From bench-clearing brawls to the curse that started it all, no feud in all of sports can match the history and histrionics of the Red Sox–Yankees rivalry. After all, both sides have had plenty of time to let the hatred percolate. Boston endured 86 years without a World Series title, all the while watching their talent being poached away by the deep-pocketed Bombers. In the Bronx, grievances abound as well.
But as with any long-standing rivalry in sports, when you dig beneath the emotion and animosity, neither team can argue with the numbers. Fans can dispute calls and the other team’s character until they’re as blue in the face as the Yankees’ pinstripes, but we’ve run the hard stats from decades of play. From the first fateful day these teams played in 1903 to their present-day matchups, we’ve calculated which team has the historical edge in head-to-head competition. Whichever side you support (or if you simply cherish the drama), you’ll want to keep reading.
Decades on the Diamond
That sound you hear is collective groaning from Fenway: After more than a century of rivalry, the Yankees are ahead by 199 games. That gap is about as bad as it’s ever been, with the largest all-time win disparity coming at the close of the 2015 season (201 wins at the time). For Sox fans, there’s a painful irony here: Though the 21st century has delivered them three championships thus far, they haven’t made up much ground on the Yankees in recent years. After all, it’s not like they were playing bums in the Bronx: Since 2000, the Yankees have won the division 10 times, compared to just five for Boston.
There was a time when the Sox were actually ahead in the rivalry between clubs, from 1910 through 1924. That was an interesting time for baseball, including the departure of some stars to serve in World War I. But one day during that period is of particular note for our purposes: December 26th, 1919. On that day, the Red Sox traded a talented pitcher named George Herman Ruth to New York, where he would go on to develop a bat like none other in baseball. From there, the Red Sox head-to-head lead dwindled, and they haven’t been up again since 1924. Maybe the Curse of the Bambino did end with Boston’s 2004 World Series run, breaking the Yankees’ hearts along the way. But in terms of the historical win record, Babe is probably still smiling.
Aces Against the Enemy
The legendary Ruth may be the single most notable pitcher in the Yankees-Boston saga, but plenty of other hurlers bedeviled the rival team in their days. In fact, the Yankees with most wins of all time against the Red Sox were the Babe’s contemporaries: Bob Shawkey and Herb Pennock, with 30 wins against Boston apiece. Pennock actually played for Boston before taking the mound for New York, as did third-ranked Red Ruffing, whose Hall of Fame career spanned a staggering 22 years. Evidently, the Yankees’ specialty in poaching Boston players has been honed over decades – and you thought Johnny Damon’s betrayal was bad.
Boston fans can start celebrating the underappreciated “Smoky Joe” Wood, both for his name and his numbers. The man won 34 games during the 1912 season and 19 against the Bombers over the course of his career. Ruth takes second place for wins against New York (no wonder the Yanks wanted him on their side), followed by midcentury standout Bill Monbouquette. Another thrower beloved by Boston fans, Mel Parnell, dinged the Yankees for 16 wins during a career spent entirely with the Sox. But the final name on the list may rankle Boston a bit: Roger Clemens, who beat the Yankees 15 times for the Red Sox before eventually ending up in the New York bullpen.
Two Era-Defining Game 7’s
Although Red Sox and Yankees have let their rivalry fester for over a century, the most defining moments have taken place since the turn of the millennium. And regardless of which side of the aisle you find yourself on, memories of 2003 and 2004 breed feelings of spine-tingling euphoria and painful heartbreak that affect fans to this day.
The Yankees and Red Sox met in the American League Championship Series in consecutive years, and the unbelievable moments that transpired could only happen in a Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
In 2003, the two sides split the opening six games before a Game 7 for the ages. The Red Sox nursed a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning, just outs away from getting a huge monkey off their back before a three-run rally sent the game to extra innings. Then, an unlikely hero stepped up to create an iconic moment in Yankee Stadium history.
Despite batting .170 for the playoffs, Aaron Boone – now the Yankees manager – blasted a left-field walk-off bomb off knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield to send the Yanks to the World Series. With bullpen option Bronson Arroyo ready to relieve Wakefield at the time, Red Sox fans had to carry the burden of second-guessing along with a 85th straight year without a World Series title.
That seemed like rock-bottom for Red Sox fans, until the 2004 ALCS kicked off. New York sprinted out to a 3-0 series lead, leaving no doubt that the Curse of the Bambino was still alive and well. No team had ever erased a 3-0 series deficit, and there’s no way a team mired in an 86-year World Series drought, seemingly cursed at every turn, would be the first. Right?
Wrong. Led by Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and a slew of bearded and long-haired sluggers like Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon, the Red Sox came back to life. Boston won Games 4 and 5 in extra innings, before returning to Yankee Stadium and finishing the job to complete the greatest comeback in baseball’s history.
Johnny Damon hit a grand slam early in Game 7 that set the tone for an eventual 10-3 Red Sox victory, a game in which Damon slayed the Yanks with six RBI.
The curse proverbially ended right there. The Red Sox went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series since 1918.
We’re 14 years removed now from a duo of Game 7’s that have defined the modern-day Red Sox and Yankees rivalry, which just might mean that we’re in store for more drama.
The Future of the Feud
Whether this walk down memory lane has produced enjoyment or aggravation, you have to admit the passion of this rivalry is justified by its history. And though the Yankees’ lead may be formidable, nothing’s certain when these teams go at it every year. Plus, there’s good news for those who love to hate the other team: Each squad will have plenty of trials and triumphs ahead. Thanks to a new crop of talent for both clubs, their games should be better than ever in the seasons to come.
If you’re still holding tight to your “Yankees Suck” tee from years ago, we can’t fault you for your style. But if your gear needs an update for any of your favorite teams, you can’t beat the Fanatics selection. For what the fans want, we’re confident that we’re unrivaled.
To compile the data presented in this project, we utilized information from baseball-reference.com, a database of historical statistics on the performance of professional baseball teams and players. We included information only from games in which the Yankees and Red Sox competed against each other, dating from 1903 to the conclusion of the 2017 season. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on raw win totals alone.