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The era is officially over. It had unofficially ended previously when George Steinbrenner retired a couple years ago and largely remained out of the public spotlight after. But after his sudden death from a heart attack on Tuesday morning, we, as Red Sox fans, can say it is officially over.
And although he was a symbol of hatred for us, as Red Sox fans, for the past 40 or so years, we have to respect his presence while he was in New York. The Red Sox without George Steinbrenner in New York is like Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader or Dorothy without the Wicked Witch of the West. So should we be celebrating, like Han Solo or those flying monkeys, because the witch is dead?
On the contrary, we should thank him. Five years ago I never would have written this, because he was freakin’ George Steinbrenner, the king of the wealthiest team in baseball. He was a ruthless dictator, who hired and fired managers like they were high school employees at a Dunkin’ Donuts. He built the Yankees into a team that bought and sold players like they played in my fantasy baseball league. And, of course, he was the loud-mouthed emperor of a Yankees team that, for the majority of his career, couldn’t find a way to lose while the Red Sox couldn’t find a way to win.
At the same time, he was a major reason the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry has become the best in American sports. The feud has managed to stay hot for all of these years because it thrived off of that David and Goliath mentality. Think about the past decade in the rivalry and imagine Steinbrenner’s Yankees weren’t so dominant, wealthy and obnoxious in the 90’s, and instead played like today’s Baltimore Orioles. No one would go to the games, no big name players would piss off Sox fans even further by signing with New York (A-Rod?) and it would be reduced to a divisional game.
Do you think Sox fans would have framed pictures of Jason Varitek jamming his catcher’s mitt into Alex Rodriguez’s face if he had signed with Baltimore? Do you think any Red Sox fans would not only condone, but congratulate Pedro Martinez for throwing a debilitated old man (Don Zimmer) on the ground had he not been a Yankees manager? And while that post-season of 2004 was the stuff of legends, (and considering it happened one year after the Yankees broke our hearts with that unlikely Aaron Boone walk-off) would it have been nearly as sweet had the 0-3 ALCS comeback win come against any team other than New York?
How much better was all of that, considering the Red Sox were able to throw it back in George Steinbrenner’s face, while the Yankees watched the Red Sox take control of the rivalry in his last decade as the evil emperor?
While we all collectively hated George Steinbrenner, simply as Red Sox fans, he was the common enemy that brought us together as Red Sox fans to become the only challenger to the Yankees’ dominance as a major league baseball franchise. While this is the only time any Red Sox fan should ever say this to any Yankees affiliate, let alone a famed Yankees owner: thank you George Steinbrenner, for giving us a perfect target and a perfect reason to keep on hating the Yankees.