In 1965, my first full season as a baseball lover, the Red Sox lost 100 games. I was 9 at the time, too young to do the smart thing and find another team. How could I know my team would torture me for the next 38 years?
The Sox had a young team with Carl Yastrzemski, Rico Petrocelli and Tony Conigliaro, who led the AL in homers in '65 when he was only 20. Tony C is still the youngest player to lead a league in home runs. They had Fenway Park, with the big wall in left, the Green Monster. Things could only get better.
It helped that my best friend, Brian, was a Yankee fan. Brian was a batboy for a town amateur team. He was much wiser than I in the ways of baseball, and had a large collection of bats and gloves. But his once-dominant Yankees had fallen on hard times after losing the World Series the year before.
We had some spirited arguments about baseball in those days, when we weren't flipping baseball cards against the wall or playing hardball in the sprawling cemetery that separated our houses in Newport, R.I.
“The Red Sox stink!” Brian would say.
“Yeah, but the Yankees stink worse!” I'd holler back.
The next year, the Yanks proved me right. The Red Sox moved up to ninth place in 1966 with a 72-90 record (a 12-game improvement!). The Yankees finished 10th at 70-89. Brian told me the Yanks would have finished ahead of Boston if the league had allowed them to play those three rained-out games.
That was the last time the Red Sox and Yankees finished a season together at the bottom of a league or division.
Things did get better for the Red Sox. They won the pennant on the final day of the famous 1967 “Impossible Dream” season, the best year a young baseball fan could imagine. They didn't have another losing season until 1983. Over a 45-year span, the Sox had 40 winning seasons and finally won two World Series, ending the mythical “Curse of the Bambino”.
The Yankees did all right after George Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973, reaching the postseason 22 times in 40 years and winning seven World Series titles. There was a rough decade in there from 1982 to '92. But they have an active streak of 20 consecutive winning seasons. The Bronx Bombers have won 100 games five times during that time, averaging 95 wins a season.
Do you know how many times the Yankees and Red Sox have had losing seasons in the same year since Brian and I squabbled about them in 1966? Once. In 1992, the Yanks tied for fourth and the Sox finished seventh and last in the AL East.
Either the Sox or Yanks have appeared in every postseason since the strike of 1994 wiped out the playoffs. In eight of the last 18 seasons, both of them made the playoffs. The Yankees missed only once during that time, in 2008. They gave us the best rivalry in sports and two unforgettable ALCS showdowns in 2003-04.
I guess you could say Boston and New York fans have been spoiled. But this year, after nearly half a century, they might battle for last place again.
The Red Sox have missed the postseason three years in a row, the first time that happened in 10 years. Last year, they went 69-93 and finished 26 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. It was Boston's worst winning percentage since that dreadful 100-loss outfit when I was a little kid.
Yes, the Bombers could be looking at another '65, when the bottom fell out. Everything has been going wrong for them since their ignominious sweep at the hands of the Tigers in last year's ALCS.
Alex Rodriguez is out until at least midseason with hip issues and is embroiled in another steroid flap. Curtis Granderson is out for two months with a broken arm. Mark Teixeira could miss the season with a wrist injury. Derek Jeter is expected to start the season on the disabled list with an inflamed ankle. Phil Hughes just went on the DL with a bulging disk in his back.
Michael Pineda, a hot young pitcher the Yanks got from Seattle (for a top catching prospect, Jesus Montero) in a trade before the 2012 season, is still recovering from a torn labrum and isn't expected back until June. Closer Mariano Rivera, who is 43, hasn't pitched since injuring his knee last May.
Rivera, the best closer of all time, has announced that this will be his final season. It's a shame that it will likely be the worst Yankees team he's played on. Not only have the Pintripers not had a losing record since Rivera began his career in 1995, they've never had a winning percentage below .540.
It's small consolation that the Red Sox could be worse. Veteran slugger David Ortiz is out with inflammation in both heels. Mike Napoli, their big free-agent acquisition, has a degenerative hip. There's no guarantee Jacoby Ellsbury will return to his MVP form of two years ago after missing much of last year to injury. The defense isn't very good.
They're hoping that starters Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester will rediscover their past brilliance and revive a terrible pitching staff. There's even hope that John Lackey can still be effective. Ryan Dempster will help, presumably.
Where there used to be high expectations, there is now merely hope in Boston and New York. Ever since the epic 2004 ALCS, we've waited for them to collide in another October classic. We're still waiting.
Last year, there was talk that hiring Bobby Valentine as manager would revive the rivalry. It didn't happen. There was more conflict in the Boston dugout than against the Yanks. It was one and done for old Bobby.
The rivalry seems all but gone, too. Who cares at this point? Where's the hate? Most of the chief antagonists are gone. There's no Jason Varitek to rub his catcher's mitt in A-Rod's mug, no Pedro Martinez to throw Don Zimmer to the ground. No Joe Torre. No Terry Francona.
George Steinbrenner is dead. When's the last time you heard anyone mention the Evil Empire? It's the Red Sox organization that embarrassed itself in the latter days of Francona's regime, which he outlined in his book.
When the Sox and Yanks met for the first time in spring training early this month, there was little fanfare. The Yanks sent only one regular, Brett Gardner. There were no newspaper hordes from the Boston and New York papers.
This year, the writers might very well be sitting through 4-hour games that decide who finishes fourth. People are predicting them to finish together at the bottom for the first time since 1966.
You'll notice I have three of the five AL East teams making the postseason this year, and none of them are from Boston or New York. I feel like calling Brian and telling him, “The Yankees suck!”
But I'm afraid he'll yell back,”Yeah, but your Red Sox suck worse.”