The New York Yankees are 0-8 against the Boston Red Sox in 2009. Just the statement in and of itself is quite shocking. But when put into historical context, one can see how truly unprecedented this is.
Travel back in time to the year 1912. Fenway Park was in its inaugural season, a shining example of baseball's monumental progress in the newly dawned 20th century, located in one of the game's top cities, Boston, Massachusetts. Yankee Stadium (the real one), on the other hand, was a solid 11 years from completion with New York's highest profile stadium — the pre-fire, original Polo Grounds — housing the National League's Giants while the team that would eventually become the Yankees played at one of baseball history's oddest stadiums, the cavernous and elevated Hilltop Park in Manhattan.
The Boston Red Sox were an absolute powerhouse in this era, going 105-47 in 1912 and defeating John McGraw's vaunted New York Giants in the World Series. The team featured one of the greatest outfields of all time, comprised of future Hall of Famers Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper and line drive specialist centerfielder Duffy Lewis (that hideous wall was called Duffy's Cliff before the Green Monster). In addition, the teams lights-out pitching staff was lead by 22 year old phenom "Smokey" Joe Wood, who went 34-5 that season, with a 1.91 ERA, 258 strikeouts, and a 1.015 WHIP, posting one of the greatest seasons of any starting pitcher in baseball history.
The Yankees — or Highlanders as they were then known — were the complete opposite of their future rivals. The team finished eighth in the American League with a horrendous 50-102 record. Their best player, first baseman Hal Chase, was throughout his career, regularly accused of excessive gambling, bribery, and the throwing of ball games on multiple teams (while Chase is considered one of the greatest fielding first basemen of all time, he was banned for life in 1920), and their only +.300 hitter — Birdi Cree — did not hit a single home run and collected only 22 RBIs on the season. The pitching staff — although featuring some historically solid names in Jack Quinn, Ray Fischer, Russ Ford and a young Hippo Vaughn — was equally as dismal as the offense, with Ford posting the team's best record at 13-21. Most relevant to current times, 1912 was the season that the Highlanders lost an astounding 14 straight games to the Boston Red Sox, the longest winning streak by the latter over the former, and the only such streak worse than the one the Yankees are currently facing against their hated rivals.
The interval between 1912 and 2009 between these two teams is well documented. The aforementioned Duffy Lewis (traded after the 1918 World Series) initiated an exodus of players pouring out of Boston and falling into New York's lap. In 1913 the Highlanders moved to the rebuilt Polo Grounds and officially became the Yankees. In 1920 the Yankees purchased Babe Ruth, and in 1923 the team moved into Yankee Stadium, their home for the next 85 years. Until 2009, the balance of power in this rivalry would never be the same as the Yankees racked up 26 World Series Championships to Boston's two.
But after nearly 100 years, things have changed, or should I say drastically reverted. While the Yankees were a first place team coming into the most recent series with Boston — a far cry from the fortunes of the 1912 Highlanders — the team's futility against the Red Sox is astonishing. Entering the latest three-game set in Boston atop the AL East, the Yankees leave the now antiquated Fenway two games behind the Sox in the standings and with a humiliating 0-9 head-to-head record dating back to 2008.
While their overall record may not wallow at the depths of their 1912 counterparts, the team's play in the latest Boston series undoubtedly would have stirred memories of that historically bad squad (that is, if anyone alive could remember back that far). The Yankees bumbled in the field, dropping easy fly balls (Johnny Damon) and botching grounders (A-Rod) with startling regularity. They blundered on the basepaths (Nick Swisher), and failed miserably at the plate, going 3-26 with RISP in the final two one-run loses. Manager Joe Girardi even had his own "Grady Little" moment, leaving starter CC Sabathia in Thursday's game for the eighth inning after the pitcher threw 106 pitches, allowing his count to run up to a ridiculous 123. This eventually led to his unraveling as the Red Sox took the lead for good off of the Yankees' ace, after he had been extremely sharp for the seven previous innings.
Does this series loss, and their subsequent record against the Red Sox, indicate that the Yankees are relegated to play second fiddle in the American League East all season? No. They are a miniscule two games out of first and it is only June 12. But everyone — including the players and managers involved — understands the importance in these series between the two best teams in baseball. And it is impossible to statistically quantify the psychological effects of being historically bad — in any sense — upon a team expecting to reach the World Series because of their talent level and their payroll.
Now that this series has passed, the teams will not meet again until August 6, when they play the first of 10 more times before the season comes to completion. The Yankees have plenty of time to regain their confidence and their first place position, but eventually they will have to beat the Red Sox to achieve their ultimate goal.
And whether it is some mystical hex caused by the team leaving their fabled stadium, or the tangible fact that their bullpen doesn't come close to matching the depth or efficiency of the Red Sox, this new crop of New York players will never feel like "true Yankees" until they defeat their "mortal enemies" and restore balance to this historic rivalry.