying Yankees-Red Sox is superior, you no longer have Madison Bumgarner getting chirped at by Max Muncy to “go get the ball out of the ocean,” and they simply play two different styles of ball games- the Dodgers have the star power of Betts, Freeman, and Kershaw, whereas the Giants simply have a ton of veteran players that have their mistakes minimized, that aren’t necessarily “must-see TV,” and everyone knows their role, and they somehow manage to find a way to continue to be in NL Wild Card contention as a pesky team. Joc Pederson has a bit of venom in that the Dodgers were the former team that bailed on him, but Logan Webb might be the only guy the Giants have that you go out of your way to seek out.
It’s also just getting a bit downplayed with how open-ended the Padres have been going at the Dodgers in place of the Giants.
Matchups and personalities make fights. It’s what makes the game so interesting over the 162-game stretch.
And who knows? Now that everyone plays everyone this year, more hatred and bloodshed could occur, which creates a new feud that we wouldn’t have even thought of until then.