History and Facial Hair: The Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry
By Zachary Dammel
After selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in the 1919-1920 offseason, the Boston Red Sox did not win the World Series for 86 years. The Curse of the Bambino. If I were a Red Sox fan for those 86 years, I would probably be the oldest living sports blogger. I would also passionately hate the Yankees. And since sports rivalries are 3 parts passion and 1 part hatred, this would constitute a rivalry. In fact, it was precisely this seething bitterness between the two baseball factions – stoked by legend and frequent intradivisional match ups – that spawned the rivalry. It was only intensified by the fact that the feuding teams were housed by a couple of stubbornly proud and contending Northeastern towns. And when one of those team’s owners implemented a rule to homogenize the team aesthetic – and the other team pointedly did the opposite, the rivalry transformed into an ideological rift. The impetus of this transformation occurred in the 1970s when Yankees owner George Steinbrenner established a strict no-facial-hair policy. More recently, the response from the Boston camp has taken form, in all its fullness. This is to say that the Red Sox have become notorious for their beards. If the Yankees motto is “shave regularly”, the Red Sox motto is “what is shave?”.
So one can accentuate a rivalry simply by increasing the volume of hair on one’s face? No, normally this is not the case. If you grow out your beard for your company’s annual softball event, you will not likely redefine culture. The fact that the Red Sox did speaks in part to the potency of the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry. But it also speaks to the power of ideology in sports.
The Red Sox and the Yankees stand for different things. And it is how each team manifests itself on the field – both in appearance and style of play – that denotes what it stands for. Here are a few descriptors of either team culture along with a few choice examples of players who embody them.
Boston Red Sox: rugged, scrappy, raw.
Examples: Mike Napoli, Johnny Damon
New York Yankees: slick, professional, clean.
Examples: Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon
As you can see above, Mike Napoli is obscured by a tsunami of scarlet tufts while Derek Jeter can’t even stop shaving long enough to have his picture taken. I do not mean to insinuate that the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry is fueled by a larger rivalry between bearded and un-bearded people. But perhaps its genius is that it has leveraged a larger rivalry. What exactly is baseball meant to be? Is it a game of grit and brawn or of elegance and refinement? And both teams have cultivated players to match their conception of the answer (think Dustin Pedroia vs Derek Jeter). Even the uniforms highlight this larger rivalry. Red Sox jerseys are ever-dirty, their helmets stained with pine tar, whereas the Yankees parallel pinstripes overtly signal the rigidity and order of that exclusive society. The rivalry is comprehensive, from historical love lost and geographic struggle for sports hegemony to the way the players’ faces and clothes look.
It is easy to dismiss much of this as a marketing ploy brilliantly designed by the MLB to provoke intrigue. That may be half the story, but the other half seems irrevocably authentic. To me, it is more true that the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry had and still has the power to create new lines of ideology, which in turn injects the sport with new strains of culture. It is for each fan to decide which team (and therefore which baseball narrative) to support. But inherent in the rivalry is the balance between competing opposites that will continue to sustain the symbols of both teams and concoct a richer, more complex narrative than either team could describe on its own.