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The Blood Feud:  Red Sox Vs. Yankees

It was business as usual last weekend as the Yankees of New York and the Red Sox of Boston went at it. Cussing, shoving, headlocking and behaving like immature adolescents not prime time major leaguers. But that has been the theme song of relations between the two franchises for a long, long time.

Jimmy Piersall of Boston was a rookie in 1952.  He would  later go on to write a book "The Truth Hurts"  and say: "Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Whoever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened?

But he was "heard of" as a result of what happened that season.

"Hey, the Red Sox outfielder had the audacity, some said, the ignorance, to shout out during a game to Billy Martin of the Yankees: "Hey, Pinocchio!" It was an overt and obnoxious reference to the size and contours of the Yankee second baseman's nose." Too damn yellow to fight?" 

"Put up," snarled Martin, "or shut up your damn ass. Let's settle this under the stands right now!"           

The hyper Marin entered the Yankee dugout. Piersall sped into the Sox dugout, and then circled under the stands lusting for the violent rendezvous. Martin was trailed after by Yankee coach Bill Dickey. Ellis Kinder, a Boston hurler, ran after Piersall.

The two hot-headed athletes faced off, both full of fury. There were some more unprintable words that spewed forth from Martin and Piersall. Then, Martin jabbed two powerful shots to Piersall's face. Bleeding profusely from the nose, the Boston outfielder dropped quickly to the ground. The one-sided battle ended as Dickey and Kinder moved between the two combatants.     
 
A relaxed Casey Stengel in the Yankee dugout, was informed as to what had taken place. "That was all right, all right" said the sagacious pilot who regarded Martin as a son. "I'm happy as long as he starts with the other teams and doesn't start with any players on the Yankees."

That moment in Yankee-Red Sox history underscored the "bad blood" that existed. But it was not the most famous of the on the field altercations. Not by a long shot. The one that qualifies for that title took place on August 1, 1973.       
                          
Both teams were battling for the lead in the American League East.   Two nights before in the opening game of a series the Yankees had scored twice in the ninth inning to tie the game. But the Sox scored once in the home half of the ninth to win. New York scored three times in the ninth inning of the second game of the series to notch its first Fenway park victory in a year. 

What happened the next day epitomized the frenzy of the rivalry and underscored the raging debate over the relative abilities of Boston catcher Carlton Fisk and Yankee backstop Thurman Munson.
   
Fisk, that summer of 1973, had led in the American League All Star balloting for catcher. Munson was voted runner-up. "That was part of the conflict," explained the late  Yankee broadcaster of that era Frank Messer. "And there was even some personality conflict between the two of them." 

"Fisk hated Munson," said Don Zimmer who was on the scene back then.  "Munson hated Fisk, and everyone hated Bill Lee."                           
The August 1 game was tied, 2-2, as the ninth inning began. Sparky Lyle was the Yankee pitcher. John Curtis was on the mound for Boston. Munson opened the New York ninth with a double down the left-field line. An infield groundout by Nettles moved him to third base. Gene Michael missed a squeeze bunt, but the solidly built Munson came tearing down the line attempting to score. He slammed into Fisk who had the baseball and was blocking the plate. The two catchers collided, but Fisk held onto the ball. Munson was out. Fisk shoved the Yankee catcher off his body and Munson punched the Sox catcher in the face, bruising his left eye. 

Then the two get into a clinching, clawing encounter. Michael, who was Munson's roommate, managed to get in a few punches of his own. The next thing that happened was that the 61-year-old Fenway Park was swarming with players - pushing, shoving, cursing. The playing field erupted with anger. More than 60 players and coaches, even those from the bullpen 350 away, were full of fury and out on the field.

When order was finally restored, Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson were ejected from the game. "There's no question," Munson said later, "I threw the first punch but he started it and then my roomie got into it. Fisk was lucky that he didn't get into a fight the night before the way he blocked the plate on Roy White."                                        
"Munson and I were just bumping chests," Fisk explained later. "I flipped him off, but the big thing started when Michael got into it."

Oddly enough, Michael was allowed to remain in the game, and this triggered another lengthy delay as the Red Sox protested loudly and their partisan fans screamed out their rage.

When Boston finally came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning, Mario Guerrero singled in Bob Montgomery who had replaced Fisk as the Sox catcher. The home team a 3-2 triumph, and the Yankees dropped out of first place. Ironically, Guerrero was the player-named-later in the 1972 Sparky Lyle for Red Sox first baseman Danny Cater deal.

#   #   #

You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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