Anatomy of a Rivalry


What makes a good rival?  Hatred?  Success?  Intense Competition?  Regional Proximity?  It is hard for say and I am not certain it is always the same combination of factors.  Occasionally rivalries are planned and sometimes they just “happen”.  Think about the best rivalries in recent years:  in the NFL Washington-Dallas and Pittsburgh-Baltimore come to mind.  In college football Alabama-Auburn, and Ohio State-Michigan.  In college basketball I think of Duke-North Carolina.  In the NHL Pittsburgh-Washington springs to mind.  Once upon a time one of the most intense rivalries was between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers till both teams broke the hearts of the city of New York and moved west to California.  To this day the rivalry remains intense but with a different fan base.

If you look up the  Los Angeles Dodgers on Wikipedia there is a whole section on the rivalries they have had as a franchise.

They discuss the Giants, the Yankees who they have faced 11 times in the World Series, the LA Angels of Anaheim who they play as an Inter league rival in the “Freeway Series”,  and the San Diego Padres.  And if you look closely you discover a single sentence about the Cincinnati Reds, “The Dodgers also had a heated rivalry with the Cincinnati Reds during the 1970s, 80’s and early 90’s.”  From my perspective this is a horrible oversimplification of the baseball rivalry that defined my love of baseball.  I really started following the Reds closely in 1972 when Joe Morgan and Cesar Geronimo signed a game program for me.

The rivalry formed from the quality of ball the two teams played starting in 1969 after the expansion of baseball and the division of the National League into an East and West division.  It is hard now to look back and figure out how the National League West could have the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds and how the National League East could include St. Louis but they did.  Obviously League management included no one who had ever actually studied a map but I was not complaining.

From my perspective the Reds and the Dodgers were the greatest rivalry in history and it had gone on forever.  I had no idea the divisions were formed in ’69, to me they had always gone head to head.  When you are 7 or 8 years old, 4 years might as well be 400.  I do not really remember the name of Walter Alston, but Tommy Lasorda was public enemy #1.  He did not become the manager of the Dodgers until the end of the 1976 season.  During the 70s the Reds won the division 6 times and the Dodgers won 3 of their own.  San Fransisco snuck in and won in 1971.  In the 1980s the Dodgers tacked on 4 more division championships while the Reds were shut out until the 1990 World Series season.  The Dodgers took on an other worldly quality in my mind, they were the Evil Empire to my Reds Rebel Alliance.  But trouble had already started.  First the 1981 split season damaged my view of the sport.  My grandfather who helped instill my love of the game, never really returned after this season.  Then came the two events in the 90s that I think have dealt baseball body blows.  First they used actual common sense and with recent expansion needed to add a Central Division.  That meant the Reds and the Dodgers were separated and would meet far less then before.  Then 3 years later they added inter league play further reducing opportunities to play.  And with little fanfare the rivalry simply went away.  I have mentioned before I am not a fan of inter league play but the reason may not be what you think.  It isn’t that I don’t want to see the American League teams it is that I want more opportunities to see NL foes.

I read an amusing article when I was thinking about this post.  It talked about the professional organization that Peter O’Malley formed using what he called “The Dodger Way”.  He felt that families could never again own a major sports franchise given regressive inheritance taxes and capital gains taxes.  Living in Southwestern Pennsylvania I have seen evidence of the lengths the Rooney family must go through to maintain family ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers and O’Malley may be right.  Certainly the odds are against another family taking over a club unless the surname is Gates.

I miss hating Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Steve Yeager and Davey Lopes.  I miss having a rivalry with a noble opponent.  I am stuck with Chris Carpenter.  It just isn’t quite the same…

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