Jason Varitek - A-Rod fight

Ten years ago today the Alex Rodriguez-Jason Varitek brawl changed the narrative of the Sox-Yankees rivalry

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People still talk about the Red Sox and Yankees like it’s some highly pitched rivalry, but it’s not that special these days. Or at least not that heated. Back in 2004 it was heated, brother. They met in the playoffs in 1999 and 2003, the Yankees prevailing both times. The Aaron Boone game happened in the latter instance. There was a palpable hatred between them. It was a lot of fun!

On July 24, 2004, the Yankees were cruising. They had an eight and a half game lead over the Red Sox, who were tied with the Twins for the wild card. They beat the Red Sox 8-7 the night before. A month before that they swept Boston in the Bronx. On this Saturday, New York was up again, 3-0 in the top of the third when Alex Rodriguez stepped up to the plate to face Bronson Arroyo.

A-Rod wasn’t yet the pariah he would become. Yes, a lot of people hated that he made the money that he made, but he had yet to be implicated in the PED story. He had yet to be caught cheating on his wife and dating pop stars. He had yet to strike narcissistic poses in glossy magazines and be on the outs publicly with his team. He was merely the best player in the game at that point who had maybe-a-bit-too-publicly forced a trade to a contender the previous winter. But heck, the Red Sox were actually the front-runners for him. Even struck a deal with Texas to acquire him, only to see it nixed by the union because A-Rod –selflessly! — had offered to rework his contract to make it happen.

But A-Rod had driven in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning of the Yankees victory the previous night and the Sox were a tad frustrated.  Then this happened:

 

It was a pretty good brawl as far as these things go. Not the half-hearted shoving you typically see these days. But it wasn’t a terribly special brawl. We’ve seen this sort of thing before. Sometimes we see them with more haymakers. But one thing did make this brawl special. This picture:

source: Getty Images

Everyone knows this picture. It was taken by J. Rogash of Getty Images, and it has become iconic.

It’s a tad misleading, though. It’s talked about now as if it were an instance of Varitek simply telling A-Rod to “shove it.” As if he just got tired of A-Rod’s crap and told him, more or less, to get lost. But really it’s just a single frame from the start of a brawl that looked a lot like other brawls we’ve seen. A plunked batter jawing at a pitcher who clearly hit him on purpose and a catcher walking with said plunked batter down the line leading to a shoving match and a benches-clearing brawl. It wasn’t Jason Varitek simply laying into Rodriguez. There were almost simultaneous shoves. It happened in a split second.

But sometimes even a somewhat misleading photo can capture truths. And this photo by Mr. Rogash captured one. It captured what every Red Sox fan felt about the Yankees in July 2004. That they were sick and tired of coming out on the bottom of their dustups. Sick of New York’s superiority and entitlement. A superiority and entitlement that came not just from besting Boston on the field, but by besting them during the hot stove season too, with this A-Rod guy being just the latest example of it.

Both A-Rod and Varitek were ejected. The Red Sox would take the lead in the fourth. The Yankees would score six runs in the top of the sixth. The Sox would claw back in the bottom of the sixth. New York would take a 10-8 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Nomar Garciaparra led off the Sox’ half of the inning with a double and would score on a Kevin Millar single off of Mariano Rivera. Bill Mueller would then take Rivera to a 3-1 count before taking him downtown with a walkoff homer. The Sox won 11-10. It was one of the wildest days in the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

The Sox won again on Sunday. They’d split the final six regular season games between them. New York, however, would once again win the AL East and then take a commanding 3-0 lead over the Sox in the American League Championship Series. Once again the Yankees looked poised to come out on top in this increasingly one-sided rivalry.

But, of course, Boston had different ideas. And in October 2004, the script to which we had become accustomed was flipped. The Red Sox would win the ALCS and the World Series. They’d win two more after that. And, some time between then and now, the feel of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry would forever change.

Did the shove and the brawl on July 24, 2004 change it? Logically it doesn’t make a ton of sense. One fight doesn’t affect pitches thrown in October and, of course, these guys are professionals. They’re not subject to the sort of motivations and turning points that you’d see in a Hollywood film. Ballplayers don’t tend to respond to “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” moments. Baseball seasons are long and they’re always trying to win.

But if you ask most Sox fans, they’ll tell you that 2004 was a turning point. And when talking about 2004, they’ll almost always talk about the time that Varitek shoved his mitt in A-Rod’s face and how, after that, everything changed.

And that happened ten years ago today.

Looking Ahead to Next Year’s Hall of Fame Ballot

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 15:  Chipper Jones #10 of the Atlanta Braves stands in the on-deck circle prior to batting against the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field on May 15, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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We’re only a night’s sleep removed from the 2017 Hall of Fame class being announced but, hey, why not look ahead to next year’s ballot?

After yesterday’s vote there are two guys clearly banging on the door: Trevor Hoffman at 74% and Vladimir Guerrero at  71.7%. It’d be shocking if they didn’t get in.

Also back, of course, and already polling over 50%, which tends to ensure eventual election, are Edgar Martinez (58.6); Roger Clemens (54.1); Barry Bonds (53.8); and Mike Mussina (51.8). All of them are worthy and each of them should have some segment of the baseball commentariat pushing their cases.

But the new class of eligibles is formidable too. Let’s take a preliminary look at everyone we’ll be arguing about next December:

  • Chipper Jones: You have to figure he’s a first ballot guy;
  • Jim Thome: 612 homers will say a lot and, I suspect, most people believe he’s a first ballot guy too. Still, his handling will be curious. Yes, was a better hitter than Sammy Sosa. But was he so much better that it justifies Thome getting 75% in his first year while Sosa is scraping by in single digits? According to Baseball-Reference.com, Thome and Sosa are each other’s most similar comp in history. This is less a Thome point than a Sosa one, of course. I think they both belong.
  • Omar Vizquel: Every few years a defensive specialist hits the ballot and the writers go crazy. When a defensive specialist who got along really, really well with the press comes along, Katie bar the door. Vizquel is gonna cause a lot of arguments about the measurement and value of defense. He’s also going to cause a lot of people to say things like “you had to watch him play” and “it’s not the Hall of Stats!” He’s going to cause a lot of stathead types to counter with “but Scott Rolen was just as good on defense as Vizquel, but you don’t like him!” It’s gonna get ugly. It’ll be glorious.
  • Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones: Will probably be one-and-done, but way better than you remember. If we wanna talk defense, I’ll offer that I have never seen a better defensive center field in my lifetime than Jones. It’s a shame that his falling off a cliff in his 30s will taint that as his legacy.
  • Chris Carpenter and Livan Hernandez: Hall of pretty darn good pitchers who will be fun to talk about;
  • Hideki Matsui: Also one and done, but everyone loves him so I bet he gets some “good guy” votes;
  • Jamie Moyer: A first-time eligible at age 55. Sandy Koufax had been in the Hall of Fame for 18 years when he was the age Moyer will be when he hits the ballot.
  • Scott Rolen: Way better than people believe now and way better than people said at the time. As suggested above, his defense was nowhere near as raved about during his career as it would be if he played today. If his 72.7 career bWAR was heavier on offense as opposed to distributed 52.1/20.6 on offense and defense, people would’ve probably talked him up more. Career WAR for Jim Thome: 72.9. Career WAR for Derek Jeter: 71.8.
  • Johan Santana: The Hall of What Could’ve Been if Shoulders Weren’t So Dumb.
  • Kerry Wood: The Hall of What Could’ve Been if Elbows Weren’t So Dumb. Still, if Jack Morris can stick on the ballot for 15 years based on one dang game, I don’t see why Wood can’t get some support based on a better one.

There are a couple of other fun “oh my God, how has he been retired that long?” names that will appear on next year’s ballot. Check out the whole list here.

Jorge Posada highlights 16 one-and-done players on Hall of Fame ballot

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 24:  Jorge Posada addresses the media during a press conference to announces his retirement from the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on January 24, 2012 in the Bronx borough of  New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada received only 17 total votes (3.8 percent) on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot. Unfortunately, he is one of 16 players who fell short of the five percent vote threshold and is no longer eligible on the ballot. The other players are Magglio Ordonez (three votes, 0.7 percent), Edgar Renteria (two, 0.5 percent), Jason Varitek (two, 0.5 percent), Tim Wakefield (one, 0.2 percent), Casey Blake (zero), Pat Burrell (zero), Orlando Cabrera (zero), Mike Cameron (zero), J.D. Drew (zero), Carlos Guillen (zero), Derrek Lee (zero), Melvin Mora (zero), Arthur Rhodes (zero), Freddy Sanchez (zero), and Matt Stairs (zero).

Posada, 45, helped the Yankees win four World Series championships from 1998-2000 as well as 2009. He made the American League All-Star team five times, won five Silver Sluggers, and had a top-three AL MVP Award finish. Posada also hit 20 or more homers in eight seasons, finished with a career adjusted OPS (a.k.a. OPS+) of 121, and accrued 42.7 Wins Above Replacement in his 17-year career according to Baseball Reference.

While Posada’s OPS+ and WAR are lacking compared to other Hall of Famers — he was 18th of 34 eligible players in JAWS, Jay Jaffe’s WAR-based Hall of Fame metric — catchers simply have not put up the same kind of numbers that players at other positions have. That’s likely because catching is such a physically demanding position and often results in injuries and shortened careers. It is, perhaps, not an adjustment voters have thought to make when considering Posada’s eligibility.

Furthermore, Posada’s quick ouster is somewhat due to the crowded ballot. Most voters had a hard time figuring out which 10 players to vote for. Had Posada been on the ballot in a different era, writers likely would have found it easier to justify voting for him.

Posada joins Kenny Lofton in the “unjustly one-and-done” group.