Imagine that for the past century, both the Yankees and Red Sox had been operating their own youth academies, European-soccer style. Except, unlike Manchester United or Real Madrid, which supplement home-grown talent with foreign imports, both the Bombers and Sox could draw only from a talent pool comprised of their respective fan bases. In this scenario, which team would have had greater success?
Looking beyond the performance of the teams and at the people who support them adds a new dimension to a rivalry that has lost its edge. The turning point was the 2004 ALCS, when Boston overcame a 3-0 deficit to defeat New York en route to its first World Series victory in 85 years.
No longer a lovable band of underachievers, the Red Sox today are viewed less as a foil to the Yankees than as a successful imitator. While no team can match the Yankees’ spending, the Red Sox spend lavishly themselves and have ranked second to the Bombers in salary for seven of the last ten years. The Yankees are still US Steel, but the Red Sox are Apple.
What the feud lacks is any local grounding. Boston versus New York has always been as much about two adjacent regions as the teams themselves. Determining which region has nurtured better players is at least as good an indicator of long-term success as counting the number of championships delivered by casts of ringers to their Midwestern owners. We’ve watched Red Sox play the Yankees countless times; but we’ve never seen happens when New England takes on New York.
Setting the rules
The northeast has produced its share of transcendent baseball players, many of whom never once donned Yankee pinstripes or red stockings. Yet, compiling a 25-man roster of each region’s most deserving players is a more difficult task than it might seem. The thorniest issue involves establishing a border. Over the years, a few sportswriters have taken a stab at marking where Red Sox Nation and Yankeeland meet.
I’ve decided to adhere to this New York Times article and linked map, which traces a diagonal line across Connecticut, and follow the Vermont-New York border north to Canada. The Times map doesn’t chart the southern reaches of the Yankee’s Jersey fan base, but most people agree that the state can be bisected at Trenton, with the eight counties south of the capital in Philadelphia’s orbit.
More controversially, and to the great detriment of the New York roster, I’ve eliminated all of geographical Long Island, which includes Suffolk and Nassau counties, as well as Brooklyn and Queens. Not only did it seem egregious to include a territory that leaned first to the Dodgers and then to the Mets, but excising this populous chunk of the state helps compensate for New England’s demographic disadvantage.
The downside is that New Yorkers Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax and Joe Torre, to name just a few, will all have to watch from the stands, as will another name familiar to the rivalry, Bridgehampton’s Carl Yastrzemski.
Red Sox Nation is easier to define. Its members states are Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and central and northern Connecticut. Fixing the Nation’s borders along state lines will likely rankle many in upstate New York, which is a hotly contested area, particularly in the east. Moreover, some Connecticut-bred players are from towns located very close or even directly on the Times’ border.
This geographical inconvenience leads to my first caveat: Any player from a town or city that legitimately can be claimed by either side is ineligible. The best player who falls in this category is Jeff Bagwell, who grew up in Killingsworth, Connecticut and attended high school in Middletown, which straddles the Connecticut River, the Rio Grande of the rivalry.
Being born in Red Sox or Yankee country doesn’t automatically qualify a player for consideration. A player must have spent the bulk of his formative baseball playing years in the New England or the New York area.
Sorry, Yankee fans, but Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez, both of whom left New York City before they were old enough to pick up a bat, are out. On the other hand, Rod Carew and Manny Ramirez, two Latin American-born alums of George Washington High School in Manhattan, can suit up.
Players from the 19th century are not eligible. Each region has produced its share of Hall of Famers from that era, but, in an exercise about the fan base of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, it would seem odd if either roster included players who predated it.
Those players who split their playing career across two centuries can play, provided that the spent of majority of it in the 20th. This is good news for New England, which is able to call on the great Napoleon Lajoie, who began his career in 1896.
Because of its drastic demographic advantage, one would expect the Yankee side to win handily. Even without counting Long Island and the densely packed Queens and Brooklyn, New York state holds slightly more people—12.9 million—than all of Red Sox Nation.
When you factor in southern Connecticut and north and central New Jersey, its population edge grows by another eight million. Though not quite as stark in earlier decades, this disparity has existed throughout the 20th century.
Reviewing each side’s all-time roster, however, it becomes clear that the two teams are not that far apart. Starting with the infield, both teams boast a dazzling collection of talent, with seven Hall of Famers between them.
Pos Player Hometown Years active HOF? Career WAR C John Romano Hoboken, NJ 1958-1967 N 22.7 1B Lou Gehrig New York, NY 1930-1947 Y 118.4 2B Eddie Collins Tarrytown, NY 1906-1930 Y 126.7 SS Johnny Logan Endicott, NY 1951-1963 N 29.6 3B Frankie Frisch Bronx, NY 1919-1937 Y 74.8
Pos Player Hometown Years active HOF? Career WAR C Mickey Cochrane Charlestown, NH 1969-1993 Y 51.2 1B Stuffy McInnis Gloucester, MA 1909-1927 N 29.8 2B Nap Lajoie Woonsocket, RI 1896-1916 Y 104.2 SS Rabbit Maranville Springfield, MA 1912-1935 Y 38.2 3B Pie Traynor Somerville, MA 1920-1937 Y 37.1
Powered by Eddie Collins and Lou Gehrig, each of whom was arguably the best ever at his position, the New York infield is stronger. Still, Red Sox Nation at least proves that it belongs on the field, with better players at catcher and shortstop in Mickey Cochrane and Rabbit Maranville. However, any hope for competitiveness, at least offensively, withers once you consider the team’s respective outfields.
Pos Player Hometown Years active HOF? Career WAR OF Manny Ramirez New York, NY 1993-2011 N* 66.8 OF Rocky Colavito Bronx, NY 1955-1968 N 46.4 OF Joe Medwick Carteret, NJ 1932-1948 Y 55.8
Pos Player Hometown Years active HOF? Career WAR OF Tony Conigliaro Boston, MA 1964-1975 N 8.7 OF Shano Collins Boston, MA 1910-1925 N 8.9 OF Jimmy Barrett Athol, MA 1899-1908 N 20.7
The paucity of decent outfielders from New England presents this exercise’s first true outlier. How can a region that has generated so many transcendent ballplayers have nurtured so few decent outfielders?
Plain bad luck might be one answer. It certainly played a role in derailing the career of Tony Conigliaro, whose face was shattered by a Jack Hamilton fastball. Rhode Island-bred Rocco Baldelli is another outfielder with great promise from New England whose career was stopped in its tracks due to injury.
The New York outfield is stellar across the board and includes former Yankee-slayer Manny Ramirez. Scores of other outfielders from the region who wouldn’t stand a chance at making the roster would start for New England, from former All-Stars like B.J. Surhoff to the light-hitting Dan Pasqua.
The battle between the teams’ respective benches, which include the standard mix of position players, again favors New York, though both teams have multiple Hall of Famers to call on to pinch-hit in a big spot.
Pos Player Hometown Years active HOF? Career WAR 1B Hank Greenberg Bronx, NY 1930-1947 Y 56.8 1B/2B Rod Carew New York, NY 1967-1985 Y 79.1 C Frankie Hayes Pennington, NJ 1933-1947 N 14.2 3B Heine Groh Rochester, NY 1912-1927 N 46.4 OF Devon White New York, NY 1985-2001 N 41.3 OF Larry Doby Paterson, NJ 1947-1959 Y 47.4 OF Ken Singleton Mount Vernon, NY 1970-1984 N 40.6
Pos Player Hometown Years active HOF? Career WAR C Carlton Fisk Charlestown, NH 1969-1993 Y 67.3 3B Larry Gardner Enosburg Falls, VT 1908-1924 N 43.0 2B Davey Lopes Providence, RI 1972-1987 N 39.3 SS Dick McAuliffe Farmington, CT 1960-1975 N 35.1 3B/1B Richie Hebner Norwood, MA 1968-1985 N 35.9 OF Rocco Baldelli Woonsocket, RI 2003-2010 N 6.5 OF Johnny Barrett Lowell, MA 1942-1946 N 7.0
Boston’s lack of outfielders is made even more apparent by the inclusion on the bench of Baldelli and Johnny Barrett, two players with undistinguished careers. You can’t imagine either player stealing at-bats from Carlton Fisk or Larry Gardner, the only player from Vermont to crack the roster.
Led by Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Rod Carew, New York’s bench has virtually no weak spot. Without a need for another bat, the speedy Devon White, one of the games’ premier fielders in his day, makes more sense as the 25th man than a superior hitter like Andy Van Slyke (New Hartford, NY), Bobby Thomson (Staten Island, NY) or Mo Vaughn (Norwalk, CT).
While New York has the decisive edge on offense, the pitching matchup is more competitive. To maintain a semblance of verisimilitude, I’ve given each roster two “pure” relievers, confident that at least a few of the starters listed would be able to make a transition to relief.
Pos Player Hometown Years active HOF? Career WAR SP Warren Spahn Buffalo, NY 1942-1965 Y 93.4 SP Don Newcombe Madison, NJ 1949-1960 N 29.7 SP Sal Maglie Niagara Falls, NY 1945-1958 N 32.6 SP Eddie Lopat New York, NY 1944-1955 N 31.9 SP Johnny Antonelli Rochester, NY 1948-1961 N 32.0 SP Al Leiter Toms River, NJ 1987-2005 N 38.8 SP John Candelaria New York, NY 1975-1993 N 37.8 SP Bill Hands Rutherford, NJ 1965-1975 N 31.8 RP Joe Nathan Pine Bush, NY 1999-present N* 21.8 RP Bob Stanley Kearney, NJ 1977-1989 N 21.5
Pos Player Hometown Years active HOF? Career WAR SP Tom Glavine Bellerica, MA 1987-2008 N* 67.0 SP Wilbur Wood Belmont, MA 1961-1978 N 45.0 SP Jack Chesbro North Adams,MA 1899-1909 Y 33.2 SP Wild Bill Donovan Lawrence, MA 1898-1918 N 34.8 SP Chris Carpenter Raymond, NH 1997-present N* 30.7 SP Vic Raschi Springfield, MA 1946-1955 N 21.4 SP Dick Donovan Boston, MA 1950-1965 N 20.1 SP Mike Flanagan Manchester, NY 1975-1992 N 23.9 RP Jeff Reardon Dalton, MA 1979-1994 N 20.3 RP Steve Bedrosian Methuen, MA 1981-1995 N 16.4
One of games’ all-time greats, Buffalo’s Warren Spahn is the best pitcher in the contest. After the Buffalo-bred southpaw, the dropoff is quite steep; not a single one of Spahn’s New York rotation mates accrued even half of his career win shares.
On the other hand, the New England staff is far more balanced. While Tom Glavine likely would struggle to match Spahn in the first game of a hypothetical seven-game series, Wilbur Wood, Jack Chesbro and Wild Bill Donovan would give New England a fair shot in the next three.
Before he moved to New Jersey, reliever Bob Stanley was born in Red Sox Nation, where his name lives on in ignominy for his role in Boston’s collapse in the 1986 World Series. What’s forgotten is that he actually put together a decent career.
Contemporaries Steve Bedrosian and Jeff Reardon form a stellar back-end of the bullpen for New England, though one imagines that when his career is over, New Hampshire native Brian Wilson will be able to make a compelling case for a spot.
In a game with Hall of Fame talent—and egos to match—having a manager with steely nerves is paramount. Without the benefit of an objective metric, it’s more difficult to declare an edge in the managerial category, and New York and New England each can lay a claim to raising the game’s best-ever manager.
Manager Hometown Years active HOF? John McGraw Truxton, NY 1899-1932 Y
Manager Hometown Years active HOF? Connie Mack East Brookfield, MA 1894-1894, 1901-1950 Y
Massachusetts native Connie Mack, who managed more games than anyone else in baseball history, is an easy choice for New England. Joe Torre would be the sentimental pick for New York, but his Brooklyn upbringing eliminates him from consideration. John McGraw is hardly a slouch, however, and, one could easily see him forging a good relationship with the mercurial Ramirez, just as Torre did in Los Angeles.
While New England’s pitching would make it a close content, it is safe to say that the fan base of the New York Yankees would field a better overall team. This does not mean, however, that New York is more fertile soil for talent. On a per capita basis, New England’s ability to breed baseball players is at least equal to that of New York. And in this way, the contest reflects real life. The Red Sox do more with less, but the Yankees are still the Yankees.
References & Resources
Career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) values are from Baseball Reference.