"When you play somebody 26 times in a season," said Yankees veteran center fielder Bernie Williams, "it's hard not to build up some animosity."
When baseball began interleague play in 1997, it was done largely to capitalize on the potential development of geographic rivalries. Generally, a team plays six games each year against its geographic "rival." The strategy succeeded to a degree. But the concocted rivalries have yet to match the intensity of the real, historic ones.
The Dodgers and Giants have met 2,054 times, but it's Bobby Thomson's homer that's remembered most.
(1951 Associated Press Photo)
_____ Baseball '05 _____
• It will be tough for the Orioles- Nationals matchup to join the ranks of great baseball rivalries. • A closer look at the Nationals' rivals in the NL East. • Thomas Boswell: The old rivalry between Washington and Baltimore should not take long to heat up. • The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is the best in sports and only figures to get more intense this season. • A timeline of the Red Sox and Yankees' shared history. • Many teams have laid claim to being the top rival of the Yankees. • Started in New York City and continued in California, the Giants- Dodgers rivalry is one for the ages. • Baseball Preview Section
"The interleague series are more for the fans than the players," said new St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, who spent the last two seasons with the Cubs and the 4 1/2 seasons before that with the Dodgers. "In Chicago, when we played the White Sox, it definitely got hyped in the city. But for us, it never compared to when we played the Cardinals. There was just no comparison.
"The Dodgers-Giants was the same way. It was serious stuff. The interleague series never came close. It was fun playing against Anaheim, but it was nothing compared to the Giants."
By that measure, it seems just as likely the Nationals will develop a more intense rivalry with, say, the Philadelphia Phillies -- who reside about 150 miles away from Washington and whom the Nationals will play 19 times this season.
The Yankees and Red Sox have played each other 1,920 times, not counting postseason.
The Dodgers and Giants have played each other 2,054 times.
The Cubs and Cardinals have played each other 2,158 times.
The Orioles and Nationals have played each other zero times. At six games per season, they will play their 2,000th game against each other in the year 2338.
If the Yankees and Red Sox were battling each other to stay out of the cellar, do you think anyone would be paying $500 on eBay for a spring training ticket?
"You'll notice with Red Sox-Yankees thing, there's been a rivalry there all the time because of the history, but it didn't heat up until the two teams became very competitive," Robinson said.
Robinson was manager of the San Francisco Giants in the early 1980s, never finishing above third place, while the Dodgers were in a period of organizational glory.
"The rivalry was lacking there for a while because the Giants weren't competitive," Robinson said. "The Dodgers were going to the playoffs and having better finishes year after year. So [the rivalry] died off for a while. And then when Giants became more competitive, that's when it rekindled itself."
The pinnacle of a rivalry comes when both teams are championship-caliber, like the Yankees and Red Sox the past two seasons. In both 2003 and '04 -- after meeting 19 times during the regular season -- the teams faced off in the American League Championship Series, both times stretching it out to its full seven games.
Those were the games that gave the rivalry its crowning chapters, its indelible images: Pedro Martinez throwing Don Zimmer to the ground, Aaron Boone hitting the pennant-clinching homer, the Red Sox staging the greatest comeback in postseason history last October.
Things don't look so promising at present regarding the Orioles' and Nationals' competitiveness. Baltimore is riding a string of seven straight sub-.500 seasons, while the Nationals' predecessors in Montreal suffered 94 or more losses in five of the past seven seasons. Both franchises suffer from playing in top-heavy divisions alongside some of the richest teams in the game.
The surest, quickest way to ratchet up the intensity level of a rivalry is to start throwing baseballs at each other's heads. Empty the bullpens and benches. Body-slam the bench coach.
"That's the thing that fuels rivalries, when something out of the ordinary happens," said Dawson. "It never really happened when I was with the Cubs, unfortunately."
You might assume there's no animosity between the Orioles and Nationals, since they've never played a real game against each other. But if you believe that, you haven't heard the way Nationals personnel talk about Orioles owner Peter Angelos (and vice versa), because of the way Angelos held up the Washington franchise's television deal. You might also be interested to know that Robinson privately holds a deep grudge against the Orioles for passing him over for their GM job in 1995.
"It's a whole new [organization] over there in Baltimore, as far as I'm concerned," Robinson said. "But if the press and the fans want to throw [his history with the Orioles] in there, it's something that can go in the mix and stir the pot a little bit more."
Come to think of it, Frank, don't mind if we do. Consider the pot stirred. Now, toss in some bean balls and brouhahas, and let the pot simmer for about 300 years, and maybe we'll have ourselves a little rivalry here.