Rivalries start innocently enough. A strong record of wins or losses, a scoreless streak, a resounding defeat in a championship game… maybe twice… and so the frustration festers until redemption comes. When you finally get your payback, the enthusiasm bubbles over.
Unfortunately, this sort of in-your-face behavior just accelerates the pendulum of the rivalry in the other direction, and so on, until you get what we have today: 100-year-old rivalries in baseball, some team based, some between individuals.
One of the more good-natured examples was the Race to 62. In 1998, the media caught wind of the fact that either Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa could break Roger Maris’ single-season homerun record of 61. In capturing the nation’s attention during a period of relatively low popularity, respect for the game was reignited. When McGwire was the first to break the record, and he just happened to be playing Sosa’s Cubs when he did, not only did every member of the infield shake his hand, but Sosa actually left his dugout to celebrate with him. Class. Where’d that go?
Apparently somewhere else…
It’s safe to say that few rivalries are quite so dignified. Consider Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza. After launching a pitch into Piazza’s head that would have dropped an oak tree, the two met again in the 2000 World Series. Piazza fared much better this time, and when his bat shattered upon making contact with the ball, Clemens, in a move that would have gotten anyone else assault with a deadly weapon, flung the newly-created wooden stake at Piazza. The only way Clemens could have come up with a lamer excuse for his action would have been to claim Piazza was a vampire.
And then there’re the inevitable fisticuffs – sometimes on the field and sometimes in the stands. Remember Pedro Martinez dumping Don Zimmer on his butt? This one was tame by fight standards, mainly because Martinez exercised a good deal of restraint in refusing to take a swing at a 72-year-old charging marshmallow. The marshmallow agreed.
By contrast, there is nothing funny when it happens in the stands. The Bryan Stow incident after the Dodgers – Giants game is a prime example of this. Rivalries have always been about tradition, not about dominance, and maybe that’s how we can separate the real fans from the hangers-on. Beating up the guy in the visiting team’s jersey is a pretty sure sign of someone who’s missing the point.
- 5 most unforgettable City Series games at Wrigley Field
- Clemens Throws a Bat at Piazza
- Mark McGwire’s 62nd Homerun highlight video