Almost everything we do, or feel, or think about something, has a root from which it grew. That would seemingly be a part of human nature, for the most part, and I like to think that sports and fandom are extensions of a lot of those things in our nature. Consider our desire to be a part of a pack, or to compete against rivals. Sports rivalries always have their origin stories, too, and the New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians are no exception.
A new documentary from “30 for 30” alum Andy Billman, titled “War on the Diamond,” explores the exact origins of this storied and long-lasting rivalry. More specifically, it delves into the differences between these two franchises, the cities they play in, and how a tragic hit-by-pitch set in motion a now century-long rivalry.
Early in the documentary, Tony Rizzo (no relation) remarked that New York was the “haves” and Cleveland was the “have-nots.” And this is reflective of the sentiment from both sides. The Yankees with their evil empire aura, in the biggest city in the country, and Cleveland with their persistent underdog mentality. It may be a somewhat one-sided rivalry overall, but a lot of the Yankees most memorable and significant moments recently have come as a part of this rivalry.
Think of the midges and Joba Chamberlain in 2007, or the 2017 ALDS with Francisco Lindor’s grand slam, and Game 3’s Greg Bird homer off Andrew Miller (which I had the glorious pleasure of witnessing in person). This is a storied matchup, one that continued through this year’s postseason.
“War on the Diamond” jumps around to different time periods throughout this rivalry’s history. From the Yankees’ playoff matchups with the star-studded Cleveland clubs of the mid-90s, to the juxtaposing superstars the franchises had in Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio. It also looked at Ohio’s own George Steinbrenner, his attempt at buying the Cleveland franchise, and of course his eventual success with the Yankees.
Most importantly, however, we get a glimpse into how this rivalry truly seemed to begin. During an August game in 1920, Yankees pitcher Carl Mays hit Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman in the head with a pitch. It fractured his skull, and Chapman unfortunately passed away in the hospital as a result. Cleveland’s star shortstop was well-liked by teammates and in his community, and Mays could not have been more different. Born in the same year, the ill-fated players and their vastly different standing in the community made it even more probable for a situation like this to leave a poor taste in the mouths of fans
The cold and occasionally violent Mays showed a concerning lack of remorse for the incident, even if it was unintentional. Combining this with a fan-favorite Chapman being on the unfortunate end of the tragedy, made the rivaling mindsets between the fans, teams, and cities all the more intense.
The best rivalries in sports, and particularly baseball, feel like they’ve been around for as long as the game itself. They are essential to the narratives we follow so closely. Despite this, tracking down how exactly these rivalries started can be difficult at times.
Throughout this century-long rivalry, we get to see the points of interest in the often one-sided rivalry. As well has how they’ve built up to bring us to present day.
“War on the Diamond” does a solid job of laying out the history between the Yankees and Guardians, a history I was admittedly not fully aware of. It paints a fuller picture of the differing experiences each of the franchises have had, how the cities they play in can often reflect those experiences, and why it’s still of a matchup of interest.
As of today, “War on the Diamond” is available on iTunes/Apple, Amazon, Google, Vudu, YouTube, Microsoft, and cable and satellite VOD platforms everywhere. The iTunes presale link is also accessible here.