Rooting for Red Sox-Yanks

The baseball playoffs begin Tuesday, which means America can be broken into two distinct camps.

1. Those that are dying to see another chapter of the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees rivalry in the American League Championship Series (this would include FOX executives).

2. Those who would rather take a Louisville Slugger to their shins.

This is what the modern sports media hype machine has given us – a rivalry that is so intense, so historical, so competitive and so dramatic that a lot of people are sick of hearing about it.

Like fans of the St. Louis Cardinals, whose team merely had the best record in baseball this season – five full games better than Boston or New York.

Or fans of the Atlanta Braves, whose team just made the playoffs for the 14th consecutive season in what is probably manager Bobby Cox's greatest effort (and that is saying something).

Or fans of the Chicago White Sox, who are sick of hearing how the Chicago Cubs have the cooler stadium/bar scene and, for heaven's sake, haven't won a single playoff series since 1917, a streak that makes the Curse of the Bambino look like a fortune cookie.

Then there are the Los Angeles Angels, who seem to only get attention when they change city affiliations, the Houston Astros, who came this close to taking the Cardinals last year and the San Diego Padres, who, well, forget it, some teams have nothing to complain about.

But that is baseball, where – because much of the national media reside in a convenient plot of land stretching from the North Shore of Boston to North Jersey – the Sox-Yankees have become the be all and end all.

Except there never seems to be an "end all" when it comes to the talk.

"Not everybody is talking about it," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, sticking up for the rest of baseball. "Not everybody in the Midwest talks about the Red Sox-Yankees. A lot of people talk about the Cubs and Cardinals."

It has become the convenient, knee-jerk reaction for the rest of America to follow La Russa's lead and claim that the Red Sox-Yankees games are just a bunch of overblown hyperbole, a rivalry undeserving of the attention or adulation.

Let alone the shelf full of books (even a Yankees bat boy wrote one), DVDs and, of course, "Fever Pitch."

But with all due respect to the rest of America – and I feel your pain, I really do – you've got this one wrong. And, as risky as it is defending this group, the East Coast media actually has it right.

Except for the "Fever Pitch" part, of course.

Rivalries are what allow sports to ascend from an entertainment option to a full-blown lifestyle, and, at this point in time, there is no rivalry in sports that matches the Red Sox and Yankees. None.

And don't write in about Alabama-Auburn (or any college rivalry) because college rivalries are by definition regional at best – and even if that was all New York-Boston was, no region comes close to the population of the Northeast corridor. And while other pro rivalries can burn as white hot as this one for awhile, it is difficult to find one that has flared up as often or for as long.

The two teams could play for their third consecutive AL pennant, the last two featuring Aaron Boone's incredible, extra-inning, Game 7, walk-off homer in 2003 and the Sox's never-happened-before comeback from an 0-3 deficit in 2004.

It features two of the most historic venues – Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park – two of the greatest cities and fan bases that so intensely track each other's fortunes that the New York newspapers cover Red Sox games and the Boston papers cover Yankee games.

Talk radio in each town never stops. The teams almost routinely have bench-clearing brawls. Even the owners have engaged in such a ludicrous battle for talent that they've practically ruined the sport.

While that certainly is not a good thing, it does speak to the win-at-all-costs mentality. And don't let the Dodgers or Cubs or Giants or Cardinals or Braves cry poor. Those big-market franchises print money. They aren't Kansas City and Pittsburgh. They could spend like Boston and perhaps even New York.

This is about two teams demanding (not just hoping for) victory.

Besides, it offers some great trash talking.

"We understand [Sox owner] John Henry must be embarrassed, frustrated and disappointed by his failure in this transaction," said George Steinbrenner after signing Alex Rodriguez in 2004. "Unlike the Yankees, he chose not to go the distance for his fans in Boston."

Ever heard an owner rip another owner like that?

This is where the stars are big, the stage is bright and the legends are unforgettable. As someone who has covered a lot of everything, I can assure you that this is something uniquely incredible.

So maybe we get another go around. Or maybe the White Sox will beat Boston and the Angels will get past New York, both a distinct possibility. If so, that's fine. That could make for a good series.

But only an Angels or White Sox fan can honestly say they'd rather see that than what we've seen the last two years?

Because every so often, the hype is warranted.