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Red Sox vs. Yankees


American audiences are thrilled by rivalries. From Michigan vs. Ohio State to Lohan vs. Duff, we cannot get enough of these mano a mano contests, whether they are waged on the field or in the press. Inevitably, however, such drama becomes forced. A downturn in talent occurs, another, hotter celebrity feud comes on the radar, and, while true fans remain loyal to whatever side they once cheered, the rest of the nation wearies of the repetitive storyline. Neither people nor teams can remain consistently interesting over an extended period of time.

This is becoming increasingly evident in the Red Sox/Yankees opposition. After playing an unbeatable seven game series in 2003, and then somehow topping it the next year as the Red Sox pulled off the Greatest Comeback of All Time, the 2005 season seemed as a dull afterthought. While both teams made the playoffs, they were unceremoniously bounced by their first round opponents (the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins, respectively), denying fans the opportunity to see a third straight epic postseason.

After a long winter of bluster and posturing by each organization’s front office, the 2006 season finally arrived. Largely because of the two biggest payrolls in the game, 40 games into the current season, Boston and New York again sit one-two in the American League East. But the luster of their competition has faded. A recent three-game set in Yankee Stadium provided none of the incredible tension that electrified games in the past. The New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies are the new 19-year-old pop stars.

So why did Major League productions choose now to release Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry? Given the plethora of videos depicting the teams’ battles during the past few years (including, but not limited to Still We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie and Faith Rewarded: The Historic Season of the 2004 Boston Red Sox), it’s hard to explain the release of yet another movie illustrating drama. Even worse, a DVD released in 2006 must include highlights from the disappointing 2005 campaign. Since that season produced little in the way of riveting excitement, the movie has nothing new to examine. It comes off as little more than an ill-conceived plan to exploit our collective love of a suddenly downtrodden rivalry for monetary gain.

Starting with the infamous Babe Ruth trade, Red Sox vs. Yankees attempts to chronicle 90-plus years of the “rivalry.” But as much as it’s remembered as a contest, it was, in its first stages, more an old-fashioned beat-down; the Yankees were always the dominant team. The program provides footage from three different decades: the ’20s (because of the Babe), the ’40s (with Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio), and the ’70s (when the teams participated in a few memorable brawls), yet every time the Yankees won championships, while the Sox finished second.

The Sox’s amazing comeback in 2004 changed this dynamic between, turning it into a genuine competition. But the nation only came to understand this new reality throughout that post-Series winter, as the media forced it down our throats, ad nauseam. By spring training, a fan with even a passing interest in the game owned was tired of the storyline. We knew the playing field was level. It’s impossible to feel the documentary isn’t two years too late.

What the producers lack in new drama, they seek to make up in gimmicks not already assembled for previous DVDs. Before playing the flick, the viewer is directed to choose a narrator, either the Yankees’ manager Joe Torre or the Red Sox’s Terry Francona. This simulates the “You’re either a Sox fan or a Yankees fan” mentality, and is, in fact, a promising beginning, an acknowledgment — if not exactly a consideration — of the ways that bias will shape the story you hear.

But other devices fall flat. Red Sox vs. Yankees is not above trotting out the star power. Denis Leary sounds off on his love for the Sox (“Any Yankees fan can kiss my ass”), Stephen King and Peter Farrelly profess their love for the rivalry. Even rapper Fat Joe makes an appearance, waxing philosophical about whether he’d rather pitch to Alex Rodriguez or David “Big Papi” Ortiz.

Herein lies the rub: the interviewees’ comments, while entertaining, simply isn’t compelling anymore. We’ve known all this since 2004. Furthermore, the manufactured drama about which of the former players would win the 2005 MVP Award was, at best, vaguely interesting when it happened. It is virtually unwatchable in retrospect on DVD. A-Rod and Big Papi are great hitters, but fans of both teams expect championships, not MVP trophies. On camera, Bob Klapisfch of New Jersey’s Bergen Record states, “Whether it’s April, July or September, it is October between the Yankees and Red Sox whenever they step on the field together.” In reality, movie producers’ hopes not withstanding, this is no longer the case.

Some DVD bonus features also attempt to manufacture a sense of drama over the years. A newsreel from the final weekend of the 1949 regular season when the Yankees beat the Red Sox to take the pennant is a highlight, but more for the novelty of the footage than the evocation of any “ancient rivalry.” For a Sox fan, the inclusion of the final out of the 2004 ALCS and Carl Everett’s hit to break up Mike Mussina’s 2001 bid for a perfect game will bring cheers, while a New Yorker will appreciate the epic 1 July 2004 game in which Derek Jeter launched himself into the crowd while his Boston counterpart Nomar Garciaparra sulked on the home team’s bench.

Curiously, the producers decided to include footage from Roger Clemens’ 20-strikeout game, as well as the one marking his 300th victory/4,000th strikeout. While as a polarizing figure, Clemens is behind only the Babe, the inclusion is confusing because neither of these games took place between the two teams. Yet it is also extremely telling. Either the producers ran out of highlights to showcase the rivalry per se, or the tedium of the story became apparent even to them. Either way, there’s a Mets/Phillies series coming up real soon.

RATING 3 / 10