Rating the rivalries

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Rivalries, the wicked sorceresses they are, stir up something inside of us. They make us feel anger where anger probably isn't necessary. They give us shivers at the thought of the person or the company or, in Major League Baseball's case, the team.

Recognizing this, MLB concocted the idea of interleague play in 1997, over the objections of baseball purists who likewise protested the wild card two years earlier, and have seen the fruits bear particularly well in rivalries determined by proximity.

None of the cities involved in the eight rival games that kick off interleague play today are separated by more than four hours. What would have been a great game (New York vs. New York) now has city bragging rights on the line. What would have been a bore (St. Louis vs. Kansas City) now concerns a state's pride.

In the spirit of rivalries, we turn to Hollywood, where they play out regularly. The cattiest rivalry these days, of course, is between Heather Locklear and Denise Richards. They were best friends until Richards started dating Locklear's ex, Richie Sambora, almost immediately after they broke up.

It, too, seems a rivalry of proximity.

And thusly we present a breakdown of the eight baseball rivalries, rated one to five on the Denise Richards Scale.

Chicago Cubs at Chicago White Sox

Chicago fans reserve more venom for one another than a snake on the prowl, and the stands at U.S. Cellular Field certainly will hold their fair share of alpha males trying to settle which team is better by punching one another. Yet there is something special about this rivalry. Beginning the series with Greg Maddux against Mark Buehrle and ending it with Carlos Zambrano against Jose Contreras only adds to the lure and lore. Problem is, the White Sox are the best team in baseball and coming off a World Series victory, and the Derrek Lee-less Cubs stink like old sauerkraut. When both teams are good, these games make the Hatfields and McCoys look like paddycake.


Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals

Sometimes rivalries have nothing to do with players and everything to do with the periphery. Baltimore is not very good, and Washington is undeniably bad, so these games carry significance why exactly? First off, Orioles owner Peter Angelos has spent the last year and change systematically denying Washington-area fans access to Nats games on TV. Because of baseball's awful territorial rules, Angelos, in essence, owns the Washington market, and he'd be stupid not to exploit that to keep as many Washington-area O's fans as possible. His greed, though, is starting to annoy Washingtonians, and, as Bud Selig and Don Fehr know, angering people there usually doesn't end well.


New York Yankees at New York Mets

New Yorkers want to make this series look like the Battle of Iwo Jima even in down years, and that has been the problem: The teams don't deserve the hype heaped on them. Until this year. If someone called this a World Series preview, no one could scoff. The Yankees, despite losing Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield to injuries, and seeing Randy Johnson disintegrate, have the sixth-best record in baseball. The Mets are a half-game ahead of them in spite of having Jose Lima in their rotation. Make sure to tune in Saturday for the best pitching matchup in any series this weekend, Mike Mussina vs. Pedro Martinez.


Florida Marlins at Tampa Bay Devil Rays

The best analogy for the inter-Florida series is a boxing rivalry: The opponents have no good reason to dislike one another except they're supposed to. I cannot imagine Hanley Ramirez turning up his game a notch to beat Tampa Bay. I do not expect Jonny Gomes to showboat after a home run against Florida. This series provides nothing except tangible evidence for those who believe big-league baseball doesn't belong in the Sunshine State.


Texas Rangers at Houston Astros

Texans usually hate outsiders (Oklahoma in football … Arkansas in matters of couth) and try to keep the peace so their secession one day will go smoothly. The president of the nation of Texas will be Roger Clemens, of course, and it's his ubiquity these days that makes the Texas-Houston series one worth watching. They are two of the suitors for Clemens' services starting June 15, and both teams have played well to boot. It's unlikely this series will decide where Clemens plays – that will be another thing Texans love, money – but it will be mentioned by the side that wins.


St. Louis Cardinals at Kansas City Royals

If these teams were celebrities and Us Weekly was reporting on their rivalry, it would be on page 83, in the way back of the magazine, because no one cares. Funny thing is, St. Louis and Kansas City were cover material at one point, with headlines like VINCE: THE TARP ATTACKS! and DON: HE WAS SAFE! If the Royals use the same lineup as they did in their sixth straight loss Thursday, their combined Value Over Replacement Player – the Baseball Prospectus metric that calculates the number of runs a player contributes better than a replacement-level player – is 1.6. By himself, Albert Pujols is 31.4.


San Francisco Giants at Oakland Athletics

Very quietly, Oakland has crept into first place in the AL West with four straight victories. San Francisco is only two games back in the sitting-next-to-an-obese-guy-in-coach close NL West. And still, the intrigue in this series comes from one man, one pitch, one number. Barry Bonds, stuck on 713 home runs, might tie Babe Ruth in a park 16 miles from his. Which could be considered a good thing, because eager Giants fans can buy tickets and drown out the booing. Or which could be considered a not-so-good thing, because Oakland fans are not to be trifled with.


Los Angeles Angels at Los Angeles Dodgers

One of the great little-known rivalries was between Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren, the queens of advice. Turns out the late Ann and Dear Abby were identical twins, and they fought over whose column would run in which newspapers, among other things. The rivalry between the two Los Angeles franchises is reminiscent of the sisters' in that one side wants something the other already has. The Dodgers have credibility within Los Angeles. The Angels are carpetbaggers trying to snoop into the market, first by planting advertisements there, then by dropping the Anaheim from their official name, even though that's where the Angels play. This is about more than territorial supremacy. It's about identity, something that makes this game more than one between two middling teams.


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