I cringed as I watched Game 5 of the World Series last night. Now, with the Red Sox only a game away from their third World Championship since the turn of the century, we are getting yet another reminder that the world has changed, and not in a way we Yankee fans like. The Yankee-Red Sox rivalry is perhaps the most intense rivalry in professional sports, and I'm a product of the years when that rivalry had a decided tilt in the Yankees' favor. I long for those days of yore. Oh, how I long for those days of yore.
The 2004 ALCS was the worst blow. I still can't bring myself to read the chapter in The Yankee Years dealing with that series. Yes, 2007 wasn't much better, but 2009 brought some degree of redemption and 2012 suggested that the natural order of the universe had been restored. This year, however, is the worst.
Now, I am reduced to taking a nostalgic look at how we Yankee fans used to lord it over our brothers and sisters to the north:
1. We could smugly point to the number of World Championships that the Yankees had won since 1918, when Boston won its last. After a while, 1918 was too easy a taunt, so we could point out that the last time the Sox won a World Series, a guy by the name of Babe Ruth was their ace, and then, the final twist of the knife: How could the Red Sox get rid of the greatest player ever for 30 pieces of silver?
2. We could rub in those magic years with improbable comebacks against the Sox: 1949, when the Yankees overtook them with a two-game sweep at the end of the season; 1978, when the Yankees overtook them from 14 games back and Bucky Dent took Mike Torrez over the Green Monster; and 2003, when Aaron Boone tattooed a knuckleball that didn't knuckle in the ALCS.
3. Even when the Red Sox won the pennant, we could get in our digs. In 1967, we could point out that the Sox would have never won the pennant without Elston Howard to handle their pitching staff. In 1986, we just had to mention Bill Buckner. ("Did you hear Buckner tried to commit suicide? Yeah, he jumped in front of a train but it went through his legs").
4. We had a coup de grace for Red Sox fans: Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens in pinstripes celebrating another Yankee World Championship (emphasis on "another"). The approach was simple, "Isn't it nice that the Yankees bring in those old Red Sox so they can finally get a ring?"
5. We firmly believed that the Yankees enjoyed some sort of supernatural manifest-destiny mojo. When Derek Jeter talked about the "ghosts" in 2003, we believed him, even the die-hard stat guys who accept nothing that can't be quantified to the fourth decimal place. Now, we simply wonder where those ghosts have gone.
6. If a Red Sox fan brought up Ted Williams, we countered with Joe DiMaggio. Even the sabermetric guys would abandon their advanced metrics for the simplest calculation of all: "Hey, DiMaggio has nine rings. How many does Ted have?"
7. In those years when the Sox were sitting home while the Yankees chased another ring, we could play question and answer. Q. What's the difference between a Yankee Stadium hot dog and a Fenway Park hot dog? A. You can buy a Yankee Stadium hot dog in October.
Now, the tables have turned. The Yankees have won two championships since 2000 and so have the Sox. They seem on the verge of winning their third. To add insult to injury, fans are now suggesting, hoping and praying that the Yankees can do what the Sox did over the last year and turn an aging, mediocre roster into a championship-caliber team. Using the Red Sox as our model is a humbling experience. I long for the good old days when I could be arrogant. Arrogance is more fun than humility.