Editorial: A rivalry regains its fire

  • Giancarlo Stanton answers questions during a press conference at the Major League Baseball winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., on Monday. AP

Friday, December 15, 2017

Bucky Dent was born with the middle name Earl. Red Sox fans gave him a new one when the light-hitting Yankee shortstop hit a go-ahead home run in the 1978 American League East division tie-breaker game. We can’t repeat that middle name because this is a family newspaper, but there was an “uck” and an “ing” and it was perfect – still is. So perfect, in fact, that distraught fans would later bestow it on former Yankee infielder (and new Yankee manager) Aaron Boone in 2003, when he hit a game-winning homer against the Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

Good times – and we mean that.

Did those moments hurt at the time? Absolutely. Do the memories sting, even after three Red Sox World Series championships since 2004? Indeed. But never is it more fun to be a baseball fan than when the Sox-Yankees rivalry burns hot.

So here we are in the middle of December, and a cold December at that, and guess what? The temperature is rising.

Last season, Boston (93-69) and New York (91-71) were pretty evenly matched. The Yankees won 11 of 19 games against the Sox during the regular season, and both teams made the playoffs. Most years, that parity would be more than enough to turn the rivalry into an inferno, but there was one big problem: There were just too many likeable players in the mix.

It’s difficult to get Sox fans riled up when you mention right fielder Aaron Judge’s eye-popping rookie season, during which he hit 52 home runs. The fact is, he seems like a nice, modest guy – a true gentle giant. And how many Yankee fans possess a seething hatred for Red Sox star outfielder Mookie Betts, whose two main hobbies appear to be bowling and smiling?

All of this ghastly mutual respect pointed toward the rivalry being another season-long yawner next year, but then something terrible – and wonderful – happened on Dec. 11. Hated (but grudgingly respected) Derek Jeter, now the CEO of the Miami Marlins, traded monster power hitter Giancarlo Stanton to (who else?) his beloved New York Yankees. And what king’s ransom did Jeter extract from the Steinbrenner boys? Ho-hum infielder Starlin Castro, who just happens to play the same position as the Yankees’ top minor-league prospect Gleyber Torres, and prospects Jorge Guzman (who?) and Jose Devers (double who?). Sure, the no-trade clause in Stanton’s contract gave him the leverage to pick his next team, but do you think that little fact will keep Sox fans from proclaiming that the trade was Jeter’s $300 million gift to his old team? No. No it will not.

We are not saying that catchers Christian Vazquez and Gary Sanchez will start trading blows the way Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson used to. Nor do we predict Sox ace Chris Sale will throw new Yankee bench coach Josh Bard to the ground a la Pedro Martinez vs. Don Zimmer, circa 2003. But in trading for Stanton, a guy who would have looked awfully good with a “B” on his cap, the Yankees have firmly re-established themselves as the Evil Empire.

They are hateable again – and it’s glorious.