Sports rivalries are a wonderful thing. They stimulate excellence on the field, the court, the ring, the links, whatever the place of competition. They generate attention from even the most casual observer of the sport and the activities of its players. Who didn’t tune in to watch the Soviets play the Americans in hockey during the Olympics; not only was it a great rivalry on the ice it also held enormous geopolitical resonance. Who doesn’t care about the Michigan/Ohio State football game?
I just finished reading Rivals! The Ten Greatest American Sports Rivalries of the Twentieth Century (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), by Richard O. Davies and it got me to thinking about rivalries in major league baseball. The book is enjoyable, and it includes two MLB rivalries: the Dodgers/Giants and the Yankees/Red Sox. The other rivalries included Yale/Harvard, Bears/Packers, and Michigan/Ohio State in football; Duke/North Carolina in college basketball; Lakers/Celtics in professional basketball; and the three individual rivalries of Jack Nicklaus/Arnold Palmer in golf, Joe Frazier/Mohammed Ali in boxing, and Chris Evert/Martina Navratilova in tennis.
These two baseball rivalries are fine as far as they go and I suspect that they would be on everyone’s top ten list. But it prompted me to think further about it. In no particular order, here are my top ten MLB rivalies over the course of professional baseball. Some you will agree with, others probably not so much. Let me know what you think.
- New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox: This is a natural, the two teams have competed, each with their own diehard fans since the first part of the twentieth century. One became the dominant team in the American League and at least until recently the other was the lovable bunch that came close often enough to keep their fans always anxious for next year. Really bad blood exists between them. Bucky Dent will forever have a “bleep” as his middle name.
- New York/San Francisco Giants vs. Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers: Another natural with a history of tough head to head competition and a lot of bad blood. Juan Marichal beating John Roseboro in the head with a bat in a 1965 game was the most violent incident in the rivalry but there were still probably few Dodger fans who cheered the Giants in 2010 as they won their first World Series since 1954.
- Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals: There have been a lot of one-two finishes in the division where both of these teams play, with the Cards usually getting the better of it. But even if both teams are lousy, the intensity of the rivalry shows through at their games.
- New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves: This rivalry, always present since the birth of the Mets, really took off when the Braves rose to dominance in the NL East in the early 1990s. Lots of nastiness on the field, but nothing compared to what took place in the stands. I was once in the middle of a fight at Shea Stadium between Mets fans and some Braves afficionados. I had beer spilled on me, but otherwise escaped untouched.
- Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Mets: Like the Braves, the Phillies and the Mets have also squared off on some titanic struggles. Looks like more is in store as the ”four horsemen of the strikeout”–Halliday, Hamels, Lee, and Oswalt–seem destined to dominate the NL East in 2011, much to the chagrin of the Mets.
- New York Yankees vs. Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers: These two teams have met 11 times in the World Series, more times than any other pair of teams, with the Yankees taking all but three of those matchups. I look forward to another World Series between them, but who knows when.
- Chicago White Sox vs. Cleveland Indians: These teams have usually not been all that good, but in the 1940s and 1950s and then again recently they have battled each other mightily.
- Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Baltimore Orioles: There is not much of a rivalry today, but these two teams were just about the best in baseball in the 1970s and they played two memorable World Series in 1971 and 1979. I had a hard time deciding who to root for; they were both such inviting teams.
- Oakland As vs. the rest of MLB: It’s hard to see it now since the A’s are not the team of old, but the A’s of the early 1970s and the late 1980s-early 1990s were hated. They had great players, some of whom were just plain ornery, and most of the time they not only won but dominated the other team.
- Bad News Bears vs. Yankees: Yes, I know it’s not the MLB, but its still a good rivalry and in something as subjective as this list, why not. Besides, maybe Engelberg made it to the MLB under an assumed name.
This has been a fun list to compile. I hope you enjoyed it. What are your favorite rivalries?