by DANTE EVANS
The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees renewed their long and illustrious rivalry this weekend. The series started off with an epic 19-inning duel on Friday night, a game that lasted 6 hours and 49 minutes. It is the longest game between the two teams since 1967. Though that game was very exciting and an epic way to start off the 2015 chapter of this storybook rivalry, recent years have lacked the viewership and excitement that it had just 12 years ago.
The most memorable games of this rivalry came during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Both years produced games for the ages.
According to USA Today, the 11-inning 2003 ALCS Game 7 between Boston and New York was the most watched LCS game since Game 7 of the NLCS between the Braves and the Pirates in 1991 with over 27.5 million viewers. Lou D’Ermilio, Fox Sports senior vice president at the time said, “the Red Sox-Yankees series certainly didn’t disappoint. The numbers we’ve seen this postseason have been super.”
The series also captured one of the most bizarre brawls in series history when the Yankees’ pitching coach at the time, 72-year-old Don Zimmer and former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez got into an altercation in which Martinez slung Zimmer to ground. This would be the prelude to this rivalry’s boiling point.
2004 proved to be the fever pitch year in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. Early on during that season, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek battled in a brawl over a ball thrown high at Rodriguez’s head. It was the moment which sparked the Red Sox to go 40-15 over their last 55 games in order to clinch the AL Wild Card spot. A battle royale in the postseason against the Yankees had fans across the nation salivating for the drama which was about to ensue.
The 2004 ALCS was historic in many aspects since it was the first time a team that trailed 3-0 would advance to win the series. It was also the most watched ALCS in postseason history, blowing the 2003 ALCS record out the door. According to the New York Times, Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS had a 19.4 Nielsen rating, which was a 13 percent leap over the same matchup in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Each 1.0 rating represents about 1.08 million viewers.
The game also broke Boston regional viewing records over the Patriots’ two Super Bowl wins. The rating was over 56.5, meaning that more than half of Boston’s TV homes were watching the baseball game, a crazy statistic that is almost unheard of. It was the highest rated ALCS game since the 1986 matchup between the Red Sox and the California Angels, according to ESPN.
Boston and New York had spurts of highly watched games in the years following 2004, but nothing has come close to matching those games in ’03 and ’04. According to MLB.com, the rivalry set the record for games broadcast on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball in 2011 with over 4.72 million people watching. The two teams also set and broke records for a Fox non-primetime telecast in 2011, with over 4 million people watching.
In recent years, with the teams not competing in the postseason as often or making it very far, the rivalry has seen a major decline in viewership. Matchups between the two teams last season brought in an average 2.3 rating, which was down eight percent from each of the two previous years, according to Awful Announcing’s Joe Lucia.
Justin Lucas, a native of Foxborough, Massachusetts and die-hard Red Sox fan, described the rivalry saying “(it) died a little bit when Manny, Varitek, and others left. They were around when those fights were happening and the rivalry was intense. The rivalry between New York and Boston is still there and always will be, it just isn’t the same though.”
The feelings are quite mutual on the other side of the rivalry. Sam Friedman, a native New Yorker and huge Yankees supporter said “I hated the Red Sox when they had Martinez and Oritz together but now since they are gone I don’t hate them the same way that I used to.” Daniel Chavkin, another New York native said “the rivalry is the not the same as it was when the Red Sox and the Yankees were the two best teams in the league.”
The years have passed, the cities and fans have stayed, but the game has changed. The passion among players and fans pales in comparison to what it was like during the mid-2000s. Even though it is still the most intense and in many people’s opinions the greatest rivalry in all of Major League Baseball, it is not the same rivalry that is was 12 years ago.