When upset at me, my dad likes to begin every sentence with “Back in the 70’s…” Back in the 70’s, he was buying his own groceries at 16 years old. Back in the 70’s, he was working a full time job before he was 18. Back in the 70’s, he had moved out and was completely supporting himself at 19 years old. But in between insulting allegories hurled at my alleged laziness and complacency, he always brings up one “Back in the 70’s” quote that I actually don’t fight him on. Back in the 70’s, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry used to be filled with vicious fistfights and exciting moments. Back in the 70’s, Red Sox-Yankees used to mean something.
Even though they’re more played out and played to death on the YES Network than “Call Me Maybe” is on the radio, my dad will always watch old clips of Bucky Dent’s home run and Thurman Munson going Manny Pacquiao on Carlton Fisk with the giddiness of a child. Before Red Sox-Yankees games today, my dad will always reminisce on how much the two clubs absolutely despised each other and how often they came to blows, both verbal and physical. Even fans got in on the action, as Chris Chambliss was famously hit in the arm by a dart thrown by a BoSox fan in 1974. Back in the 70’s, the rivalry between Boston and New York could be classified with two words: pure hatred. They wanted to beat each other so bad, and not just in the run column. So what changed? It’s hard to say. But I have a theory, and it can be traced back to the formative days of a player’s career.
Back in the 70’s, players were gritty and grimy at heart, though not in a bad way. More times than not, they built their game from the ground up on their own. Nothing was given to them, they had to earn it and prove that they deserve everything they have. Players honed their skills growing up by trying to smash a beat up old waffle ball with a tree limb for a bat, all while ducking traffic in the street. Kids from the country would create their field around four perfectly situated rocks and stumps, which served as bases. They would play through the mosquitoes and bruises from sliding head first into those rocky bases until it was too dark to see, and even then, they would play for 30 minutes longer to get one more at bat or to make one more play in the field. And every kid they played against, from the first grade up until senior year of high school, was just as educated in the school of hard knocks as they were. The insatiable thirst for victory and dominance was installed in these players many years before they ever took the field at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Their grit and passion wouldn’t allow them to like any other player, especially ones from a rival city. The brawls between the Sox and Yanks weren’t about baseball, they were about proving who the toughest player on the field is, and that attitude is sorely missed today.
You don’t even need to look at current major league rosters to see that the old school attitude is dead and gone, it’s evident right at your local little league field. Nowadays, children are groomed seemingly right out of the womb to become professional athletes. They have nothing to earn or learn on their own, the hard way. From as early as four or five years old, kids are given the best equipment and the best lessons down at the neighborhood batting cage. They play baseball year round once they are nine or ten years old, constantly being coached the mechanics of a 6-4-3 double play instead of how to run over a catcher on a play at the plate or how to break up a double play with a take-out slide at second base. Until they graduate high school, every baseball related move these kids make has been methodically chosen by their parents or coaches. They learn how to play like finely tuned athletes, not ballplayers. With colleges dipping their feet into coddling players now, they carry that entitled mentality with them to the majors, where they will launch 40 home runs or compile 18 wins on their way to a massive pay day. Why fight for anything, when it will be given to you? That is a complete 180 from the mentality back in the 70’s, when players literally fought tooth and nail with each other to prove their worth. Not to insult players like Derek Jeter or Jon Lester, but their upbringings are completely different than the ones of Lou Pinella or Fisk and I believe that that is brutally evident on the field. I’ve seen this “modern” style of baseball education in my own family even, and while it very well may produce a successful baseball player, Thurman Munson reincarnated he will not be.
Sure, in the recent years of the rivalry, there has been many dramatic moments. You may be reading this and thinking “Hey! There was Joba Chamberlain “throwing” at Kevin Youkilis’ head, the Alex Rodriguez-Jason Varitek scuffle and the infamous Don Zimmer Incident Of 2003.” All wild moments for sure, but upon closer inspection, the perpetrators of these events are all part of a dying breed, the same breed that gave us the elder Yankees and Red Sox back in the 70’s. Chamberlain, Youkilis, Varitek, and especially Zimmer, can all be classified as gritty players. Players who go out there and earn their respect with every pitch or swing of the bat. Zim and the rest of that group are some of the most disliked but respected people in the game, who take pride in their craft. Look at Youkilis. He has a miserable first few months with the Red Sox and everyone thinks he’s washed up, a shell of himself. He gets traded to the White Sox and eggs have covered many a face since. Chamberlain suffers a devastating injury that jeopardizes his career, and he’ll be donning the pinstripes once again in a week. These guys are prime examples of why baseball used to be great back in the 70’s. Today, players like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are legendary figures before they even step foot on a major league field and they don’t have to earn a damn ounce of respect because they already have it.
Kids growing up are jaded by the thought of massive contracts, a thought that resounds through their brain as they take private hitting lessons from former minor league stars at the prestigious sports education center. After the mother pays the $100 a lesson fee, she’ll tell her son how good he is and how he’s going to be a major league star one day. And when that kid signs that $150 million contract with either the Yankees or the Red Sox, there will be nothing left to prove, especially to that opposing pitcher who’s making just as much money and who had the exact same upbringing as he did.
The days of a Yankee sliding into third base and punching the Red Sox player before the dust settles are long gone. I’m tired of seeing Robinson Cano and David Ortiz hanging out all smiles. Sick of seeing Mark Teixeira slap Dustin Pedroia’s butt at first base after working a walk. The fire is gone, so I guess all we have to look forward to is the dad of our million dollar man pitching to their million dollar man in the home run derby. Let’s hope that never happens. Oh wait…
Can we go back to the 70’s?