At first glance, the thought of Kevin Youkilis in a New York Yankees jersey seems wrong. The pinstripes just wouldn’t look right on a man so entrenched in “Red Sox lore”. Along with Dustin Pedroia, Youkilis opened the door for cliché after cliché to be slapped on Red Sox teams. They were gritty, they were gamers, they hustled, and boy were they scrappy. But why exactly does Youk signing with the Yanks feel so wrong to Sox fans? What does this signing have to say about the concept of rivalry? What really makes a fan’s stomach turn when they see a cornerstone of their favorite team sell their soul?
The simple answer is that rivals never trade. Well at least almost never. Take a look at baseball’s three biggest rivalries: Cubs and Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants, Yankees and Red Sox. The statistics are astounding.
The Yankees and Red Sox last traded in 1997; a deal that sent Tony Armas to the Sox in return for Mike Stanley. Other than a small purchase of waivers in 1994 the next deal between the two teams was in 1986 (Don Baylor to the Red Sox). The sports two biggest rivals have only traded twice since 1986. I was negative 9 in 1986. Thats a long time.
The Cards and Cubs last traded in 2002, when the Cubs shipped longtime journeyman pitcher Jeff Fassaro to the Cards for some players to be named later. Before that Todd Zeile got sent to Chi-Town in 1995. And before that was in 1980 when the Cardinals traded for an well-bearded Bruce Sutter. The Cardinals and Cubs have traded thrice since 1980. CNN was founded in 1980. Thats a long time.
Of all the “rivals” the Giants and Dodgers have the most stingy trade relationship. They last traded in 2007, but the deal was small and was a career bench player traded to LA for a PTBNL. The most recent time before that was 27 years ago Tuesday, as the Dodgers shippedCandy Maldanado to the Giants. Before that it was 1968 when Ron Hunt when from the Dodgers to San Fran. 1968 was before the moon landing. And before that was in 1956 when the Dodgers tried to trade Jackie Robinson to the Giants for porn star Dick Littlefield and $30,000. Just think about how insane that is. Three trades since Jackie Robinson was valued around $30,000. THATS A LONG TIME.
When these rivals don’t trade with each other, it decreases turnover between the teams and increases a sense of continuity amongst the fan base. The lack of interaction between rivals could be interpreted as a lack of communication and hostility or it could just be an unwillingness from the front office to disappoint/alienate the fan base. There must be some sort of influence from the fan base because if it was only about improving the quality of the team on the field, the Dodgers and Giants would have traded more than 4 times since Ike was living it up in the Oval Office. This resistance towards transaction with rivals feeds back into the history between the two clubs, thus reinvigorating the sense of rivalry.
So now that we’ve established that 1956 was a long time ago and that rivals must hold back trading with each other for some reason, lets see why this has anything to do with people feeling sad about Kevin Youkilis. Considering how rare turnover between rival rosters is through trades, it makes the signings like Youk that much more shocking for the fan base. In recent memory each of these three rivalries has had a iconic players swap from one team to the other. All three were All Stars and faces of their respective franchises. And no I’m not talking Jose Vizcaino, Juan Uribe, and Alfredo Aceves.
Three very different players at three different points in their careers. Damon was probably at his peak, Kent just behind it, while Edmonds was pretty much done. It was hard for Giants, Cardinals, and Red Sox fans to see the former faces of their franchise make the conscious and well-thought out decision to play for the rival. Thats what really tugs at the heartstrings; the idea that those players bought into the concept of rivalry only to turn their back on an entire fan base. Of course thats not what the players are thinking at all. They are either trying to make as much money as possible or are just trying to survive one more season in the bigs. And hell, I wouldn’t mind living a year with a few jeers and insults if I was getting payed 12 Million Dollars to do it.